Mira Bellwether and “Fucking Trans Women” Zine: The Autostraddle Interview

 

“Here be dragons and sea monsters, my fellow genital cartographers, and we have a lot to learn from poking them.” – Fucking Trans Women #0

I’ve read a lot of zines in my life, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. I don’t know if I can honestly say that any one zine has impacted my life as much as Fucking Trans Women #0. It was put out in October, 2010 by Mira Bellwether. Fucking Trans Women has had a massive impact on my understanding of what queer women’s sexuality could look like in general, and a glimpse of the potential for my own sexuality as a queer trans woman.

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Bellwether asks a bevy of questions in FTW, which range in scope and scientificness from “How do you court someone?” to “Which nerves run through a pre-operative trans woman’s genitals, and how can all four of them be stimulated at once?” The answers are provided with a combination of lucid narrative and the author’s own diagrams.

I think that may be the best way, actually, to explain exactly how fresh and needed this zine is: there were simply no extant diagrams or information for some of the sex acts and uses for certain body parts explored in FTW by Bellwether, and so she had to draw them herself.

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The zine’s focus on the bodies of pre- and non-op trans women, and how these bodies move in bed, was revelatory. Reading FTW provided perhaps my first glimpse into an understanding of trans women’s bodies, like mine, not as incomplete projects or disturbing visions, but as always already carrying the capacity to be beautiful, the potential to be sexual and sexy. It also taught me about the ilioinguinal nerve branch, which is fun to talk about both softly in bed and loudly in public spaces.

I had a lot of questions for Mira floating around for years, and so I finally decided to ask them.

What’s your briefest synopsis of Fucking Trans Women?

Fucking Trans Women is, at its heart, a how-to manual, and the finished product is good sex.

I wanted to stress the biological facts of our bodies. We have to build a very basic vocabulary and common understanding in terms like, “this spot has lots of nerves running through it. This part likes pressure, this part likes stroking, this other part can do X, Y, and Z.” If you keep sex at the conceptual level, I think you find that it’s not as rewarding as you want it to be. In order to have good sex, I think we have to acknowledge our bodies, come to terms with them as they are, and be able to inhabit them. In other words, to be immanent rather than transcendent.

One of the reasons this zine happened was that I got really sick of explaining things and teaching my lovers about my body during time that should have been spent having sex. When one of my lovers said that she wished she had an instruction manual for my body, I took that and responded to it pretty literally.

Even at 80 pages, there’s still so much more to talk about.

Definitely. One aspect of your zine I found interesting was how many hints you drop about topics you want to address in the future. For instance, one of my favorite lines in the entire zine was actually scribbled in the margins of the introduction: “we deserve to have sex without it becoming a gender studies class.” Can you explicate this line further?

So much of what I read about sex and what I have seen out in the world stresses one point over and over to the point where it’s completely useless: communication. Yes, communication is important. Yes, we need to learn how to talk about our bodies. But one of the most common issues I hear about from other trans women is over-thinking everything, and being too preoccupied with our bodies to really enjoy sex.

I have a sort of mantra that I repeat to myself: if you’re in your head, you’re not in your body.

The more preoccupied or even obsessed you are with the ways in which you are NOT connecting with your body, the less you will be able to enjoy or even experience the ways in which you DO connect with your body.

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I can imagine that some trans women reading your zine felt that the way they connect with their bodies is not the way you connect with yours, especially when it comes to terminology used for certain body parts. Have you received any criticism of Fucking Trans Women along those lines?

Yeah, the one criticism of Fucking Trans Women that has stuck out has essentially been, “my body doesn’t work that way.” But I don’t think I made any claims that I was describing the experiences of all trans women, so I have pretty much just said “okay” to those people.

For instance, I have a section on muffing. I’ve heard from more than a few trans women who say it’s just not their cup of tea, and that’s totally understandable and fine. I’m not invested in every one of us muffing, but I am excited when I hear from other trans women who have gotten a lot out of it.

