The inevitable, regrettable post about genitalia

February 19, 2011 § 10 Comments


Oh, deep sighs, dear readers – I really was hoping that I wouldn’t have to write about this. Because hoping has always been so good to me. So, onwards…


I’ve had several conversations this week that have touched on this subject, one way or another. Either trans people commiserating and sharing war stories, or cis people being – deliberately clueless. I wanted to ask – if you’re trans, do you find that being constantly asked about your genitalia is one of the worst, or at least most irritating prejudices you come up against? And cis people – have you ever asked those questions? And, if so – dear lord, why? Why?


A fair number of my friends and family can’t quite believe that it happens, and certainly not with the frequency that it does. I wish it didn’t. But from being groped in clubs, to having my sexual partners questioned as to what it’s like being with their ‘girlfriend with a dick’ or ‘boyfriend with a vagina’, from insults yelled in the street to assumptions and enquiries from friends – it might be one of the most consistent aspects of my life as an out trans person. The lesbian at the LGBT dance who said she didn’t want to talk to me because it was creeping her out imagining what I had in my really rather retro boxers; the number of cis straight people who assume that no gay man would ever be interested in me, or the number of cis gay men who presume that I’m packing.


The insult is two-fold – the fact that people could ever think that that question, ‘What do you have between your legs?’, is an appropriate one to ask – and the fact that they think they have the right to determine another person’s selfhood based on a couple of inches, give or take.


Could you imagine the same question being asked of a cis person? “Hey, we’ve just met, but I would love to know just how evenly-sized your testicles are?” “Wow, you’ve got to let me buy you a drink, but first, I just have to ask – do you have a big clitoral hood?” I don’t know how bad someone’s manners have to be before this is considered normal. Hypothetically, put those questions to a cis person in a predominately cis setting and hear how appalling they sound. And then consider – if trans people are deemed so sub-human that we don’t even warrant – well, I was going to say respect, but it’s not even respect – I’m frequently polite to people I don’t respect, simply because to do otherwise is unthinkable. The excuse that I’ve heard, over and over again, is “but you’re so unusual, and I was curious”. Again, mull that over – that a cis person’s curiosity (Wikipedia, anyone?) is more important than a trans person’s privacy, dignity and self-respect. I usually love Oprah (no, seriously, I really and truly do) – but what the hell was going on with the questions she asked the goddess of fashion, Lea T? How does she hide her penis whilst wearing skimpy clothes? Oh god – hang your head in shame. And this on one of the most popular TV shows of all time.


Self-respect is the key point, I think, because the second kick to the stomach, after that initial disregarding of boundaries, is the desire to impose mistaken and deliberately misconstrued gender identities/sexual roles based on false assumptions or clueless interpretations of trans’ genitalia. If anyone stills thinks that penis=male, cunt=female – well, I don’t really know what they’re doing reading this. Or how to break it down for them. Apart from googling “Trans 101”, why not try Julia Serano? Like Clarissa, she explains it all:



To connect an anatomical shape with a concept as complex and personal as gender – well, it’s intellectual lazy and, frankly, a little embarrassing. Honestly – why would anyone want to show their ignorance in such a way? And, when there’s a plethora of material available (just try some Butler, Bornstein, Feinberg and Stryker) there’s no excuse to ask random trans people to spoon-feed explain it, and engage in the same juvenile ‘debates’ they’ve had a thousand times before. I’m often happy to discuss gender theory and trans lives in a civilised and intelligent way – trying to provide an answer to “So, how can you not think of yourself as female when you have periods?” is not my idea of a good time.


Just because some people have made fetishes out of so-called ‘typical’ genitalia as the embodiments of the eternal ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ – it doesn’t mean that we all have. And just because those ideas are popular doesn’t make them right. I don’t want to hear an ‘aesthetic’ argument culled from the science pages of a daily rag, and I don’t want to know a mangled piece of folk wisdom. I don’t care what does or does not get you off, and reductionist rants about the ‘biological’ divide and the difference between gay and straight? Heard them, not interested.


All things considered, there’s very little I can do to change the minds of idiots who’ve decided that the genitalia of trans people must be some strange combination of disgusting, exotic and alluring. But I’m pretty confident in saying that, whatever they may be thinking – it isn’t my fucking problem. From now on, no more sugar coating. If I ever want to find out your opinion of my {insert favourite euphemism here}, I’ll ask. And you’ll know when I’ll be ready to ask – you’ll either be diagnosing me or making love. Kind of obvious, really.

§ 10 Responses to The inevitable, regrettable post about genitalia

  • Jennie Kermode says:

    What always strikes me about this is that cis people do, in fact, alter the appearance of their sexual characteristics all the time. Women pad their bras, get breast augmentation surgery or inject silicone into their arses. Men stuff their pants or use dodgy ‘enlargers’ they’ve purchased on the internet. So asking a cis person what their body really looks like, or what nature originally gave them, is at least as appropriate as asking a trans person, yet somehow they’re horrified at the thought of that. There is also no acknowledgement by cis people (perhaps because many of them genuinely don’t know) about the tremendous variety that exists among them as far as sexual characteristics are concerned. Personally, when I flirt with a cis woman, I don’t tend to worry about whether or not her breasts are equally sized or whether her inner labia are longer than her outer ones – I tend to focus on things like her face, her curves, the way she smells and the way she moves. I suspect this is true of most people, so the double standard applied to trans bodies is quite confounding.

    • cnlester says:

      I think that that particular double standard hurts me the most when I’ve been flirting with a cis person and it’s obvious that they have been focusing on things like my face, my voice, my sense of humour – and then they freak themselves out, because apparently my genitalia might not match what they’re used to. And, apparently, that’s my fault. Sigh.

  • Kelly says:

    “The excuse that I’ve heard, over and over again, is ‘but you’re so unusual, and I was curious’.”

    Oh, ugh. I’ve seen this by so many with privilege in so many scenarios. And the person asking usually doesn’t care, at all, how many times the other person has been asked, treated, threatened, etc.

    Thanks for a great post!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicole Winchester, Kelly Hogaboom and John O'Dwyer, CN Lester. CN Lester said: The inevitable rant about genitalia #transgender […]

  • gendernos says:

    Fantastic post. It never cease to mystify and infuriate me the way that trans bodies are somehow public property, both physically and conversationally. You worded it perfectly.

    One of my worst experiences happened shortly after I got my first packer… I was with my wife & a presumed friend of ours, talking about how excited I was, how liberating and comfortable and just completely *right* it felt. He responded by saying, “Oh, so are you wearing it now then?” And reached over and grabbed my cock through my jeans. In front of my wife. In front of many other coffee shop patrons. And all in the name of “just curious”.

    The worst part was that it really brought home both the dangerousness & insidiousness of ignorance and the fact that even friends you trust may respond harmfully, without even meaning to. It hurts worse that way, somehow. The ignorance of strangers can usually be dismissed, at least to a certain degree.

  • Renee Baker says:

    Thanks for writing this, very nicely said.

  • Oliver says:

    I love the entirety of this post but this one sentence has been a particular irritation of mine lately: “the number of cis straight people who assume that no gay man would ever be interested in me”.

    WHY are you basing my ability to attract people on my genitalia? I like to think that my fantastic personality and fairly good looks are more convincing than pulling down my pants and wagging my butt at a man! I have little fear in finding a permanent/regular partner because all the people I would be interested in are open-minded, kind, and respectful. They would be interested in me as a person. Genitalia comes second.

    So please, cis people, stop with your silly assumptions because I don’t appreciate you invalidating my person.

    *trails off grumbling*


  • […] 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 […]

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