in the valley of the shadow by rambo rose reza

want to know why my entire physiological engagement with sex changed, and why i ended penetration as a sexual act?

i mean, first, it was a matter of physical sensation.

literally, the old ways—the ways ingrained within me since first puberty by a society that insisted that only two immutable genders existed—no longer existed in an “amicable” relationship with my body.

describing this relationship is difficult, to say the least.

how do you encompass what it was like? this insidious poison, seeping into your veins, trying to slowly kill that whom you are?

cissexist heteronormative conditioning enforced through family, through popular culture, through interactions with “peers” and the trauma bonding wherein you either share the poison with vigor... or you perform.

i have always performed.

it’s how to survive.

(here, i’ll let someone else’s words do the work:)

_______________

Keep me alive

Only you can do it

If not you'll die too and I'll see to it

It's hard to survive

Don't know if I can do it

Keep me alive

I can't accept my fate

I need help before it's too late

It's hard to survive

Don't know if I can do it

I need to belong

I need to hang on

I need, need

keep me alive

Feelings I must obey

Can't turn my eyes from the past

This crisis is the last

It's hard to survive

Don't know if I can do it

Keep me alive

I rely on your judgment

Got none of my own

Don't know what I'm doing

It's hard to survive

Don't know if I can do it

I need to belong

I need to hang on

I need, need

_______________

( © b. flag 1981 )

i guess what it meant to have a phallus was to be a “man” and i guess what it meant to be a “man” was to strut as if you tyrannically owned the road you tread on and to only display a particular set of emotions.

it was like being dead inside.

it was like being told that this feeling of internal death was what you were supposed to feel.

so i performed, to survive, to ignore feeling dead inside.

(though the light was always there. she nurtured herself over the decades without even realizing it; that’s how she survived living in the valley of the shadow of the masculine. she is me, i am her. but i digress: this is a story for another time.)

sex,

i was indoctrinated to believe,

was,

for someone with a phallus,

to strut as if you tyrannically owned the road you tread on and to only display a particular set of emotions.

but how do you do that if you deep down feel the effects of that insidious poison,

and a part of you actively questions why you are ingesting this poison,

and then the poison responds by telling you that

there is no other way?

you perform.

it’s how to survive.

so it was.

instead of me feeling like i could just figure out sexuality on my own—

—like those days before the dark times, before first puberty, when i would roll on the carpeted floor and revel in the sensation of pleasure that i did not understand,

or be perplexed by this strange feature of my body that liked the rolling motions on the floor,

or the rolling sensation i would do with my hands, back and forth on either side, which produced the same effect,

responding how my body, heart, and mind responded to images of femininity on cartoons and print media,

providing a physical component to the feelings of breathlessness and longing-for and also an as-yet unidentified longing-to-be, back when i could just gaze at these characters and imagine what kissing felt like, swooning before i ever realized what swooning was—

instead of this joy of discovering on my own, i was faced with a very limited set of options in how to experience pleasure, how to process my feelings towards other girls, at a time when

society family culture standardized education popular culture peer pressure

told me that i was a “man,” and sadly, i believed that lie.

and what were those options?

  • when you see what you want, you take: this is the way.

  • when you touch yourself, you grasp and roughly handle your body into submission: this is the way.

  • when you think about what sex would be like, you take the role of The Penetrator, and as an aggressor: this is the way.

  • there is no softness, there is only hardness: this is the way.

  • you take what you see when you see what you want: this is the way.

as you can see, the poison of this conditioning created feelings of repugnance that i can only now truly understand, but i MUST digress a moment and state that this is my experience with what it meant to penetrate, and that the sexual act in and of itself is just that: a physical action, and one that different people with different bodies and different ways of processing cissexist heteronormative conditioning will have different experiences with. hashtag penetration-can-be-feminine, hashtag penetration-can-be-non-aggressive, hashtag there-is-no-one-right-way-to-engage-in-consensual-sex. THIS is the way.


physically, penetration was a demanding role. i am a consummate performer, so i played the part and i played it well. partners wanted it. i didn’t know what i wanted, because i was brainwashed to suppress exploring my feelings and sensations with wonder, but i pretended that i wanted it too.

sure, it felt good, in the way that and the right amount of friction and wetness and pressure just feels good if you’re a human who enjoys the act of sex, but it was a pleasure stymied by the demands and expectations of the role i played.

i did not want to take—i wanted to be taken. and i wanted to be taken by a demographic of humanity that was also conditioned, like me, to feel certain ways about whom their bodies and their roles, as subjects to the same cissexist heteronormative conditioning, generally did not allow room for being the taker, the penetrator, the one who takes what they want.

so i suppressed that whom i was to play this role.

my partners appeared to be pleasured, as far as i could tell.

i suppose i appeared the same, and it was true to a degree, but it was not a complete sensation of pleasure that i would discover upon realizing my womanhood and femme-ninity (even before hormone therapy).

rather, it was muted, literally and figuratively silenced:

a grunt, if any sound at all.

a rigid maintenance of poise and posture even when you just want to release tension in your body.

a rigid maintenance of poise and posture even when you just wanted to LET GO.

a fetishization of the physical act of ejaculation, like everything centered upon that involuntary bodily action, but only when it was managed and controlled.

that is what penetration was, to me.

that was the way.

