How Kink Helped Me With Gender Dysphoria As A Non-Binary Person
Kink granted me the bodily autonomy I needed—I didn’t have to be an object of fetish or ridicule, I could be sexy on my own terms.
By E Young
The first time I had sex as a teen I was relieved that someone found me desirable. I know now that it was an all-too-typical case of an older person taking advantage of a young, insecure kid with body issues. But even I didn’t know just how deep those body issues went. Growing up fat, Black, and ugly, I wasn’t allowed to explore myself or explore my own desires in my own time. I was told I didn’t deserve it. I was undeserving of love or attention. I had to take what I could get and be grateful for it.
And yet, having the sex that I was told I needed for validation didn’t make me happy. I felt worse. I felt weak and used. Long after the act, something else inside me kept driving my self-loathing even as I continued to engage in sex. I was told that it would “go away”, but when? And what was it?
I had some inkling of what transgender meant, but what I would learn about much later was “gender dysphoria”. For myself as a non-binary person, dysphoria is often triggered by social situations and can be triggered by certain sex acts. Dysphoria triggered by sex isn’t uncommon amongst trans and non-binary folks across the spectrum—not that I had any idea of this at the time. I didn’t have the language to adequately explain that vaginal penetration was uncomfortable for me on more than just a physical level. I would experience episodes of disassociation. Sex gave me anxiety. I felt that not enjoying the sex I was supposed to be having was another strike against my already marginalized body.
Voicing these feelings was usually met with derision, no doubt thanks to the only forum I felt I had at the time: the internet. I got every response from “first-time jitters” to “use more lube”, needing a better partner, and so on. And, of course, I’m fat. How dare I complain when my body is being used for someone else’s pleasure? I was even suggested medical disorders and the possibility of trauma from childhood sexual abuse creating mental blocks.
The painful truth was that several of those suggestions were true, but in the end, they actually had nothing to do with the dysphoria I was experiencing. They contributed to my poor self-image, of course, but not to the gender and social dysphoria I still experience. Because I didn’t have any examples of anything different, I approached the situation as something to be “fixed” to please others.
I kept looking. Even as information about sexuality became more accessible, they didn’t really contain the information I was looking for. I was scared. Was I just looking for something to justify my worldview? What if I was wrong? What if what I sought didn’t exist?
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Even as an older teen I knew how to protect myself online, but I did not know how to protect myself from the damage I was doing by going into increasingly dangerous spaces online.
I eventually came across the kink community. I knew what kink was, in essence, thanks to my fandom activities, but I had no understanding of its functions in the real world or how it was linked to offline queer communities. Discovering kink lifted a huge burden off my shoulders.
In reading factual information about kink I learned about sexuality that I actually related to. I learned about “alternative” forms of sex that didn’t always include penetration. This community saw someone like me as valid, and I, in turn, felt validated. My sexual needs weren’t “weird”. Here, I had an outlet to express my truest desires. I didn’t have to pretend about what people considered “regular” sex. I felt so freed.
Kink also granted me the bodily autonomy I needed—I didn’t have to be an object of fetish or ridicule, I could be sexy on my own terms. Simultaneously, the kink community promoted fat positivity, well before the major body positivity movements online.
There were also harsher lessons, including the ways that whiteness still seeped in through the cracks of the kink spaces that I was introduced to online. They hardly prioritized Black and brown people and despite initial signs of inclusion, I found that the spaces I wished to inhabit were quite heteronormative. I wanted and needed to find spaces that encapsulated my queer ‘n Black identity fully.
I actively participate in queer communities on- and offline and it remains true that these spaces still aren’t welcoming of trans folks and discussions around sex. There’s heavy policing of the kind of sex trans folks should have. People who experience dysphoria from vaginal penetration are often sent off to the side and the conversations are often sidelined by other queer folks.
It is an important reality and truth that dysphoria is awful. And it matters that we discuss it because sex has never been about just sex. This is politics, it’s work, it’s bodily acceptance and autonomy. It’s about the expectations still placed on our bodies when we are at our most vulnerable. It’s about finding a community. It’s about why we’re coerced into what’s expected of us and how to get out. Finding out that I didn’t have to engage in the Almighty Vaginal-Only penetrative sex without having to demonize people that choose to do so was my path to empowerment. Realizing that I could still experience pleasure and I wasn’t just a husk for others’ use was the most powerful thing in my life. I’m still in search of conversations around sex and dysphoria, the information available to queer and trans folks is still severely limited and frustratingly binary. I hope the conversations open up and continue to improve because isn’t the point of community to make us feel like we’re not alone?
E Young is a queer, black freelance femme with 4 cats, not a lot of time, and an excess of Fire Sign energy. Their work has appeared in Salty newsletter, Rolling Stone, and Global Comment.
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