I have been thinking about gender a lot lately – mostly about how there are way too many people concerned with the genitals of others. It’s so interesting to see cis people’s fascination and obsession with trans people’s genitals. Well, interesting might not be the right word because this trend is actually kind of creepy.
As a society, we regularly (and often with force) associate gender with genitals. We assume that having a vagina means you’re a woman, having a penis means you’re a man, and if the doctors aren’t sure at birth, corrective surgery happens to make sure everyone falls into that binary whether they want to or not. But the reality is that gender isn’t defined by what we have or don’t have – it’s defined by an individual’s sense of self.
Like with many things, curiosity is incredibly important but at the same time, I think there’s a line between wanting to know more about trans people and respecting someone’s privacy. Asking a lot of questions about what’s between someone’s legs often oversteps that line and is really invasive. Unless you’re someone’s doctor, you don’t really need to know if a trans person has had “the surgery” because honestly, it’s none of your business. As Sam Dylan Finch wrote a few months ago:
Just because I’m trans, that doesn’t mean I owe the world a detailed blueprint of what my medical transition is going to look like, assuming I even opt for a medical transition. That’s a personal question between me, my doctors, and those that I choose to share it with. Trans folks are far more than their bodies and their transitions, and unnecessarily focusing on our bodies tells me that you see us as objects instead of people.
And it’s more than just about privacy because often times, we as a society focus more on the transitional aspect of trans people’s lives over so much more and we need to move away from that narrative. Laverne Cox put it eloquently when she sat down with Carmen Carrera and Katie Couric over two years ago:
I do feel there is a preoccupation with that. The preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies trans people. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.
There are plenty of ways in which to learn about gender identity online – from GLAAD’s resources (like how to be an ally to trans folks) to the podcast GenderCast to reading books like Transgender 101 by Nicholas M Teich and Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. There are plenty of articles on sites like Everyday Feminism and Black Girl Dangerous that write about what it’s like being a trans person, trans issues, and how to be an ally.
It’s important to ask questions for clarification, to learn as much as you can, and to listen to trans people when we speak. But at the same time, it’s also important to realize that there are some questions that you don’t really need the answer to. Some people might share pieces of their transition with you and that’s totally okay but that doesn’t mean we have a right to know intimate details about people’s lives. Everyone is entitled to their privacy and it’s time that we move away from the preoccupation of trans people’s genitals.
At the same time, it’s also important that we move away from the societal association that gender = genitals. We need to start realizing that the strict gender binary we regularly enforce is often doing more harm than good. This isn’t to say that identifying as cisgender (with the gender you were assigned at birth) is a bad thing because there’s nothing wrong with that. Rather, this is to say that a strict gender binary hurts us all in the long run and it’s important to realize there’s no right way to be.