Author Juno RocheIn this episode of the GenderGP podcast, author Juno Roche joins Dr Helen Webberley and co host Marianne Oakes to discuss a topic which has long been ignored: queer sex. In her enlightening book, of the same name, Roche interviews trans and non binary couples about their approach to sex. Here she shares how the process has helped her to better understand embrace her own identity as a trans woman.
Useful links from today’s show
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queer -Sex-Non-Binary-Intimacy-Relat ionships/dp/1785924060
https://www.indy100.com/articl e/transgender-myths-most- common-transition-journey- heterosexual-born-wrong-body- sex-heterosexual-8334851
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Queer Sex with special guest Juno Roche
Hello, this is Dr. Helen Webberley. Welcome to our Gender GP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.
Dr. Helen Webberley: This morning we are really delighted to welcome Juno Roche to join us. Let me just hand over to you to get the ball rolling.
Juno Roche: Fantastic. It’s always slightly daunting when someone says let’s start the ball rolling. It’s lovely to be here, and it’s lovely to be asked on to talk about my book which came out earlier this year, Queer Sex. And also to talk more generally about why I felt the need to write the book and why I actually do a lot of the stuff that I do, which is around trans empowerment, trans bodies, trans sex, and in a sense, kind of the way that we have some autonomy about our process. Thank you for inviting me on to talk.
Dr. Helen Webberley: You mentioned trans empowerment. Why do you think trans people need empowerment? What does that actually mean to the man in the street?
Juno Roche: Well, the woman in the street, as it may happen. For me, it’s about how our processes are paternalistically aligned. From my generation, and I still hear many people say – so we tend to do this thing that we demonise the bodies we were born in by saying, “I was born in the wrong body.” And if you think about that statement on its own, it’s such a divisive statement to make about your own body, to say that you were born in the wrong body. There is an awful lot of things wrong with society, and what society puts onto women, and puts onto men. And the way that it handles gender. What happens is that we have to try and fit in to that. and we have a slight incongruence about our bodies, but that doesn’t mean that they are the wrong bodies. It is important to me that we take back control, so that we don’t just join line after line of people trying to make us better, trying to make this right, trying to make us fit in. when will we be man enough? When will we be acceptable? At what point do we blend? At what point do we pass? At what point do we become absorbed into society? People say to us there is no more disempowering or un-empowering line than somebody saying I’d never have known. I’d never have known that that’s what you were. Like it was such an out of body line. For me it’s about owning all of our process. So when I talk about my surgeries, I talk about them being trans confirming surgeries, when I talk about my hormones, I say that every day, they elevate my trans-ness. That doesn’t mean that people can’t say I want to be seen as a woman, or I just want to be seen as a man. But it means that we own our process and that we are in charge of it. I remember when I went to have surgery, my surgeon said to me, “Don’t worry, it’ll look as real as possible.” And the fact that they were branding me just felt not alright. I just want it to work, I want to have orgasms. I want to be happy to have sex and pleasure and I want to feel safe and understand my body. Looking real is about other people. It’s not about me feeling embodied or me having autonomy. It’s always about somebody saying, “Oh, I would never have known. I just had sex with you and I would never have known.” I’m not sure that helps us to form robust communities or sense of ourselves that are empowered and are present. It means that we kind of send a lot of time thinking that I hope people accept me, I hope that I can wear the t-shirt that says trans women are just women. For me, there is a whole journey that we need to go on as a community, and it’s us that need to do the work in terms of ensuring that we are present in the decisions that are made around us.
Dr. Helen Webberley: That’s really interesting. Marianne, what do you think about what Juno just said? I know that you have some ideas and thoughts about those passing/blending/you being real ideas. What do you think about what Juno was saying?
Marianne Oakes: I think that listening to Juno, it kind of put into perspective some of what I her in the therapy room, and what I hear in the community. I do get a sense that, if I am understanding you right, Juno, that we sort of have to write the trans narrative from within the trans community, because a lot of the time, people spend in the therapy room with me. And we’re talking about being a woman like there is a definitive, and I also, the other side of that is that when they are talking about their bodies, there is always a reluctance to even talking about it. When you talk about enjoying sex, there is a reluctance to even talk about sex.
