[Guest Post] How I Found My Femininity Through Inflation by Astra Ebonwing

I commissioned this piece way back in November, and I’m so excited to be sharing it with you as the first guest post of 2021. When Astra (she/her) pitched me this idea, I was immediately excited because it represented an opportunity to learn about a kink with which I’m almost entirely unfamiliar.

But this piece is much more than just a story about an unusual kink. It’s also a powerfully personal tale of transition, growing into an identity, and falling in love with femininity.

This is quite a long one, but so fascinating. I invite you to grab a mug of something and savour it.

As always, if you want to help me keep bringing awesome guest bloggers to you, supporting via the tip jar is the best way to do that!

Amy x

How I Found My Femininity Through Inflation by Astra Ebonwing

Transition is a Frightening Experience

I remember the day I got my first prescription for estrogen and spironolactone, the two main drugs used to transition from male to female. My doctor was in a flurry, writing medical notes that were complete bullshit.

“Your heart rate is too high and you need spironolactone to calm it. And then, an application of estrogen will ensure it does not drop too low,” she said to me as she was writing. “Yes, I’m making all of this up so your insurance doesn’t reject the request.”

When I told her my insurance actually did cover the drugs, she was flabbergasted. Very few types of insurance cover transition willingly. In 2007, there were even less options than there are today. She corrected the notes, still worried, but one hour later I walked out of the pharmacy with pills in hand. I was triumphant, but I knew I was about to follow a path of hardship. I’d have to be in public in women’s clothing. I had to master makeup, something I still struggled with at the time. I also had to walk through “the in-between,” that period of time where you look like a weird blob that doesn’t quite match to male or female clothes. The time when you wonder, “Do I look good enough to sit in the women’s bathroom and not scare the hell out of someone?”

I drove home with all of these thoughts in my head, took my first dose, and then grabbed the balloons out from under my bed. I stuck them in my bra, shoved my pillow under my clothing to puff up my stomach, and I snuggled up on my couch and turned on the TV.

In a flash, I went from a thin man to a maternal, very pregnant woman. I cherished my stomach, oversized breasts, and hips. I no longer felt frightened or scared. Every concern in my mind stopped.

This was me. This was who I was.

I closed my eyes and cried. I knew I had found the Goddess within myself. I used to fear my balloons and out-of-proportion self as much as I loved them. I felt like an outsider who had this weird passion of being in a very specific body that I didn’t think others would understand. I was scared someone would find out and that it would ruin my professional career.

But in that moment, I finally accepted myself. The look no longer felt like I was doing something dirty. I realized during that quiet time in my apartment that I was actually about to experience my own kink.

Parts of me were actually about to inflate – and inflate they did.

What IS Inflation Kink?

Look, I get that we’re not the largest or most well-known group of kinksters, so I thought I’d better include a section of explanation so everyone is on the same page with what this kink is and what it is not. We have, unfortunately, a lot of unique terms.

Inflation kink, otherwise known as expansion, is a sexual desire focused on the concept of “inflating” or growing parts of your body in some way. Expansion is an umbrella term for our kink, as it splits down into specific “shapes” of change in the body. “Full Body” is when a character becomes completely round like a balloon, “Hyper Hourglass” is an expansion of just the hips and breasts, “Hyper Preg” focuses on breasts and belly, “SSBBW” is short for “super-sized big beautiful woman” and you can easily guess what that is, “Weight Gain” focuses on literal weight gain, and finally, “Inflatables” are folks who want to be changed into big pool toys that are also, of course, inflated with air or a gas.

The growth always has a macguffin that works as a trigger for the scene. It could be as simple as a potion, a curse, or a piece of candy, or as complicated as a special machine or magical statue. At this point we introduce the medium, or the way the character is being changed. We can either grow naturally, where our bodies are just generating fat deposits like any normal growth, or be “inflated” (there’s the origin of the name) with gas, liquid, slime, etc. Different folks have different preferences for mediums. One may love the concept of a character floating in the air from taking too much helium, while another may enjoy the weight of water.

