Twixt stealth and authenticity

Should i write some “trans porn”?

That’s quickly answered: no. Although that wasn’t the question i was asked first time round, as the person asking it – the editor of a fairly respectable and wide circulation collection of, er, literary smut – had inquired ever so politely whether i was prepared to write “trans erotica”.

The answer – at the time – was still “no”. Though maybe, now, i am having to rethink that just a little.

The porn yawn

For starters, let’s park the old chesnut about “porn” vs. “erotica”, which always strikes me as having about it an air of unreality – and to be more about class and gentility than any real distinction. There are peeps out there who “get off” to the mildest of mild erotica and would turn their noses up at porn.

And there are others for whom the porn thing – preferably visual, rough and glistening – is the baseline for things erotic. And then there are, i am told, still folk for whom shoe catalogues are the thing.

Nah. The real dilemma is wwhether to include transness in work that i am doing already, which i have variously described as “lesbian smut in the style of Victoria Wood” – or maybe even Pam Ayers!

The trans question

Over the last year i have got back to creative writing in a variety of forms (not all of it fit, yet, for publishing): but a growing part of my effort has been in the intersection between performance and poetry and – yes – smut! I know, because audience members have told me, that some of what i do has been a turn on: i know there are some poems, some performaces that are more likely to leave an audience hot and wet than others (mainly the ones in crowded pubs in the middle of August).

And the problem – the question – that hovers over a lot of what i write is: should it include a trans dimension?

Let’s start with the trans porn/erotica thing. My first thought was that i wouldn’t know what that was. But of course i do, and i’ve briefly touched the stuff over the years. I’d define it as p/e in which transness in one form or other features as a source of erotic arousal.

A no-no on the part of our esteemed GIC gatekeepers – and stupidly so, in my opinion. I mean, if somewhere lurking in the back of your mind is getting your body fixed – then isn’t it sort of natural to link that thought to the erotic, even occasionally?

That said, trans p/e comes in many variants – and much is probably written more from the outsider/voyeur’s point of view. There’s the forced cross-dressing/feminisation, usually involving that most improbable of characters, the maiden aunt. There’s the she-male/chick-with-a-dick thing. And there’s genuine transformation. More, too, i suspect, but right now can’t think of them.

And maybe the right question for the GIC to be asking is not: do you have sexual fantasies linked to transness – but what sort of fantasy? Because from the outset, my instant reaction to the first two was “yuk!” – while lifelong i’ve sought out stories, often non-erotic, of transformation. Beginning with Ovid’s Metamorphoses…working on through mainstream sci-fi such as the works of Jack Chalker.

In hindsight, that was probably “a sign” – even if no-one spotted it at the time.

A taste of authenticity

But back to NOW and what i should do. My writing and performance is a hopefully humorous amble around the twilight zone between real experience and imagined experience. If i tell you a tale on stage, it might be true, half-true, or utterly false. You decide.

At its core, though, i hope, are essential truths about me and my outlook on life.

And if we kick out the idea that i’m ever going to write anything that fetishises transness, the question remains of whether it should be there, on the stage, inside my work.

Because i know people like to nose. And i think the circumstance of their nosing is rather different from the prurient intrusion that follows when the press turn up on someone’s front doorstep and start filming unannounced and without permission.

I’m laying a lot of me out there for public dissection. Is it wrong to include transness in that dissection? Or is there some unwritten code of community omerta that states: thou shalt not talk about transness in the same space as sex and sexuality.

I must say, for some while, i tended to take the latter point of view. Then i listened to Lazlo Pearlman discussing issues not a million miles disconnected from same in a presentation entitled “grotesque-ing my transbody at ‘The box'”, and i started to think again.

I can’t say i’ve reached any sort of conclusion. Yet. But for me, its a question of authenticity: if i am talking about “experience” there is beyond question a trans dimension to that experience and leaving it out is possibly dishonest – as well as cutting me off from a whole range of issues and insights.

Am i planning to write any trans porn/erotica any time soon? No. But as my on-stage work develops, i think transness will probably have to feature in it.

