Confused

There’s a snark forum I belong to, which had something posted a few days ago that had to do with a 31 year old trans* man sleeping with a 16 year old cis girl. (This actually happened in the states somewhere – there was an article or something.) Anyway, there was a comparison made by someone that not being informed that your partner was trans prior to sex meant that it equalled rape.

I posted that I did not think it was rape but if I were to be getting intimate with someone for the first time and came across genitalia that I was not expecting, I would be upset and it does bring up a question of informed consent to me. (To disclose, I am not interested in getting up and personal with anyone’s vagina, my own excluded.) I was called transphobic and a bigot because apparently I was making judgments as to when trans* people should disclose their status. My point was merely that since I don’t want to get up and personal with any vag, I would be startled and upset if I were suddenly to come upon one where I was not expecting it.

Thoughts? Does this make me bigoted and transphobic? I try very hard to not be either of those things, although I know how ignorant I am about trans* issues and usually keep quiet in any discussion that touches on them since I am trying to learn and not expect anyone to educate me. But I don’t see how my sexual preference for penis and not vag makes me a bigot.

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7 Responses to Confused

  1. Donna says:

    Hmm. Seems tricky.

    Personally, I don’t think it should matter what kind of genitalia someone has. If someone is a man, they’re a man, who cares what’s in their pants? But, enough people DO care, that it’s probably a good idea to let your partner know ahead of time if there are unexpected things afoot.

    But then, I think it’s a good idea to let your partner know ahead of time if there are ANY unexpected things afoot. If only for your own protection, because that shock of “holy shit, vagina!” can’t be fun on the transmans side of the equation either.

    Bigoted, transphobic, eh. To some people, yes, they will find that bigoted and transphobic. But in the same way that I think that “everyone’s a little bit racist” (and sexist, and prejudiced against things that aren’t them in general) I think that everyone’s a little bit bigoted, transphobic, and otherwise not always exactly “Correct” with things that are outside their norm. Especially since I don’t think there is only one “correct”. What one person finds offensive, another person would be totally okay with.

    Anyway, lots of grey areas. Admittedly, if I were trans, and the only thing that was keeping someone from wanting to be with me was my genitalia: Yeah, I’d be pretty offended. Probably in the same way that I would be if someone turned me down because they don’t like small tits. Or brown hair. Or fuzzy knees. Is that kosher or not? I dunno. I don’t mind that gay men don’t want my vagina, but they don’t want the whole girl package, not just the genitals. And, being fine with both vag AND penis, I have a hard time understanding why people care one way or the other anyway. (That said — I don’t have to understand it, I recognize it as the case in many, if not most cases.) I get not wanting the girl package — I like girls sexually, not romantically/emotionally. But that’s just me. But it’s nothing to do with the biology. So I have a hard time there.

    Quite frankly, I think the bigger problem is the 31yr old with the 16 yr old girl. Ew. (Was this the one about the 31 yr old posing as a 14 yr old boy? The age difference and the lying about age bothers me FAR more than the genitals do.)

  2. Erin says:

    Yeah it was. And seriously ew.

    I think in a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter about the genitalia, but it’s not and it does. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I was head over heels for a guy and then found out he had a vag – maybe it wouldn’t matter in practise but in theory, do not want.

    And I get that it’s a tricky thing, deciding when to tell someone (if ever) that you are trans*. I just … I would prefer to be told ahead of putting my hands down the pants.

    Maybe it comes from being in the kink community, that we have a higher awareness of informed consent? Not to say that someone who isn’t, doesn’t, but when a negotiation for play is happening, it’s not a good idea to assume that certain activities are ok – both parties need to be on board to have informed consent for the play. I feel the same thing for sex.

  3. Allyie says:

    I dont think you’re bigoted or any of that nonsense.

  4. kill_the_onions says:

    If you’re speaking of the snark forum I think you’re speaking of, it basically exists for the sole purpose of rashly and hysterically calling people bigots. :p

    I agree with you completely; most definitions of consensual sex do involve *informed* intent, so if someone is lying about their age, sex, I don’t know, even if, like, I really want to settle down with a nice Jewish guy, and the man I meet at the bar is insisting that he’s Jewish, so we get involved, and it turns out months later that he was lying to get me in bed (this is obviously an insanely random example that has nothing to do with me!), I think any of those lies remove the “informed” part of the equation. Not that we can ever know EVERYTHING about another person, but deliberately misleading someone is a different story.

    I think everyone should always disclose the state of what is in their pants before they remove their pants with a partner for the first time, and I’m quite certain that this is respectful common sense for everyone involved, not an avenue for bigotry.

    Of course, it was the AGE part of that story that probably made the whole thing an honest-to-God CRIME (depending on the state it was in), not the older person’s sex, so I do think it’s sad that society will focus more on the sex than the age.

  5. Erin says:

    To clarify, people were outraged by the age thing. It’s just that in the write-up for the snark post, the author linked to a comment where someone likened not disclosing one’s sex to a person they are imminently about to have sex with as rape. That’s the part I was responding to, in that it’s not rape, but it’s not allowing for informed consent at the same time.