Juno Roche: I suppose for me the point at which I started to feel very empowered was the point at which people would say to me, “How have you had the surgery?” and I would say that they took what was my cock and balls, and they recycled that and reconfigured that, and created a space that looks like a vagina, but essentially for me, I have to own the marriage of the two. The way my body is now wouldn’t exist without what was there before. And I, like many people, spent years and years demonizing my body, not letting anyone touch it or see it. I would actually define me as something utterly different. But really, I think that even if we are going to go on and have surgery, which is perfect for some people, it’s fine and brilliant, I mean I’ve had surgery and I would have it again. I think we kind of have to own that and be proud of our journeys, rather than thinking that we’re going to fit a model of femininity or womanhood or masculinity, which actually doesn’t exist anyway. So I think that’s why for me trans is a destination. I am happily – when people say are you a trans woman, I say, no I’m just trans. Add the other bit if you want, for you, but you are not doing it for me. I’m really joyful to inhabit this space which is called trans. That’s my destination, and in coming there, I have had surgery that confirmed that, because they took my cock and balls and reconfigured it quite brilliantly to become this other thing that I feel much more congruent with. For me, that’s part of it. There’s an awful lot of years that I wasted wanting to be something for somebody else, when actually, all the time, you know, it’s one of the few words – people will say – one of the words we would never use to describe us is just “trans”. We see trans as a kind of passing through space, or a motorway service station, that we are going to stop off, but we are going to be hideously embarrassed about the food that we ate there, and we’re going to move on as quickly as possible, and get to a place which is definitely female, or definitely male. Or, we’re going to go to the space which we define as being non-binary. And for me, I just can use the word trans to define myself just as trans. That would alleviate an awful lot of the dysphoria, because actually the dysphoria was about other people saying that you couldn’t have a cock and balls and be a woman, or you couldn’t have a vagina and be a man. I mean, it gives so much power that gender equals just genitals. And we’re doing that as much as we can. We need to address that in our communities. We need to address – I’ve just been writing this morning about tucking. An awful lot of trans people will do, an awful lot of drag queens do it as well. That notion of going through discomfort to achieve femininity. For me it’s a big deal. I am not demonizing surgery, because it’s wonderful and I’ve had it. I think it should be a whole myriad of choices. But we should also have the choice to say. For me, a person who defines themselves as femme or as a woman can have a penis. That’s my definition of where we will get to a place where we have a sense of freedom.
Marianne Oakes: I was just going to say something about if you’re going to have surgery, then you have got to have it for the right reasons. And if you’re having surgery just because you think surgery is going to make you a woman, then we could come out of that surgery and still be very dysphoric.
Juno Roche: Absolutely, surgery isn’t going to do anything, really, for the dysphoria. Because for one, at the whole, historically, trans women normally have surgery in their thirties and forties. That’s a point at which historically, society, with its misogynistic and sexist structures and systems starts to define women as not being sexual. So then, you would have surgery in your forties and fifties, you would feel miraculously as a woman. And you would probably have a small handful of people to ever see your vagina. So we have to be able to come to terms with the fact that the process is magical, but it isn’t magic. I didn’t go into a hospital and they created a vagina. They took what was there, a cock and balls, and they reused the skin, the blood vessels, the sensitivity, and they refashioned all of that into a different format, into a different configuration. Which is brilliant. But by doing that, I don’t have any dysphoria. There is no dysphoria. I adore my body, I adore my sense of self, and I really am proudly trans. I don’t even put the gender on the end, because I think the one thing that is broken about our society is that the binary gender system and the gender expectations and the gender stereotypes mess so many people up. You don’t have to be trans to be messed up by that stuff.
Dr. Helen Webberley: For the people listening out there, I’m going to go into the medical side a little bit, just to explain, Juno, what you’ve been talking about in terms of the medical side. When a fetus is created, you either have an XX chromosome formation, or an XY> if you have XX, it means that your body will create ovaries, and the vagina that you were talking about, and the clitoris. If you have XY, instead of ovaries, you’ll have testicles, and they won’t be inside, they will come down and be outside. Instead of having a clitoris, you will have a lengthier organ which will be the penis. If you take all that away, and look at the skeletons, the skeletons are identical. And there is the whole passage where the vaginal cavity will be. And what Juno is describing so eloquently with the cock and balls, is that you just reconfigure everything; you take away bits of skin and you refashion it. And yes, from a doctor’s point of view, when you have a look at surgery that has been successful, as you say, it is very difficult to tell that there has been surgery in the first place, which is excellent, which is lovely. Anybody undergoing any medical procedure, we just want it to be successful, we want to have the most successful outcome. But I don’t think that’s always possible. I think you said that we just want it to work. We want it to be able to have orgasms. We want to have successful and satisfying penetrative sex. What about when that’s not as possible? What if the surgery doesn’t go quite as well for people? Is that a worry?