Scenes can be solo, where a participant chooses to change their own body, or between an inflator/inflatee, where one person causes the change and the other accepts it. This is the part that most kinky people will begin to understand: the power dynamics between inflator and inflatee. Inflator usually takes on the role of the Dominant, while the inflatee is usually the submissive. It doesn’t always work like that, of course, but that’s the most common dynamic.

Instead of restraints, like ropes or bondage equipment, we are our own restraint. By changing our bodies, we usually don’t move so well. Characters might get stuck in doors, rip out of clothing, squish into rooms that are simply too small, or the addition of gas or liquid in our limbs might keep us from bending. Of course, bondage can easily be added to our kink, so people are stuck not just due to the inflation, but also restrained by rope, cuffs, or other bondage equipment. While we can deal with pain in the kink, it’s usually overlooked and replaced by intense pleasure through change. Instead, many of us focus on internal pressure. 

Everyone has a limit to how much they can be filled, and the character will feel that pressure rising and rising. The symbolism here is obvious: it’s a visual and internal orgasm. The timing of the final rush is usually centered on where the character finds their limit. Here we have two branching choices: stay safe in which the character orgasms and stops their growth, or pop where the character orgasms and “explodes” simultaneously. Many inflationist characters simply reform in some way, back down to their original size, and are ready to ride again.

Many of our pieces feature otherworldly elements, from fantasy to sci-fi. Very rarely are we grounded in reality: Our kink simply can’t function without the suspension of disbelief.

Practicing our kink in real life is done through various pieces of prop work, which we call rigs. Injecting fluid or gas into your body via any means is extremely dangerous, and therefore many of us stay away from that. Instead, the rig is created with multiple pieces of clothing layered together with a balloon or inflatable underneath. Some folks have the money to go further, using transgender silicone skin tops or bottoms so it looks like a person is actually inflating and can be nude. Otherwise, we’re clothed or use props that match skin tone.

Inflation is Based in Nature and Instinct

There are a lot of transgender inflationists. And I mean a LOT. In helping run SizeCon, the only adult convention dedicated to our niche kink, I was surrounded by more transgender women than I ever had been in my life.

Yet is any of that surprising? Our kink is based in change and transition. Inflation can be about the end state, sure, but so many of our stories and thoughts focus on the process. The tightness of the clothing as it strains around the person, seams popping, characters falling on their rears due to their inflation – all of that is visual change.

We, as transgender people, change. This kink is in many way a reflection of what many of us experience in our lives. And you may have noticed a lot of my recollections focus on feminine physical assets over male-coded assets. This is what I believe the core of my kink comes from. It is, in many ways, the celebration of femininity or maternity. Our puberty and our hormones change our bodies, grow our breasts, add that soft layer of fat to cushion us for a future of maybe producing a child.

It was wild for me to watch my chest grow, feel my skin get softer, and squeeze my growing rear into my skinny jeans. It was everything I had practiced in my kink for years and years, and it was legitimately happening to me.

Inflation kinksters love all shapes and sizes. Your body, no matter the form it takes, is beautiful. I remember that feeling of societal pressure to be that “perfect woman,” as so many transgender women feel, but I was able to apply my kink to dilute that poison. I was happy with how I looked, be it a large pregnant woman or a small, pencil-ish nerd. I had the power to tell society to screw off because that was not what I wanted. This supermodel image was, and still is, not my desire.

For Love, Cuddles, and Science

When I returned to the inflation kink in the hellish year of 2020, the community had changed. Originally, when I admitted to other artists and writers that I was transgender, traffic to my stuff super slowed down. Back in the early 2000s, our kink was like 90-95% male. Upon returning to our community last year, the split had severely changed. We are now closer to 60% male and 40% female, and we are immersed between the LGBTQIA+ and Furry communities. We went from “I don’t understand a transgender experience” to “Psh, welcome to the club.”

