She is a TRAP: her tits like crystalline mounds of white sugar, her ass like neat half-moons of a sliced melon, her cock dangling like a ripening, pink strawberry between her legs. Ava Wanbli crouches on all fours across from the pink-and-white mannequin, arches her back, and removes a butt plug the color and shape of a lead bullet. She places it delicately on the floor beside her before crawling forward, running her hand up the mannequin’s severed leg. She squirts lube into her palm, makes a fist around the mannequin’s strap-on, and slides her hand up and down the tan-colored silicone. Ava’s ankles buckle slightly as she crouches above the mannequin’s lap in her knee-high, transparent Pleaser heels. This story is told by a shimmering, disembodied silver face, a digitally altered recording of Ava’s voice.
While searching through an old hard drive, she found a 3D scan of a boy. A boy who stayed up every night, clicking on his computer, looking at trannies, wanting to fuck a tranny, to fuck a TRAP. Wanting. Clicking. Looking. Behind the silver face, a golden transsexual pushes her cock inside a red chrome transsexual, who splays her legs on either side of the golden figure and leans back on her bent arms. These are the same trannies he looked at every night, wanted to fuck every night. It is an erotic landscape reminiscent of those found in the work of Jacolby Satterwhite. Ava continues, “I figured, why not resurrect him, bring him back, and give him what he always wanted and never got. Little did he know, that the tranny he would finally fuck, would be me.” I recognize this story.
The pink-and-white mannequin is a reproduction of a 3D scan Ava made of her “boy” body five months before she decided to medically transition. She is about to fuck an effigy of herself.
The mannequin sits motionless as Ava runs her hands down the silicone strap-on and slowly guides the tip into her ass. Her thighs quiver like two sleek dogs who know they’re about to be fed as she rocks her hips back and forth, swallowing the length of silicone and throwing back her head in ecstasy. I cannot help but wince while watching her fuck herself with the dildo, which seems ungainly, massive underneath a ringlight. I recall all the times my own asshole has been penetrated by a large foreign object and the delirious, almost spiritual, elation that rises through my body as it reconfigures itself around someone else’s flesh.
I briefly glimpse Ava’s cock as she undoes the ties of her panties and squats across from the mannequin. It is petite and shrunken. Like a deflated bureaucrat. As she approaches the mannequin on all fours, I cannot help but wonder: is the mannequin’s silicone strap-on a faithful reproduction à la Clone-A-Willy, or an intentional exaggeration? A testament to the transformative effects of voluntary chemical castration via androgen blockers. A quick glance around the room reveals a few cis men whose transfixed stares make me think they are imagining their genitalia subjected to a similar process. Or they’re realizing that they also want to fuck a TRAP.
As Ava kisses the mouth of her former “boy” self before sliding the ring of her asshole around his cock, I cannot help but wonder, “Is she really fucking herself in front of an audience?” Of course, such a performance could be construed as pornographic, an affront to an unsuspecting audience. Carolee Schneeman faced similar accusations when she premiered “Fuses,” her 1965 film that features her and her partner James Tenney having sex over the course of three years—told from the perspective of their cat Kitch. Schneeman mixes images of herself running on a beach, Kitch lounging in a windowsill, the two of them dancing and laughing, Tenney’s hangdog cock in her mouth, her breast being fondled by his hand as they kiss, a sliver of her thigh visible beneath his ass as it clenches and unclenches to thrust himself inside her in geological bursts.
Schneeman described “Fuses” as a “vision (message) of genital sexuality and female pleasure which vitalized and agitated the art world.”1 In one scene of Ava’s “Sertraline Dolls,” which shares its name with the first-person, single-player game designed by Ava, the camera pans over a series of 3D models that mark moments throughout her transition, interrupted by a kneeling prostrate figure who holds apart their ass cheeks with two hands. Her ellipsed asshole resembles a peephole. It begs us to come closer and pull at the edges so that we can peer through, glimpse a landscape of glittering transsexual pleasure—floating angel wings (I think of the often-tweeted phrase, ’A girl without a dick is like an angel without wings’), slick mirrored surfaces, gyrating hips, horned women.