Juno Roche: I think it’s a huge worry. Because for an awful lot of trans friends, or trans women, or people who just describe themselves as women, who have gone through this process, a lot of them describe their sex lives a snot being fulfilling. As not being able to – a few people have texted me saying that they feel as though their vagina is broken. I mean, and I think it’s that sense of actually, we don’t control our own process. One of the things that I really felt like I wanted to do to speak to urologists and say to them as surgeons to make it – to say, this is your input material, your very traditional cock and balls, and you’re going to create something which resembles a vagina but that has pleasure. That is pleasure centered. Because, at the moment what is pleasure centered is looking real. That’s what pleasure centered. The overriding thing is looking real, certainly on the NHS. It may be vastly different in Bangkok or in places where it is paid for privately, it might be vastly different, but on the whole, what centered is the notion that you waited in a long queue for a long time, therefore you are going to be very grateful for having this surgery, because at this point, you probably are going to be so dysphoric and tied into this process. In a sense, what is not centered is pleasure. And I think that’s what should be centered. I think orgasms are going to do an awful lot about dysphoria than having a vagina that looks real but very few people see. Actually, part of the thing is, and just to pick up on something that you said, Helen, was that – it’s true. I wrote a line a while ago that said what I have is an upcycled cock and balls. But actually, if you looked at it, naked, it just looks like any other vagina, because vaginas look different. No two vaginas look the same. It’s very important. We own what is really there. Because still, I know trans women who will not say they’ve got a prostate, because it’s a reminder of maleness that they don’t want to talk about. And I know trans women for whom getting the letter from their doctor which says do you need to go for a cervical smear is kind of affirmation of their femininity, when actually it is not. We need to own our bodies so that we keep out bodies safe, and ensure that we get the right medical support that we need. Most GPs that I would go to, the first thing they would say is I’ve never seen one before. There aren’t many people that get that response, but that’s the response we get. Somehow we should be appalled at that. and we should be saying, “Let’s ensure that our bodies are being looked after at any age.” I need to know that my orifice is constructed from two different types of skin, from the skin of the scrotum and the skin of a penis. They are joined inside and I am really interested to know how that skin is going to age. How is that skin going to age? Is there anything that I should do? In a sense, we are not armed at all with the information that we need to be present in our own bodies. We are armed with the information to stop people attacking us. We can go and drop our knickers and say look how real I look. But that’s about other people. I want us to occupy our own space and start to rewrite our own narratives about comfort and pleasure. Not according to pleasing anybody else.
Marianne Oakes: I think that is really interesting, how many people end up on the surgeon’s table just grateful to be there, and they’re not questioning how do we use it? When I’ve gone through this procedure, how do I use it?
Juno Roche: Sorry for jumping in, but one of my great bug bears is that there is no sexual kind of talk. You might have a trans person who is in there in their late sixties, who has lived their whole life in a different way, they are now going to become this, and they have no concept of how they can achieve pleasure, or how they are going to have pleasure with their own body. We should be investing much more money in post-surgical stuff rather than pre-surgical stuff to define whether or not we know our own minds.
Dr. Helen Webberley: It’s really interesting listening to this with my doctor’s hat on, because what you’re kind of asking, we don’t know the answers to. And I am thinking about your description there with two types of skin inside, and what should we do and how we should look after that. I think the biggest admission is that we don’t know. But actually, let’s forget that it’s anything to do with trans, and let’s put our medical hat back on sensibly and just say how do you look after skin. And that, we do know. We need to separate that out. I remember very clearly that I had a trans man who came to see me in my clinic, and he was very sore down below. He hadn’t had any surgery or anything, but he was very sore down below and he couldn’t understand why he was so sore. I had to look, as doctors do. What I saw was the skin of somebody who hadn’t had any estrogen for a long time because he was a trans man taking testosterone. He was having no estrogen. His genitals down below looked just like a post-menopausal woman who hadn’t had any estrogen for a long time. And the solution was, and this wasn’t about being a trans man or whatnot, this was skin that didn’t have any estrogen. It needed a little bit of estrogen cream. So what we did was use some estrogen cream just like post-menopausal women, and it went beautifully. So I think, separating this trans bit out, and just getting doctors to be sensible and say, I’ve never seen something like this before, I’ve never seen someone who had this surgery, but I have seen skin. I do know that what’s inside this skin is going to be pressed up against each other all the time and it hasn’t got air to breathe. What will that do to skin with the scarring inside? What’s going to happen with time? What I am really saying is forget the trans is out there, let’s just think about this in medical terms. Let’s try and help people in a normal way. Don’t be scared of it. You know, it’s the fear of the unknown. It’s terrifying. And doctors have quite big egos. If you go and ask them something and they don’t know the answer, they’re like, oh my goodness, so and so. But actually, the fear of the unknown is what it is. We know skin, we know bodies, it’s just common sense at the end of the day.