Body positivity had flourished while I was gone. It made perfect sense for us. We’re bouncy, a little hyperactive, and ready to squish into someone. Size only mattered if the word was “bigger.” We also finally united with the Giant and Tiny (think Lilliputian) kinks, forming the new “size community.”

The people whom I have met and worked with this year have astounded me. Their artistry and understanding of proportion and perspective is deep. One of my artist friends told me, “You can’t do inflation unless you understand our basic proportions.” He’s right. You need to know the basics before you can take them to extremes.

My friends are doctors, lawyers, retail workers, white-collar professionals like myself, cooks, game designers, research scientists, psychologists… So many of us just spout amazing knowledge of our basic biology. The community even has a scientific inside joke: the infamous Square Cube Law. The larger your volume, the more difficult you are to cool. Elephants actually have this problem: they are so large that their internal temperature can dangerously rise. This is why they blow water out of their trunks onto their bodies frequently, or roll in dirt. So, if you applied that to a giantess or an inflationist… well it can’t work. We damn this scientific law with laughter. Our community loves our knowledge of ourselves.

The personas we emulate are at the core of who we are. Care-free, loving individuals who love to squish or be squish hugged by our friends. Our characters hold devious smiles and throw their worries and cares to the wind. We love to change.

I know I loved my change. My emotions emerged, my depression subsided, and I am stuffed full of creativity. I joke that I’m “pregnant with ideas, I just gotta figure out birth.” Even that is an embrace of my internal feminine self. I never would have said that years ago. I would have been scared out of my mind to even admit that I felt like I was female.

Inflation showed me that I can love myself and be proud of my body. I don’t have to feel like I’m doing something wrong or bad, like I was trained to feel. My wife noticed it, actually. She always tells me, “You stand up straighter when you look bigger than 9 months. Your stance shifts. You’re confident.” She’s right. I finally do feel confident.

Throughout all of this, one thing stayed the same: our passion for feminine curves. I specifically never mentioned that back in 2006, when our community was male-dominated, a lot of the artists weren’t frightened of things like male pregnancy, or a man inflating and gaining feminine-coded traits like prominent breasts or soft skin. They were ready back then, just as they are now, to embrace that femininity within all of us.

We just have to be willing to listen to it.

About the Author

Astra Ebonwing is a professional writer, game designer, and video game producer. Her fiction work has been published in major video games such as Batman: Arkham City, F.E.A.R. Online, EVE Online, and others. She is honored to have contributed to iconic characters such as Wonder Woman and Superman. In the kink space, she is an inflation model and writer, with a new kink-based tabletop RPG debuting in 2021 called Wicked Wonders. When not inflating or playing a game, she can be found hugging cats, performing her duties as a Wiccan priestess, or joining live action role playing games throughout the United States. Follow her on Twitter and DeviantArt.

[Guest Blog] “You’ll Never Pass as a Woman” by Velvet Divine

I’m absolutely delighted to be welcoming Velvet Divine (fae/faer) back to Coffee & Kink for the second time! You can check out Velvet’s last guest post for me and follow faer on Twitter!

This is your reminder that Coffee & Kink is and always has been a trans positive space. I’m cis and have a lot of learning to do, but I love my trans siblings and friends and am delighted to be able to uplift their voices on the blog!

Over to Velvet.

– Amy x

“You’ll Never Pass as a Woman” by Velvet Divine

“You’ll never pass as a woman.”

The last words my mother and I exchanged regarding my transition.

I came out to my mother and my aunt (and essentially the whole family, because no one in mine has a concept of “privileged information”) on New Year’s Eve, 2015 – subsequently ruining the holidays and turning the domicile into a Cold War simulation.

