Tobi Hill-Meyer

Body Talk

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | January 14, 2009 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-sex feminism, butch, feminism, Native American, porn, sex-positivity, trans

A year ago, I was joining the cast of a personal theater show, Body Talk, which was designed to provide a similar opportunity for empowering women as the Vagina Monologues, but with the freedom to write our own pieces. Despite only knowing about a dozen trans women in my town, at our first cast meeting 4 out of the 12 women present were trans. Apparently I wasn't the only one needing this outlet. We spent a couple months working together on individual and group pieces, and I recorded mine. For a while, I was afraid to share it online, because I discuss my work in the sex industry. Watching it now, I'm self conscious about my slip ups, or when I accidentally said "exploitation" instead of "exotification." But as my activism around sex work has become more important, so has sharing this performance.

The ending and the script after the cut.

I was sixteen when I first thought about transitioning. Being the nerd that I was, I wrote up a pro-con chart. But the concept of transitioning felt so daunting. In high school, how could I ever get people to see my gender differently? Lots of makeup? Jewelry? Skirts? Demure femininity? If that's what it took, I wasn't having any of it. It just wouldn't be worth it.

I later expanded my idea of what transitioning meant. Still, when I did finally transition, I had changed my mind about what was worth it. Feminine entrapments were not as foreign to me anymore, and if it meant that I'd be called 'she' at my job more often, I was happy to get femmed up each morning. But I had a secret wardrobe that I'd wear to butch it up on the weekends.

I love being a butch woman. I had always been afraid that it meant I'd pass a lot less often. But the opposite turned out to be true. My elbow length hair was often read as a characteristic of being Native American, or being in a town with so many hippies, instead of a sign that I was female identified.

Let me tell you, when I finally cut it, grew out my chin hairs, donned a tank top or muscle shirt and headed for San Francisco pride, I passed flawlessly. Nobody expects the butch dyke next to them to be trans.

That's when I realized that I was happier not following the rules. And I'm proud to break all the expectations of what a trans woman is supposed to be like.

Despite my own dysphoria, I wanted to be proud of my body when so many told me that I was supposed to be ashamed. I found a group of trans women and allies who share naked pictures of each other and I had a blast. Like many others there I still didn't feel like showing off my junk, but that didn't matter. The positive feedback about my body was incredible.

I wanted more of that kind of community. That's why I wanted to go to Camp Trans so much. It's a place where a hundred or two young radical transfolk gather and fight specifically for the rights of trans women.

But even though Camp Trans is set up on a sliding scale cost, but taking a cross country trip is pretty expensive. I was only working as a part time tutor and was being supported by my partner at the time.

So when a lover of mine told me about getting paid $500 to do a photo shoot with a porn company, it was hard to resist. That would be plenty of money to cover the trip to Camp Trans, and it would take almost a month for me to make that much from my job at LCC.

When I decided to do it, I desperately didn't want them to find out that I'm multiracial. The last thing I needed was for them to put a feather in my hair and do a tranny squaw set. I'd be exotified enough as it was.

I prepared myself for it as best as I could. I knew it would be different than the photo shoots I had done with my friends. But I was caught off guard at how difficult it was to be sexy the way they wanted. It wasn't sexy the way I would be sexy for my lovers, but something completely alien. I mean, bending over and spreading my ass cheeks? I don't get what's sexy about that. And they put me in spiked heels for the first time.

The worst part was how they wanted my body to act in ways that just wasn't possible for me, especially under such a stressful situation. I've been on hormones for years now, I'm just not going to get and stay rock hard without a good reason. Toward the end, the photographer set down his camera and said, "So, um, are ya gonna cum soon?" Talk about pressure.

I managed to fake it pretty well and had him quite convinced. It had helped that I had already told him that I didn't squirt anymore. He said that the website would be disappointed but that he understood. I had a hell of a time holding myself together though, and the second I was in the car and out of his sight, I was shaking. It took me a good week of solid processing before I could feel like being sexual again.

Sometimes breaking the rules can hurt. But as far as trauma goes, that wasn't so bad. The hard part is hearing from people who are supposed to be my allies as they talk shit about people like me. Who buy into the myth that there are "true transsexuals" and then there are "shemales." And my choice to allow my genitals to be photographed means that I'm doing this for the money and the attention of men instead of for myself. It goes hand in hand with the people who want to create civil rights protections that will only apply depending on your surgical status.

It all comes back to what I've got between my legs and frankly I wish everyone would just but out. There's this assumption that I have to hate that part of my body because it's maleness. But who says that she has to be a symbol of maleness. I once read the words Lauren W., another gender rebel, who wrote:

"I grew up reading Pat Califia and Tristan Taormino and Carol Queen, reading all about dykes packing dycks, dykes drooling over dycks, dykes fucking with dycks, all depicted in steamy detail on the pages of On Our Backs, Best Lesbian Erotica, How to Fuck in High Heels - and so it never seemed all that incongruous to me that I, like every other queer girl I knew, happened to have one."

That's how I feel about it these days. I've just got a high tech strap-on--it's strapless! I feel more at home in myself. It feels like a very good place to be in. And I owe it at least partly to being forced to confront the issue when being in porn.

That's why it's hard to be in a feminist space where sex work is seen as inherently vile. It's the hypocrisy of a pro-choice movement that turns around and says that women in sex work are suffering from a false consciousness and must be saved from their own choices. There are a lot of demeaning and exploitative jobs out there, what makes sex work so special?

Despite everything else, in the sex industry I've had my gender respected and valued in ways that no other job has done. No one's ever gotten my pronouns wrong, and I can't even say the same thing about most of the queer organizations I volunteer for.
My experience wasn't the funest thing I ever did, but it wasn't a sob story either. I chose to go back for another shoot, and it wasn't so bad the second time around. In fact, I think I want to make my own porn now.

