Would you like to know what’s in my pants?
I’ll tell you: a movie stub (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, although it doesn’t say that, because they don’t print tickets for different shows at the Coast Cinemas), a MUNI transfer (7 August), seven cents, and a credit card receipt from Fort Bragg Feed and Pet ($42.09, 13 August). Those would be one of my pairs of all-purpose action pants, and the pockets tend to accumulate small slips of paper until I empty them out for the laundry; sometimes the problem is compounded by transferring small slips of paper from other pants to the action pants, for reasons which are a bit obscure.
Oh, I’m sorry, you wanted to know what was in my pants?
See, the thing is, that’s not your business. I’m pretty sure that some of you may have a few good guesses, although most of you probably don’t think it’s your business, because, you know, they are my pants. And while we live in a society which treats my body like property and denies me agency, most of you, Gentle Readers, are pretty reasonable people, and I suspect that you don’t really think that my body is public property, and that the contents of my pants, in particular, are my business.
You know which population really gets treated like public property? Transgender and intersex people. For some reason, everyone’s all fired up about whatever may or may not be in their pants, and for some reason, society seems to think that this is their business. Not just their business, but pressing, critical, important business which must be resolved. Publicly.
When someone comes out as transgender or intersex, one of the first questions, every time, is “have you had the surgery” or “what does it look like down there,” or something along the lines of “so…what do your genitals look like?” And when people are outed, then the public discussion and scrutiny are even worse, because people who are outed tend to be people who live public lives, which means that much speculation about what might be inside their underwear is smeared across the news media.
The thing is, and maybe I’m just weird here, but I don’t see how the contents of anyone else’s pants is my business. I mean, sure, there are some controlled situations in which it is, but those situations are relatively few. And I also don’t really understand how the content of anyone’s pants is anyone else’s business.
I mean, really. There’s no earthly reason why you need to know what’s in someone else’s pants. How is the content of someone else’s pants at all relevant to your existence, unless you are a medical doctor treating a specific patient for a condition related to What’s Inside The Pants, or a sexual partner? When would it ever be socially acceptance to ask someone about the content of ou pants? I mean, really?
Parents among my readers have probably had a conversation with their children at some point about private parts, and the fact that what’s in their pants is private, and should stay private, and is not a topic for acceptable discussion with strangers. Yet, I know some parents who are apparently very interested in the contents of strangers’ pants (see: bathroom panic). Isn’t that a bit paradoxical? You tell a child that the body is private, and that it belongs to you, and yet you want to monitor the pants of strangers? How does that work, exactly?
I am fortunate enough that while I don’t identify with the gender binary, I basically pass as a ciswoman, and I often take advantage of this because it’s easier than articulating the complexities of a genderqueer gender identity; I call myself a “woman” and use female pronouns self referentially because there is no space in the English language for people outside the binary construct. My apparent gender presentation means, to some extent, that I benefit from cis privilege. Transgender people are not in this position, and, for some reason, the general public thinks that because transgender people are “different,” they are therefore up for discussion. And not just discussion; transgender people are in physical danger because of what is or isn’t inside their pants. Transgender people are murdered because of what is or isn’t in their paints. Transgender people are fired from their jobs because of what is or isn’t in their pants. Somehow along the line, the message that what’s in your pants is a private matter has been lost.
The obsession with the contents of other people’s pants also plays, deeply, into transphobia. There’s an assumption there that cisgender people are “real” and therefore superior to transgender people, and that gender is closely tied to the contents of your pants. By this logic, a trans woman is not a “real woman” if she happens to have a penis, and even if she’s had The Surgery, she’s still not a real woman, she’s just a man wearing a dress. Likewise, a trans man will never be a “real man” because he wasn’t born a man. It’s essentialism, and it’s very irritating, and it’s very marginalizing: how would you like to be repeatedly told that your gender identity is fake, that you are masquerading, that you are not real?
What’s in your pants is your own business, and no one else’s. So kindly extend the courtesy of respecting the privacy of others to the rest of society, eh?
(This post is an extension of thoughts I first explored in “My Pants, Your Pants: Genitals and Personal Privacy.”)