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Pandora's Box

A Very Serious Discussion about Sex, Gender, Anatomy, and Why It Matters

I am a lesbian.

That’s a complicated statement. Well, it is for me. It shouldn’t be, but oh my God it is. And perhaps not for the reasons you might immediately think. You see, in addition to being a lesbian, I’m also transgender. I tell people that and they tend to… react.

“Begone, social flashpoint! Or rather stay, that I may trample you into dust!”


“So how do you, y’know… with a woman?”

And a whole spectrum of responses in between. On one end, there’s a group of people dedicated to publicly questioning my sexuality through the lens of my identity. They think they’re being clever. There’s no way that the stupid [slur omitted] could possibly know that what we’re trying to do is fill the discourse with only one opinion, ours, thus altering to our advantage the fundamental landscape on which the conversation must be had. On the other end are people like my roommate. I love her to death, I know she doesn’t mean any harm, but it is a bit weird explaining to a married woman how a cis lesbian and a trans lesbian notionally have sex. Which then leads to me answering the question “what does ‘cis’ mean?” Aaaaaaaaand I’m already exhausted.

The optimist in me recoils when I feel compelled to point out that there’s a common theme to basically all of the responses on this spectrum. As loathe as I am to find a commonality between my wonderful roommate and hateful online TERFs (“What’s a ‘TERF?’ I heard somewhere that it’s a slur?”), pattern recognition is kind of my thing and this one has been pretty apparent to me since coming out in 2013.

Every single reaction I’ve gotten to the news that I’m a trans lesbian has been focused squarely on my primary sex characteristics. Or, in less academic terms, people are terribly concerned with my junk.

I just want to be clear here, so we can avoid any confusion or accusations of impropriety, I am not going to talk about my junk, at all. Because it’s irrelevant. What I do or do not have in my pants (a very confused pangolin? Who knows…) is nobody’s business, unless I’m currently or in imminent danger of having sex with that person.

Incidentally, that’s a fundamental difficulty with being a transgender lesbian. It is remarkably difficult, apparently, for people to decouple sex and gender so we can have a conversation about sexual availability. I mean, I have some tertiary sex characteristics common to males (big chin, broad shoulders, wide forehead, deep voice, unfortunate propensity toward thinning hair), some common to females (relative balance of dimensions, soft skin, feminine scents in sweat), secondary sex characteristics common to females (breasts, narrow but wider than male-typical hips), and primary sex characteristics known but to me, God, my ex-wife, and a rather unfortunate hotel lobby full of people who just wanted their continental breakfast.

But that doesn’t stop every single person I’ve ever expressed romantic interest in from assuming they know exactly what’s in my pants…

… And assuming that it’s my intention to use what they think is in my pants, uh, “just the way God intended.” First off, that’s a lot of assumption. And when you assume, you know who doesn’t get any ass? You or me. Second, it ignores a lot of things about sex roles and how personalities play into them. And third, it ignores a fundamental reality of being transgender. Namely, dysphoria. I won’t say that there are no trans people who don’t get dysphoric about their junk, and I won’t say that I don’t know any trans people who don’t get dysphoric about their junk, but I also don’t know why you’d think trans people bang on about gender dysphoria the way we do and then assume that we’re going to use our particular endowment like it doesn’t give us the willies just acknowledging it.

This is not, as XX twitter (a twitter handle with XX in it is almost assuredly a TERF, and they’ve all got my number) is currently and furiously tweeting as they read this, a plea for lesbians to date me.

It is instead a plea for lesbians, for everyone really, to examine why this conversation has to revolve around genitalia and why that assumption is a first principle of any conversation about sexual desirability.

My experience of gender and attraction has remarkably little to do with what’s in my completely hypothetical partner(s)’s pants.

It’s an issue of sex signaling, which is done by secondary and tertiary sex characteristics, behaviors, and modes of dress. I’m not sure why we’re pretending it’s not. In fact, sex signaling with primary sex characteristics is a felony and will land you on a list.

If I’ve accomplished nothing else here, aside from dropping some fresh ass meme-based jokes on you, I want to highlight the point that it’s very weird that we as a society assume that if someone is in possession of a penis…

… then they’re A) obviously fine with it and B) intent on using it, touching it, asking someone else to touch it, or acknowledging its existence in any context, but especially in the context of a sexual encounter. Those are powerful assumptions that get people killed, aside from being startlingly unfair.

And again, this is not saying “you should definitely date trans women!” I think you should be open to the idea, but nobody’s saying “you should!” This is a very difficult conversation for normal people to have. As I think I’ve demonstrated, I have no shame, so I would just as soon start the conversation and tackle the weirdest and… *sigh* sorry… hardest part of it (that’s absolutely not what she said) so you don’t have to.

You’re welcome. Don't @ me.