Remaking Myself and My Desires on the Comics Page

Bisexuality is still very new to me. The colors are still bright and shiny, untarnished by the repeated washings that a cherished garment inevitably suffers so, forgive me if my optimistic and cuddly viewpoint of bisexuality comes across as naive. That could be true, and I’m okay with it, because the initial idealism of a new identity can contain values worth clinging to even if the world turns out to disappoint you.

My initial decision to take the leap and claim bisexuality for myself started out as my appetites expanded, but my journey into it so far has been about receptivity and empathy. When I first saw bisexuality defined as “attraction to your own and other genders,” it captured my sexuality exactly where it was: a trans woman whose dating history included other women and nonbinary partners.

The idea that I could assert myself as bisexual without being into cis men felt revolutionary, but I was held back by the knowledge that no matter what I said my bisexuality meant, it would be interpreted to mean that I was sexually available to cis men, a kind of being seen that I very much did not want to experience. Until I met the right guy: impossibly pretty, extremely queer, incredibly soft, and absolutely fictional.

His name is Indigo Hanover and he’s the warm cup of cocoa at the center of Tini Howard and Nick Robles’ wildly surreal end of life horror comic Euthanauts. The magic of fiction, and art in general, is that we can see things and try them on without the risks that go with them in real life and sexual attraction to cis men is precisely the kind of thing you want to try out in art before you do it for real, if you can. The problem, of course, is that is it takes queer creators like Howard and Robles to produce the kind of enchanting femme of center guys who entice me, and the opportunities for creators like us to bring characters like Indigo fully to life are exceedingly rare.

It’s a reality that’s been at the front of my mind as I dive deeper into making erotic journal comics about my medical transition and the ways that it’s reshaping my relationship to my body and sexuality. A blank page is a space of unlimited possibility for me to project whatever shape my desires take, which feels harder to take for granted than ever thanks to the raging COVID-19 pandemic and, as I write this, choking smoke from west coast wildfires.

When I’m drawing, I can fill in the kind of gaps in the culture that Howard and Robles did for me with Indigo, and it’s a particularly electric feeling as a trans woman cartoonist given that trans women’s sexuality is still bound up in stigma, exploitation, and extreme violence in the mainstream. In the age of bathroom bills, it frequently feels like the only time we’re granted any kind of sexual agency in the wider culture is to be framed as predators or infiltrators.

So there’s a kind of bittersweet privilege to knowing that articulating my personal sexuality in any way possesses far more revolutionary potential and the frisson of taboo than the equivalent work from any cis man could, even if he’s expressing desire for trans women. But that also comes with the weight of being seen, and making my sexuality so nakedly visible to the public brings back the same problems of inviting cis male attention that initially held me back from asserting myself as bisexual. The social dynamics and economics of hosting erotic comics about myself on OnlyFans and using them as a vehicle to open myself up to making porn means that navigating cis male attention and the dreaded male gaze, whatever that means, is going to be a prominent aspect of my professional life for the foreseeable future.

For a lot of women in the arts, cis or trans, straight or queer, the male gaze is an invisible enemy to be grappled with, to be counterprogrammed. There’s voluminous discussion about how women creators in particular strategize about how to misdirect or baffle said male gaze as a condition of expressing their sexuality in their work, and while I recognize the validity of those approaches, I find them exhausting and stifling.

After a decade of anguish and self sabotage between my initial gender epiphany and starting HRT, I resent the idea of diminishing myself or my flowering sexuality for anyone or anything irrespective of the risks attached. I don’t want to adopt an oppositional or harm reduction stance towards any aspect of my audience, it feels like a violation of my agency as both a trans woman and an artist.

Instead, I want to open up my work to everyone and anyone while keeping hold of the specificity of my queerness and desires. To me, conquering the stigmas and suppression of trans women’s sexuality means granting access to a self directed, unapologetic vision of trans sexuality. It’s a position that requires an incredible amount of vulnerability and comes with all kinds of dangers and pitfalls, but it’s one that I’m finding myself thriving in and rewarded by.

The emphasis of my personal sexuality right now is embracing being a woman with a penis attracted to other women with penises, a territory that creates all kinds of opportunities for the conventional cis het male gaze to see itself and its desires reflected in. Again, it’s a fact that comes with all kinds of potential anxieties, but I’d rather accept it and exploit it to my own ends than pull back one inch from my own desires because they have the potential to overlap with the demographic that has the most prolific history of violence against women like me.

Because when I’m drawing, I’m in control. In the same way that consuming art can be a safe way to try things on, creating it can be a safe way to reassert control. There’s always a push and pull, the commercial success or failure of my work depends on how I navigate the space between my desires and that of my audience, but I can dictate the terms in which my sexuality and the artistic depiction of my body are seen and consumed with far more confidence than under any other set of circumstances.

If I’m drawing one woman sucking another woman’s cock, I’m depicting women’s pleasure no matter who’s getting off to it, but I also get to decide what perspective I’m showing it from, which is one of the reasons why I love referencing the cinematography of porn in my work and why I’m increasingly eager to turn the camera on myself.

