Here’s a controversial piece from Zoe Dolan, lawyer, author, and friend, in a smart piece about why, when it cones to dating – amongst other things – talking about genital surgery is important. I have always reserved the right to talk about these things with trans people and with trans partners because I do a lot of work around sex and relationships, but I stopped a few years ago in any public forums because of the ridiculous obsession – especially with penises – when trans stuff comes up. (I’ll be posting something a bit later about the term “political correctness” because I really, really can’t stand it.)
The conversation goes like this:
Him: Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?
Me: Yes, I have a vagina. Yes, I have a clitoris, and also labia majora and labia minora. Yes, I feel sensation and I can have orgasms — both vaginal and clitoral. And yes, I self-lubricate; but who ever said no to a little coconut oil?
Him: Wow. That’s amazing. Thank you for being so open. I’ve been curious but afraid to ask.
I’ve written before, and I maintain: my view is that there’s no shame in the human body. We all have one.
Nevertheless, a politically correct script of deflection dominates public discourse when it comes to sex change surgery. This condescension shames people into believing that questions arising out of natural curiosity are somehow overly intrusive, and that inquiring about the medical aspects of being transgender is wrong.
Take, for example, John Oliver’s Transgender 101 that recently went viral.
The monologue began with a discussion of “dumb mistakes” that the media make. His point was, apparently, that “[i]t is no more okay to ask transgender people about their sex organs than it would be to ask Jimmy Carter whether or not he’s circumcised.”
He concluded, “[T]heir decision on this matter is, medically speaking, none of your [bleep]ing business.”
While the privacy that others may choose deserves respect, there is fallacy in the proposition that everyone should know better than to pursue understanding of a subject to which they have yet to be exposed.
After all, I myself had no idea what sex change surgeons were capable of these days until I asked and found out. So how can I hold regular people to a higher standard and expect them to know what I, as a transgender person, once did not?
Indignation exacerbates at least four problems created by muzzling discussion of sex change surgery. First, silencing talk about the procedure undermines its medical necessity for many of us who identify as transsexual. In the United States, we are now required, like anyone else, to carry medical insurance; yet, although more and more insurers are developing policies that cover transgender genital surgery, many have historically excluded coverage for an operation they deemed “cosmetic.” Tell that to a transgender person wincing every time they have to go to the bathroom, weeping at their body in the shower or the mirror or trying to explain their sex to a potential intimate partner.
Second, censorship stigmatizes transgender bodies, casting a shadow of discomfort over a part of anatomy that can define identity: genitalia. I don’t know about you, but I recall sex education in elementary school as an experience in which the human body and sexuality were introduced as facts of nature that we needed to know about. There’s no need to squirm now that we’re all grown up. Why shroud the unknown with an otherness that twinges of disgrace?
Third, squelching conversation perpetuates ignorance. Human curiosity benefits from encouragement, not admonishment. The light of day may dispel prejudices that sprout from a lack of information, but illumination cannot reach a head that’s been forced into the sand. Sure, accounts of the transgender experience abound on the internet — but how humanizing is any search in comparison to a discussion with someone who has been through it?
Finally, suppressing efforts to learn more about a part of the body so meaningful to physical human intimacy risks repelling potential romances and cauterizing interpersonal relationships. In my experience, a growing number of men might be open to dating once they discover more about the results that sex change surgery can now achieve. The obstacle is that so many never get there. Perhaps they would if the topic were normalized beyond the taboo.
All of which begs the question: In the effort to include everyone without hurting the feelings of anyone, have we gone too far?
You can support Zoe’s work by purchasing her book There Is Room for You: Tales From a Transgender Defender’s Heart.