Looking back on it now, I can see some places where I pulled my punches a little, said things a little more cautiously than I would now. I would call my penis my penis, my cock my cock. I stand by what I said in regards to it sometimes feeling more like a clit, but there are many times when I feel perfectly at home with having a penis.

That’s an okay thing to say. It isn’t everybody’s story, but it’s my story.

Right – we all have different stories. Some of what I consider the best parts of Fucking Trans Women serve as a road map to a body that not many people know what to do with, especially because those road maps and bodies can look very different. I’ve found myself in that exact position quite a few times over the years, especially before reading your zine.

Which position is that?

People would ask me: “So what are you into, where do you like to be touched?” and I could only ever respond, “I don’t know. I haven’t the slightest clue.” I lacked sexual agency, at the time, because I lacked the knowledge that necessarily precedes agency.

That sounds familiar. We as trans women often think of our bodies in a very metaphorical way or sometimes an instrumental way, like something we are driving or piloting rather than being in, of, and part of.

I think this is why sex has the potential to be so important for trans women: good sex can make you feel really present in your body, and part of being trans is that we frequently don’t experience presence and embodiment as much as we’d like to. Granted that not all trans women are interested in sex — for those of us who are, it can be uniquely empowering when done right.

I think it’s one of the most important things we can do to feel more connected, more whole, more sane, as women.

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Given the extent to which our bodies interface with society’s varied (usually negative) impressions of us, I like how the word ‘fucking’ in Fucking Trans Women works equally well as a verb and as an adjective. In the former sense, Fucking Trans Women serves as a how-to guide, like ‘riding motorcycles,’ ‘flirting with cuties.’ In the latter sense, Fucking Trans Women depicts one of the possibilities for what it can look like when we, as trans women, fuck in a way that maintains, rather than erodes, our agency and bodily sovereignty. The sort of conversation we are having now, about the way trans women fuck, has a pretty messed up context. It’s rare for a public conversation about what trans women do in bed to have a vocabulary and grammar that we decide upon.

The basic distinction between how we’re portrayed as sexual beings is captured pretty well in the phrase “evil deceivers and make-believers,” which is the title of a piece by Talia Mae Bettcher. In most media we’re either cast as sexual predators who prey on unsuspecting men (hence “trap,” the disgusting slur that’s given to those of us who mostly pass as cis women or are taken to be cis women), or we’re looked down upon as objects of pity who do not and could not pass as women at all, who couldn’t conceivably even HAVE a sex life.

I like to think of this as the eunuch/pervert construct. We’re not presented as one or the other, but usually, paradoxically, both at the same time.

We have some vocabulary for this, including “transmisogyny.” I think it’s an important stereotype to be aware of and an important one to work against. You could say that FTW is an indirect response to negative depictions of our sexuality, simply by virtue of its existence: rather than focusing on how we relate or don’t relate to the presumed sexual and biological norm, FTW focuses on OUR bodies, on OUR sex lives. However, that’s not my main project in Fucking Trans Women, at least not directly. I’m more interested in our actual sex lives than I am in how they’re depicted by the largely ignorant and fearful media. I wanted to speak to aspects of our sexuality that are almost never given any attention in media whatsoever: those of us who enjoy sex with other women, trans and otherwise, and some of the difficulties (as well as unique pleasures) of trans women having sex with cis women.

I think that maybe the first step in either fucking a trans woman or being a trans woman who is fucking is to understand that we are innervated differently, that we are fundamentally different from men.

I used to be quite a skeptic on this subject because I didn’t want to believe that men’s and women’s bodies were all that different. What I’ve come to understand is that hormones affect our entire bodies, from the skin to the heart to the brain to the genitals, and in this sense we are WILDLY different from men of any type.

We have the same nerves as everyone else, which includes cis women, but our brains interpret them differently, I think. Our subjective experience does not match up with cis men very well at all.

