This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by deep_dives. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Trans Woman’s Journey Through Porn

More from deep_dives

By Nadika Nadja:

I think I was about 14 when I first read a book that everyone else in the house would have denied even existed. It was a Nancy Friday book called “Forbidden Flowers” — a collection of letters and notes women had written about their sexual fantasies. I am not exactly sure how the book came to be at home; perhaps an uncle or aunt, having read it and not wanting to raise eyebrows, hid it among the many odd books that were always lying about.

The range of fantasies it listed, the carefree happiness the characters conveyed, the cover of the book which featured (if memory serves me right) a nearly naked woman sitting among shrubs in her own garden of Eden; “Forbidden Flowers” was a fascinating read. I didn’t just read, though. I imagined myself in all the situations. And realised I quite liked how it made me feel.

That was when porn first came to me.

A few years — and a frantic, ultimately futile search for other Nancy Friday books — later, the internet arrived. I got online because I was a bit of a shy kid in school, and preferred to spend all my free time in the library. And here was — as everyone told me — the biggest library in the world.

This was the era of exorbitantly priced dial-up internet on scratchy telephone lines. The alternative was to find an internet parlour in the neighbourhood where, for the price of Rs.60 an hour, you could stay online for at least 40 minutes.

It was in one such place I first learned that the internet had more Nancy Fridays. And much, much more beyond.

A user — may they forever have good sex — had forgotten to clear the history of Netscape Navigator, a popular web browser of the 90s. One of the links they’d left behind was called “Red Light District”. I clicked on it.

Back then, “Red Light District” was a black-and-red members-only website, and clearly, I wasn’t a member. I couldn’t go beyond the home page and a cursory tour. But I knew right then that there was more to the internet than the encyclopaedias and HTML tutorials that I had been looking for. ‘Those kinds of websites’ existed; they weren’t just mythical, fictional beings. Life would never be the same again.

That act of generosity (and carelessness) by a previous user is one of the best gifts I’ve ever had.

When I was nine years old, my cousin and her friends dressed me up in her old clothes, slapped on some seriously heavy makeup, and got me to pose for the camera. The ‘fancy-dress’ makeover happened because I had begged to play with them, but the group had a strict rule: no boys, just girls.

Perhaps they expected me to protest or put up a fight. Or resist the clothes, or at least try to hide myself in shame as they were taking a snap. Instead, I stand in the photograph, partly coy, partly proud. Something clicked.

Ten years later, I was, to most appearances, still just your normal Madras boy. I did the things that people like me were supposed to do. But I also did the things that people like me weren’t supposed to do.

I pretended, on the internet, to be your normal Madras girl.

It started with Noelle.

A sexy, blonde girl who was ‘in college’, sexy Noelle had a sexy website. In which she romped about the woods and was visited by her friends, each of whom had their own ‘amateur’ websites.

Looking back, I see some plot holes in this ‘sexy’ story. But back then, I willingly suspended disbelief and truly believed in Noelle’s happy narrative of a carefree life, amazing parties, and accompanying orgies. Those 40 minutes of an hour helped carry me through the next day at school, made it easier to listen to my classmates taunt me for my weight, shape, and reluctance to change into swimming trunks in the locker room.

Noelle helped distract me when I most needed distraction. I so badly wanted to be one of her friends, and if I wished and prayed enough, perhaps the internet gods would make it so.

As is the nature of things on the internet, one link on Noelle’s website lead to another, and soon I was on Sex.com.

The early Sex.com website didn’t resemble its current, slick avatar. It had square blocks, or thumbnails, of categories laid out in a table, each opening up to further grids, containing links to individual porn videos or picture galleries.

Of the categories, some I could immediately understand. Some…well, some were complicated. Shemale, said one thumbnail.

Say what?

Growing up in Tamil Nadu, in a Madras that had only recently become Chennai, I was aware of at least three different terms in the Tamil language to describe trans women. And one in English.

Of the three Tamil words, two were sharp blades — designed and perfected over the years to deliver cutting blows. The third was also used as a sharp, scarring slur to describe effeminate men.

I schooled myself to not display any outward sign of femininity. I stayed as far away as possible from the people who went through the very things I was going through. Because of labels and terms.

Here was one more. Shemale.

Hermaphrodites, said another.

But what I saw on Sex.com were women. Beautiful women. Women with penises. Women with penises having sex.

If there was an entire category of porn with people ‘like that’, that must mean that they were attractive, right? And if I was ‘like that’ too, then I too, must be attractive to someone?

They were mostly white, when I first encountered these women. Then slowly, they began to diversify. Or maybe I was getting better at my searches. White, Black, Latina, Asian. The last only covered the ladyboys of Thailand and a few Japanese shemales — a fetish within a fetish. Would I be the first Indian shemale?

But did I not, only recently, decide I would never let myself be clubbed with the trans women on the streets? Did I not impose onto myself a strict code for how I behaved, looked, walked and talked? All to avoid being called a woman. To avoid the feeling of shame and guilt. Pottai, Onbothu, Ali. Words of crushing weight that disciplined men into being men.

But this was a new term. A term from the internet, so after all, it must be good. A word and a label that I figured no one had yet turned into an insult.