Juno Roche: I mean just listening to you say that is such kind of joy to my ears, really. There’s a lot of the stuff I’ve been saying, for a long time. And it’s even in terms of after my surgery, for a long time I just didn’t understand how I could feel pleasure. They’ve left quite a lot of erectile tissue in me, probably a bit too much. There was a notion of having revision surgery too. But I understand erectile tissue. I get that. I just have to move away from the notion of it being male or female or otherwise, and just play with what I’ve got, and understand what I’ve got. I think it is the same with doctors. If I ask a question, instantly the first thing that comes up is the notion of trans, a trans body. But you’re right, our bodies are just made – that is what I was saying, nothing is added in the process, it wasn’t like when I went to the hospital, they added something. It wasn’t like the Harry Potter School of Trans. Nothing was added; they took everything that was there, and they refashioned it. So we know exactly what is inside, so it shouldn’t be difficult for a GP to be able to talk about that stuff. But actually, what gets in the way is one having fear of talking about stuff. There’s an affirmation if we just say it’s like any other vagina. There’s an affirmation that doesn’t allow us to talk about our own bodies on our own terms. That doesn’t actually help the doctor, because then the conversation becomes awkward and stilted. I feel like what I am trying to do is to do some work to demystify the process. I am not trying to be like anyone else. I want to have good sex. I want to have a nice relationship. I want to have an easy life. I am not setting out to write the book or to do the work I do because in some way I want to rebel or occupy a place and a philosophical standpoint. What I do want to do is be present in my own body in this lifetime. That means that I am safe. It means that I understand how my body is going to age. I want to understand what is going on. If I am feeling a certain pain, I understand it. I don’t want to be terrified. Because it’s a surgical space. I think for many trans people, we never get beyond the surgical space part. Our bodies never get to be just bodies. I think that that’s because nobody talks about it. We go in, and we talk about the kind of dilation, we go in and talk about dilating and how to keep it big, to keep it deep and wide so that somebody else can get pleasure from it. It’s an odd notion. Five days after my surgery, they come out and they do the depth test. It’s incredibly painful, and I have never asked them to do that. I never asked them to tell me my depth. The definition for them of success is that we have good depth. Inside my vagina, there is very little sensation, if any. If somebody was pounding away in there, for hours, I’m not going to feel much pleasure. In a sense, it’s about reclaiming that and saying let’s talk honestly about what we have and what we are, because I think trans people – no offence to anyone that is cis – are the future. Seriously, the people that are breaking down gender roles and gender stuff, and we are really adding to society.
Dr. Helen Webberley: What I would really love to be able to do is help people who are young going through the process. Surgery, if they want it or have it, is years away. But they’ve got to do that sexual experimentation. They want to. Their bodies are telling them to. They want to love and have relationships. How can we give advice to those children who think that it’s just going to be the worst thing in the world to take their clothes off?