I mean, tranny porn is about as accurate a representative of trans women's sexuality as girl-on-girl porn is an accurate representation of lesbian sexuality. And following in the footsteps of my sex-positive cis-dyke sisters, when I want it done right I'm going to do it myself. And use knowledge from my experiences to create a feminist and oppression aware alternative.

Somewhere along the line I heard that feminists aren't supposed to make porn. I heard that all trans stories are tragedies. I heard that the best way to survive is keep your head down. But like I said, I like breaking all the rules.

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Great stuff!

And I had no idea!

I have given up on trying to keep track of the gender identification and gender histories of the contributors and commenters here. In fact, that's what I've come to like best about Bilerico. Assumptions are constantly shaken and questioned.

Thanks for sharing this Tobi. Absolutely awesome!

That was awesome Tobi! Did you ever end up making any trans-positive porn? I know the manager of a female-owned trans-positive "adult" store here in town who has been looking for trans-positive MtF videos but has only found FtM ones. Any suggestions?

Yeah, that was the main frustration that led me to create my own. Right now I'm going with the title: "Doin' it Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project." I'm filming the last scene this weekend, and hope to have at least a draft finished in time for the Feminist Porn Awards submission date in late February. Then I've also got a few leads on a potential distribution deal.

In the meantime, I've also done some other work, but expect a more detailed post on that in the next couple weeks. I can also recommend "Dominatrix Waitrix" and "The Crashpad Series: Volume 2" as movies that each have a trans woman in them.

I used to call those shakes the "slut shivers" and I would get them every time I got naked for a couple of bucks.


That video was really inspiring for a not-so-glammed-ex-escort trans woman.

Sisters like you make me proud.

Thank you, that's really wonderful to hear.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | January 14, 2009 9:51 PM

Tobi, this is the most awesome post I've ever read here at Bilerico--or elsewhere, for that matter!!! It is revolutionary. You totally rock, girl! And if it weren't completely dissonant to what both you and I represent and believe in, I'd propose to you right here and now!!! ;-)

Early in my transition when I still lived in the Bay Area, I had both FtM and MtF lovers, none of whom had had lower surgery. When we f*cked or had sex, for me the experience was transcendent: I couldn't tell where one body began and the other ended. And I absolutely didn't give a d*mn who had what down there: for me, it was my lover's energy that mattered. Who he or she was. What type of person. And that energy and identity always perfectly matched the person's gender, regardless of what was between the legs.

Sadly, for my lovers the experience was different. My MtF lover told me she didn't want to f*ck again, as it reminded her of the dissonance between her identity and body. Likewise, with my FtM lovers. Of course, I respected their wishes and never tried to dissuade them. But I still feel sad the sadness. And I really wish that more people, trans and cis, weren't so trapped in their bodies.

Which brings up that infamous phrase. Two of the reasons it took me so long to figure out that I was FtM was 1) I never felt "trapped in the wrong body." In fact, I always liked my body other than it seemed to lead people to mis-identify me. And 2) I was always sexually attracted to people, not genders. Which in a world where sexual attraction is considered a gender-maker, just made it much more confusing to figure out who I was.

THANK YOU so much for making that video, and for being brave enough to share it with us.


Thanks, it's really wonderful to hear so much appreciation, especially as I was a bit hesitant about this piece.

You know, almost all of my lovers have been trans or genderqueer. And even those who weren't were a part of trans communities. That is one thing that really helps me have a strong sense that it is okay to be who I am.

And trans-trans relationships feel really transcendent in some ways. I think perhaps I picked part of this thinking up from my parents' lesbian feminism -- loving someone like yourself is a powerful way to express love for yourself. That's all the more true when we're talking about an aspect of self that we are taught to be ashamed of.

Do you consider yourself to be "transsexual"? Or another way, do you believe the label "transsexual" applies to you?

Oh Tobi! You performed my piece with more energy and passion than I ever did. Your whole monologue channels so many of my feelings about gender and body. Thanks for sharing this, it is needed and valued.

ps I've started referring to my "transisters" vs. my "cisters" -- I'm sure it will become cloying soon but for now it's short and it's cute!

Thanks. Yeah, this was the performance that I was originally going to just perform your piece, but then I found out that we were supposed to write our own, but I had to at least quote you, as that piece really did have a wonderful impact on me when I was working out my sexuality stuff.

Great performance!

I liked the parts about deconstructing our anxiety around sex work and sex workers. People who did that were marginalized in Jesus' time, and we're still working against that tide today.

Kate And Ally | September 30, 2009 12:22 AM

And our so-called "allies" just love this..

"I saw a pr0n video box that said, 'shemale,' and therefore, all TS people just looove being called that! I am an ally, so I am automatically right! And you are a dysfunctional ingrate if you object!"

"I read that all trannies are whores, and that's so liberated and cool! Of course none of them could want a regular capitalist job! I am an ally, so I am automatically right! And you are a dysfunctional ingrate if you object!"

"I decided that all trannies just loooove having a dick! And using the dick! And we can pretend that it is their idea, and that they are asking me to 'accept' them' Instead of any fetish on my side! I am an ally, so I am automatically right! And you are a dysfunctional ingrate if you object!"

"I decided that all that TranyStuff is allll about me, me, me, and what is convenient can comfortable for Meeeeeeee! I am an ally, so I am automatically right! And you are a dysfunctional ingrate if you object!

I am a born-female, and so I have total authoriTAH over everything that you think, feel and want! I am an ally, so I am automatically right! And you are a dysfunctional ingrate if you object!