Thus began nearly ten years of trying to be, and wanting to be, a shemale.

How do you describe transgender women without being reduced to describing body parts? Or without using tired, flawed ideas of what it means to be a boy or a girl?

There were girls, bored and alone at home, waiting for a plumber or pizza delivery person to show them a good time. There were women, bored and alone at work (almost always as secretaries), waiting for the boss to discover them bent over a filing cabinet.

These were the trans women I coveted and masturbated to — they were my favourite shemales of porn: ultra feminine and ultra gorgeous.

“These were the trans women I coveted and masturbated to — they were my favourite shemales of porn: ultra feminine and ultra gorgeous.”

The girls in the videos also had things. Lingerie, makeup, clothes, shoes — red and black and white and beige and gold — heels and pumps and boots — things I’d never be able to find, let alone buy, in 2002 Chennai. The girls in the videos were sexy in ways I could never be. To start with, they looked, talked, and acted like girls. And here I was, not sure who or what I ought to be.

When I first began coming out to friends as a trans person — or as someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth — I asked myself a question. Am I sure? Oh yes, there were moments on Yahoo Chat between fiction and facade, where I experienced real bits of myself — as a woman.

But was I really sure?

I started comparing myself to the women I was seeing on screen. Would I be more, or less attractive than them when I was done transitioning? Would I have natural breasts, or would I, like most of them, have to get cosmetic surgery and sport unreal-looking, silicone balloons? Would I look good in the clothes they wore so effortlessly?

But I also wanted to know if, when, I became a shemale myself, would I have to sleep with men?

I had chatted with men in Yahoo chat rooms, and I did like some of them. I even perhaps fancied ‘being with’ them, especially the ones who were absolutely okay with me not looking like the girls in the videos.

But I was, as I told my friends, when conversations went their inevitable way towards crushes, relationships and girls, ‘straight as an arrow’; I was irrevocably attracted to girls. And I was a boy, at least on the outside, during the day.

At night, I watched women submitting to manly men, all hardness and muscle and gruff voice. And while I did find the men good-looking, and maybe even hot, I couldn’t imagine sleeping with them, even if only for the camera, for the money.

The women were a different story, though. I was torn between wanting to sleep with them, and wanting to be like them.

Maybe then I wasn’t a girl, a woman, a shemale after all?

* * *

It was a Friday evening, and our first year of college. A group of us had had enough of our studies, so we piled onto all available bikes and cycles, and landed up at a friend’s place. He lived alone, in a block of flats mostly housing other students. The ideal setting for a party.

Except it wasn’t a party in the music-dance-alcohol sense. As is the wont with boys living alone, this friend of ours had a stash of ‘dirty magazines’, and everybody grabbed one. The magazine I had in my hand was an old, old issue of “Debonair”. A mix of topless women, letters, agony aunt columns, and stories. Erotic stories. This was Nancy Friday all over again. And I read on. Fascinated

Later that night, back at home, I went online to look for more erotic stories. Which is how I discovered the “Joe Bates Saga”.

The “Joe Bates Saga” is a web series housed on the erotica website Nifty.org. It’s made up of several episodes (as of my last count, there were at least 50), and deals with a ‘man’ — Joe Bates — who wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a woman. Take that, Gregor Samsa!

From here on, the series explores Joe dealing with her life post-transition, negotiating clothes and presentation, encountering the male gaze, and feeling herself both attracting men and attracted to men. Joe must also now figure out her relationship with her girlfriend Linda. Would Linda — a straight woman in love with a straight man — make the adjustment to Joe as she was now? Would they be lesbians?

“Joe Bates” was and is a milestone for me. Not for the stories themselves, which after a point became too clunky to read. But for the potential they had for queering the idea of transgender erotica. Here, for the first time, I read of a transwoman being loved by and having sex with another woman.

For me, Joe’s girlfriend Linda was the hero of the story. An absolutely amazing woman, Linda is quick to make the adjustment to her lover’s transition. She is accepting and encouraging, and what’s more, she gives Joe the best darn orgasm she’s ever had — as a man, or as a woman.

“I craved a complete and nearly magical transition that would allow me to pass as a cis-woman.”

The “Joe Bates Saga” became for me a kind of flag, a marker for a point I had to reach myself. I craved a complete and nearly magical transition that would allow me to pass as a cis-woman. And I wanted to find myself a girlfriend-lover who could do for me everything that Linda did for Joe.

* * *

Somewhere in San Francisco is an empty apartment. Couples come here to have sexy times with each other. It’s stocked with everything you could desire — condoms, dental dams, dildos, ropes, feathers — and it’s entirely free to use. The only catch: once you’re done with the apartment, you give the key to another queer couple.

It’s called “The Crash Pad”.

When “The Crash Pad” film came out in 2005, it was a huge hit for two reasons. First, it was queer porn, made for and by queer people, featuring real queer women. And second, it had a plotline. The film stitched together disparate sections and different couples to create a cohesive, sexy narrative. This was unheard of in porn featuring lesbians. This was that rare thing: a first.

From this began CrashPadSeries.com, a website full of short videos and feature films based on the same premise: one queer couple or group per video, many great videos.

