“I’m from South London, and I come from a very ordinary South London family; my dad is from Bethnal Green originally – so I suppose you could call him a cockney! – and my mum is from East Dulwich. Yes, so a very straightforward, and very working class, kind of childhood.
We had a really close family; my aunt, uncle and cousins lived next door so we spent a lot of time with them. It wasn’t the most academic family, nobody really stayed at school or did exams, so really I was the odd one out in that respect.
I feel living in a part of London is like living in a village, really. I lived in London until I recently relocated to Spain.
My Dad’s Catholic. It was an ever-present thing, we were always really aware of it, and of all the stuff that goes along with Catholicism. We weren’t raised in any kind of religious way though, we were very open in that sense. We felt we could really pick and choose what we wanted to be and what we wanted to believe.
My parents split up when I was 18, and had just gone away to university. Most years of my life have been with my mum, since then. She’s very open – she’d say she’s Christian if you asked, but we were never told that we had to be anything, or believe anything. We were allowed to be individual.
I am a writer. I earn most of my money writing articles – I love writing articles! I write for lots of different magazines, from i-D, Broadly, Vice, to The Independent, and Cosmopolitan. I write for most people, really. My first book came out earlier this year, called ‘Queer Sex’, and it did really well. I’m working on my next book now, called ‘Cock & Ball(s)’.
You could say that I campaign a bit, in my writing; I talk quite a lot, and do key notes. Most of what I do is writing. 95% of each day is spent writing.
I have a big work ethic. I just get down and do the work. I’m at my laptop every day and I always hit deadlines; I enjoy getting things in on time. And I love writing! I write about 3000 words per day, and that doesn’t feel like a struggle because I love words, and I love being lost in words. And I get to write about what I want to write about! There aren’t a lot of people who can do that. Not a lot of women get to do that; write about sex and their sex lives… I feel very lucky. I get to write about stuff that I really want to write about. It’s a privilege.
Now I have an agent and a publisher! It’s all very weird. A few years ago I was asked ‘do you think you have a book in you?’ and I’d already written 10,000 words of something. I didn’t struggle to find a publisher; they were very keen on me.
Writing books isn’t profitable. The reality is some people make huge amounts of money, and other writers don’t make very much at all. So I make most of my money writing articles; you get a few lead features now and again, and my agent helps me a lot. A lot of publishers don’t take a manuscript unless it’s sent via an agent, now. Getting a good agent is key, as is having a really good, tight idea.
[My job] has been a blast. I got into writing when I was to be a teacher, and worked a lot with unions. I started to give talks at conferences, and they always went down really well. I’d get a lot of press off the back of those speeches – lots of people started to interview me. Eventually I started thinking, ‘why don’t I write my own stuff’, instead of giving words away to other people?!
The downside of freelancing is it can take months to be paid. If you’re tight for money, it’s a really difficult thing to be a freelance writer. For me, it’s been a really positive experience. It feels like I’m in a rather wonderful bubble…and that I’m waiting for it to burst. And it hasn’t! And it doesn’t feel like it’s going to. I’m building a reputation and making a name for myself in the media. It’s so hard for women to succeed in their careers when they reach a certain age, as a lot of the time they’re made to feel redundant. Writing about sex – and getting paid for it! – at my age, it’s a complete dream. It just happened, organically.
[My sexuality] has been a real journey. Before I transitioned I didn’t really know. I kind of presumed – because everyone else did – that I must be gay. But I was really cr*p at it! I was so confused, because I just thought ‘I really fancy men’. Then I realised I was trans, and that I wasn’t gay. I kind of thought what I’d be was a heterosexual woman who fancied men. Right up until the surgery, I thought that. I almost couldn’t wait for surgery, because then I could go out and do what I needed to do. I wrote about this in my book – I really felt that I’d have the operation, go out and find someone, then I’d lay back, open my legs and they would f*ck away!
Sometimes, very occasionally, I see a cis man and I think they’re attractive… I don’t think I’m a lesbian, per se. Now I think I am attracted to masculinity, and sometimes that’s in a trans man; they’re like me, I don’t have to explain myself or my body to them. I’m really turned on by trans people’s courage and bravery, their tenacity. I also quite fancy very butch dykes. I feel a bit like I’ve moved to the point where I find masculinity attractive, and masculinity comes in all kinds of different packages. I am turned on by all of those packages, but cis men the least, because everything that comes along with them – the misogyny, the patriarchy, the sexism… that’s not attractive.
