ESSAY: Una Rambles a Bit About the Cisgender Focus on Genitals


I confess that I saw the Barney’s photo shoot for their catalog which featured transgender models when the news first ran, and I didn’t feel it was really newsworthy enough to report upon. Vogue disagreed, and ran a transgender advocacy piece on their website, which is linked below.

The article is an interesting read, but there’s nothing really groundbreaking. However, this quote from the article caught my eye:

It’s astonishing the amount of time that certain straight people devote to gay sex—trying to determine what goes where, and how often. They can’t imagine any system outside their own, and seem obsessed with the idea of roles, both in bed and out of it.

This is very true when I debate transgender rights on various message boards across the net, but in a different way. Many cisgender people want to focus on our genitals. It’s the first thing they think of when they meet a transgender person, and if they are socially inept enough one may be asked “OMG! Are those tits real? Did you have your dick cut off? OMG!” When a transman is encountered, the reaction can be “OMG! So do you like wear a strap-on all the time?! OMG!”

This of course is at best willful ignorance, and at worst thinly-disguised hate.

The questions also come fast and furious about our sexual preference: “So, um, do you date men? Does that make you gay, or ‘something else?’ So you stayed married to your wife? Are you, like, a lesbian? How do you have sex? Doesn’t the wife miss ‘the dick?’ ” (well if she did, I could introduce her to the giant talking one I’m facing right now…) And most charming of all, “um, hey, can I watch?”

Charlie Sheen; Jon Cryer

For all that many cisgender people define transgender persons by our genitals and sexual intimacy, they miss the glaringly obvious point that it’s they who are thinking about the penis, the vagina, the breasts, and all the rest of the naughty bits which fill the average American with a frisson of glee whenever the subject arises. In doing so they admit their ignorance on understanding what gender really is. What is a man? What is a woman? They ignore the entire 99% or more of our lives which are spent in a gender role – living, loving, going to work, playing, shopping, and everything else – outside of sex.

Conservative religious followers scream with fury “THEY WANT TO PUT BOYS IN OUR GIRLS’ BATHROOMS!” and contemptuously brush aside the overarching whole of “what does it really mean to be a girl?” Others claim that the Bible, Koran, and other holy books are always and forever literally true, every word of them: God created men and women, there is nothing else, and you don’t dare presume to change that fact. When confronted with the fact that intersex people exist, they either brush it off as a birth defect, deny that intersex people exist and claim it’s all part of a government conspiracy, or go so far as to claim that intersex people are demonic spawn who God personally wants them to ostracize, mock, hurt, and kill.

And these folks can vote. Think about that for a golden moment.

I’ve told these folks “Me personally, I don’t believe God makes mistakes. The fact is, intersex people do exist, transgender people do exist, and we are all children of God, a creator, or nature and the universe, depending on your beliefs. You believe in an omnipotent and omniscient God, but think they made a mistake somehow? What the hell, do you think they were they doing Jäger shots when they created me?”

God doesn’t make mistakes, nor did they do Jäger shots when creating intersex and transgender persons.

Rarely are their hearts and minds open to the possibility that their own God did not make a mistake, and rather it is ever-so fallible human beings who are mistaken when they wrote the Bible.

Perhaps if as a society we educated our children on understanding gender – not just the traditional roles, but the reality of gender fluidity and gender ambiguity – rather than sex, we would raise a generation of children wherein small-minded, hateful bigots would be a vanishingly small minority.

Breathless: Ignorance or Insensitivity? Dealing with Transgender Culture – Culture – Music, Movies, Art, Profiles, and More.

4 thoughts on “ESSAY: Una Rambles a Bit About the Cisgender Focus on Genitals

  1. Paula Overby

    Ignorance is annoying but that’s why we have sarcasm (well if she did, I could introduce her to the giant talking one I’m facing right now…) … to relieve the monotony of boring people. What I find more distressing about being a trans woman is simply being a woman. I suffered through more than enough locker room talk to understand how this culture objectifies women but it still did not prepare me for what it is really like. You grow up with all of this enormous male privilege and suddenly you are part of the background. Sometimes the negative attention is actually a relief.
    What is more distressing is how minimized I feel in the Gay and Lesbian community where you might expect a greater sense of enlightenment. I recently watched The Stonewall riots, an American Experience. Back in 1969 the transgender people were the Queens. For the most part we still are today, the queens, the show girls. I’m not really sure how I feel about the transgender models. Its a more positive image than we’ve had in the past but it’s still about the show.
    Here is a link to the documentary if you are interested.

    1. Una Post author

      Paula, along the lines of your points, because I had to socialize as a male for so long I sometimes wonder if it’s given me a little more fatalism about being a woman. I heard the locker room talk all through school (when I wasn’t being beaten) and heard all the crude and crass comments about women, both in general and directed towards specific women. Even as far forward in graduate school I heard the dismissive comments towards female students and professors.

      I spoke up whenever possible, and ostracized the ones who did this, but I couldn’t do it effectively because it was so pervasive. When you’re on a student design team and 11 out of 12 people on the team you have to work with make misogynistic comments, and you have to stick with these creeps to graduate…

      I think many women would actually be horrified to know just how often they are dismissed, demeaned, thought of as sex objects, or made fun of about their weight behind their backs, “in the company of men.” So the reason it’s more difficult for me, is I *know* what many of the men are thinking about me, even if they have no idea I’m trans.

  2. Una Post author

    Paula – no, I confess I didn’t; my apologies for not replying sooner. I will read after I’m done teaching at university tonight and might have some follow up questions.

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