As far as how the bodies of trans women are different, how our sex lives are different, I think the right way to think about that topic is actually in terms of our similarities to other women, punctuated with a few notable differences.

Which similarities come to mind?

The basic structure of the penis and the clitoris, for example, is very similar, and the distribution of nerve endings is roughly the same, whatever you may have erroneously heard from The Vagina Monologues: we have the same number of nerve endings, they’re simply spread out a bit more.

Who is FTW written for? Just trans women, or also those with bodies different from ours?

I think EVERYONE should read FTW. Trans women, cis women, all kinds of men and everyone else, as well. Even if you aren’t a trans woman, even if you have absolutely no interest in fucking trans women, I think it’s still worth reading because it has a lot to say about sex in general as well as the specifics of how trans women have sex.

You should read this because it might give you some insight into what’s going on with trans women you know. You should read this because it has a lot to say about — yes, I’m going to use that dreaded word — phallocentrism. And even though the focus is on bodies that are somewhat different from yours, there are still, by and large, more similarities than differences. But the way we interpret signals from those shared nerves and body parts, and the way sensation is changed by hormones, are unique to us. It’s just essential to know where your own buttons really are, and the truth of the matter is that, for all of us, they are more numerous and more diverse than we usually think.

Besides the cissexist way people often compare us to cis men instead of cis women as a baseline for understanding us, are there any other cisconceptions you’d like to address?

That trans women like to have sex any one specific way. We like to have sex in a wide variety of ways, some of which are unique to us or are better suited to our bodies.

For instance, vaginal intercourse involving the penis is popular with some trans women, but I wouldn’t by any means say the majority of us. I think that cis women, in particular queer cis women, often fear that having sex with us will be more like having sex with a straight man than having sex with another queer woman, and in my experience and from all accounts I’ve gathered, that’s just not the case. If there’s PIV (penis in vagina) going on, it’s probably occasional, and is probably not the main source of sexual pleasure.

One thing that I really tried to capture in FTW was that there are all sorts of ways to pleasure trans women. I gave a lot of time to soft penises for this reason, because in sexual literature they are almost completely ignored, and if they’re not ignored, they’re treated as defective or at rest or, even worse, an object of pity or scorn.

Earlier, you mentioned ‘phallocentrism’ as being a dreaded word. Can you speak more to phallocentrism and the terms origin in feminist discourse?

Well, I think that historically feminism in combination with sex is not a very safe bet — you’re as likely to read something awful and unhelpful as you are to read something mind-blowing, and that’s particularly true of vocabulary that emerged out of feminist theory in the late 70s. But phallocentrism is still an important concept to understand, especially taken quite literally. Especially for trans women: many of us have, biologically speaking, penises, and also experience erections less frequently. I think one of the ideas in FTW that I’m the most proud of is that the penis can be an organ for receiving pleasure in any state.

Your zine also covers a few ways that some trans women fuck which are unique to us. You mentioned muffing before.

I think it’s a sexual practice that is useful to a lot of trans women, even if it isn’t *unique* to trans women. To briefly explain for those who haven’t read the zine, muffing is the process of pushing the testicles back inside the body into the inguinal canals and/or penetrating the inguinal canals with one’s fingers or another object. If it sounds tricky that’s because it can be: it requires practice, a certain amount of flexibility, and patience.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about muffing to me has been that, before FTW, there was literally no language to describe the pleasurable act of being fucked in this particular way. It is a delicate and sensitive area, and the act of muffing comes more naturally to some than others. In my own sex life it was something of a revelation: that I could be penetrated in a way that is (mostly) unique to trans women’s bodies is a pretty exciting thing, and makes me feel proud of my body’s differences.

I think it’s fascinating that this language didn’t exist before. In the conclusion of the first issue, you mentioned the possibility of more to come, new topics, new issues of the zine.