Jane xx


13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Natacha said,

    Problem is, I guess, that transness has, for so long been associated with fetishisation/porn/erotica and as trans people, quite understandably, we want to distance ourselves from it. It is used by our enemies; TERFs, Religious rightwingers etc. against us, even though most trans p/e is produced neither by nor for trans people.

    Having said that, cis people have sexualities and legitimate sexual fantasies which do not bring their identities/genders into question and are not used by others to threaten their existence, so why shouldn’t trans people as well?

    I guess (or hope) that in time the association or (MTF mostly) trans people with p/e will diminish or be regarded as an outmoded cliche by everyone. That will be the time when the relationship between trans people and p/e can develop and become more open IMO.

    • 2

      janefae said,

      Hmmm…i’ll refer you to the general comment, since i am NOT really proposing to write trans p/e here: merely mulling over the trade-off between authenticity and, some would suggest, sell-out of allowing trans to be considered in the same way as other aspects of sex and sexuality.

      You’ll have to come to the next gig i do. Let’s just say that the way i play it is as a middle-aged woman (natch) presenting her slightly surprised, hopefully humorous, witty, observations in poetic form about sex, sexuality and modern living.

      Those will involve my take on life as a woman, as a lesbian, occasionally as a feminist…and i guess the question boils down to why shouldn’t i add my perception of such things as a woman of trans history?

      That’s all.

      Jane xx

    • 3

      Jeanne said,

      Thank you Natacha, as one who believes myself to be hopelessly caught in the middle of the spectrum that Harry Benjamin called his scale, my only truth is neither M or F or both, I am not sure. Not fitting fully TS I lived 50+ years of life hating that I was a fetish TV. Well now 4+ years on HRT, I am openly trans. If my type is not sexual or worthy of fantacy, then where does that leave me. I have been looking at bi sexual on line dating and thinking bi might be short for binary.

  2. 4

    zoebrain said,

    If I were to write erotica, it would be more in the style of a bodice-ripper.

    I’m straight, and the first time a guy kissed me… was mind-blowing. I didn’t actually understand sexual attraction before transition. Now, even though I’m a “modern girl”, a feminist, a geekette academic, my love life is so terribly corny it’s embarrassing.

    I’d be heavy on the strawberries dipped in chocolate and snuggling, light on the sweaty hydraulics, but to be taken by a man you love… melty.

    Darnit I *hate* being a stereotype! Still, it’s what I am.

  3. 5

    zoebrain said,

    Oh yes, did I mention that when I was young, I looked like a boy? That seems like another universe, or a bizarre dream now.

    It *is* a part of me, it shaped me into the woman I am, but it doesn’t seem very relevant now. Trying to write “trans erotica” would be like trying to write “brunette erotica” or “green eyed erotica”. I’m trans, brunette, green-eyed, but none of that seems relevant to my sexual response or instincts, which are hopelessly standard old-fashoned classical, even caricatured female.

    • 6

      janefae said,

      mmmm. I think part of my point was that i don’t really get what “trans erotica” would be. Or rather, i get what it might be from a cis perspective. But from a trans one?

      The closest i can get to any idea of what it might be is when i read (and write about) subjects like Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I always loved the idea of magical transformation. Twould make me smile….and if something can make you smile, it may be but a short step to angling it in a way that makes you horny.

      No more than that.

      jane xx

  4. 7

    misswonderly said,

    I know that you’ve put a lot of thought into this area, Jane. My own rather subjective thoughts would be to do with the way erotica is heightened by what is repressed, forbidden, perceived as being not socially acceptable. If, as you say, in the back of your mind that also relates to a need to get your body fixed, then I can’t rule confusion, denial and indeed dishonesty out of the equation.

    When Blanchard came out with his theory of autogynephilia … ludicrously popularised by J Michael Bailey … what I found most objectionable was that I recognised many of the behaviours he labelled as ‘symptoms’ as having once existed in myself. However by the time I heard about it I was fortunate that I’d already transitioned, was in a longterm relationship and nearly all of those ‘symptoms’ had evaporated. So it was clear to me that those ‘symptoms’ were not co-morbid (for want of a better word) with transsexualism but were confusion resulting from a body which had needed fixing and a strong perceived social taboo against getting it fixed.

