Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: I don’t dwell on your genitals

Content note: This post discusses transmisogyny

At the age of about three, I used to go around asking every person I met the same question: “Do you have a willy or a vagina?” This, I learned very quickly, was not a polite thing to say to people, so I stopped. In an ideal world, everyone would have grown out of wondering what other people’s genitals look like at around that age. We do not live in an ideal world.

See, there’s two broad groups of people who are still fascinated with what other people have under their clothes: misogynists and transmisogynists. Among misogynists, it’s a classic male entitlement to sex: they believe our bodies to be public property and they are therefore allowed access to every inch of them. Among transmisogynists, it can be a bit more complicated, as many of them happen to be women. They make a litany of excuses, conveniently forgetting that rape isn’t just about penis to attempt to excuse their obsession with other people’s genitals. However, ultimately, it’s all about entitlement nonetheless. They genuinely feel entitled to know the precise configuration of everyone else’s private parts.

It seems so alien to me. When I’m out and about, I’m generally not dwelling on what sort of genitals everyone around me might have. When I spend time with women, I’m not sitting there constructing a mental map of what their genitals might look like. When I shower or swim with women, I’m not gawping at their genitals, because frankly, that’s just rude.

I’ve known for a long time that men are often thinking about my cunt, and that’s why I don’t really enjoy the company of men that much. Knowing that there are women who do this too makes me feel less safe in women’s spaces, like they might just suddenly ask me about my cunt or grab at my crotch to make sure I have correctly-shaped equipment.

This feeling that I have pales into insignificance compared to what trans women go through. If you think trans women don’t get sexually assaulted in order to verify what their genitals look like, you’re wrong. This is a very real threat that women face due to societal fascination with something which should be completely private and up to the owner of said genitals to share or not.

There are precisely two times in live when someone else’s genitals are really relevant. The first is if you are a medical professional and someone needs some medical assistance with their genitals, something which, for the vast majority of us, is never going to be the case. The other is during sex, and even then it really doesn’t matter exactly which way they point. People say “oh, but I just don’t like penises/vulvas”, but that, too, is rooted in cissexism and general poor sex education. You can have sex–great sex–with someone with a penis without any penetration whatsoever. You can have brilliant sex with someone with a vulva with plenty of penetration. I instinctively distrust anyone who professes a dislike for a certain type of genitals: it usually means they’re either cissexist, or completely lack imagination in bed, or both of those things.

I cannot believe I’ve just had to write a blog about how generally disinterested I am in what your genitals look like, but I feel it’s necessary to punch through what risks becoming a dominant discourse. Returning to dwelling on what someone’s genitals look like does not help feminism one little bit: in fact, it sets us way, way back. It can be hard, unlearning the fascination with genitals in a generally genital-fascinated society, but for the sake of a feminism which does not equate women to walking vaginas, it’s utterly essential.


73 responses to “Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: I don’t dwell on your genitals

  • Sonja

    Hi. A transwoman here. Could you possibly believe that a personal disinterest in penises is rooted in a… distaste for having been born with one rather than condemning the choice outright as cissexism (or poor education)? I’m not romantically or sexually attracted to male bodied persons, so it’s typically not something that I’m forced to think about much.

    I am, however, 32 years old, and have literally had zero sexual partners, so I’m fully willing to chalk my preference up to a lack of experience and/or opportunity.

    • stavvers

      I absolutely can entertain that this ties in with dysphoria!

      However, much of the time, it’s cis women, who are basically just bigots!

      • Anne

        In a crowded field, this is one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen you say. So just to make sure I have really understood: are you suggesting that cis women are not entitled to express a sexual preference? That any sexual orientation on the part of cis women is bigotry?

        • stavvers

          Nope, to clarify. For example, I’m a cis woman. I’m bisexual. I fancy people of my gender and people of other genders. Some cis women are heterosexual. They fancy men. Some cis women are lesbians. They fancy women.

          Nobody fancies penises and vaginas. We fancy people.