Some background:

I was raised in a Roman Catholic, Colombian household. Although our family subverted the usual patriarchal expectation with our generations of single mothers (and my situation specifically, being raised by my mom and my aunt,) we still retained a lot of heteronormative frameworks. My entire life I was told that I was a “man” and had outlined for me the behaviors that were expected of a “man”.

To be quite frank, I never internalized any of those messages and never identified with being a “man” or “masculine” in any capacity. They were just words and concepts tossed at me by virtue of the particular set of plumbing I was born with, but they never meant anything to me.

Fast-forward to much later. It wasn’t until I was exposed to actual LGTBQIA+ people and terminology that I learned that the issue was not my failure to live up to some nebulous, gendered expectation, but rather that those expectations were entirely immaterial to me. I began by exploring using “they/them” pronouns and more neutrally-coded terms for myself, distancing myself from my masculinity as much as I could. And it worked, for a time. (Note: this is by no means a censure or criticism of masculinity, simply my own experience with it and having it forced upon me).

After identifying as “anything but he/him”, for a few months, my thoughts shifted from “not a man”, to “maybe a woman”, to… yes. Absolutely a woman. Much like when I discovered I wasn’t heterosexual, my initial reaction was relief and joy – at the weight of doubt lifted and the prospect of being true to myself. However, that semblance of joy was, in both instances, quickly replaced by anxiety and frustration at the knowledge that I still lived in a heteronormative world and, whether it was randos on the street, the systems and powers that be, or religion, I would have to fight tooth-and-nail to simply be true to me.

For a year I kept my realisation secret from my family and workplaces, slowly coming out to close friends and my cousins (who are practically siblings,) as well as a few professors throughout the course of the year. Some folks gave me odd looks when they heard my name and pronouns, others had difficulty with the new pronouns, and others just dropped me. And while that hurt, no one had been abusive or malicious. I guess my mistake was expecting the threat to come from outside the gates rather than within.

The initial reaction when I came out to my immediate family was resigned silence. With the evening ruined, we all retired to our separate rooms. The next few days were fairly quiet and I mistook the silence to be one of processing instead of festering. What followed were six months of being dragged to various churches, an incompetent psychoanalyst (the type who claims that bi/pansexuality don’t exist and that people like me are just “promiscuous” or “greedy”), and debilitating dissociation. I wasn’t surprised by the pious or even the general assholes, but I felt beyond betrayed by the teachers and “philosophers”, who suddenly had nothing to say while my proverbial carcass was vivisected by the vultures of archaic values.

Throughout this process, my mother did her best to belittle and discount my identity – posing that I was a confused gay man, not trans, or that my sexuality was a phase.

I have to admit, there are few things in life that given me more pleasure than watching the color drain from her face as I explained to her that I was not confused and was quite clear on what and who I was attracted to, having tasted not only the rainbow but most, if not all, of the candy shop.

Mayhaps even more important than what I learned about myself throughout those six months, was what I learned about my family.

The sheer breadth and depth of their hypocrisy and cowardice.

Gossips and educators were conveniently silent, too cowed by tradition or my mother’s infamy to offer the slightest encouragement or reassurance. Alleged guardians who were far too married and enamored of the person they had in their heads, more than willing to sacrifice the flesh-and-bone individual to protect their fantasy. Child abusers, frauds, and narcissists are coddled, made excuses for, and prayed over but the queer kid wasn’t allowed the same clemency.

I wish I could tell you that we worked through it and had some appropriately cheesy Hallmark moment with accompanying music, but I won’t because we didn’t. I became the new Black Sheep, mostly because after what they put me through, I made it a point to fight fire with fire. If I had to endure LGBTQ+ bashing under the guise of religious expression, I quite happily delivered one of the appropriate biblical punishments for infidelity, violence, and fraud (to the point of telling an uncle that I’d bet money on their God being more fond of gays than cheaters) and eventually came out as an Atheist as well.