Transitioning enabled me to discover a deeper sense of my sexuality. I am open to experiencing different things. I’ve always been quite kinky, and I’m always up for exploration.
I am not in a relationship. I thought I’d find one at the end of my book, ‘Queer Sex’, but it didn’t happen. I think I’d struggle at the moment to be in a relationship. I am independent and busy in my career; I am happy being single and being open to having sex.
I don’t call it ‘masturbation’, I call it ‘wanking’. It’s a much more honest and direct word. I know some people say ‘self-pleasure’ and I just think for god’s sake, pleasure can be an enormous number of things, I’m talking about good old wanking!
I’d definitely recommend Sh! Women’s Emporium. I’ve got a meeting booked in with them when I’m next in London, because in my new book I’m hoping to ‘road-test’ some of their toys. I love writing about that kind of thing.
I can thoroughly recommend this set of vibrating dilators from Sh!, they’re perfect for trans women as they span the post surgical period after healing and the pleasurable period in which you begin to explore.
My favourite rabbit vibrator is the Embrace Massaging G-Spot Rabbit Vibrator – great for different stimulations inside my vagina and against my clit, and the massaging shaft is divine. Lastly the vibrator I travel with (I’m back and forth between London and Spain frequently), is the Rainbow Bullet. Why not support the community with the colours of the rainbow as you wank? It’s waterproof too, so works perfectly in hotel bathrooms.
I don’t think you can have too many or too few [sex toys], I think you’re lucky if you can find a vibrator that really works for you, but then I quite like the idea of experimenting with new shapes, new pressures and new vibrations. So I think that in some sense, there’s something incredibly important in self-pleasure, masturbation, wanking, whatever you want to call it! It’s really important to not only like and love your body, but to learn how you can pleasure yourself and play around with your own boundaries, so you know where they are when you’re with someone else.
When I started writing, I found there were very few trans women talking about sex. I’ve been HIV positive for more of my life than not. So for a trans woman with HIV to talk about sex is almost unheard of – because, how dare she!? I really felt limited in what I could say; I’d get attacks from all kinds of people telling me not to talk or be open and honest. People called me a ‘filthy whore’ who should shut up, and that kind of thing, at the start. That was really tough. But I feel everyone has the right to feel positive about their body, about their pleasure and about sex. They deserve to explore, without feeling any shame.
I think eventually people realised I wasn’t going to sit down [and shut up]. Just because I was a trans woman with HIV, that didn’t stop me wanting to talk and have pleasurable sensations. My body didn’t die when I became trans, or when I got HIV. In fact, my body is more alive now than it’s ever been. And more sensuous – more needing of sensuality now than ever before. I think it’s changed an awful lot. For a long time I felt I had to be brave, to be the only trans person in the room – the only person with HIV in the room – and I had to stand up and talk about f*cking. You really have to take a deep breath and say ‘it’s my truth, and I’m gonna do it’.
Women with HIV are often made to feel like we should have known better, that we deserved what we got, like we’re somehow foolish or stupid. So for me, it’s been a really long journey – and it’s been totally worth it. I get emails now from a lot of trans people saying thank you, for talking about my vagina and the surgery – I also get emails from cis women saying they read my book or an article [I wrote], and they’ve felt shamed for their vaginas all their lives, being told it was ugly or imperfect, not looking enough like a porn pussy, but my writing helped them.
Sometimes in writing, you have to be brave to create new space. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I like to think I might have created a bit of safe space where people can talk about their bodies, feel their bodies, laugh about their bodies, love their bodies and have sex and pleasure by themselves or with someone else.
The advice I’d give to women is: As you are today, you are good enough. As women, we often feel we have to look ‘sexy’ to be sexual. Like we need to lose a bit of weight or get waxing done before we can have sex. But right at this minute, in this moment, you are enough. You can discover and explore your body, you can explore your sexuality. We need to move past what society says is a ‘sexual body’. In my experience, even the people we see as having the perfect sexy bodies have hang-ups just like we all do. It’s a very short life, we should be using it to explore and have fun and be ourselves. We should be buying toys, and not feeling shame about spending time working out what makes us come.
Go forth, and wank!
I would tell my teenage self not to worry, that you’re gonna do alright. Go through the process. It’s a really long game, so I’d say to myself be patient, and trust yourself – and try to care a bit more, be kinder to yourself. You’ll make mistakes, but have faith.”
Photos via the author
-As told to Scarlet Ladies