          • sarahlizzy

            Backing up Stavvers here. I’m a trans woman, post op. I personally find penises revolting and would be extremely unlikely to let one near my vagina. However, most women I’ve found myself attracted to had their clothes *on* at the time.

            Sleep with someone, don’t sleep with them, let your imagination run wild and do convoluted things with whatever body parts while on a trampoline dressed as ducks if you want. If two people like each other, they can probably find stuff to do. It’s up to them.

            But cut this TERF/TELF “lesbians can’t possibly have relationships with pre op trans women” crap out, because as a lesbian who is really extremely squeamish about penises, I know first hand that it’s crap.

            To each their own. Can we stop policing each other, please?

          • Laudanum

            As a bi-gender trans person, I’d like to echo this. If we were supposed to be attracted to genitals alone, we would be walking around with them hanging out, all the time. We don’t. We cover them up. We are attracted to PEOPLE, not genitals. Why is this so hard to grasp?

  • Ana Moth

    There’s two things that made me extremely uncomfortable about this article.

    The first is you telling people what they should and shouldn’t find sexually attractive or what they should feel comfortable with in a sexual partner. You don’t have the right to do that.

    The second is that you completely overlooked people who don’t feel comfortable with certain kinds of genitals because it reminds them of being sexually assaulted or raped.

    Rather than listen to the reasons individuals have for their own sexual preferences you have just assumed they all come from the same place.

    • stavvers

      Completely overlooked?

      Why no, as a survivor of multiple horrific, traumatic attack, I know painfully well that it is not the instrument of my abuse that is the problem. What triggers me is little things: the smell of a type of shower gel, a certain type of glasses, little ways that people pronounce words. Do I believe that everyone who uses these shower gels or wears those glasses or lisps slightly on the word “crisps” should be barred from women’s spaces? Absolutely not.

      When I see rape survivors instrumentalised as a reason for exclusionary practices in feminism, it makes me want to run the fuck away. It suggests that this is not a supportive environment for survivors, but one where we are simply used as a shield to maintain a level of bigotry. What you are doing here is actively constructing an environment where survivors ourselves are not seen as people, but a kind of concept. It’s dehumanising, it’s disgusting, and fuck the fuck off.

  • Trent Max

    Sounds like you’re obsessed with people obsessing over your genitalia. I wouldn’t worry so much, sugar. Relax. Enjoy life.

  • LJ

    “I instinctively distrust anyone who professes a dislike for a certain type of genitals: it usually means they’re either cissexist, or completely lack imagination in bed, or both of those things.”

    You instinctively distrust people with a different sexual preference. How very “ally.” Why is it ok for you to say this kind of thing? Someone who said “I instinctively distrust people who don’t prefer one sexual organ over another – they seem very indecisive” would sound just as silly, and would get into much more trouble than you are going to her with this baiting post.

    Some people’s (not everyone’s) sexual preferences preclude genitals that are the same as their own or differ from their own. You know this. I don’t know why you act like it’s absurd. You do this to prove a point, though what exactly your point is other than being able to throw around “bigot” is not exactly clear. Not everyone is attracted to gender. Some straight and gay people find opposite or matched genitals to be a deal-breaker. Not saying I agree with that personal choice, but to childishly deride their preference as “you’re bad at sex, lol” scrapes the very bottom of the barrel in terms of “debate” and seeks to denigrate a huge swathe of society that (however hard they may try) is not attracted to a person’s identity or, the gender norms that they observe but simply their sex. Now we can call those typically primarily attracted to one sex, including genitalia, bigots, or unsophisticated, or crap in bed, or not very imaginative, or say that they are obsessed with genitals (why is it _worse_ to like certain types of bodies exclusively?) or lots of other names, but you know and I know that they exist, and all these arguments that they are not allowed to exercise their own sexual choices make no odds. I think that they should be allowed to exist and have sex with who they like (excluding or including or being all for or not really being into, people for reasons like having a penis or a vagina or not having a penis or a vagina). Sexual organs are hardly incidental to sex for many people out there. You can write all the blog posts you like about it, but that’s the case. Some people do not have those hard-wired preferences. Many do. It is not cool to criticise anyone’s feelings about the sex that they want to have. You seem to be arguing a point about sexual availability and I’m at a loss why. What is the point of posts like this other than to position yourself as the world’s best ally whilst having a go at the sexual preferences of others? (a very strange way of proving you are the most open-minded).

