So if its not a vagina…

…what on earth is it, then?

Here goes with another of those posts that doesn’t quite neatly fit into my division between “Sex Matters“, my general/political blog, and this one – the personal blog.

In today’s Grauniad i had a piece published about surgical interventions. The theme of the piece was how the male surgical establishment seemed to combine arrogance and ignorance in about equal measure when it came to matters of female sexuality.

In three separate areas – intersex, transgender and cis women – they make judgments of what is appropriate that could only possibly come from someone with no idea at all about the way female genitalia actually work. As throwaway remark in the article, i mentioned my own future surgery. I wrote: “With luck, I shall emerge with a vagina and some semblance of a clitoris”.

Now, its not as though i don’t know the ins and outs of this subject (no pun intended!). I certainly do not harbour some misconception that the addition of these two bits will magically transform me in a way that all the other steps – from hormones, through to socialisation – are already doing.

I am also very well aware that there are other bits that i will never gain: i will never have the joy of a functional uterus, or periods, or fear of getting pregnant.

I’ve already suggested elsewhere that i find the debate of what it is to be a “real” woman to be both tedious and largely pointless. I will be what i will be – and i am sure that different people will see me in a variety of different lights.

So i use the terms – vagina and clitoris – because they seem to be the closest approximations to what i will have physically, biologically. And that’s that.

Yet even that is not good enough for some people. One commenter, whose main interest appears to be F1 racing opines, bluntly: “This is simply not true – you will not have a vagina”.

Another suggests that I won’t have one…and then goes on to explain i can never be a full biological woman.

Who’s kidding whom here? I know full well what i will and won’t have – and i would certainly never, ever equate “being a woman” with the shape of my genitals.

Is this just some straw man argument, being set up to knock me down? Is it so inaccurate to use those words to describe the post-operative result?

And if it is, what other words should one use?

Genuinely puzzled.



10 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jess said,

    Que sera sera – you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so concentrate on pleasing yourself and those closest to you. The others, will see what they see, and over time yu’ll get to realise they actually see very little.

  2. 2

    Julian said,

    I understand from those hipper and more up to date than me that this particular attitude is called transmisogyny.

    Reducing a woman’s gender to her vagina is offensive to all women, and the comments I saw on the Grauniad piece were downright rude. If someone wrote a CiF piece about their experiences with a prosthetic leg, would these guys be writing “I’m sorry, but that’ll never be a real leg you know.”

    Also, what do they think gives *them* the right to say what is and is not a vagina? Vaginas come in all sorts of shapes, shades and sizes, and some (including lots belonging to FAAB women) have encountered surgical assistance and reconstruction. But oh noes, what we all need is a man to tell us whether our vaginas pass muster. I guess it’s ironic that those commenters just prove the point you were making in the article…

  3. 3

    Julian said,

    Sorry, I got distracted with a rant. I was meaning to say, yes, it’s still a vagina and it can’t possibly be inaccurate to call it that post-surgery. Sure, it’s an artificial vagina, but just like someone with a prosthetic leg or a glass eye can still refer to “my leg” or “my eye,” your post-operative vagina is still your vagina.

    Unless there is some special seekrit dictionary that I don’t know about and I’m wildly wrong!!

  4. 4

    Jennie Kermode said,

    I think a lot of people fail to understand how vaginal construction works in SRS, their only education being from newspapers which tell them it’s all about the shocking process of having a penis chopped off. This is ironic in an article about intersex people who, when assigned female, are often given vaginas which are simply holes or wounds, continually troublesome and made for the purpose of give pleasure to people other than their recipients – not the complex and sensitive organs that grow naturally or that can be created through the inversion of penises.

    I think the real challenge that commentator was seeking to make had less to do with the particular organ, though, and more to do with sex essentialism – again ironic in the context of intersex issues. He believes that the identity of vagina is intrinsically dependent on the realness of the woman who possesses it. I’d love to have a chat with him and ask him how he can identify that. Alternatively, if he’s only interested in trolling, he can suck my XX cock.