Ava’s willful exposure of her own body is a clever reappropriation of TRAP. The TRAP is gorgeous, indistinguishable from cis woman, pre-op, of course, and straight men cannot help but salivate over her, dream of fucking her—until he realizes she has genitals similar to his own. The TRAP is a foil in such an encounter. Desire, requited or unrequited, is projected onto her and mutates into repulsion only after the simple fact of her body is revealed. She becomes monstrous despite his attraction. By no fault of her own.
“The question ‘Are you a man or woman?’,” to quote Talia Mae Bettcher, “ is often used euphemistically to ask about a person’s genitals. We find this kind of euphemism in transphobic representations of a trans person, when people say a person is “really a so and so, disguised as a such and such.’” Such a deception is possible, Bettcher explains, in a Eurocentric moral order grounded in a sex binary where gender presentation is understood to euphemistically reveal someone’s sex. When we conflate gender presentation with sex, trans people are regularly questioned about their genitals, or forcibly inspected, in order to determine their real sex. Any incongruence between the two places them outside this moral order. (I recall an ex-lover who once groped me outside my apartment before saying, “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t cut it off.” Of course, he was concerned with an inverse sort of deception. Ironic, since he exclusively sodomized me.) In this moral order, “genitalia are linked to a particular kind of physical/sexual intimacy, namely [vaginal] coitus,” meaning anyone outside these boundaries perhaps cannot be intimate at all. The implication: a girl with a cock is alienated from any natural form of sexual intimacy and therefore denied her humanity.
One of my favorite moments in the performance is when Ava presses her lips to the mannequin’s expressionless face and runs her hands over his neck, jaw, and the uneven, damaged posterior of his skull as the phrase “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” floats in a digital pink script behind her. It makes me wonder, how can we understand this meta-consummation? What does it mean when Ava uses the material reality of her transsexual body—past and present—as a subject in her performance? In a 2019 long-form profile of Schneeman, Maggie Nelson contemplated the effect of the initial response of demonization and censorship of Schneeman’s early work, including “Fuses,” writing, “certain image makers can never appear neutrally in the images they create. To put it bluntly… the female, queer, colored, or otherwise nonnormative body remains a contaminant or disruption—or, more cheerily, an occasion for invention, revolt, détournement.”
The transsexual body is not neutral. It is incongruent. A threat to the cisnormative moral order. A TRAP with sharpened steel teeth primed to disfigure the ankles of the unsuspecting, who comes away from any encounter marked. Like Schneeman, Ava’s nude body becomes both the image and the image maker. She is building a personal mythology, a lexicon, a world. Understanding the mannequin is a reincarnation of her past self, every gesture is charged with meaning. She is transmitting a vision as her rectum stretches around the mannequin’s manufactured girth. A vision of physical intimacy only possible for a TRAP who embraces her incongruity, her contested boundaries. This encounter hinges on her “simultaneous awareness of and resistance to oppression, what literary theorist María Lugones describes as ‘the possibility of resistance revealed in the perceiving of the self in the process of being oppressed as another face of the self in the process of resisting oppression.’” In a world where trans women are told their bodies are a contaminant, dangerous, disruptive, demonstrating care, and love, for their bodies—past, present, and future—is radical.
The moment of sex is also a moment of becoming: she is both chaser and TRAP; an egg and the edge of the bowl on which it will be cracked; the penetrator (read: masculine) and the penetrated (read: feminine).