Juno Roche: I think it’s a two-fold thing. I think if we can one, talk about it. And that’s a problem that we don’t talk about it, the narrative is very closed down. The narrative accepts the line “I was born in the wrong body”. And therefore, if that is our starting point, then we always close the body down. It would be difficult to become intimate with somebody, or to have a sexual relationship with somebody if you are hiding most of your body. So I think what we need to do is to firstly break down as adults the notion that gender equals genitals. A lot of us say that it doesn’t, but then everything that we do in terms of our actions goes against that. so we constantly hide our male bits, or we have lots of surgeries to get rid of that. and that’s fine. I am not saying that we shouldn’t do that, but it reinforces stuff around bodies. I think we need to find a way of creating a narrative that says it’s perfectly fine for a woman to have a penis. That’s perfectly fine. I know it’s not edible for people. I know that people will be throwing things at their laptops or their radios as they hear me say that, but that’s a problem we have to get to. Because globally, an awful lot of trans people won’t be able to have surgery for a number of reasons: it’s illegal, they can’t afford it, there’s not free health care. Trans people tend to struggle in some countries with employment so they end up not earning very much. An awful lot of trans people will go through their whole lives with their original genitals. So we need to reframe that as not being a default position, but as being okay, as being fine. As being just as female or just as male as anybody else. If we start to have that conversation, we can begin to allow young people to enjoy their bodies. If they still want to make changes, that is perfectly fine. And if they want to tuck or bind then that is completely fine. And if they don’t want somebody to touch them there, then that is fine as well. It is not about creating another set of rules. It is about saying that their bodies are okay. Your body is a work in progress, you have a trans body and you’re not necessarily moving from one binary gender to the other. If you define yourself as trans and see that as being a really beautiful space, you might want to change your genitals, but you might not. And that’s fine. You will be able to have sexual pleasure an d you will be able to achieve orgasm. You shouldn’t feel guilty about that. there is nothing wrong with that. in the book I am writing now, which is kind of a step off Queer Sex, an awful lot of people haven’t’ had surgery or aren’t going to have surgery, who are thinking about surgery but they’re having sex at the moment and they’re having orgasms with their current configuration. And they’re really happy about that. it’s important. Orgasms are really important. Sex is really important. For too long, we’ve kind of denied trans people the autonomy to speak about sex, because they we are seen as being incredibly deviant if we speak about wanting sex. We need to take back an awful lot of this narrative, and stop hiding.
Marianne Oakes: I think that’s very interesting, because my experience within the trans communities is we never talk about sex. We nod and wink when we see somebody who might be looking for sex if I go down Canal Street in Manchester. There are a lot of trans women looking for sex but nobody talks about it. It’s kind of always present but never spoken about. I feel slightly embarrassed, I used to go to a club where it was actually going on all around me, and I was so naïve. Because nobody spoke. It was almost, I do feel trans women, I can’t speak for trans men – I think they go through a slightly different journey exploring their sexuality more, I don’t want to generalize but that’s my experience – but for trans women, if you talk about sex, then it makes this a fetish. Or it makes it a deviancy. But if it was a woman talking about sex, it wouldn’t be. You see what I mean?
Juno Roche: I think that it’s just that thing where no one ever talks about pleasure. Throughout the process of transitioning, there’s never any real talk about the effects of estrogen on being able to get erections and being able to come if you have still got a penis. People don’t talk about that stuff. So in some kind of sense, it is all accepted if there is a price that you are paying to look real. And I think that fifty years ago, that was the way things had to be, because gender occupied a certain place in terms of society. It ruled society with a kind of iron glove. But we’re not in that space now. We can begin to break it down a bit. I don’t think that pleasure and sex are things that should be sacrificed for looking real. Looking real is all about other people is all about other people. It might also be for you when you look in the mirror. It’s important for me. I look at my configuration now, and it pleases me much more than it did before when it was a sticky out cock. I mean, it works for me much better. But I am still going to talk about it on its own terms. I am not going to sacrifice anything. For me, I go between London and Spain. It’s really important to me that there’s nothing about trans that means I can’t live a life I want to live. I do think it’s different for younger people, but I also think as kind of older people, we have a responsibility to try and disrupt this stuff a lot more, and to try and be a little more transgressive around the whole notion of surgery so that we begin to enjoy ourselves rather than it looking a hundred percent real. Can I make sure that I have orgasms? Is there any way that I can still ensure that I can always have an orgasm? Not a kind of hit and miss thing, where it occasionally works, just like an orgasm. And obviously, it’s a given that sex isn’t one type. Lots of people have sexual problems. That isn’t what I am saying. What I am saying is that we begin to centre pleasure, the pleasurability of being trans, and the joyability of being trans, rather than seeing trans as being something that is a default.
Marianne Oakes: At the moment, if I understand this correctly, and just to be clear, I have not reached the surgeon’s table yet, so I have never thought about this, you know, what do I want out of that surgery? And the only point of reference I would have, generally, is what the doctors are going to tell me. And I think if I am understanding this correctly, they’re going to tell me that I might have a Ferrari but it might be not working under the bonnet. Do you know what I mean? It would look great; it might not work very well.