  • therealthunderchild

    Oh. So everyone who isn’t within the pansexual spectrum is *cissexist* and ergo–a bigot?
    No homophobia inherent in that implication at all. Oh. No.

    • James

      There’s a lot of bigotry around, as exemplified by Zoë’s sweeping generalisation.

      • therealthunderchild

        Women have a right to decide who they have sex with, without being bullied by coercive terms such as *bigot*.
        It must be lovely, with all that experience, to have never come across a request or practice that doesn’t make one recoil.

        • stavvers

          I can assure you, not having a fucking clue what to do with a dick, that they really, really don’t. Thank fuck.

    • sarahlizzy

      I am a lesbian. Can’t stand the idea of penis.

      I avoid making blanket pronouncements about pre op trans women. I consider the possibility that a pre op trans woman and I might find ourselves with feelings of attraction, and we may end up doing something about them where her genitals play no part at all.

      For goodness sake, enough TERFs claim to be lesbians. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR BLOODY FINGERS ARE FOR?

      • therealthunderchild

        I wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, since I’m neither a lesbian or a TERF. And your statement about penis is contradictory, I guarantee anyone still sporting such, unless impotent, WILL expect that organ to be entertained.

        • sarahlizzy

          I’ve done plenty of things with pre op women.

          Never seen the organ in question, let alone “entertained” it.

          Your imagination would appear to be lacking.

      • LizLox

        I too am a lesbian. While I’m not interested in PIV sex, I’m open-minded about being attracted to a pre or non-op trans woman. That’s the thing isn’t it, I don’t rule it out. I’m sure that an arrangement could be made where the trans woman ‘played her own organ’.

  • kiki

    Lesbian here. Not interested in having sex with someone with a penis. Not even if its attached to a male body that’s been made to look female and no amount of blogging or tweets is going to change that. No idea why some people (on the internet, I doubt if said people would tell that to someone’s face) seem to have a problem with that. What you like in bed is your own business.

    • stavvers

      OK, genuine question: would you have sex with a man with a vulva?

      • kiki

        I’m trying to imagine this scenario. I’m chatting with some guy to whom I’m not attracted at all (transmen usually pass 100%) and then he’ll tell me he has a vagina and wouldn’t I want to have sex with him because of that. I think I would assume he wasn’t in his right mind but be able to politely refuse with a straight face. Anyway, thanks for making me laugh🙂.

    • quendergeer

      If you’re a woman who only likes vaginas and literally nothing else influences your sexual orientation, then you’re not a lesbian. You’re a very weird (and creepy) bisexual.

  • Noanodyne

    Such a disingenuous post. The people you’re attempting to pillory don’t actually care about people’s genitals when those people are minding their own business and not attempting to break down women’s boundaries. Women — often lesbians! — want very much to know that they’re not being pursued by people with penises. That’s not bigotry. Gay men and lesbians have fought their asses off to be able to live the lives they want and yes, that includes homoSEXual relationships that involve the genitals of their choice. As the other commenter pointed out, you yourself are being a bigot against gay men and lesbians. But you don’t really care about that, do you.

  • ez

    “The first is if you are a medical professional and someone needs some medical assistance with their genitals, something which, for the vast majority of us, is never going to be the case. ” uhhh, except for ALL gynecological care for women including pap smears, yeast infections, UTIs, plus anything related to childbirth, contraception, fertility. oh, and men who have fertility problems, need to be checked for testicular or prostate cancer. oh, and trans people who want surgery on their genitals. oh, and when dealing with medical problems that don’t involve the genitals but for which biological sex is a factor. but you’re right, “the vast majority of us” will NEVER need to talk to a doctor about our genitals…jesus christ

    • stavvers

      Yeah, except basically the vast majority of us aren’t the medical professionals whose business it is to do smears and surgery, are we?

