My Pants, Your Pants: Genitals and Personal Privacy

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours is allegedly one of the oldest children’s games on Earth, right up there with playing doctor, but by the time we grow to adulthood, genitals are usually a taboo subject. Visible genitalia are banned from television, merit an explicit rating for a film even if the glimpse is only fleeting, and are generally barred from public discourse, even though we live in a society which is collectively obsessed with sex.

As a general rule, what’s in your pants stays in your pants. And most of us seem to think that this is as it should be, because genitals are a rather personal affair, and not anyone else’s business.

Yet, there’s a glaring exception to this rule, and that’s in the treatment of transgender individuals. Evidently, people who are outed (or who out themselves) as transgender are, much like women, public property which can be endlessly discussed and dissected. Being transgender isn’t just about being born with the wrong body, apparently, it’s also about repeatedly being asked incredibly stupid, invasive, and offensive questions, and being expected to treat the questioner with respect and courtesy, even though the questioner is not obligated to return the favor.

Lots of transgender people pass perfectly successfully, although society makes it rather hard. It’s difficult to pass, for example, when you can’t switch the “F” on legal documents to an “M” even though you are a man, and you look like a man, and you are generally accepted by members of the public as a man. Perhaps people wouldn’t feel such a pressing need to “pass” if binary rules of gender and gender stereotypes weren’t so heavily enforced, making it very dangerous to be someone with ambiguous gender, or to be someone who once presented with another gender.

Every out transgender person I know has been asked more than once about “the surgery.” Every. Single. One. Pretty much the first thing people do when they find out that someone is transgender is to ask about the surgery. And people don’t seem to think that this might be offensive, or an overstepping of the boundaries. Indeed, if a transperson hasn’t had the surgery, or isn’t planning on it, some people make a point of referring to that person with the wrong pronoun, using the pronoun which matches the genitals instead of the pronoun which matches the gender identity.

Is it really that important to know about what’s in someone’s pants? To challenge someone’s gender identity because it doesn’t mesh with your perception of gender? Transwomen are not “men in dresses,” even if they are fully equipped with male genitalia. They are women. Transmen are not “women pretending to be men,” they’re just men, no matter what’s in their pants.

I find this pressing concern with genitals fascinating and kind of repulsive. I can’t imagine asking anyone if what was in their pants matched their gender presentation, not least because I don’t have a binary view of gender. Other people apparently don’t share this view, and seem to think that it’s necessary for transpeople to educate them, rather than taking some time and doing a little bit of research. And, evidently, being transgender magically exempts you from generally socially accepted views about personal privacy and personal boundaries.

When someone comes out as transgender, this information isn’t being provided as an open invitation for Question Time or as an opportunity to be judgmental. It’s being provided because this person wants to explain physical changes which may be occurring, or wants to provide information which may be relevant or important. Transpeople have enough to deal with without having to deal with everyone else’s baggage, and what’s in their pants is their business, just like what’s in your pants is your business.