Yes, there are future plans for at least one more issue of FTW. I’m interested, in the long-term, in collecting other trans women’s recipes into a sexual cookbook, a community cookbook for sex.

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Miranda Bellwether

Do you disagree now with anything you wrote, considering that the zine was first published three years ago?

Old writing can often be troublesome to a writer because of our internal editors, who always want to update and correct everything. But I still agree with the overall thrust of what I was saying.

I still think we need to find ways to connect with our bodies as best we can,
I still think it’s important to make sex enjoyable and not an exercise in mental self-torture.
I still think that understanding our bodies as they are is a key component to enjoyable sex.
You have to know where your own buttons are. Without that, communication is almost worthless.

Anything you’d like to say in closing, especially to trans women who are reading this?

I hope trans women take away from the zine the idea we can all write our own recipes.
We can all write our own instruction manuals.

Purchase Fucking Trans Women #0 and check for future updates.


Kennedy Nadler is a queer trans person living in Brooklyn. She writes poems on planks of wood, on strange paper, and on skin. She’s getting over an embarrassing hobby of watching too many rap battles on youtube, and has now moved on to the only slightly less embarrassing hobby of pinball.

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Kennedy has written 2 articles for us.

24 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    “I like how the word ‘fucking’ in Fucking Trans Women works equally well as a verb and as an adjective. In the former sense, Fucking Trans Women serves as a how-to guide, like ‘riding motorcycles,’ ‘flirting with cuties.’ In the latter sense, Fucking Trans Women depicts one of the possibilities for what it can look like when we, as trans women, fuck in a way that maintains, rather than erodes, our agency and bodily sovereignty. The sort of conversation we are having now, about the way trans women fuck, has a pretty messed up context. It’s rare for a public conversation about what trans women do in bed to have a vocabulary and grammar that we decide upon.”

    My inner English major really loves this use of language.

    And I think this comic is brilliant idea.

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    I really dig the importance of knowledge and vocabulary as a precursor to sexual agency. I think because cis people grow up with these resources as ubiquitous, or at least ubiquitous enough that by the time that you get to the point of “I’m going to have agency over my sexuality,” you’ve got access to those materials. But for us trans women (I can’t speak to the experiences of trans men) we can often reach that Liberated Feminist Standpoint of sexuality and it’s like “wait now what do I do?”

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      “we can often reach that Liberated Feminist Standpoint of sexuality and it’s like ‘wait now what do I do?’”

      I’m struggling with this so much right now. For the first time in my life, I feel like the owner of my own body, and proud to express my sexuality, but I also feel completely stuck–I really have no idea where to begin.

      Fuck Trans Women is seriously the best thing ever, and I cannot wait to dive in!

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    I really, really enjoyed/learnt a lot from this interview, especially the bit about sex and presence & embodiment. Just got hold of the zine and am very much looking forward to reading it. Thank you for featuring this!

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    I could learn all the languages of people, trees, rocks and bacteria, and I still wouldn’t have the vocabularic arsenal necessary to express my joy about all of the above.

    Frankly, I’d always been a little wary of talking in public about enjoying my body for all that it is, in all of these ways. (Will they throw me out of the gay club house? Will I land on my head? I don’t want to land on my head!) But I opened up about it on one of the panels at A-Camp 2.0 and I swear I got flirted on more after than I had before. :) A day can always be classified as good when a worry gets disproven during it.

    Back to the article, Kennedy: lovely interview. Mira: my money is now your money.

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      When you open up to folks and expose your inner self it often leads to people wanting to embrace and trust you. Unless of course they are evil and want to f with you huge;) You have always been open Morgan and thats why people are drawn to you, being cute doesnt hurt either, haha. Your last YT vid was an examle of that inner you,, vulnerable and honest.