Juno Roche: I don’t know if anyone would have that conversation with you. I think part of the issue is that there are a very few surgeons that do this work globally. Therefore, until you get the economics of more people doing it and therefore trying to do the service better, I mean, essentially, especially in the UK, what we have is a kind of service that is prodded along very badly. For years and years. Without there being an awful lot of quality control. And you know, it’s not until – I didn’t ask a lot of questions. I am not saying this stuff because I did it any differently. I went it and I was completely submissive to the process. I queued up like other people did for a very long time to be allowed in to have the surgery. And then, I didn’t ask questions. It was only actually for me, when they did the depth test, and it really hurt, and I did think as a grown arse person, I didn’t ask them to do that. I didn’t ask them to tell me how much depth I had. And what are they doing, telling me what depth I’ve got, five days after surgery, when actually it is deepest. It hasn’t started to heal properly, yet. Actually, it’s only a win win for them. It’s meaningless to me. Because on day five, I probably could have shoved a one-liter bottle of coke up there. Not to be crude. It hadn’t started to heal yet during this time. So they just took the packing out and it was at its deepest. Even if you think about that one act, until we start to question things to say, “Can we just talk about pleasure a bit more than depth?” because that is about you feeling like you’ve given me a version of a vagina that works in a kind of heteronormative cis normative way. And actually, what I want you to accept is that I’ve got a trans body and I am proud of that. I am proud of being trans. I don’t need you to hide me by making me disappear into society. I am quite happy. That doesn’t just work for me, it works for all of us. Even if you do want to hide and disappear in society, because you’re more guaranteed that you’ve had a conversation about this really important surgery, so I think even the day that they do your first depth test, it really matters that it is being done at a time when actually, your vagina or your cavity or your orifice, however you want o call it, hasn’t started to heal yet. So, it’s meaningless. And that is why so many trans women go home after that, they start to dilate at hospital, and they can dilate using the bigger one, and it starts to heal, and it gets more and more painful. And they struggle more, but they’re on their own, then. There’s no video, so there’s no conversation. There’s no books. The leaflet they give you tells you when you can start to ride a bike or drive a car.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Again, listening with my doctor’s hat on, it’s really interesting. Twenty years ago, I started working in sexual health services in Worcestershire. And part of my job then was to run a psychosexual clinic. People would come with their sexual problems; women who couldn’t have penetration or couldn’t have orgasm, men whose erections weren’t working or they were working far too well and they all came too quickly. These people were distraught. It ruined their lives, it ruined their relationships. The pain that it caused them was enormous. It is still a very hidden problem. We don’t hear about it. In the magazines and on the television, it’s still the same. Everyone has great sex. But the shamefulness of not having great sex is still hidden away and I just told that story of twenty years ago, we haven’t moved on in that twenty years. People are still hiding. There is no vocabulary about it. There is no openness. There is no march in the streets. Actually, Juno, you said earlier that trans people are the future. What we need is people to be able to speak about this. People to bravely say my cavity wasn’t made when I was in my mum’s womb. It was created afterwards. But it doesn’t matter. And yes, I have sex. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and these are the difficulties I have, and these are the difficulties you might have. And it’s everybody, isn’t it? It’s bringing this conversation out into the open to get people talking about it, and then people can come forward to help. From the doctors and nurses working in this. That’s really important. As a trans doctor, I have seen people come away from their surgery and as you say a few months into it, it’s like this bit is leaking, or this is flapping a bit, or this bit is definitely not right, I don’t know what this bit is. They try to go back and ask their local GP or local hospital or back to the place where they had their surgery, and the door is closed. People are not getting any help. Even worse when they had the surgery abroad and they can’t get back out to the clinic. Where do people go for help after the operation? We as the medical profession are failing ur patients by not giving enough follow up. Not just the surgical follow up, but how does it work follow up? The what do I do with it follow up. That’s vitally important, too. And it brings us back to education, doesn’t it? And you said, Juno, that we don’t have enough surgeons doing these procedures in the UK. We need people to be educated in what to do, how to do it, and how to look after the people and the bits that they’ve operated on. But actually, one thing that I am imagining our listeners are thinking, and if I may, I might ask those questions that I might imagine they would like to ask: what’s binding, what’s packing, what’s tucking, how do you go to the toilet, how do you have sex?