Although, this latter pairing isn’t entirely accurate. While Ava is being penetrated, the mannequin is doing none of the work. She is pushing herself up and down his inert silicone cock, breathing heavily, turning her gaze towards the crowd. The relationship created by this encounter would be better described by the verb “circlude,” an antonym to “penetrate” proposed by Bini Adamczak: “Circlusion means pushing something––a ring or a tube––onto something else––a nipple or a shaft. The ring and the tube are rendered active.” While we may not whisper the word in the ears of our lovers in bed, preferring something nastier, like “I’m going to devour you” or “Let me milk your cock,” circlusion nonetheless gives us language to upend stereotypical perceptions of how we fuck. It imagines a world where a bottom isn’t simply a hole to be filled; instead, bottoming can be an invitation, a flower that blooms in technicolor, asking to be pollinated so that it might harden into a fruit before plummeting to the soil below, or to be eaten and carried someplace new, where its seeds can sprout. A transfer of energy.
McKenzie Wark found the term similarly useful in her memoir Reverse Cowgirl:
“Your cock pokes a hole in time too… It is as if every first moment of choosing to be fucked, every willed penetration, every circlusion, is a continuum with all the others. Some are smooth lightning, some are boundary-rocking shocks, the good kind of pain, some are just not all that exciting. But they are all moments together in a continuum of being. Of being the one who is fucked. The one that opens a surface folded inside to meet a surface from outside, revealing the body as nothing but folded surfaces, as having no inside and outside, no interiority for a self to hide in.”
Ava resurrects her “boy” self, calls him out of the digital graveyard, so that she might use the ghost of her pre-transition cock to close the distance and time between these physical incarnations, to pry herself open in a defiant act of intimacy that leaves no interiority for her to hide within. She stretches herself around the lubricated flesh of her past self so that he might see a glimpse of a possible future, one where he is a gorgeous TRAP. Reflecting on the impetus propelling “Fuses,” Schneeman wrote, “I also wanted to transmit fragments of a present to a future time.” Ava’s performance accomplishes a similar, yet reverse, transmission. She is delivering fragments of a future to her past self.
But she destroys this reincarnation in the act of consummation. As her body expands to allow her to lower herself farther, faster, with grimaces and gasps, she begins to disassemble the mannequin, starting with his disfigured head and then moving to the two irregular polygons that make his torso. Each segment has visible joints. Can be reassembled.
When asked about the relationship between the physical body and the image of the body in his work, Jacolby Satterwhite explained his decision to cast the bareback gay porn star Antonio Biaggi in Reifying Desire #6, the final video of Satterwhite’s six-part series, “I wanted someone who is famous for breeding and bareback porn to go with the fact that I was breeding a new language in my work—the whole thing was a world-building video… I knew my work was about to transition to a different place, so I wanted to make a piece where this guy inseminates me with a new language.” Biaggi and Satterwhite appear in the digital landscape in various sexual positions—pile driver, cowboy, missionary. All excellent positions for breeding. However, unlike Biaggi, the silicone cock of Ava’s former self is sterile. He cannot impregnate her. There is no transmission of a potential future in his fluids. He is a dead end. He becomes a symbol of the passage of time; the possibility of transsexual pleasure; or the care inherent in remaking one’s body. His repeated resurrection and dismemberment is necessary for her becoming. Ava’s TRAP and chaser form a conceptual ouroboros.
Ava is like a child who destroys the sandcastle she has been sculpting all day so that she can experience the excitement that vibrates throughout her limbs as she flattens the vertical mounds into craters. She knows that tomorrow the wreckage will be a new canvas. That her continued invention is necessary. Again, as Nelson wrote, “the nonnormative body remains… an occasion for… revolt… détournement.” The TRAP must revolt, tear herself limb from limb, erase or repurpose this acidic language that has been forced upon her. But like a palimpsest, the smudged marks of this language and the shadows of her past selves remain ready to be recalled. To repopulate her world.
About the author: Riley Yaxley is a shameless navel gazer. A notorious backtracker. An essayist who believes in saying what you mean and then deciding you mean something else entirely. The middle child of seven, Riley was born and raised in a Detroit suburb and currently lives in Chicago on the stolen land of the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa peoples.