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        Y’all’re, as ever, the Platonic form of Sweetness. I suppose I sometimes have stayed my mouth because I don’t need to dig deeper in my memories than a handful of years ago to remember the suggestion that someone was gay was an insult. Being a fan of history it’s sometimes challenging to reconcile the fact that, yes, everything has changed in just these scant few years. It’s weird, y’know? Every day that this country so petrified of sex has taken such long strides, even outside the safe bubble of this and other websites.

        But vaginoplasty as “the end” of the transwoman narrative is still so pervasive, and I’m tempted to just assume “No one wants to hear that you like your cock, sweet pea. They think it’s gross.” And that’s a hang-up no one else gifted me but me. Thank y’all for offering to return it to the store for me, though. ;)

        All that said, the worry has never weighed on me such that I can’t ogle myself in the morning mirror. It’s hard for my lips to curl anywhere but up with the view from here.

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    I remember first reading FTW and being so furious that I’ve had these body structures that I could use for sex my whole life, and I just now found out about them. It’s so ridiculous that inguinal canals are never discussed in any sort of sex education and that it’s taught that bodies like mine aren’t supposed to be penetrated, just being the ones penetrating. I realize this word gets thrown around a lot, but it was really revelatory.

    So basically, A++, would read again (and have)

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    Fantastic article. A few things resonated with me.

    “I have a sort of mantra that I repeat to myself: if you’re in your head, you’re not in your body.”

    “The more preoccupied or even obsessed you are with the ways in which you are NOT connecting with your body, the less you will be able to enjoy or even experience the ways in which you DO connect with your body.”

    And I think they connect largely with most folks I know re:sex.


    And from the zine the thing that really resonated with me was the feeling of radioactivity around people who are romantically interested.

    To me the discussions that had less to do about sex and more to the broader discussion around being comfortable is part of the big convo I enjoy.

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    Great article. I dated a transwomen back when I was pre op and could certainly relate to that awkward feeling when it was time to get in bed and play. Billie was beautiful and so fun when we were out with friends on the town. But when we came home and slipped into bed the awkwards turned on. She was very caught up in her pre op condition and mine for that matter that it became a lot of hugging kissing and breast play. But that was it she would not move past that she said until after she had surgery. The idea of having your body and brain in the same place with the body signaling the brain more please is where we need to go as lovers both giving and receiving of ourselves. Girls that let the brain drive in bed usually have a bed or disappointing experience I dont judge why a person has or doesnt have surgery as it is a very personal decision for a transwomen. But, I do enjoy the post op side more because I am not seen as a novelty and it removes having my guard up with the question, why are you interested in me. Having a loving partner to help you along isnt bad either. Thanx again to you both

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    Kind of a Trans Female “Our Bodies, Our Selves”?: Interesting!

    Also reminds me of some perspectives and issues regarding disabled persons (like me, too) and sexuality: the unspokenness, the taboos, the assumptions ["You know what happens when you assume!"], etc.

    And I didn’t realize that among lesbians one might encounter an equivalent of straight men’s “Trans panic.” Jeez, all the politics!!!

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    This sounds AMAZING. My girlfriend and I are each buying it. I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about it, and I can’t believe that just in this interview, I found something new we could try. I’m excited to see what the zine itself has!

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    “I hope trans women take away from the zine the idea we can all write our own recipes.
    We can all write our own instruction manuals.”

    This is the most important thing she said… trans women have hugely varying bodies, identities, needs, attractions and even goals for transitioning. This zine is Mira’s statement about herself (and her partner), not a universal guide for getting it on with trans women. Now everyone needs to go and make their own.

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    Hi I purchased the FTW pdf, the payment went through, but I never received an email and the download timed out several times before I was blocked from further downloads. $5 is a lot to me at this time in my life and I would really, really love to read this zine. I can’t find any other way to contact the seller.

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

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    Hi there! First of all, thank you o everyone for the very kind responses – and thank to Kennedy for writing and conducting a great interview!

    If you’re having download issues, contact me directly and I can help you out provided you have your receipt.

    You can reach me at mira (dot) bellwether (at) g mail.

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