    That community does tend to dogpile on people but usually I agree with the majority as they tend to call out people for saying sexist/racist/etc type things. When I get called out, in real life or online, I try to step away and think about whether it was valid and whether I have unexamined privilege in that area. However, I just really couldn’t see how my preference for not getting sexual with female genitalia made me a bigot and I needed to have some validation from other people.

  6. marmot says:

    I’m coming into this discussion a little late, but wanted to share a few thoughts.

    First, I think there tends to be an automatic shut-down when we’re told we’re bigoted or transphobic – it feels like an attack. I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that we live in a society that is transphobic (as well as racist, sexist, fatphobic, you-name-it-phobic), and this means we tend to replicate the dominant culture values around us unless we do some work to unpack our assumptions.

    Here are a few assumptions I’m pondering – first, why do we assume that someone who appears to be male will have a penis, or someone who appears female will have a vagina? After all, there are plenty of folks who are trans, or intersex, and their bodies don’t always match this construct. Rather than calling it bigoted to assume this, I’d like to suggest this may be a ciscentric way of thinking that is reinforced by our binary gendered society. It’s something a lot of us never even question, yet it certainly doesn’t match everyone’s reality. To me, this raises the question or whether it is ethically required that we disclose any aspect of our identity that doesn’t meet dominant culture norms. I also think that more entrenched societal norms meet with more resistance than norms that have been more deeply examined – for instance, I’m willing to bet that more people share your reaction here than would agree that it’s necessary for a minority-ethnicity person to disclose their ethnicity before a blind date, because our society “gets” racism to some degree.

    Next assumption (and I have no idea what the original post said, so this may be clearly stated in it – I’m just going with what I read here) is that a trans person will have a specific type of genitals. Hormones and surgery can change bodies considerably. In addition, people of all genders have different relationships with their bits – if someone has a factory-equipped vagina, so to speak, but only does sex play with a strapped-on dildo, what does this mean for them and their partners? And to turn it around, how about cis people who have genitals that appear or perform outside the norm? Is it ethically required for a cis man to disclose if he is unable to maintain an erection, or for a cis woman to disclose that she is unable to have vaginal penetrative sex?

    Assumptions aside, I also think it’s worth bringing some context into this discussion that explores what transphobia can look like when we begin to question trans people’s bodies. For instance, many trans people face unwanted and intrusive questions about their bodies from cis people who would never dream about asking another cis person the state of their genitals. Trans people also face considerable difficulty getting access to employment, health care (not just trans-centric care, but sometimes basic life-saving care – google Tyra Hunter’s story for a horrible and very real example of that), community services and housing, and often this comes down to assumptions about their bodies. Trans people face much higher risk of suicide, as well as violence and murder, some of which has been justified in courts of law as a legitimate response by someone who has been “tricked” by the trans person not disclosing their trans status (much as the gay panic defense is used to protect homophobic violence). Understanding this context may shed some light on the responses you’re getting on this post – you might be bumping against anger directed at some pretty fundamental injustices.

    A lot of this makes me think of women’s rights and feminism, which is a lens I find useful in deconstructing these sorts of issues, and something I know you’re familiar with. In much the same way that power over women’s bodies and identities can be taken away or threatened in a sexist society, trans people’s rights to own and define their bodies are often subverted in both subtle and blatant ways in a trans phobic society – and it’s often both difficult and scary as hell for those of us living within these societies to recognise how and when this happens.

    K, that was long-winded, signing off now. Thanks for creating this post and making space to talk about this!

  7. kill_the_onions says:

    And I am late to revisit this, but the newer replies are really interesting!

    “To me, this raises the question or whether it is ethically required that we disclose any aspect of our identity that doesn’t meet dominant culture norms.”

    I don’t think it’s ethically required to take out a public billboard, but I do personally think that it is – or should be! – ethically required to reveal such information to a person with whom one is trying to build an intimate emotional or physical relationship. I *would* really hope, to use Marmot’s examples, that a man *would* tell me about erection problems before we theoretically jumped into bed together, because otherwise I’d be anxiously worrying that I did something “wrong”! Likewise, a roommate of mine in college did date a woman who could not have vaginal sex, and she didn’t discuss this in advance with him – it was a big, and thus horribly and disastrously awkward, surprise on the first occasion of them getting naked together.

    I am obviously not the Contract Police, determining when exactly these conversations should happen. But NONE of these things should be a SURPRISE in bed, in my opinion. I think that’s a matter of basic respect for one’s partner or fling or bar pick-up or what have you, not a question of discrimination. I’m not suggesting that people’s self-identification should be challenged – I think we need to be open and honest with our intended sexual partners, is all.

    Nevertheless, Marmot’s comment was one of the most clear and eloquent things I’ve ever read on the Internet, so I applaud it thoroughly, even if we seem to be disagreeing!

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