I keep seeing posts, often with neat looking infographics, talking about what can be asked of a transperson. Most of these articles are directed toward cisgender people and discourage them from asking questions, regardless of intention. The most common point among these numerous and well-intended articles is “Do not ask a trans person about their genitals or surgical status.”
These articles inform transpersons as well. In my experience, I have often felt that statements like “Do not ask a trans person about their sex or genitals” reinforces negative body image and recreates the process of internalized shame that so many transpeople experience.
One of the most oppressive barriers that I, and many transpeople, have to overcome is our physical selves. These feelings about our bodies are constructed by a society that praises unrealistic beauty standards and also strongly enforces birth assigned binary gender roles. It means that being a woman, for example, within the rigid Western social constructs, means appealing to these beauty standards… and also having a vagina.
In a binary model, a female body is a credential for womanhood. In fact, many anti-trans discourses are founded on the authenticity of genitalia. For many who oppose transpeople, genital surgery does not supplant birth-assigned genital status, while simultaneously these same trans rights opponents argue that genital surgery must be a necessary step in changing gender roles. The reason for this odd paradox is that the opponents to trans rights understand the economic barriers facing transpeople and the institutional barriers that prevent many transpeople from gaining access to surgery. This requirement for surgery to legally change gender also aids in promoting the binary model, as well as creating limitations on trans-bodies to enter gender segregated spaces such as women’s shelters, sexual assault centres, and of course the bathroom. If the legality of gender, specifically trans-bodies, is not subject to sex type, then anti-trans groups are persistent in announcing that this will make ciswomen vulnerable in segregated spaces, such as bathrooms.
The transgender advocacy movement is not monolithic. There are as many approaches to the social justice work of transpeople as there are different ways of being trans. To those that promote a closed approach, where questions are discouraged, I must ask to please not include me. Although this may apply to many, if not a majority, of transpersons, it does not apply to me. I know many transpeople that only wish to be left alone and accepted, or at least silently tolerated. Admittedly, there are some questions that are intentionally hurtful, but I need to talk about my body, my gender, and sexuality.
Sex and gender are different things. These two terms are massive obstacles that the trans community has to overcome. Sex and gender are often exchanged and treated as synonymous terms, which is grossly inaccurate. The next time you fill out a form at any institution or website just look at way sex or gender is noted. Forms will usually ask for ‘GENDER’ but only provide ‘MALE’ or ‘FEMALE’ as options, and this is all too common. Most people do not have a problem answering this question. A functionalist perspective may indicate that the conflation of sex and gender serves to enforce the binary gender model. This is most likely the reason why it is so difficult for most people to overcome trans discourses, either for those transitioning, or as cisgender people attempting to understand transpeople.
Sex is the presentation of a person’s genital geometry, or in other words, it is the status of a person’s genitals and secondary sex characteristics. Animals, which we are, are diverse in sex characteristics. There are many varying types, sizes, and even chromosomal differences. There exist many intersexes as well, and some intersex characteristics are so subtle that they can only be discerned by genetic tests. Sex type often determines adult patterns of hair growth, body morphology, and other physical characteristics. The most common variations are male and female sex types. Intersex persons are usually assigned or surgically altered at birth into one of the two dominating sex types.
Gender is the socially constructed roles along a spectrum of feminine and masculine ideal types. In the binary model it is to be a man or a woman. Although in the binary model, sex is the determiner in gender, which is another reason the two terms are consistently confused as synonymous. Hetero-patriarchy attempts to enforce a binary model that ties male sex to masculine gender and female sex to feminine gender, and ignores intersex and all other gender types.
However, I am a woman with a penis, and breasts too, and a couple of x chromosomes and a y as well. I want and need to talk about my gender and my sex. Why? Because people like myself are not a normalized identity structure, rather we are abstract and misunderstood. I need to talk about my body, and about my gender, so that it will become something that people are familiar with, so that it becomes recognizable and normal.
Why am I misgendered in many places? It is because people are using hetero-patriarchal attribute to infuence them on social interaction with me because they are not informed in any other manner. Therefore, I need to talk about being a women with a penis and provide information on how to recognize and socially interact with people outside of those old hetero-patriarchal paradigms.
It is all socially constructed — sex, gender, and everything else — it’s all made up by us. All of these constructions have something in common — they all have rules, etiquette, and tool kits that go along with them. This is the reason we act differently around family than with friends than with co-workers, and et cetera.
If I am not able to talk about my gender, my sex, and all the other lovely dimensions of sexuality and so on, then I will forever be an abstract and misunderstood person who will be prejudiced by normality and informed identity structures.
I am a woman with a penis.
Written by Daphne Shaed
Read more on her blog!