The best we have done is reach a point where the rest of them pretend it never happened. I assume they’re waiting for me to move out and be far away from them when I do begin the physical component of my transition – out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. They’ve learned better than to bring up homo-/transphobic nonsense in my presence. I am no longer invited to the vast majority of family gatherings and those that I do get invited to, I refuse.

If you want to help me to keep bringing important stories like this to the blog, please head over to the tip jar! Thanks again to Velvet for sharing this powerful story with us.

[Guest Blog] “Open to Trans Girls?” by Velvet Divine

I put out a call for guest blog pitches at the end of July and oh my, you folks delivered! I received some brilliant ideas and would have loved to accept them all. I’m absolutely thrilled to be sharing today’s fantastic piece by a new-to-me writer, Velvet Divine (fae/faer.) You can follow faer on Twitter!

To me, this post really highlights the experience of trans folks and the misconceptions and bigotry that too many cis people still hold. We have a long way to go. I hope that by uplifting trans voices in this space, I can make a very small difference.

– Amy x

Open to Trans Girls?

“Velvet Divine. Fae/Faer. Non-binary. Trans femme. Pan. Aro. Poly. Domme. Targaryen. Actress. Writer. Artist. Vegetarian. Trash fire. Nerd. Gaymer. Goth. For the Horde.” (My dating app bio.)

Due to living in a fairly small, Conservative town and working with clinically vulnerable populations, I am not yet out in my everyday life. I’m sure my identity as a non-binary trans person would compromise not only my employment but also maybe my safety. So, my main method of connecting with people for ventures north of the platonic is via online dating apps.

“Are you open to trans gals?”

Six little monosyllabic words, typed with practiced trepidation or tired resignation, depending on the day. More often than not, this is my first message to women I connect with on dating apps (specifically, cisgender women). Sometimes, it’s the third or the fifth message, following an initial volley of back-and-forth compliments. But it’s always something I feel the need to clarify as soon as possible. Part of it is in the spirit of transparency (pun intended). I like to get it out in the open in the event that it’s any kind of a deal-breaker. But the other part is a visceral fear of coming across as predatory.

Bigoted people have long been pushing a narrative that trans women and trans femme people are predatory, using their transition to gain access to vulnerable women and female spaces in order to sexually harass or assault women. A lot of us have, unfortunately, internalized a lot of this transmisogyny. When you combine that with my hyperawareness of how masculine I still present, you get a knot of anxiety at being perceived as the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

I had my first taste of this in college, soon after breaking my egg (trans lingo for “coming out” or realizing one is trans). I began attending the LGBT+ Center’s Women’s Group. The second of the two sessions I attended consisted of the facilitators addressing “concerns” that some were there for the wrong reasons. Cue all eyes on me. I was the only trans feminine person and, more importantly, I did not look the part yet.

They went around the circle, asking everyone to share why they were in the group and what they hoped to gain from it. I don’t recall my answer verbatim, but it was something along the lines of wanting to connect with other LGBTQ+ women and femme-aligned folks. I looked around for some measure of commiseration or solidarity, but met only silence and a crowded room of women who wouldn’t look me in the eye.

So I never went back to the group. After a few times, the facilitators stopped asking me when I would come back whenever we ran into one another. Maybe the others thought that I was there trying to pick up a date and took my lack of feminine clothing and makeup as admission to this perceived grift. Maybe I just projected my own insecurities and completely misinterpreted the situation. Regardless, that pit in my stomach never left me. I continue to feel the need to question whether or not I am intruding upon a space that isn’t for me, or offering my company to someone who is merely tolerating it.

I ask women who match with me if they’re cool with or open to trans girls and they’ll reassure me, many vociferously and graciously, with “trans women are women” or “I love ALL girls”. Others will make a crack about how it’d be silly if they weren’t, considering it’s plastered all over my profile and hard to miss.

