When there is a transgendered person in the room, we all become the most human of humans. We become transfixed with curiosity about things usually left unspoken; we are consumed with questions normally too intimate to ask.
Because, you see, we all want to know about The Sexy Bits.
I have had many people ask me if Melody was going to get The Surgery. This is a completely natural subject of curiosity, but I gotta tell ya, it’s blimey awkward when folks I barely know ask about my wife’s private parts. And, of course, sooner or later folks ask, “Are you OK with this? I mean, how are you dealing with…you know…all these changes?”
They usually mean they want to know how am I coping overall; but sometimes it is obvious that, at least on some level–a level they may be too embarrassed to admit to having–that they want to know how am I dealing with the (assumed) changes in our sex life.
Please realize that I have to explain that my wife is transgendered at least once a day, sometimes a dozen times a day. Every day. So every day, there may be at least one conversation where I can tell that the other person desperately wants to Pose The Penis Question.
People are O B S E S S E D with penises. Understandable, as the possession or lack of a penis is the single biggest determinant of status, power, expectations, and opportunities available to us. It is the first thing we want to know about a brand-new, five-seconds-old baby: Does it have a penis or not? Life bifurcates at the answer to that question. This question and its answer are so vital to our society’s way of being that the birth of an intersexed child–one born with genitalia outside of the Pink Or Blue, Check One Box Only paradigm–is usually met with a flurry of agonized whispering, and wrenching decisions, often leading to a life of long-held family secrets and shame.
If you are a male, you have to have a penis. If you are a female, you have to NOT have a penis. Any other situation causes deep anxiety and a certain amount of beneath-the-surface revulsion in most people. Thus, if you start out as a male (and thus have a penis), and change to being a female…people get nervous about The Penis Problem. They unconsciously want everything to be neat and tidy, to have the pink be really pink so that they can tell it apart from the blue.
In short, if a male becomes a female, it makes folks nervous if the penis is still in the picture. They would feel much more comfortable, thankyouverymuch, if that penis were discreetly whisked away, so that they can rest assured in the notion that no females are allowed to have that symbol of patriarchal power, the phallus. A female with a penis is such a taboo image that we relegate such imagery to the closets of erotica too bizarre for any but the most adventurous fringe of back-alley perverts.
You’ll note that I am skewing this discussion towards the change from male to female. Well, of course I am. I don’t have any personal experience with transmen, those who change from female to male; it would be presumptuous of me to speak about that situation. I am one of those asking the questions in this case: Is a transman ever considered by others to be a “real” man, given that we do not have the medical skills (yet) to create a fully functioning penis? Is a transman ever accepted into the Boy’s Club, given the level of power, privilege, and access that a biological male who identifies as male has as a birthright? And what do transmen feel, in their inner hearts: Do they feel they must always fight for the rights of a Penis Bearer even if they do not actually bear a penis?
See? I can ask the awkward questions just as well as anyone else.
It does not help matters any that we are so obsessed with the presence or not-presence of a penis that we lump anything having to do with that dichotomy into the same file folder, a folder simply labelled: SEX. Gender, genitalia, and sex are all mixed together in our western cultural mind. These three are so intertwined that most people use the terms “gender” and “sex” interchangeably when they are referring to whether one is male or female. We ask the sex of the baby (“It’s a lesbian! Hooray!”), we confuse a change in gender identity with a change in sexual preference. It’s quite common for people to ask if Melody is going to start dating men now that she is a woman. (Sorry, gentlemen, she’s taken.)
I tell people that gender is who we are and sex is whom we love. (Well. Sometimes I use a more evocative Anglo-Saxon idiom for the latter because it’s actually more accurate. Start with the letter F and you’re on the right track.) I try to make a clear distinction between the two when I speak or write about any of these issues, in the hopes that clarity of language can help bring us clarity of communication and thus, understanding. After all, gender and genitalia and sexual preference really are inter-related even though they definitely are not interchangeable.
However, it is important to address the fact that in our society, we have melded gender with genitalia, genitalia with sexual preference, and sexual preference with gender. If there is a penis present, the person is a male AND the person wants to have intimate relationships with a female. If there is no penis present, the person is a female AND the person wants to have intimate relationships with a male. Ipso facto, QED, that’s the way it is, forever and ever, Amen.
We’re only just starting to realize that Penis = Male just might mean Dances With Men and that No Penis = Female can mean Dances With Women. Most of society still does not realize that Penis might not mean Male; Penis might mean Female Born With Birth Defect Resulting In Excess Penis-tude. Likewise, No Penis can mean Male Born With Birth Defect Resulting in Lack of Penis-tude.
AND then we get to the really fun part, the part where all hell breaks loose and we become the much-celebrated rainbow of humanity:
- No Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing with Men.
- Result: Hetero Biological Female without Penis.
- No Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing with Women.
- Result: Lesbian Biological Female without Penis.
- No Penis; identifies self as Male; prefers Dancing with Men.
- Result: Gay Transman (FTM) without a Penis.
- No Penis; identifies self as Male; prefers Dancing with Women.
- Result: Hetero Transman (FTM) without Penis.
- Has Penis; identifies self as Male; prefers Dancing With Men.
- Result: Gay Biological Male with Penis.
- Has Penis; identifies self as Male; Male prefers Dancing with Women.
- Result: Hetero Biological Man with Penis.
- Has Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing With Men.
- Result: Hetero Transwoman (MTF) with a Penis.
- Has Penis; identifies self as Female; prefers Dancing With Women.
- Result: Lesbian Transwoman (MTF) with a Penis.
(FTM = Transgender, Female to Male transition; MTF = Transgender, Male to Female transition)
And goodness knows that there are yet still more people who are most comfortable living between those neat categories, people who prefer not to check any box, no matter what colour it is. (Oh, and I left out bisexuals. Sorry, fellow BiFolk, if I started to include other categories, I’d end up trying to chart Polyamory and Open Families and good golly miss molly, I’d go bonkers just trying to explain it all.)
Penises and power; appearance and identity; who we dance with and who we say we are–we certainly are a colourful species, are we not?
You see how clever I am? I didn’t actually answer the particular personal questions mentioned in the post above. I’m not avoiding giving answers out of propriety or prudishness; I’m not answering yet because we don’t know the answers yet. Remember: We’re new at this, too. We don’t know how we feel about most of this on any given day; we’re working things out as they come up. Sometimes we feel one way one day about something and then we feel another way another day about the very same something. This is a journey; we’re still working out which route to take; at times, we have to alter our path to avoid obstacles and storms. Sometimes we decide to take a side road for a bit to admire something interesting or beautiful. Ask us anything you like; keep in mind that the answer might truly be: We don’t know yet.