“Why would you ask that?”
May 19, 2014 § 15 Comments
One of the commonest complaints that trans people have about our interactions with the wider world – and one that many cis people find almost impossible to believe – is that we’re utterly sick of being asked about our genitals. What they are, what we do with them, if we like them, how they work, do they work, are we going to have ‘the op’, have we had ‘the op’, who paid for ‘the op’…it goes on and on.
I’ve been dealing with this for a good ten years by now – I wrote about it last in 2011 – and I still don’t know what to say when people start asking. I’m usually still too shocked, hurt, to think of a witty rejoinder – sometimes I’m just glad that they’re not groping me ‘to check’, as a small minority of cis people have done.
I was preparing for my latest gig on Friday night – after sound check, about half an hour before the show. It was an LGBT bar, and I was curled up in an inconspicuous corner with a pint of water and my lyrics sheets. A woman came over, very clearly the worse for wear, and asked if she could sit by me because her friends hadn’t arrived yet. Her questions were, in order:
- “So are you a gay or what?”
- “So you want to be a boy?”
- “So you had your boobs cut off?”
-”So what are you going to do with your ladyparts?”
That last one clearly bothered her – she returned to it several times, asking me if I wanted a penis, because I would need one if I ‘wanted to be a boy’. There was obviously part of her that realised how rude she was being – she kept interrupting herself with a ‘oh, do you mind if I ask?’ before barreling straight on. A lot of cis people do that, in my experience – add a ‘do you mind if I ask’ or ‘this is a bit personal but…’ before continuing to ask, ignoring my discomfort, or outright refusal.
I didn’t want to tell her to fuck off, or mind her own business – she was obviously in distress (she explained that her partner had just left her) – and I just wanted to prepare for my set. So I told her that I was comfortable being myself, and needed to be alone before I performed – played my set, enjoyed the next band, met some lovely people, got back late to my hotel room and cried from the sheer frustration, the exhaustion, of dealing with the same shit over and over again. It woke me up in the middle of the night – things I should have said, to her and to other people. Something to shift focus away from me – something I can feel safe saying, and hope will make someone think about what it is that they’re actually asking from a stranger.
I don’t know if this will work – but, next time, I think I’m going to try “why would you ask that?” – because that’s not only what I want to know of that particular person, but of the entire cis obsessions with trans people’s genitalia. I keep trying to make sense of it, but the only sense I can determine – that people are so in need of clinging to the security of the system they know, where gender is decided and fixed by genitals, that they’re happy to ignore all common social rules – feels too much to try to challenge in a brief interaction.
But, perhaps, that question might act as a small spur to challenge themselves? Maybe stick in their memory as a gentle interrogation that didn’t let their interrogation pass unnoticed?
If that was all, though, I wouldn’t have needed to write this post – I could have kept it private, or shared with close friends and compared notes. But I wanted to write it here because I know that some of you reading this would have asked those questions, or something similar, yourself – and I wanted to know why.
What is it you really want to know? What do you expect us to feel, when you ask?
Why do you feel entitled to an answer?