I will continue to ask them if they’re comfortable. I will ask them when we plan a date and I explain that I will not be dolled up because I’ll be coming from work or getting a ride from a relative. I’ll ask them again if the subject of sex comes up and we discuss desires and boundaries. I’ll ask them again during the act itself.

“I am Non-binary and trans-feminine. At the current moment, I am unable to access HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) due to my housing and economic situation. I’m on the chubby side and I still have my bio dildo. If any of those are an issue, feel free to exit stage left.”

That’s what my usual “disclaimer” looks like on my profiles. I add these because, again, I want to lay my cards on the table. Because I’m afraid that otherwise, people will feel misled somehow. Logically, I don’t imagine that these disclaimers are anything but obvious. I’m thick and, even if cis women thought I was just butch, the mention of being trans and the bio dildo euphemism would make it clear. (I used to use the expression “fleshy strap-on” but that kept going over people’s heads). But you’d be surprised. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that cis Sapphics also often feel like they need to “disclose” that they’re on the thicker side up-front. Solidarity, sisters.

Even among the LGBTQIA+ community, there is a staggering amount of ignorance regarding the trans experience on the part of cisgender folks. I’ve had many people mix up trans women and trans men. Most recently, I had a woman ghost me after I corrected her misconception by reiterating the fact that I have a “bio dildo” and explaining the euphemism. Some of my favorites, though, are the ones who think that being trans is like a Magical Girl transformation and that by shouting that I’m trans into the ether, a la Greyskull, I will immediately undergo years of HRT and surgeries. I wish that were the case.

Though these hiccups are more common than I’d like, I’m grateful that they tend to come from places of ignorance and misunderstanding rather than malice. I’ve been using these apps for years and can count on one hand the number of times that women have been intentionally rude or hateful towards me (men are a whole other story). Women are always a treasure to connect with. Even people for whom the bio dildo and transition were deal breakers have generally been perfectly respectful about it.

I want to thank Velvet again for sharing faer insights in this fantastic post. I pay all my guest writers and would like to increase the rate, hire more amazing writers, or both. If you want to see more new voices on C&K, head to the Tip Jar to support the blog.

Pride Month Guest Post: Euphoric Erotica by Quenby

For the second guest post in my Pride Month series, I’m delighted to be hosting Quenby for the second time (they previously wrote an utterly charming piece about lessons in boundaries from a cat!)

I loved today’s piece about exploring gender identity and creating gender euphoric feelings through the possibilities which exist in fiction but aren’t available to us in the real world. I hope you guys enjoy it as much.

This post deals with gender dysphoria, so please take care of yourself if that’s likely to be difficult for you.

Amy x

Euphoric Erotica

This Pride Month, I’ve been thinking about how erotica can allow trans people like me to navigate the at times strained relationships with our bodies.

For most of my tenure as an erotica writer, I have generally kept my work realistic. The experiences are edited and simplified to bring a narrative to those sweaty, gloriously chaotic moments when we give ourselves over to intense sensation. But I prefer to keep things as close to my real life experiences as possible.

There are a couple reasons for this. Firstly, I want to encourage more inclusive beauty standards and write about real bodies. I want big bellies and asymmetric tits, sweat drips and positions which don’t require gymnastics training.

The other reason is that, by sticking to things I have personally experienced, I know how they feel. My aim when writing erotica is to immerse the reader in the experience, to allow them to imagine what it would feel like to be degraded in public, to be fisted, or to be spanked until they cry. To do that, I need to know what that feels like to begin with.

Recently, though, I’ve started making an exception to this rule. Why should I bind the trans people I write about to a body that feels wrong to them? In prose I can grant a body denied by nature and the medical system, one which affirms and meshes with their gender identity.

In a recently published piece of erotica I imagined my boyfriend with a flat chest and a factory installed dick, and I saw the joy that imagery brought to hir. From now on, I will not be bound by painful accuracy. Let’s use this as a way to imagine trans bodies freed from dysphoria, immersed in gender euphoria which blends with and amplifies arousal.