    • steviesun (@steviesun)

      I was on the pill for years – at no point did the medical professionals see my genitals.
      I’ve also had monitoring for potential infertility – not once did they see my genitals. In fact, I don’t think any medical professional has seen my genitals since I was born. I’m 30.

  • june42

    It was not a vagina my would be rapist flashed at me when I was 12. Pressurising and name calling women into have sex with penises when they do not want to is RAPE. Transmisogyny and cissexism do not exist

  • june42

    There are many women who are lesbians because of sexual abuse and rape they suffered at the hands of ‘people with penises’ – and lesbians who have be subjected to corrective rape for refusing to sexually service penises. You are agreeing with further rape – well done

  • Sneer

    This was never about sex with someone, the woman who started this was sexually assaulted, in public, by men with dicks, multiple times. THIS IS NOT ABOUT HAVING SEX. It’s not even about trans women. Do you see how many men are involved in that discussion, mocking a woman who never said shit about “panty checks” except that she didn’t want to be around people with penises? Who do you think benefits here, exactly? And since it was about flashing, you are fucking wrong that genitals are only “relevant” in one or two times in someone’s life. What a nice lie. And as far as jargon goes, what do you think “how’s it hanging” or “nut up or shut up” or “get off my dick” or “that gives me a ladyboner” means? Do you think genitalia is not relevant to both trans and cis women, shapes our lives, experiences, and our chances of being left for dead in an ambulance? Genitalia is relevant. And stavvers, being a man or a woman is a type too. Are you going to tell us it’s “cissexist” to only like one group, just like it’s cissexist to only like one ~type~ of genitalia? Because it IS the same thing, and even better: men and women are actually people. Dick isn’t.

    Oh, and fuck you for saying the trans women can say no to whatever they want because dysphoria but we can’t, because we’re dirty ass cis bitches whose sexuality is inherently bigoted.

  • Rebecca R-C

    Hi Zoe,

    Do you think men who express a preference about what type of genitals they have sex with are bigots? Do you think straight men are bigots for not wanting to have sex with people with penises? Are gay men bigots for not wanting to have sex with people with vaginas?

    Or is it just women who you think are small-minded and poorly educated for having an orientation towards certain types of bodies only?

    • stavvers

      Yes. There’s a lot of misogyny in the cisgay community. And a hell of a lot of transphobia too.

      • Rebecca R-C

        So are you suggesting that the only non-bigoted sexual orientation is to be pansexual? That anybody who expresses any preference about the kind of bodies they are sexually attracted to is a bigot?

        • stavvers

          I am concerned that someone who is an academic is so appalling at reading comprehension.

          • Rebecca R-C

            Thanks for the concern Zoe, but my reading comprehension is just fine, thank you. Why not try engaging with criticism, instead of resorting to snark? For someone who claims to appreciate being called out as a listening and learning experience, you are awfully defensive.

            You are saying either one of the following two equally implausible and equally troubling things: either 1) the only non-bigoted sexual orientation is to be pansexual; or 2) the only non-bigoted sexual orientation is to fancy people’s “gender identities”, that presumably inhabit their brains, rather than their bodies.

            This latter option would allow me to be heterosexual, as long as I regard anyone who calls himself a man to be a man, regardless of what he looks like, and fancy his “male brain”. If I don’t do that, I’m a bigot.

            Which is so absurd, I can’t believe anyone who thinks herself to be intelligent would entertain the notion. Try as I might, I just don’t feel sexually attracted to vulvas. It’s not that I’m prejudiced against them or disgusted by them – I am really very fond of my own – but other people’s do not turn me on. Are you seriously suggesting I’m a bigot for not fancying men with vulvas?

            • stavvers

              How do you *know* they have vulvas? Have you ever entertained the notion that maybe, just maybe, you’ve fancied a man with a vulva? There’s lots of them about.