I arrived at the “Crash Pad” website via a link on Tumblr, and after a brief ‘preview-only’ glance, I knew I was home. From its ‘model for us’ page to the list of its performers, CrashPadSeries.com contains a glorious variety of choices focussed around who you are, what you want to do, and why you want to do it.

Brown person, white person, black person. Cis, queer, trans, gender non-conforming. You can be anybody and shape, any colour and size. When everybody is different, no one really is. I saw a bit of me on Crash Pad. Or at least, I saw potential for me: as someone having fun with their own body, and the bodies of their friends and lovers.

I contacted the “Crash Pad” team about producing Tamil language subtitles for their videos And they made me a counter offer that I simply couldn’t refuse. I’d watch the videos, go behind the scenes, and have fun. In return, I’d review films on my blog.

Back when I first came across shemales on Sex.com, I didn’t differentiate between porn made for men and porn made for women. Sex.com featured almost exclusively the former, but that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment or late-night arousal. But now, on “Crash Pad Series”, the porn I was watching showed me, perhaps for the first time, that pleasure could be experienced by all the people featured in a porn video — not just the guys.

“Crash Pad Series” is fabulously queer. It is also fabulously ethical. In ethical porn, all performers have given their consent — not just to the shoot, but to all the sex acts depicted in the video. Safe sex is openly discussed, and the process of negotiating one’s comfort levels is transparent, and oftentimes, recorded on screen.

Ethical porn exists alongside, and as a result of, some pretty radical politics. I began following performers and filmmakers on social media, where they clearly established their independence from big porn studios. Here they criticised male producers who excluded trans performers from their porn videos. Here they questioned why lesbian porn films never featured trans women.

Ethical porn was a revolt. And I was drafted into the cause. I and other transwomen, rising up to fight the powers that were holding us down, keeping us forever in the world of fetish and shame. Through these revolutionary trans women, I learnt how to accept myself and know that I could be attractive; not just as a guilty pleasure or shameful desire.

Ethical porn also takes major pains to ensure that the rights of performers are secured. Paying performers is the easiest way to secure these rights. And to pay performers, the viewer needs to be the buyer.

When most of the internet’s porn is priced in American dollars, it’s easy to not care about the right or wrong of things. To just rip and remix the kind of porn you want.

I know I did that. For the longest time.

But paying for the porn I like tells the people who make it that there is a market for their product. It ensures that the people I like do the things they like, which just happens to be the very things I like too. Paying for my porn ensures there’s more porn for me later on.

“Crash Pad Series” now charges USD 25 for a month’s subscription, and there are other porn sites — featuring queer, ethical, independent porn — that charge more. And some that charge less. Some, like “Crash Pad”, give you other ways to enjoy the site: offer your services, review and analyse the videos, feature it as part of a sex education lecture, or help translate porn into other languages. Barter is a good way to pay for porn.

But be it via cash or film reviews, in the words of Jiz Lee, one of the stars of the original “Crash Pad” film, ‘Buy the porn you want to see in the world.’

And so, at the ripe old age of 32, nearly twenty years after I first encountered porn, I paid for a month’s worth of access to the “Crash Pad Series”. It became a sort of culmination for me: a destination reached.< I was not simply a spectator anymore. * * * I am not sure what happened to our household copy of "Forbidden Flowers"; I suspect one of my parents must have come across it, and suitably scandalised, destroyed it. I’ve since looked for "Forbidden Flowers" in the second-hand bookstalls and streets of Chennai. But to no success. However, I have the internet now, and Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and "Nifty". The women I read on these platforms are driven by the same spirit as that of Nancy Friday’s correspondents: a need to own their sexuality, and a desire to tell the world that they too can be sexual beings. Today, I am a vocal transgender woman comfortable with my own sexuality. I’ve mixed and matched my options and my needs, and have arrived at something that tastes good to me and makes me happy. Today I argue with other trans women and men who use the word shemale. I ask them to consider its origins and its implications. And I wear my own shame for all the world to see. My coming out as a trans person happened slowly. Tentatively. Seeking firm ground and fast friends. And as I came out and became confident in my identity, I came out as someone who loved porn. All kinds of porn. It was porn that told me it was okay to be a girl even if others thought you were a boy. And that it was okay to like girls, even if you were a girl who was thought of as a boy. Today, I continue to seek porn. If I have the time and money, I buy myself a month’s subscription to "Crash Pad". It costs me $25, but gives me so much more. I continue to read "Nifty". I continue to read and think about trans women in porn. I continue to watch trans porn. But I do this now not to seek answers or define myself. And I don’t do this huddled over the desktop monitor, one wary eye constantly watching the door to my room. What was once a shameful secret, an after-dark activity, is now something I write about, talk about and think about a lot. I am out now. Porn made me who I am. About the author: Nadika Nadja is a writer and researcher, currently in Bangalore. She writes about trans women rights, the internet, and history.

This essay was originally published on Deep Dives as part of the series Sexing the Interwebs.

You must be to comment.

More from deep_dives

Similar Posts

By Meghna Mehra

By Rahul Sen

By Sas3 Tranimal

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below