When we are freed from the constraints of accuracy, we can explore options which would be impossible in the real world. Wish your genitals could shift between cunt and cock as easily as your identity shifts between masc and femme? Me too! I can definitely write about that. Wish you had an androgynous gentacle rather than conventional genitals? I can write about that! (Also you should really check out some hentai.) Wish you transcended the mundane and had a 6 dimensional vortex between your legs? I love the way your filthy mind works you brilliant queerdo, and I can (try to) write about that!

For all the issues that plague the world (including the sex writing industry,) erotica can serve as a glorious escape, a way to imagine experiences and connections shared with others. So let’s use that escapism to help trans people explore their identity and imagine bodies in which they feel more at home.

Quenby is a queer perfomer, writer, and activist. If you liked this post you can check out their blog, or follow them on FB and Twitter @QuenbyCreatives.

[Guest Post] “Body Knows Best” by AJ Power

When I put a call out for guest blogs, some stunning pieces came my way and there were a couple that made me cry. This essay by AJ Power is one of them. AJ tells her journey to becoming the woman she is with such strength and vulnerability that I am just absolutely blown away.

I had two contradictory reactions to this piece. The first was that I wanted to publish it because I couldn’t completely relate – as a cis woman who has benefited by entire life from cis privilege, I will never completely what a trans woman goes through. However, on a different level, I felt I did understand it. As a trauma survivor, my body has always known what I need, what I can handle and what I cannot, and if a situation is right or wrong. It was learning to listen to it that was the tricky bit. In that regard, at least, I related to AJ’s essay very deeply. I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share this beautiful piece with you all.

Amy x

It started with losing my virginity. You could argue for something earlier: myriad stomach issues through my childhood, anxiety attacks I couldn’t recognize as such (much less explain to my parents), or any number of little things I’d only later realize pointed to my being trans. But it’s one thing to dissect signs and symptoms with the benefit of hindsight, and another to get a blaring wake-up call on a chilly October night when you’re as excited as you’ve ever been.

Aubrey was a better person to ‘lose it’ with than I could have dreamed. Vastly too cool for me, sure, but I was not looking that particular gift horse in the mouth. My roommate was out partying, we were both happy, healthy, and sober, and I was about to fall head over heels. Everything was perfect. Except, well, for one horrifying cliché….

I couldn’t get it up.

No matter what I tried (and oh did I try) it was just not happening. I didn’t understand. Yes, I was nervous, and yes, on some level I believed that it happened to a lot of guys maybe even all guys at some point or other—but at that moment there was nothing but shame and betrayal. Aubrey actually handled everything great, but that didn’t stop me from sobbing in the shower the next morning, or from going to student health to try and dig up some reason, any physical reason that this was happening to me.

When my wife and I have sex now, I do think back to those days sometimes. Days when I thought I was a guy. When I thought that only penetrative sex was “real” sex. When I somehow drew a line between Real Dysphoria(TM) and how much I hated seeing myself in  the mirror. It feels like another life, like that was a different person, an unexpected and unwanted detour when somebody else was borrowing my body. But now that I have the steering wheel again, I’m not totally sure how to drive stick (pun intended). So much about me has changed, both physically and deeper than that. I have the same parts, but not the same.

Not really.

And I don’t quite know what this body wants.

When Aubrey and I finally did end up having intercourse I was elated. It took nearly a year, and I was at least a littl bit bothered by that, but we’d fallen in love in that time. We’d grown into each other, trusting, caring, knowing. She was the only person I’d ever told about my depression. About my high school prom, where I mostly thought about killing myself and felt better than I had in months. About how desperately lonely I could get.

I still had trouble performing sometimes. I figured it was an anxious sort of feedback loop—worrying about worrying and ending up just as nervous as I’d been the first time the issue had cropped up. But I’d made my peace with it, I thought. We were happy. Problem solved.

