A reader follows up:
In your response to my letter, you dismissed my argument, claiming that it’s important that all trans advocates be willing to discuss their genitals because “reassignment surgery is often intrinsic to a full trans identity.” I am going to ignore the issue of whether surgery is intrinsic and what the words “full trans identity” mean and instead deal with the bigger issues: who has the right to know about our genitals, and why this is considered a personal subject.
The only people who have the right to know about our genitals are our intimate partners, and potentially anyone who needs to provide medical care directly related to our genitals. Beyond that, it is personal, and I will attempt here to give a non-exhaustive list of reasons why it is personal.
Part of the reason our genitals are a sensitive subject is that even people who want surgery may be denied it due to gatekeeping, lack of funds, or other medical reasons. The Medicare ban on GCS [gender confirmation surgery] was only lifted two Fridays ago. This is important not just for those on Medicare, but more broadly for trans people in the US, as many insurance companies base their coverage on Medicare policies. Without the possibility of insurance coverage, GCS is out of reach for many, including many middle-class trans people.
Additionally, there are many trans people who do not feel the need to have GCS or opt not to have surgery for other reasons. We are not any less trans and our gender is not any less real simply because our genitals do not align with the picture someone might have in their head. In fact, nobody beyond our partners and physicians would not even know what our genitals are if people weren’t so insistent on asking (and sexually assaulting us in public, often under the guise of curiosity).
In addition to being a personal issue, the question of genitals is also a distraction from other, more important issues. When every interview with a trans person, even those on completely unrelated subjects, turns into questions about their genitals, it is derailing the conversation and distracting from other issues. It is not possible to have the conversations we need to have when all the interviewer seems to care about is genitals.
These are exactly the points that Laverne Cox explained in her interview, and this is why questions about genitals are an invasive distraction. And at a personal level, people’s desire to satisfy their curiosity does not supersede my right to keep information about my genitals private.
I underwent sex reassignment surgery in my early 20s. For the subsequent 15 years, I have had to field questions about the most intricate details of my sex life and the function and appearance of my new plumbing. Complete strangers have offered me money to see or touch my vagina. Other men propose sex “so I can see what it’s like”. This is the harsh reality of being a MTF trannie – we get to experience all the lecherous advances that regular women do, plus the even more brazen and thoughtless objectification from those who see us as little more than fetish toys. I can completely understand high-profile trannies not wanting to go there.
The truth is, although getting surgery seems like the most important thing in the world during transition, after it’s over it becomes such an insignificant part of who we are. We are not defined by our junk. Post-transition we are just normal people with normal lives and everyday problems. I don’t want to talk to strangers about my genitalia any more than any other woman – or man – would. I’m no prude, but honestly, there are way more interesting things going on in my life.
As a general rule, I agree with you that the trans-whatever community has become overly neurotic and that it spends way too much energy policing language and trying to distance itself from “gay culture”, but wanting to take the public focus away from surgery is not a part of that. Sure, gay guys fuck other men, but they aren’t asked in high-brow interviews what it’s like to take it up the ass. Why should transsexual women be asked what it’s like to have a vagina? Leave that for the tabloids and the medical journals.
I’m really grateful for my readers explaining this in more detail and I better see now why a trans identity is what matters, not how radically that identity has been implemented physically. And of course I can see how those questions can seem invasive and violating. I get it better now. Which is why a provocative but sincere debate as we’ve been having here can lead to greater understanding.