Juno Roche: Binding is when somebody that defines as trans masculine would then flatten down their breast tissue with a variety of different binders. I have not used binders so I wouldn’t know the ins and outs of the materials used. But essentially, it would be a very constrictive binder that would go around to flatten the appearance of a masculine shape or of a more male shape. Tucking is when somebody would take their penis and balls and tuck up through their legs, back through, and therefore it would be hidden. Again, what you get is a female shape. There would be no evidence of it. Both of those two things, the reason why I highlighted those two and not packing, was that both of those two things involve a certain level of discomfort. Somebody described tucking to me as an acceptance of discomfort, of daily discomfort. So those two things are things we do that are uncomfortable, but the process of becoming more aligned visually probably outweighs that for a lot of people. So the process of looking more masculine or more feminine outweighs the pain. Packing is when somebody who defines themselves as trans masculine would wear something that’s a bit like a dildo, not like a dildo in terms of it being hard and like an erect penis, but something that would look like a flaccid penis inside their underwear or their jeans or their trousers, so that it would give the appearance that they would have a cock and balls. And I suppose the thing is that we have to get to, is would it be – I would talk about a trans woman with a penis being a woman. For me, a trans woman with a penis is as much a trans woman as I am with a reconfigured penis. That’s what I have got. We’ve still got the same cock and balls. It’s just been reconfigured. For me, somebody having sex with a trans woman with a penis. No, they’re not having sex with a man with a cock. You know, it’s entirely different. And I think that that is something that we as older trans people will need to do a lot more of as work. The reason why I talk about this stuff and write the articles I write is because I want to open up that space. There’s a space which is about breathing easily and having a lot more freedom to feel comfortable in your body. You know, with a binder or with tucking, it just doesn’t – I am not saying any of that stuff is wrong. You can do any of that stuff. But you can also have the freedom to not do that stuff if you don’t want to. And it doesn’t stop you from being. If you are just woman, it doesn’t stop you from being just woman. And it doesn’t stop you from being just man if you don’t want to bind that day. That doesn’t impact on it. Your masculinity is never in question.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Brilliant, thank you. Marianne, anything you want to say?
Marianne Oakes: I wanted to say that you touched down, Helen, on some things and mentioned some others. I suppose our partners; it might make them question their sexuality. And I think sometimes that disempowers us to embrace our sexuality. The reason I say that is when I work with couples, it’s about loss of identity for the wife or partner. And the idea of having, you know, marrying a man and then see them turn them into a woman, does that then turn them into a lesbian couple? That really is challenging to the wider community to get their heads round. This brings us back to how trans people can possibly lead the way. You know, if we can be proud of our relationships, and not try to hide them away. I’m going to confess, there is a little part of me with my relationship that we tend to stay in the shadows as much as we can. And when we’re out of the shadows, we’re not close together. Does that make sense?
Juno Roche: Yes. As you’re talking, one of the things I am thinking is that there is that notion that we as trans people are still operating using their terms of definition, which are just male and female. Which is very binary. But if you were to say, my partner is trans, it opens up and creates space. It doesn’t close down any space. It is only when we have to define ourselves in accordance with a really strict binary gender of male or female, that trans becomes problematic in society’s eyes. We’ve got the wrong genitals, apparently, and we need to have surgery to change that before anyone will come anywhere near us. But if we say that we are trans, and that’s what I love about the word trans, it creates a freedom, that, at the moment, we seem to be fighting for every day. If you look at the attacks online, if you look at the number of times people are having to say trans women are women and trans men are men, you’re getting away from the fact that that’s actually a fairly reductive thing that we have to enter into, because it means that being a woman is one thing. It’s like being a man is one thing. It’s like we still have to play that game in order to be accepted within. If we just said we’re trans, that’s one of the things that’s nice about speaking to younger trans people. A lot of them do define themselves as just being trans, and therefore have a freedom with their body that we don’t experience. And I think that one of the things that gives me great hope in terms of interviewing people fir this book is that the younger people I interview seem to have, not all of them, obviously, but they seem to have a willingness. Somebody said to me in the book I’ve done now is that they felt like they were kind of working to try and fight for their cock. They didn’t want to have surgery. But they wanted to know how much dysphoria they could have. They were still experiencing some kind of dysphoria. So in a sense, there are people now beginning to say, “Hold on a minute. What is it like if I just have this body? But I see myself as being completely female or completely male?” How empowered would I feel, and how empowered would I feel naked? I think that part of it is, if we’re operating under a really strict binary system which comes from a kind of Christian background of defining man and woman, and a kind of hierarchy, if we were operating in that system, we are always going to lose in it. The one thing that I do really well, brilliantly, is be trans. I be trans better than anything else I have ever been my whole life. As soon as I started saying to people that I had a reconfigured cock and balls, I did that brilliantly. I occupied that brilliantly. I could masturbate. I could come. I felt sexual. I felt beautiful. When I was just trying to occupy the word female and vagina, or the word woman and vagina, you know I felt like I was always doing it bad. I felt like I was always on the back foot. Because even if you look at people who do it brilliantly, they’re beautiful. They still get abuse for it daily online. Even if they are utterly beautiful and they pass perfectly, they still get people saying something like you’re a fella or you’re a man. Stop trying to trick us. So we don’t really win. We’re never going to win that. but if I say to people I get very little abuse because I say I am trans and proud of it. People can’t attack me for that and I am not doing it. I’m from Peckham. I don’t mind being attacked. It’s part of it all. But at the end of that day, I want to live this life and fully occupy my body and my sense of self and my pleasure and my right to pleasure. I want to occupy all of that stuff.
