This post is a part of a series of posts based on the book Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society by Holly/Aaron Devor. My introductory post on the series can be found here.
The chapter Looking for Love details their growing awareness of their sexuality, starting with their masturbation fantasies and ending with their first sexual experiences with other people. There is a constant, obvious theme of internalized homophobia throughout their narratives, based on the fact that although these young women wanted to make love to other women, they believed they could only do so as men.
This post contains frank and open discussion of masturbation so TMI warning!
The participants in the study reported a wide range of adolescent masturbation habits from “as often as possible” to “I hated my body and wouldn’t touch it at all (p264–265).” Those who masturbated reported imagining themselves as men. The author researched the rate at which general population adolescent girls reported masturbating in the same time period for comparison’s sake, and she concluded: “Forty-one percent of participants who masturbated during adolescence reported that they did so twice a week or more. This rate is at least twice that reported elsewhere among other teenaged girls (p269.)” This conclusion bears the vague implication that these girls were more masculine in their frequency of masturbation, although the fact that other participants didn’t do it at all would contradict that. At any rate, twice a week or more sounds normal to me!
“Well over three quarters (82 percent) of the twenty-two participants who masturbated as adolescents said that they did so while imagining themselves as men. All of them except Jordie and Grant imagined themselves to be straight men wooing heterosexual females (p266).”
Some of them reported “humping against something while imagining themselves as fully equipped males engaging in coitus (p267).” One of them reported using a pillow and one of them reported using the couch. There is an amusing quote in there that I will include so you can chuckle over it as I did: “Steven ‘mounted the couch’ so frequently that when Steven was five years old her little sister wanted to know why she played ‘horsey’ on the couch so often (p268).” (LOL You go, girl!) I’ve heard this sort of thing before from FtMs and I’ve already ranted about it. However, that doesn’t stop me from ranting about it again!
It is perfectly understandable and logical that a girl would hump something in order to masturbate. That’s because the body part that girls are stimulating is the clitoris, located on the outside of the body. It also needs to be said here that the clitoris is located in a similar place on the female body to where the penis is located on the male body, because those two organs are analogous, and in fact, develop from the same fetal tissue while in the womb. With apologies for the TMI, I learned to masturbate by humping things too. I would guess that at some point I was moving around in bed and noticed a sensation, similar to the way other girls report suddenly noticing a sensation while straddling a pillow or the arm of the couch. Again, it’s perfectly understandable and logical that any girl would hump things, because of the way our anatomy is set up. Hearing women interpret their desire to hump things as “masculine” leaves me baffled. Not just because anything girls do is what girls do, but because I think girls are more likely to hump things than boys are (wouldn’t boys squish their penis if they did that?) and so humping things is probably particularly feminine. FtMs talk about humping a pillow while imaging being a man making love to a woman as if it proves their maleness. I did the exact same thing as a youth—used a pillow while imagining being on top of a girl, and sometimes I even imagined myself as a boy, because obviously it would be sexy if I could put my own organ of pleasure into another girl (like, duh!) These are just normal things to think about if you are a female homosexual. The logical conclusion to draw if you are female and wanting to hump another female is that you are a lesbian (or bisexual). How you can leap into the far-fetched idea that you have an innate maleness even though you are female is beyond me. It’s faulty thinking.
One participant said this regarding her fantasies where she imagined herself as a man:
“How can I fantasize making love to a woman when I’m not equipped completely to make love to a woman?…Okay, in…most of my fantasy life…I could be…this other person who is normal. Now, that person…he can be as normal as possible. Absolutely (p266–267).”
There are two homophobic assumptions in this short paragraph. One is that a woman cannot make love to a woman. The other is that homosexuals aren’t normal. More faulty thinking. Women can make love to women, in a variety of satisfying ways, and homosexuals are statistically uncommon, but not abnormal in the sense of unacceptable.
These girls were mostly attracted to girls but attempted to date boys anyway during adolescence in order to be seen as “normal.”
“When she did finally have intercourse with a young man on several occasions in the back seat of a car, it was because she didn’t want people to think that she was lesbian (p276).”
“Sam’s first marriage began as an anti-lesbian assertion. Sam remembered that it made her ‘tremendously angry’ when people called her a lesbian, and Sam said flatly, ‘that’s why I got married.’ (p279).”
The author asked her participants whether they pursued relationships with other girls during adolescence, and noted that a lot of them refrained even though they were attracted to girls.
“One reason which was given by several people was that they were sexually ignorant and had no idea that it was possible for two females to have sexual relations. They were only aware of a heterosexual option at that point in their lives and thus took their attractions to girls as an indicator of their repressed maleness. A second frequent impediment to participants’ acting upon their desires was their belief that homosexuality was wrong and that they should therefore deny any such feelings as much as possible (p282.)”
And here is a whole truckload of homophobic statements, one after the other. Hang on to your hats!
One participant “felt that only boys could love women, or that only boys could be sexual with girls” and another said she “knew that I could not physically make love to a woman (p283).” Another participant said “That really embarrassed me. I knew that that was wrong…I fantasized things that I wanted to do—to live with them, and be with them, and date them…I felt that that was wrong…for me to do that with girls…So, I didn’t tell anybody about that…I didn’t know what a lesbian was. I didn’t know that was a possible choice…I thought I was the only one…Nobody else is doing this…This is very abnormal (p283).” Another participant said “involvements with girls were out of the question” and another said she was “never even willing to consider kissing a female until after beginning to live as a man (p283).” Another participant said “At that point, I knew what I wanted, but I wasn’t right for it. I wanted to be a male and be with a woman. But I wasn’t, my body wasn’t right for it. And the idea of two females was just, I mean, like, I got fighting mad when I started getting called a lesbian (p283).” Another participant said “I used to get out my parents’ Sears catalogue and look at the women in their underwear. I got turned on…But I thought, I can’t do this the way I am. I have to be a boy because girls don’t like girls…It wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t right. Because, how can women be attracted to women? (p283–284).”
