I had many fears going into my sexual reassignment surgery. I worried about rare complications and dying on the operating table. I was terrified of the healing process, scared that I would be isolated while recovering in my apartment. Not knowing what having what a vagina would feel like was a constant flutter in my mind. Out of all the fears that terrorized me before surgery, my deepest terror was about sex.
Sex before surgery was unbearable. I never felt comfortable in the body I had. Despite having many sexual partners with my previous body, I never enjoyed sex. Each time I was with another person, the disconnect between my body and spirit would inevitably rise up, separating me from intimacy and pleasure. It didn’t matter how kind my partners were, or how anonymous I made our encounters. Sex was something I did to survive, to buy affection and touch, but never something I did for pleasure.
At the three-month mark of post surgery recovery, my doctor cleared me to begin having sex. My vagina was still healing but in a quiet, less visible way. I experimented with masturbation, trying to figure out how to orgasm. It took me four attempts to work up the courage to touch my clitoris, labia, and the opening of my vagina. I practiced masturbating for several weeks before I finally discovered how to orgasm. Reclaiming my vagina after surgery was a process of discovery, but also a voyage of dreaming.
I had never fantasized about my body before surgery. Like anyone else, I had sexual fantasies, but I always replaced my body in the scenarios with that of another woman. I’ve never been brave enough to talk other trans women about their pre-transition fantasy lives, so I don’t know if that’s normal or not. After surgery, my new vagina forced me to imagine myself in sex. I realized that I couldn’t orgasm unless I was into it fully, emotionally and mentally.
Masturbation was my first step into my body’s changed possibilities. The idea of having penetrative sex was still something that terrified me. While the feminist in me knew that virginity was a patriarchal construct, it was also a very real physical state of being. More than anything else, I knew having penetrative sex with my vagina meant I would have to be present in sex and intimacy. The artificial barrier between me and my body was gone. No more dysphoria, no more looking at my naked body and sensing something was wrong, no more disassociating when someone touched me.
Reclaiming my vagina after surgery was a process of discovery, but also a voyage of dreaming.
I had talked about my fear of penetrative sex with my ex-partner. He was my go-to resource for male-female sex, describing to me what eating out a girl was like, and how vaginas taste. He helped me pick out my surgeon by assessing the post-op vagina photos I found on the internet. I don’t know if it’s normal for girls to decide who they want to lose their virginity with, but I had always planned on losing it with him.
When we violently broke up, I was devastated, but also relieved. I wanted more time and space for my body to heal before returning to penetrative sex. The vulnerability I felt around my vagina was heightened by repeated negative healthcare experiences where I was misgendered and my vagina was treated like an oddity. Despite my doctor’s repeated assurances, and hours spent looking at photos online, I was convinced that my vagina wasn’t normal or looked surgically created. Penetrative sex felt like a sudden collision of everything I felt insecure about: my vagina, my “realness”, and intimacy.
Then I met you. Four weeks after my ex and I break up, you text me out of the blue. Five months ago, we’d messaged back and forth on a dating app but our conversations had died off without us ever meeting up. I text you for two weeks without committing to anything. Your texts are cute, laced with a casual guy bravado I find endearing. I didn’t plan on ever meeting you, but then an ice storm descends on Toronto suddenly. I’m alone in my condo at night, listening to the ice rain pelt against my 14th floor balcony.
You text me and ask what I’m doing, so I invite you over. We meet in my condo lobby. I recognize you from your profile photo and wave you over. Immediately, I tease you about your height and you banter back. We fall into an instant ease, one of those strange intuitive connections that feels like stepping into a familiar room. When we climb onto my bed upstairs, I’ve already traced your childhood back to its roots in Tehran.
You answer my questions with a casual ease. I dive into your intimacy, trace out the lines of your life into small stories. Your mother, your father, how you spend your days, your favourite color. When you kiss me for the first time, you smell like expensive cologne and cigarettes. Your mouth tastes like artificial mint and nicotine. You pull back from kissing me to trace your fingers over my face.
“I think you’re really pretty”, you say before breaking into a half smirk, “just want you to know that I’m into you.”
I laugh it off and pull you back into my body. We keep moving forward at a velocity I can’t control. I don’t intend to let you fuck me or even touch my vagina, but our bodies have their own gravitational weight. Your hand traces down to my panties and strokes across my hips before descending to pause over the elastic waistband.
“Is this ok?” you ask me, the third time you’ve checked for my consent since we’ve started messing around.
I pause and breathe in deeply. I’m more afraid of this moment than any other in my life. When my ex-partner saw my vagina for the first time, his face fell and he walked out of the room. A part of me still holds his reaction inside my body. I don’t want another boy to make me feel ashamed about a part of me that I’ve suffered so much to have.
“Yep, go ahead,” I say back to you, ignoring the sudden drop in my stomach. Your hands slide under the waistband and pull my panties off me. I brace for your reaction, but you’re already running your fingers over my labia, kissing me again. I forget about my fear as your hands and my vagina merge together.
Then you descend down my body, your mouth leaving a trail of saliva from my breasts to my vulva. You move my legs apart and place your mouth over my clitoris. Our eyes meet as your tongue begins to flicker across my skin, a small pressure that sends currents of warmth throughout my body. The next 15 minutes are a blur of sensations that end with my head resting on your chest as your stroke my hair.
“Did it look ok?” I ask you, “like normal?”
“Yes, totally normal. Better than normal.” You answer me, then lean down to kiss my forehead.
“You can’t see my surgery scars?”
“No, not at all. It’s beautiful.”
“Are you sure? It’s ok if it’s not.”
You gently flip me over in your arms, pressing me into the mattress on my stomach. “I’m sure,” you say, as your hands move between my thighs again. You bite my neck as I feel your fingers slip inside me.
You fuck me a couple hours later. It’s painful at first, but we figure it out together. I orgasm three times with you, more than I’ve ever come with anyone else. My fear disappears as our bodies remake my memories of my vagina from pain into pleasure. You tell me I get wetter than any other girl you’ve been with.
In between sex, we talk about your first homeland, Iran, and Persian culture. Rumi comes up, how Farsi is the language of poetry. You tell me your family were political prisoners who had to flee to Canada. We make fun of the Shah, his second wife, and the ways that we rebel against our histories, our migrations from exile to each other.
“Now Toronto is home.” You shrug as you stand before me on my balcony, rolling a joint in between your fingers. I bring my cigarette up to my lips, feeling my vagina ache in its post-sex sensitivity as I inhale and exhale into the cold air.
You light up your joint and take a drag before adding, “There’s nothing back there for me anyway.” I don’t know what to say, so I stay quiet.
We go back inside to bed and I fall asleep with your arms wrapped around me. All night I dream of rivers and water, you and me in a canoe heading towards a distant shoreline. I dream of a lake, its soft waves falling over and over again against the edge of the land. I wake up in the morning with a new kind of wetness between my legs, my panties ruined.
When you roll over to kiss me, rubbing sleep from your eyes, you tell me that you had strange dreams.
“I don’t normally dream or pass out so easily,” you tell me, “but there’s something about you.”
I let your hands descend down my body. We fuck again in a mess of blankets and sheets. I stand in the shower after, breathless, alone and tired. My vagina is sore, but elated. For the first time in my life, I had sex without feeling a wave of discomfort that broke apart my being. My body finally feels entirely mine. Here, present, whole.
Before you leave, I ask, “What did you dream about?”
You smile before answering me.
“Home. I dreamed about going home.”