    I find it hard therefore to view any of the ‘symptoms’ of so-called autogynephilia with any kind of equanimity or as a desirable subject for pornography. To me they were the unhappy manifestations of repression, denial and dishonesty. I would actually be horrified if GIC’s suddenly began paying attention to the sexuality of trans people in the way that they used to. This has nothing to do with prurience and everything to do with their subjective cisgenderism failing to distinguish cause from effect.

    I accept that most fetishes may simply have no cause but there is a clear distinction in my mind between fetish and behaviours resulting from repression and unhappiness. I wouldn’t really be comfortable with porn which celebrated behaviours resulting from the latter. Until we have a social climate where nobody’s sexuality is dictated by policing of their gender, I think this is always going to be a difficult path to tread.

    The other thorny issue is ‘admirers’ … especially male ones. I’m quite sure you’re of the same opinion as I am that nobody should feel ashamed of fancying anybody else, whatever the configuration of their genitals, and doing something about it … providing it’s consensual. There seems to me however to be a viscious circle, particularly affecting trans women, whereby any man who fancies a woman with male genitals or who once had male genitals is viewed as perverted. Men who find themselves attracted to a trans woman, whatever the configuration of her genitals, may already be struggling with thoughts that they might be gay so they get it from both sides. It seems fairly obvious to me that this may result in them feeling shame which may in turn lead them to objectify trans women in the way ‘respectable’ men have always objectified women who are outside their social sphere or engage in sex work. The possibility of an emotional relationship developing is denied.

    I think some really sensitive erotica relating to this issue would be very welcome. I’m sure trans women might read it. Whether any of the men who are attracted to them would is another matter.

    • 8

      janefae said,

      we-ell…thanks for the positive comment, though the bottom line here is that my concern is not about whether or not to write trans porn – which i mostly see as non-starter – so much as whether it is possible to add a trans perspective to a creative form that already includes poetry, humour and some eroticness.

      You could make this debate easier/safer by shifting to the question of whether we are ready for a trans comedian making jokes about transness yet…a topic i’ve been debating at length with a certain Ms B and Ms K lately.

      On the one hand, there is the danger, whether one does documentary, interview or poetic set of ending up looking a tad “uncle Tom-ish”: exposing transness to a prurient and voyeuristic cis gaze.

      But utterly rejecting that approach risks the opposite: denying personal authenticity BECAUSE of how a cis audience MIGHT take it.

      Let’s give a f’rinstance. You know that my scribblings on this blog have been fairly open. Amusingly so, even for me, since looking back i can read stuff written a year or two back and go: “Jane – how could you ever have thought THAT!”

      A lot of what i write is focused on minutiae. Very observational. A bit quirky. And always interested by the peculiar details of existence.

      A recent piece was on “Sexual imaginings on the last train from London”. I could have a field day on “Stubble”. 🙂

      And the next set is likely to end very bitter sweet, with a performance of “Things you never had” – which is most definitely a trans lament.

      But if i’m doing all that sort of observational stuff, there are going to be loads of quirky personal observations around various first times…and that, maybe, is where this question is heading. There is much humour to be had out of all sort of teen firsts…why not out of trans firsts, too?

      jane xx

  5. 9

    janefae said,

    Gonna throw this in as a mostly general comment – and then get back to the individual stuff in a mo.

    Let’s start by saying that what i am talking about here is far less crude than SOME will probably take it as being. I’m not talking about writing trans smut – merely about recognising transness in what is otherwise a fairly general treatment of smuttiness.

    Let’s start with the e-word, or even p-word, which i see can be very derailing to discourse here. Crude trans “erotica”, aka porn, is mostly created by cis folk and is prurient/voyeuristic in nature. I’m certainly not talking about that. There are enough cis folk getting off on their own vague notions of transness for me not to wish to add to the whole rather sordid body of stuff out there.

    Second up – and again, even this is not what i am talking about, there is the question of whether there can ever be a genuinely “trans literature” or “trans creativity” – and whether within that cadre there can ever be such a thing as trans erotica. Thus, when i get a moment to spare, i have a trans fairy story i need to complete and deliver. There is also a fantasy novel which is likely to include within it some transformation themes. Probably nothing erotic: but if it did, then is there an issue, given that the great cis unwashed might decide to view it through their own grubby little kaleidoscopes.