( and the light, she kept the brightness alive within the valley of the shadow, but she questioned it from day one: “is that all there is? is that all there is?” )

those years before i realized my true self, even the shadowy butch façade could not avoid this question the bright one asked with insistence that knew no silence

( for she could never be shut up: she is me, i am her.)

and they would sit and ask themselves the same question, but as “i guess this is all that there is. this is the way.” and yet, they would not truly believe it.

flash forward in years: i find my true self, the light moves to the forefront and i no longer live in the valley of the shadow. i’m still playing the role in sex, because partners want that and it is the way i was conditioned to think about my body, but it is a slightly looser role, free of that horrible oversight, and i allow myself to ask these questions aloud. i explore other ways of touching myself even though the easiest method toward one type of orgasm is still that rough physicality of grasping and jerking—i still look for other methods.

but it took getting on hormone therapy to finally find those other methods.

the physical act of penetration felt extra demanding. the frustration with having to withhold my own pleasure to take the role (to maintain an erection) was not only more emotionally evident but it was physically uncomfortable. it did not feel good. grasping and handling roughly and penetrating felt almost painful. and as this change occurred, i allowed myself to think more and more as to how i wanted to experience pleasure. orgasms that had started to feel more fuller-bodied had come to an initial obstacle that i mused upon with great interest.

thankfully, i had a few partners who while engaging in penetration with me, albeit it was more like them fucking me, honestly—like VAP (“vagina-around-penis”) rather than PIV (“penis-in-vagina”)—would also explore, allow me to express what i wanted for myself, and in a couple of cases, even taught me things about my body that i wasn’t even aware of in terms of experiencing full-body orgasm:

  • kissing and making out. around this time in the initial years of hormone therapy, kissing and making out and actions that were generally termed to be “outercourse” (good fucking grief, what an asinine term) began to give me pleasure that rivaled the old ways of sex. i could let go. and when i let go, i stopped being able to control how my body would slowly writhe and squirm and lose awareness of anything other than the delicious sensation of my lips and tongue locked with another’s.

  • being choked, being consensually groped all over, being the object-subject upon which pleasure would be given—being *taken* as i had always wanted to experience from the humans i was attracted to (women and non-binary feminine-presenting humans).

  • and profoundly to the point of this being one of the most poignant discoveries about my body as a sexual being, i learned through the actions of one partner how i liked having my clit rubbed (as opposed to “my dick jerked,” i guess, even though i stopped thinking of my body like that a while back). one partner, after kissing me, narrowed her mascara’d eyes, licked a finger, placed it *right there* on my body, and engaged in circular motions with her wet finger. i simultaneously found my clit, and started truly losing myself to pleasure. i still remember that first orgasm. like nothing i had experienced prior. but thankfully, after a month of vigorous study upon myself, it became something i learned to do to myself. thanks, partner-who-taught-me-how-to-rub-my-clit-by-rubbing-my-clit i believe that you know who you are, don’t worry i ain’t gonna @ u

there isn’t really a timeline of there being a definite change that immediately took place. partners i played with were kind and compassionate enough to listen to me when i said i didn’t really enjoy penetration anymore. (and i sadly even had a moment where someone approached my body expecting it to react like a cishet man’s—and it was a violation. but i’m not talking about that right now.) more than one partner even shifted play completely, noticing what i enjoyed and how i enjoyed touching myself, and modified their actions accordingly, understanding that they had a pliant femme beneath their hands and lips and tongue.

my girlfriend approached me in this manner from day one. even at one point where i was heady with rolling orgasm from kissing and making out and spouted some breathy nonsense about how “you make me feel like a girl” (nonsense because i AM a girl), and she pinned me down with one hand on my throat and the other between my legs, and whispered “i only fuck girls,” before kissing me deeply on the mouth and the rest is a heady, breathless blur.

yeah. i’ve come a long way since that old horrible cissexist heteronormative conditioning. i survived it, i moved beyond it, and most importantly, i can never go back to it.

understand, readers, that this is merely MY OWN experience with what the act of penetration meant and how it was something that i never truly enjoyed and how it was associated with so many distasteful things. i’m sure that there are people out there who have a completely different and perhaps even empowering approach. that’s valid. so is my experience.


photograph by Caroline King


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