    • 5

      janefae said,

      oh…you mean the F1 enthusiast…ye-es…. Him i wasn’t too bothered by. Later on, though, i came in for some more ideological stick along the lines of “don’t you understand the feminist analysis of the vagina?”

      But it did feel like i was being got at for something i hadn’t said. i am not especially making claims as to my gender right now…and would never be so stupid as to equate gender with anatomy…but that’s what they seemed to be accusing me of.

      I know full well that i will have LESS female anatomy than a cis woman…but maybe a lot more than some of the posters realised.

      ah well….

      thanks, anyway.


      • 6

        Jennie Kermode said,

        You’ll have quite a bit more, I think, than many people whom society cheerfully accepts as cis women (whether they identify that way or not).

        I’m intrigued by the suggestion that there’s just one feminist analysis of the vagina. Did I dream the past twenty years of debate? (Now I have a terrible fear of waking up and seeing Janice Raymond in the shower.)

  5. 7

    Jamie said,

    Not to be rude. But, in a technical sense, it will never be a “vagina.” A vagina is not a “wound” that your body will constantly and intently being trying to heal: thus a transsexual’s need to dilate every day. Women don’t have to dilate. Their body is not constantly trying to reject their “vagina” or the other changes they have forced on their body.

    I really don’t know of any therapist or surgeon that tells girls that SRS will make you a “woman.” To my knowledge, all they promise is to help make it “easier to live as one,” through the use of cosmetic surgery.

    As long as one keeps that in mind throughout there transition and surgery they may find the road less bumpy than trying to grasp for something that is outside physical reality.

    Smoke and mirrors are enjoyable, and harmless, as long as one remembers that they are smoke and mirrors, and doesn’t allow them self to become convinced by their own illusion.

    • 8

      janefae said,

      Telling me its not a “vagina” isn’t especially rude…but the rest of the post…the language… and the answering of questions i haven’t even asked comes quite close.

      This post…and my puzzlement… are around one and the same thing. What it is proper to call the post-grs anatomy… and whether it particularly matters what it gets called (away from the rarefied world of various gender theorists who assume that the word has a bunch of connotations that automatically tag along).

      The question i asked was very specific and about one thing – the why’s and wherefores of using one word. You don’t, from that, get to assume you know anything about whether i see myself as a woman now, or will see myself as one later.

      It feels quite offensive that you presume me so ignorant that you can elide so easily from my questioning of one world to constructing a whole universe in which i have assumptions about what i am…and then, icing on top, tell me that i ain’t that thing.

      yippee! sorted.

      Sorry…if you feel a bit taken aback by that, apologies. But your response comes packaged with assumptions and in a tone that really grates…particularly as it is your first post on here.

      Meanwhile, back at the ranch…do you also post on war vet’s sites explaining to them how they cannot possibly call their prosthetic limbs “legs”? Presumably whatever they do isn’t “walking”?

      Anyway, if i’ve misjudged this post, sorry: would be interested to know what it is you ARE getting at.


    • 9

      Zoe Brain said,

      “Women don’t have to dilate.”

      See “vaginal stenosis”. Some do, yes. Not to be rude, but you’re both bigoted and medically clueless, hopelessly ignorant in fact. Grossly misinformed.

      Transsexuals don’t have to “dilate every day”, not after a few months after surgery anyway. Within a year, the lining of the vagina is indistinguishable at a cellular level from the mucosal lining of “standard factory models”. After a few years, they may not have to dilate at all, but once every few months is enough for the rest. Just like other women with vaginal stenosis.

      I have extreme doubts that you know any surgeons or therapists. It’s no more cosmetic surgery than any other surgical reconstruction.

      One area you are correct in: having a vagina, either born with one or having a genitally reconstructed one, does not make one female. See the David Reimer tragedy for the proof.

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