              And if that squicks you then yeah, you’re kind of cissexist.

            • Sarah Cordell

              Hi Becca and Zoe,

              I wonder if you might both agree with the following:

              It’s understandable, given our conditioning about gender, that many would find the ‘wrong’ genitals to be a turn-off. And if one does, of course no one should struggle on and have unwanted sex regardless, or be judged and found wanting for this reason, since we often can’t help being products of the culture we grow up in, and ours is a very Men/Women binary culture. So, as Sarah Brown said above, she is not keen on encountering penis – it’s a turn-off for her.

              But as Sarah *also* said, if she met a trans woman who happened to have a penis, she’d like to think that perhaps it might not be a deal-breaker – so she’d try to overcome her instinctive aversion to penis. I think the ideal is to just take all the judgement out of it! If you have an aversion to particular genitals, that’s not your fault – but if you can try to overcome it, great.

              To me, this is a reasonable position: I only fancy men with penises. A non-penised man might be a deal-breaker, and I wouldn’t want to be called a bigot for that. However, I think Zoe’s ideal – that we should fancy the person and not the genitals – is a laudable one, and I’m pretty sure that, thanks to Zoe’s ideas, I would now try harder to practice non-genital based attraction in future!

          • Jodie

            Then I am too. You are policing what people are to enjoy. You are also ignoring the fact that when you’ve been raped by a fucking massive penis, they tend to then be *quite* triggering. Everyone you interact with on the internet has to pussyfoot around your mental health issues, but fuck any woman who has her own, outside of your approved list of What Counts. You get triggered by shower gel. Ok. We won’t mention it again. I get triggered by remembering the arms that held me down and the penis that was pushed in my face and thrust into my body. But carry on making jokes about how immaterial they are. Carry on telling us how there’s only two occasions where they’re relevant. Bleat on and on about how you’re being told ‘you’re not surviving rape right’ when actually you are INSTRUCTING all survivors of penetrative rape to chill the fuck out and stop being obsessed. With the weapon that changed their lives. Fuck you Zoe.

            • stavvers

              I got raped by a man with a penis. This has been discussed multiple times throughout my blogging and I have been very open about this fact. It is also very well-known that being forced, repeatedly, to recount my own rape in order to validate my perspective as a survivor on this is triggering as I discussed on Twitter just before this influx came in from links to my Twitter. I know that there is very little chance of you not knowing this information about me. I can therefore only conclude that you wrote this comment in order to provoke my own trauma response.

  • Trans Professor (@TransProfessor)

    There are only two times in your life when your genitals are relevant? Really? Since the vast majority of women get pregnant and, yanno, have babies which come out of their genitals,

    Also you forgot rape. I think genitals are entirely relevant when it comes to rape.

    • stavvers

      What’s coming out of your genitals really has no relevance to me, though, does it?

    • Nanaya

      Just FYI, I’ve had two babies and my genitals were not involved at all. Literally the ONLY time in the entire process that anyone came near them was for catheter insertion, and people who want to (I didn’t) could choose to do that themselves. Enough with the lazy assumptions.

  • Tia

    So it’s unreasonable for anyone to find certain genitals unattractive? How utterly ridiculous.

    • stavvers

      No offence, but you sound exactly like a guy who told me my labia were wonky and I was ugly and he would only have anal sex with me.

      He was a rapist.

  • Hypatia Vasilios

    Actually I think what most women are concerned about is not the genitals per se, it’s the 25% more muscle mass that people with XY chromosomes have on average, coupled with their socialisation. Dismissing women’s fear of assault is not something I would expect feminists to do. Worried about handing your kids over to a man with a history of abuse? Hysterical nonsense. Concerned about someone who was socialised as a male in our society with the implied sense of entitlement that comes with that being in a space with you where you feel vulnerable and that person is actually bigger and stronger than you – hysterical nonsense. Women, shut up.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that it doesn’t involve dismissing women’s real concerns just like the rest of our society does and calling them bigots in the process. That’s not a feminist approach to this issue, it’s a misogynist one.

