My Freedom Will Turn You On

The civil rights activist writes for Playboy on finding her self-worth as a dominant woman

My sexuality and I always had a love hate relationship going all the way back to my childhood. I loved the way accidental brushes against my own body lead to chills against my skin, bursts of endorphins and adrenaline that felt much more invigorating than after I’d eating an entire bag of Skittles during a morning marathon of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

I loved the way my body felt but hated the way it made God feel. Kids were supposed to play with toys, not themselves. What’s interesting enough is that I never heard that from neither of my parents. I had this deeply embedded, visceral, shame based notion that sexuality was bad.

Those sentiments grew deeper as I started developing breasts at the age of nine years old. I didn’t know anything about hormonal imbalances, gender identity, intersex people—any of that. I just felt an immense amount of shame because none of the other little boys grew breasts in my class. I didn’t need any additional reasons to feel different from them. I already didn’t relate to them as it were.

I began wearing super tight shirts under baggy sweaters to try and bind my breasts down. I was afraid that people would have questions and suspect that I also believed I should have been assigned female at birth. The last thing I wanted was that sort of attention.
I would hear people say things like, “God doesn’t make mistakes,” and I remember thinking "I know, but what the fuck am I?"
I didn’t hate my breasts or my curvy body—I hated the confused look on people’s faces when they were trying to figure out if I was a boy or a girl. My skin was soft, my hair was soft, even my voice was soft. So soft that during my preteens grown men would find reasons to touch me inappropriately— even some of my own family members.

There were so many mixed feelings and emotions happening. My religious ideation around God’s plan for my life was in direct opposition of how I felt on the inside. I would hear people say things like, “God doesn’t make mistakes,” and I remember thinking "I know, but what the fuck am I?" I knew I wasn’t a mistake, but I also didn’t see any other models made like me. I was definitely attracted to girls, although at times I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be with them or if I wanted to be them. And while attempting to figure that out there was a great deal of shame to navigate because adults were touching me inappropriately—and I liked it at times.

That’s when my body and I severed ties. My mind simply wasn’t in alignment with it. I wanted complete control over it, yet it couldn’t be tamed. Puberty was brutal and I began isolating because I could never be my authentic self around others. I didn’t trust guys because they always sexualized me and bullied me at the same time.
My first sexual encounter as an adult was in a car on a side street in Hollywood for only 20 dollars. That old friend shame whom I thought I’d abandoned in my childhood had once again come to pay me a visit.
They were clearly attracted to me sexually but would always pretend the things they would do to me were punishment toward me, although it was clearly a form of pleasure for them. It’s funny how the brain will distort cognitive function to protect and shield one from facing uncomfortable truths about themselves.

I liked guys and hated them at the same time. I loved the curiosity they ignited in me but hated the way they exhausted me with their mental mazes, mixed messages, subtle signals and inability to just be. I didn’t know much about attraction, sexual orientation or any of that. All I knew was that the social construct of masculinity was this huge production and most guys were too afraid to go off script. I’ve always been more of the improv type.

So much so that I left Kentucky and moved to Los Angeles at 19. I navigated West Hollywood and attempted to meet guys, but gay men weren’t having it. They knew I was a woman before I did. I ended up finding resources and learning about transgender identity and was relieved I finally had language to describe how I’d always felt all along. I transitioned believing everything would finally make sense. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I was harassed on the job for being trans and eventually fired. I couldn’t pay my rent and became homeless. On the streets I learned survival sex work from other girls. My first sexual encounter as an adult was in a car on a side street in Hollywood for only 20 dollars. That old friend shame whom I thought I’d abandoned in my childhood had once again come to pay me a visit.
I eventually started using meth as a social lubricant to loosen my inhibitions so that I could do what I needed to in the name of survival. Suddenly, though under deeply unfortunate and tragic circumstances—I somehow reconnected with sexuality the way I did as a kid before my brain began working overtime and weighing me down with logic and reasoning. I started to have an unhealthy connection to shady men and seedy situations and it fueled a passion within me I’d never experienced before.

Unfortunately there were horrible experiences that blended into those moments like violence, robbery, rape and all the classic, unsavory occurrences inextinguishable trauma is made of. I eventually began working on myself so that I could begin my healing process and realized that subconsciously I’d been treating myself the way I’d allowed men to treat me.

I didn’t have a full grasp on what it meant to be an empath at that time; but I discovered I’d been absorbing all the shame they were carrying for being attracted to trans women and claimed it as my own. I never had as much of a problem with the body I was born in as I did with people’s opinions of who I am and how I should express myself and show up in the world.

There I was, subscribing to the idea that the meth made me more attracted to the men I was with; but in reality it was actually their lack of inhibitions and need to label, categorize, classify or over process our chemistry (though unfortunately they too had to be high to allow it to come through). It was their confidence I craved; and when I discovered it within myself—I stopped needing theirs so badly.
My worth isn’t contingent upon my ability to satisfy a man’s libido.
Men I used to gravitate toward lost their attraction toward me because my doe-eyed naïveté had worn off— along with my personal sense of heteronormativity, (which I find so utterly boring). Even within the trans community, we pressure one another to adopt cis norms and draw our worth through the cis-heteronormative male gaze.My worth isn’t contingent upon my ability to satisfy a man’s libido. My worth is in my ability to satisfy my own desires in life. I don’t subscribe to the idea that women must be docile and submissive to men. I actually find my dominance attractive, as do the men I date when I decide to date them. There’s nothing more attractive than a man who isn’t intimidated by a woman standing in her power. My spirit fills every space I enter and I would never shrink my lifeforce to make a man feel big enough. Those terms are non-negotiable; and because I’m unapologetic for my truth, I never get less in my partners than I deserve. That’s true freedom!

Anyone can get in between someone’s thighs but it takes a skilled pilot to get in between their thoughts. True attraction transcends race, gender and text-book sexual orientation. I believe most of us are fluid but we’re still confined to these societal “terms and conditions” as to how and who we’re allowed to love or lust for. When you accept who you are and what you like, your intimacy game will level up times a hundred.

Ashlee Marie Preston is a civil rights activist, host and producer who has written for Mic, Teen Vogue and more. She just launched the #ThriveOver35 campaign, aimed to help women "speak out against so many black trans women dying young."

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