One of the most explicit ways that cis het ablebodied white men are centered in the visual arts is POV porn because it’s shot to simulate the world from their eyes, their penises are centered in the frame, and the assumptions about the market held by those who control the major studios mean that it’s rare to the point of extreme novelty to see anyone else shot from that perspective.

It’s easy enough for trans women with penises to transpose ourselves onto that kind of POV porn if the dynamics of the scene fit our desires, but why settle? The rising popularity of platforms like OnlyFans and current self isolation conditions means that some trans women performers can, and are shooting more from their own perspectives and it’s a key reference point for both my current comics and my future ambitions.

Drawing explicit porn from a trans woman with a penis’ perspective is a fascinating and incredible way for me to address very different segments of my audience in very different ways simultaneously. I can let trans women in my audience see themselves reflected in ways they never have before while challenging my cis male audience to see the overlap of our desires through my eyes instead of theirs, to experience the decentering of their own bodies in pursuit of pleasure not as a means of revenge, but as a means of extending an opportunity for empathy and understanding.

The spectre of cis male violence towards trans women is ever present psychologically even if I’m largely sheltered from it as a white trans woman exposing myself primarily through drawings. I can only let my guard down so far, but that’s increasingly matched in my mind by the reality that violence towards us isn’t a universal condition. That when we say that feminism aims to liberate men from patriarchy as well, one of the most acute examples of that is the pain, stigma, and violence that patriarchy metes out to cis men who are seen or thought to be attracted to trans women.

That stigma does nothing to exculpate violence or a cowardly unwillingness to be seen with us in public that cannot recognize how many orders of magnitude harder it is for us to exist in public on our own. That said, the closet is a hellish place for anyone and it costs nothing to recognize that transamorous cis men struggle with their own kind of closet. If my work provides a context and opportunity to weaken that closet, then I want to pursue it to the best of my ability. Not just for them, but for myself, my sisters, and our community. Loving trans women isn’t a painful or shameful experience. It’s ecstasy. It’s a privilege. It needs to be protected and celebrated.

It’s a perspective that I first started to come around to through trans women I was close to who were dating men at a time when it held no appeal for me. I initially had a lot of resentment about the level and kind of attention that cis men could get in the media for being transamorous, and some of that resentment was valid: transamorous cis men can certainly feed media fixations on trans women in very detrimental ways, but I was deeply skeptical that they had anything to add to the conversation even under ideal circumstances.

That changed with the experience of having the compulsion to remind a friend to text me when she got home after every time she went out to hook up with a guy she met on a dating site. She came home safe every time, but once I had someone to lose it became a lot easier to see how breaking down the stigmas that fuel transphobic violence as a community safety issue. Wanting to see my sisters safe, happy, and loved meant that I had to take the way that the men they date are talked about in the public sphere seriously, and it got a lot more personal once I asserted myself as bisexual.

It all came to a head when an artist I admire followed me on Twitter and, by visiting his profile, I noticed that he was mutuals with several of the trans porn performers that I follow. It should have been worth nothing more than a giggle, but it turned into a spiral of insecurities and anxieties instead because I’m at least as brain poisoned as anyone else into being skeptical about any interest that cis men have in trans women.

Even just trying on the idea of hooking up with a guy like that was too much because all it did was bring back the painful memories of another trans woman I knew being subjected to anonymous harassment over social media that her boyfriend was a “chaser.” What started out as an idle daydream reduced me to a sobbing wreck because, as I discovered in that moment, those stigmas cut both ways. All of the ways that cis men are targeted and demeaned for expressing interest in trans women create insecurities and anxieties in us about our worth, the nature of anyone’s attraction to us, and the potential consequences of publicly dating cis men.

It’s something that I’ve started thinking about a lot when I consider the audience for my comic and my choice to engage with and manipulate the perceived male gaze rather than work to evade it. I want to have idle thoughts about hooking up with a guy that don’t lead to catastrophizing. I want a creative space where I can work on pulling down the barriers inside myself in a context where people who are struggling with the same issues, whether from the same perspective as mine or a different one can see it. To see that they aren’t alone in struggling with the ways that trans sexuality has been violently stigmatized for both trans people and anyone who dares to love us.

Which is why I’ve come to view my bisexuality as a journey into receptivity and empathy. I want to reciprocate the sense of freedom that the validation of my work gives me, to invite desire, to dare to hope that desiring me through my work can be healing, freeing, or both. To me, embracing bisexuality as a fundamental part of my nature has meant opening up myself to new possibilities and find ways to dismantle the fear and insecurities that have kept me walled off from both myself and others for far too long.

Véronique Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman cartoonist last spotted in the Pacific Northwest. Her current project is Transcription, a daily comic strip about her transition and evolving sexuality. Follow her on Twitter if you dare.

Emma has written 1 article for us.

4 Comments

  1. “To me, embracing bisexuality as a fundamental part of my nature has meant opening up myself to new possibilities and find ways to dismantle the fear and insecurities that have kept me walled off from both myself and others for far too long.”

    yessss, a thousand times yes!

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