Marianne Oakes: I was just going to say that interestingly enough, it’s about occupying our own space and not occupying somebody else’s. Would that be fair?
Juno Roche: Absolutely. I am not trying to occupy space that people have or that is governed by other people. You know, I did that stuff when I transitioned. I was a primary school teacher in a school. And I would go back in and people would say after the operation are you going to wear more makeup? I actually had somebody ring me once after I went out for a meal with them and they said, “Listen, it was really nice to see you. You look really happy, but we do think that if you really do want to be seen as a woman, you do need to eat more slowly.” I mean, there’s a lot of hoops that society will put in place to get us to fit their idea of womanhood or male hood or masculinity or femininity. When I turned away when I was trans, I found a space that had the capacity for party and for fun, but also had no rules. No one’s bothered to make any rules about gender or trans. People thought it was always something that we should be ashamed of. And you know what, I am not ashamed of it. I am proud of it. I am proud of being born. I see that I was born into a body that had the capacity for change, and that being trans means that I have the bravery to realign myself in my lifetime. I am not going to wait to die to be reborn in a different life, if that’s what happens. I am going to make my body be the way it needs to be in this lifetime.
Dr. Helen Webberley: Your confidence and your bravery come out in everything that you say, and also comes out in your book, which we will include the details of in the notes to show the people who are interested to read it, because it is a good read. And I think the one group of patients that worries me are the youngsters who are in complete stealth. And it worries me that they feel that they can have this secret that only very few people will ever know about. And that they will be able to hold that secret for the rest of their lives. I worry that they have to feel that way because they haven’t got the ability or the empowerment to have the pride and confidence and bravery that you have learnt to have. I fear for these youngsters in stealth, where they have completely hidden in from the outside world, because some day someone will find out. The more people like you, Juno, that come forward and tell your story, and shout it clearly and loudly from a pillar, is amazing to give empowerment to these younger people who are scared stiff of being trans. I think it’s amazing what you’ve done. Thank you so much. And thank you so much for sharing it with us. I’ve learned a lot. Marianne, I don’t know about you, but it’s been amazing.
Marianne Oakes: Very empowering for myself, as well. To be able to have that conversation so openly honestly. It’s refreshing.
Juno Roche: You know, if I could just end on this, I kind of feel like one of the things – I’ve just written a piece that’s going to come out this week in which I say that people always defined me as being complicated and complex and effeminate. And I never was. I was just somebody who wanted to have children, I wanted to be a mother, but everything about being trans in the period of time that I’ve been trans meant that I haven’t been there. So all the work I do, and I am not trying to be overly emotional or anything, is about younger people, because I definitely do not want anyone that’s younger to feel like they have to hide their truth and their authenticity to please other people, because that’s a no win game. It makes you begin to loathe yourself, loathe parts of yourself, loathe the parts of yourself where it shows. I really want people to feel at ease. Some of my harshest critics, I have to say, at the moment, are other trans people. A lot of other trans people who wish I would just shut up and not say this stuff, because by saying this stuff I kind of destroy the kind of mystique around it. But I am not trying to do that, I am just trying to make it a safer, easier space for people to live in and breathe in, and be happy in and feel sexual and beautiful in. The thought of somebody growing up like I did, constantly feeling unattractive and unlovable and that no one would desire me in this body, it just appalls me. I have to do what I have to do, and we all have to do more.
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