    But no. What i am talking about here is stage work, which is mostly creative based around prose and poetry and which contains erotic elements. Until recently, i have tended to eschew any evocation of my transness, for the same reason that many here are wary of peeps doing documentaries, interviews with the media and suchlike.

    Maybe the same reason that peeps are wary of comedy that features transness: because they take the pov that however you position it, it is not possible to avoid your best efforts being refracted through the cis world view.

    But i am gradually swinging round the other way. If i am developing writing and style that leans on the humorous side of sex and sexuality that is loosely based on personal experience…then perhaps i am just being overly cautious if i deliberately exclude any trans references.

    I’m certainly not talking about sexualising transness – quite the opposite. Rather, i’m asking how far peeps think it is possible to treat transness in the same way as one would treat broader topics without falling into a cis trap.

  6. 10

    saphirenz said,

    Hmmmm. I don’t understand what your problem is. As a woman of transsexual history I naturally think like a woman. I don’t think I have any fetishes or paraphilia.

    • 11

      janefae said,

      What a strange reply…are you trying to suggest that women have no fetishes or paraphilias? Or indeed, any erotic thoughts whatsoever?

      Otherwise, you’re rather missing the point. I’m talking about the process of creative writing and erotica in that context. The question then becomes whether acknowledging transness and allowing that fact to intrude in any way in such a treatment is dangerous (which both Natacha and Sarah noted it can be) or whether failure to do so is to reject authenticity – which others i have spoken to creatively would also say it is.

      Its one of those questions without an absolute answer…but of interest to debate. And relevant to me in that i will be on stage again in the next few months adding new material to my set.

      jane xx

  7. 12

    saphirenz said,

    I suppose some creative writing is fantasy anyway and you are not talking about Mills and Boon although those publications have their share of erotica….as does Lady Chatterley’s Lover. One thing I have noticed though is that BDSM is quite prevalent among transgendered people so are they perhaps prone to fetishes?. I guess I am boringly normal and ask the question , will my prince come someday? You think my reply is strange? I just don’t understand a post op. preoccupation with trans anything let alone feeling the need to write about it.

    • 13

      janefae said,

      Not a pre-occupation, so much as an acknowledgment. Though i think your response has two quite separate elements to it.

      Is bdsm prevalent among trans people? Dunno…. bdsm is an incredibly wide spectrum and also includes kink and, as you put it, paraphilia. Its broadened even further in recent years with what i would call the arrival of the non-heteronormative brigade. peeps who refuse to allow their sexuality to fall neatly into the “charmed circle” categories of straight sex…and inclues a load of types whose only “difference” would appear to be that they are LGB(T), gender queer, non-binary, pansexual or whatever.

      Many of those groups, on their own, i’d struggle to claim as being specifically bdsm-oriented: but the fatc that in many spaces they seem to have merged with the kink scene to the point where it is no longer quite clear where kink ends and difference begins…we-ell, that makes bdsm that much wider.

      Add to that two two features of trans womanhood (and trans manhood, too). The first, that you may have spent a large chunk of your adult life being othered: told you are weird and that that weirdness is somehow tied in with sex and sexuality…and its not altogether surprising if you do end up in non-normative spaces.

      Plus, unless you pass very well and do stealth…you are going to find a “normal” sex life difficult to maintain…so maybe easier to associate with others who are on society’s fringes, sexually.

      And back to the start…and a “pre-occupation” with writing about trans anything….hmmmm. depends, i guess, on whether you are a writer anyway. I am…and outside the journalism, a lot of my writing is quirky, experience-based, feelings based.

      Not literal…but, as above, “based” around experience. I think i muttered elsewhere how i could write a piece some time about “stubble”…and sure, i could do that from the perspective of a cis woman. But…if i am writing about my personal experiences, even at some remove, authenticity requires that at certain critical points i acknowledge difference, change, transformation.

      Becaus unless you lived a quite extraordinary life, you are going to have different experiences before and after transition: and it seems to me that acknowledging that difference is not so much being pre-occupied, as being honest (with yourself).

      jane xx

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