Lest I make this into a pity party, I love sex. Touching and being touched, desiring and being desired—it’s amazing and beautiful. The journey is fantastic. The destination, on the other hand….

It’s not that I can’t orgasm. Give me five minutes with my vibrator and, well. But no matter how well things seem to be going with another person, it remains out of reach. Sometimes I think it’s just that it’s so much easier to forget what body parts I actually have when it’s just me. When I can have the barrier of pajamas, panties, or pornography to keep that knowledge shunted off to the side of my conscious mind. As opposed to the unmistakable fact of skin or lips wrapping around me. The fact that there’s something to wrap around at all. Other times I wonder if, despite the intervening years, the hormones, and the anti anxiety medication, I’m just still too much in my own head when it comes to sex, and I need to learn to shut my brain off and enjoy the moment.

In most situations, the anxiety takes hold because I’m desperately afraid of disappointing someone or letting them down. But even when there’s little-to-no risk of that, it’s tough to reassure myself. Because no matter how anyone else feels, the one I so often let down is me.

I wanted to scream at myself to just shut up for once in my life. I had Lauren in my bed. Lauren, who I’d gotten involved with way too quickly after Aubrey. Way too quickly after Lauren’s last breakup too. I was having trouble performing again. We’d both been drinking a little—just enough to relax, at least in theory.

My body just wouldn’t listen to me. Again. I was so sick of it, and I just wanted both of us to have a good time. I told myself to focus on her before I gave any thought to myself. Her body. The way it moved. The way it felt. I tried to shut out everything that was complicated or difficult, or…me.

I didn’t give much thought to the fact that when I masturbated, or even when I had sex, I rarely (if ever) pictured myself in the scene. It was like I was so focused on the woman in front of me, that I was barely a presence, even in my own fantasies. That night, I tried to switch. To focus just on Lauren, and then to enjoy the moment as myself. I wasn’t over Aubrey, and I figured that that was why I was so disconnected from myself. But the truth was, part of it felt good and right, and part of it didn’t. That was the last time I ever had penetrative sex.

The strangest part of the dysphoria I still have is that I don’t hate my body. Even the things I wish were different, I don’t hate. They just don’t feel entirely like me. I know that mental health issues are a process, but I feel like I’m past a lot of hating myself too. I can feel happy, proud, beautiful in ways I never would have been able to a few years ago. There’s just this one part of me. This last question that’s more confusing than anything. What am I supposed to do with you?

It wasn’t long ago at all now that I was lying in a hotel bed on my wedding night, feeling like I’d just seen the face of god. My wife had just driven me completely out of my mind for what seemed like forever, and when she asked me if I’d climaxed, I had to say I didn’t know. I didn’t feel like I’d had that release, but how else to describe how it had felt? Was this another part of me changing? But for once, I didn’t think about it too hard.

The truth is, my body knows me. In every fantasy that I thought I wasn’t an actor in, in every time I got lost in the curves of someone else’s body when I had no love for my own, my body was trying to tell me something. That the need and want I was feeling weren’t just about loving women, but about being one. Like calling to like. The shape of me on the inside trying to find something that would fit around it and make it home.

There’s something magic in learning to feel like yourself, at home in your own person. I felt it when I bought my first dress. I felt it when I started liking the woman I saw in the mirror. And I felt it the first time I fell in love, and the last. It’s a soft sigh and an intake of breath, a sense of “Oh, so that’s how it can be.”

I always thought that when my body misbehaved it was because something was wrong (or that it was just being an asshole), but even with the things I have yet to figure out, I know it’s not about right and wrong, or a problem to be fixed.

It’s about the fact that I’m not finished yet. I still have more to do, to grow, to change.

And if my body has taught me anything, it’s that change is good.

AJ Power is a 28-year-old trans writer and editor. When not writing, she can usually be found watching movies in bed or reading…probably also in bed. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her wife. She tweets as @write_errant.