    • quendergeer

      Chromosomes don’t affect muscle mass. Hormones do, and just 1 year on ‘mones is more than enough to cancel out even a lifetime of testosterone poisoning. Is variation within cis women in terms of muscle mass a reason to start dividing them into weight categories for the purposes of sexual selection?

      • AJ McKenna

        Yeah, I found my stamina, fitness and muscle mass decreased even just from taking Finasteride, which only works by suppressing a form of testosterone. Oestrogen has made me even weaker, physically (not that I was a Gladiator to start with, mind). An averagely fit cis woman could probably take me out without needing to make much of an effort.

        On Hypatia’s grounds, there would be a case for cis women being kept away from me on the grounds that I am vulnerable to attack from them!

    • Sabine

      Trans women don’t have that extra muscle mass. Oestrogen sees to that. And are you going to ban cis women who lift weights?
      And male socialisation works differently when applied to a cis boy than on a trans girl. You’re really very poorly informed.

    • sarahlizzy

      Adding to Sabine’s point here. We’re no stronger than cis women. It’s not the chromosomes, it’s the hormones.

  • Antanica

    Cismale queer here. I couldn’t agree more with the basic point of the blog post – other people’s genitals are none of my business unless, I’m having sex with them (I’m not a medical professional).

    I can imagine that for survivors of rape and sexual assault, certain genital configurations might be triggering or threatening. But I can’t quite go from there to agreeing that it’s ok to ask about someone else’s genitals or to worry or obsess about or fear another person’s possible genital configuration. The worry that “there might be a penis in the room” strikes me, in all the instances I’ve come across it – literally or figuratively – as a shield for the policing of gender, and has (in my experience) always been transphobic.

    Being cismale, I am aware of the extent to which in conversations like this I should mostly shut up and listen. But the amount of transphobia that I encounter amongst cismen (gay and straight) and ciswomen (gay and straight) is out of hand, it’s scary, and it seems to be getting worse, and getting more physical, more violent.

    It seems to me that making a stand at the point where people demand to know the genital configuration of others is the least I can do. So, to those of you who think it’s your right to know what another person has between their legs – no, fuck off, you don’t get to do that, you don’t get to police people’s bodies, you don’t get to reduce people to their genitals, you don’t get to approve or disapprove of people’s junk, and you absolutely do not get to re-organise the world according to your own fear and bigotry.

  • moss

    so, it’s also bigotry when straight men don’t want dick, right?

  • Wild Rodent

    What I’m seeing in the comments is many women who despise trans women and are tying themselves in knots atrying to “prove” trans women represent a clear and present danger to all cis women, all the time. It’s baloney, which is why the arguments are utterly unconvincing.

    The list of excuses for excluding trans women from helping services and supportive spaces grows ever longer and more ridiculous. If it weren’t the “threat” of a trans woman’s theoretical penis, it would be not having a shared girlhood, aren’t real women because they’ve never had periods or babies, they still have male privilege, they gender which must be abolished, can’t change your chromosomes, it’s wrong if they get their their hormones on the grey market, they’re doing “blackface” with gender, etc. etc.

    Not only are these excuses harmful for trans women (well, that’s the intention after all) but have a wider damaging impact on cis women, the very group exclusionist feminists claim they are trying to “liberate.”

    With the “threatening theoretical penis” argument, exclusionists don’t care that many cis women who don’t measure up to their ideal of what a woman “looks” like would also be denied assistance. What a great way to perpetuate the patriarchal practice of deciding a woman’s worthiness based on her appearance! Focusing on genitals like this is just a repackaging of good old fashioned sexual objectification.

    When there are people insisting women should be defined by and that their essence is centered on their genitalia, I wonder if we’re actually in 1814, not 2014. When I see its women who claim to be feminists arguing for this this, I wonder if we’re on another planet!