One participant describes going to a bar with a lesbian and going to her house and, although she thought it felt nice to be caressed, she then had a strong homophobic reaction. “I felt sick to my stomach, for some reason, about being there. And then I remember the next day, she came up to me when I was changing a tire, and she tried to caress me, or touch me, and I just blew my stack. And I just blew it. I lost it all…I couldn’t admit that it felt nice to me. It was taboo. It needed to be taboo. Because it was wrong for girls to like girls…It’s just not okay. And I heard that she was a lesbian, and she touched me, and I blew off the handle (p284).” Another participant said that lesbians were “scary people” and “couldn’t imagine why two girls would want to be together (p286).” This same participant managed to have sex with a woman during her adolescence while they imagined she was a man, and she described this as “normal heterosexual attraction (p286).” A second participant had a sexual relationship with a woman, while requiring her to imagine she was a man, but “I stopped the relationship when she wanted to perform lesbian sex acts on me because lesbian sex acts tend to disgust me and I want no part of them (p284).” Another participant “believed that the crushes which she had on other girls were ‘wrong’ and that she was ‘screwed up’ and ‘fucked up’ for feeling the way she did (p287).”
Another participant, Dale, “was particularly tormented about being homosexual. Dale knew what a homosexual was because she had looked it up in a dictionary, but she was not happy about being such a disreputable person. Dale remembers being ‘horrified’ and ‘so ashamed’ of herself for her ‘unnatural feelings.’ (p290)” Dale also said “I don’t think I could have lived if people knew” and “I really didn’t like myself at all (p290).” Another participant “was so distressed about her attractions to females and about her unwelcomed puberty that she started drinking heavily at age eleven (p291).” She did kiss another girl as an adolescent and remarked “I knew it wasn’t right. That I shouldn’t be doing that, being female. And I felt really bad about the whole thing (p291).”
Had enough yet? I think the only place you’d find more homophobia is at the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t believe for a second that any of these women were distressed because of having an “innate male gender identity.” They were aware of the fact that they were females attracted to females, and the belief that this was wrong was the source of their distress. Their desire to be men cannot be separated from their belief that only men could do what they wanted to do.
Those participants who did have relationships with other women in their youth sometimes found women who were willing to pretend they were male. Three participants found women who were “accepting of participants’ evaluations of themselves as men” and “considered themselves to be heterosexual (p294–295).” One participant had a four-year sexual relationship with another woman that neither of them thought of as a lesbian relationship and in which they had “very rigid gender stereotyped roles (p293).” Another participant believed that her partner “related to the male inside of me (p295).” There is a lot of pretending going on here. The reality is that both partners had female bodies but they were both willing to imagine one of them as male and their relationship as heterosexual. This is what happens when both members of a couple have internalized homophobia.
Some of the participants in the study went on to have adult lesbian relationships, which are documented in another chapter. They often compared themselves to other lesbians and concluded that they were significantly different since they desired to be men and other lesbians were happy to be women. Although I agree that lesbians don’t typically desire to be men, I don’t believe that these individuals desired to be men on the basis of an innate maleness, but because of unresolved internalized homophobia, interpretation of their sexual desires as masculine, and hatred of their bodies, all of which could be resolved in therapy. There is a lot of faulty thinking that needs correcting, such as the belief that the way a female experiences her female body and sexual desires makes her somehow male. The idea that a female can be innately male is absurd and nonsensical.
Things surely would have been different in their lives if they had been taught that homosexuality is acceptable and that two women can indeed have satisfying sex. The odd thing about transitioning to male on the basis of wanting to make love to a woman as a man is that FtMs can never get anything close to a real penis. They can either have an enlarged clitoris (which surely cannot satisfy a straight woman wanting heterosexual intercourse) or they can have a rolled up piece of arm skin sewn onto their pelvis. In either case, they will have to use either their hands, their mouth, or a dildo (or other prosthetic) in order to make love to a woman, just like they would have as a lesbian. I just don’t see what FtMs gain by being a hairier and more muscular woman who ends up having the same sex that lesbians have anyway. It all seems like an elaborate performance piece. Some participants in this study reported having sexual relations with another woman where both of them imagined her being a man. Taking testosterone is like a permanent man costume, allowing the lesbian couple to continue looking straight 24/7, but they are still unable to perform heterosexual intercourse because there is never any penis involved no matter how much surgery she has.
After reading this chapter, I felt enraged and horrified by all the homophobia I saw, and I wondered how this homophobia seems to be lost on other people. The author of the study proceeds with the idea in mind that these people did indeed have an innate maleness and doesn’t ever suggest homophobia as a cause of their desire to be male. The FtM trans activist who wrote a foreward at the beginning of the book suggested that this study provided a fair and positive portrayal of transsexual people. Neither of these two have demonstrated any concern about the level of homophobia on display. The author of the study was a woman in a relationship with a woman while doing this research, and not only did she not draw conclusions about the homophobia inherent in transsexualism, but she became transsexual herself!
Many of the women quoted above were adolescents in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. I expect that FtMs today are probably far less homophobic, and many would be just as horrified by this homophobia as I am. However, I am still seeing signs of internalized homophobia and interpretation of lesbian desires as “male” in FtMs who discuss their reasons for transition today. Female-to-male transsexualism has a history of being an escape for lesbians who didn’t want to be lesbians, and it’s still being used this way at least some of the time.
(The next post in this series is FtMs comparing themselves to lesbians.)