    (It’s telling that exclusionists commenting here show so little sensitivity towards the author, who IS a sexual assault survivor. There is a profound truth in her statement, “we are simply used as a shield to maintain a level of bigotry . . . survivors ourselves are not seen as people, but a kind of concept.” Preserving the concept, the ideology, which is threatened by the very existence of trans women, is the priority here. It’s not preventing sexual assault or helping survivors.)

  • Samantha C

    This ‘penis panic’ – whether regarding public lavatories or women-only spaces – seems to be based on fantasy (or, as the Washington Post memorably described bathroom panic, “middle school trash talk masquerading as policy analysis”). Given the noisiness of this narrative, I’m fairly sure that any actual instance of a trans woman assaulting a cis woman in such a space would be a cause celebre. But there aren’t any, are there? It’s a myth, a myth that has serious social consequences for trans women. WE are the ones who have most to worry about when it comes to being assaulted in lavatories. Where is a trans woman survivor of sexual assault supposed to go for support, if services for abused women are restricted on the basis of genitalia? I went to GALOP, but I’m lucky to live in London – I bet someone from, say, Neath or Stafford would have trouble finding support that specifically included trans women.

    As for sex, it doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t fancy me because of my genital configuration. But if someone likes me, wants to get to know me and is then put off because they find I have a penis, I reserve the right to think of that person as rather shallow and genital-obsessed. I mean, that’s the logical inference.

    The whole thing reminds me of the “gay men are paedophiles” myth tenaciously peddled by homophobes. It’s prejudice! I hate my penis, I take steps to ensure it doesn’t show under my clothes, I don’t want to show it to anyone! Y’all (not Stavvers! I mean various commenters on this piece) are concocting a fantasy of trans women as abusive men in disguise. Since when have abusive men ever felt the need for that sort of disguise. Can you all just think on a wee bit, please?

  • Sarah Cordell

    If there has to be endless, merciless war between Jet feminism and Shark feminism (to use a West Side Story analogy), can it at least be intelligent and accurate? I’ve seen the above blog post described by Glosswitch as ‘a heartbeat away from justifying corrective rape’. That’s a *massive* misunderstanding and not at all accurate. If people are annoyed with Zoe because she’s called them bigots and that’s unfair, they should concentrate on criticising that. IN NO WAY does Zoe claim anyone should be forced or cajoled into having sex with anyone they don’t want to have sex with. It’s absolutely clear to me that she is IN NO WAY saying anyone should EVER have sex with anyone unless they really want to.

    What she’s saying is a) only if you’re a medic or a sexual partner are someone else’s genitals your business, and b) even if you’re a sexual partner, Zoe’s personal feeling is that if you fancy/desire the whole person enough to end up in bed with them, she doesn’t quite get why you’d be put off if you encountered a penis/vulva when you were expecting the other. (I think she has an interesting and quite enlightened point, though I must confess to be so heterosexual that I would be put off if I got a man into bed and then found he had no penis and not inconsiderable amounts of vagina – so I may well be a sexual bigot! I personally would define it differently and say: that’s just my taste. Might be wrong, but I can’t help it any more than I can help loving pears and hating bananas) Anyway, that was Zoe’s only point – she believes that it would be better if more people were less genital-fixated, even in their sexual desires. Why is it not okay for her to think that? (I understand that the Jets are still pissed off about the Jane Austen wank-tenner remark – but again, I wish they would concentrate on being annoyed about that, and about being labelled bigots, because on those issues they have a valid point. I think Zoe would be on stronger ground in her bigotry accusations if she said simply, ‘Not allowing trans women with penises into women-only spaces is bigoted’. I can see her argument there. A weaker argument is: ‘Not wanting to have sex with someone who does/doesn’t have a penis/vagina is bigoted’, because that doesn’t take into account tastes that one can’t help. Eg, I love Zoe’s idea of any-genital sex in theory, but don’t fancy it in practice.)

    If Julie Bindel can believe political lesbianism is desirable, which she would be the first to admit she does, why can Zoe not say that sexual attraction that doesn’t dissolve in the face of the ‘wrong’ genitals is a desirable goal to strive for? That’s all she’s saying. Yet elsewhere on Twitter, Jets are calling the above blog post ‘the worst misogyny’. So when Julie Bindel writes (as she certainly has at least once) that women ought to choose to be lesbians because patriarchy and give up penises, is that *also* the worst kind of misogyny? If not, how is it different?

    Jets: do the Sharks *ever* make a good point? Sharks: do the Jets *ever* make a good point? I’ve seen good and bad points made by both sides, which makes me think that maybe there’s more common ground – passion, a desire to improve things for women, strong desire to fight against perceived injustice – than there is division.

    When I read Julie Bindel’s views on how every woman should give up men and become a political lesbian, I chuckled and said to myself, ‘Yeah, right. How daft!’ I DID NOT think, ‘She’s a heartbeat away from justifying straight women being raped by a thousand predatory lesbians.’ There’s a CLEAR difference.

    In an ideal world, Zoe might say, ‘Okay – while *I* think non-genital based attraction is the way forward, I can see that not everyone who would find a vulva to be a deal-breaker is a bigot – I was possibly overdoing it when I wrote that.’ And then Glosswitch might say, ‘Thanks for being reasonable there, Zoe. I’m sorry I accused your blog of being “a heartbeat away from justifying corrective rape” WHEN IT SO OBVIOUSLY WASN’T.’ And then Jets and Sharks might stop stabbing each other all day and all night long on Twitter, until Riff, Bernardo and Tony are all dead.

    One further point: everyone involved in the Jet-Shark wars – Zoe, Glosswitch, Julie Bindel, Sarah Brown, Sarah Ditum, Becca, Juliet, Gia, Jude, Jonana Mary, Marstrina – ALL these people are VERY OFTEN kind, supportive, lovely, friendly, life-enhancing. They’re all clever, interesting passionate women. None of these people are bad people. All of them are lovely apart from when under attack. So, do any of these arguments – winning them, losing them – really matter when actually all you’re doing is making each other miserable 24/7/365?

    To summarise: I am a Just Make Friends bigot. Isn’t it time to forget the slights and snarks of the past, see the very real good in one another and Just Make Friends?

  • AJ McKenna

    I just want to thank Stavvers for making this post. She’s taken a lot of abuse from people who are bigots of the worst sort, has had to deal with having her experiences as a survivor minimised (some support, sisters!) and has risked her own comfort and well-being to defend the right of one of the most abused groups in society. This, to me, is what feminism ought to be: something supportive, inclusive, and brave, rather than a sneering attempt to find reasons to exclude people on pseudo-scientific grounds. Thank you, Stavvers.

  • Claire

    I am in agreement with the general point that an obsessive focus on the genitals of trans men/women is not reflective of how we treat people in everyday life and a clear example of transphobia. But you completely lost me when you said:

    “The other is during sex, and even then it really doesn’t matter exactly which way they point. People say “oh, but I just don’t like penises/vulvas”, but that, too, is rooted in cissexism and general poor sex education.”

    It makes me extremely angry (and incredibly confused) that you think criticising peoples sexual preferences as prejudice, thus implying people shouldn’t have any, is feminist. Feminism respects individuals rights to make their own decisions about what sexual acts they want to engage in, and with whom.

    • Nanaya

      Thinking people’s sexual preferences are informed by the deeply-held prejudices of society is NOT the same as suggesting they shouldn’t have any, not at all.

      • Claire

        It kind of is, because prejudice is something we all know to be wrong, but if sexual preferences are based in prejudice then the only way to be prejudice-free is to not have sexual preferences. Thus the implication is that in order to eliminate prejudice we must first eliminate our sexual preferences

        • stavvers

          Ask yourself: Where do preferences come from? Preferences tend to come from cultural conditioning. We are told that only certain types of women are considered attractive. How many times have you heard a man say “I’m just not attracted to fat women” or “I’m just not that attracted to dark skin”. And yes, these men genuinely aren’t, because they’re taught not to be.

          We live in a climate of transmisogyny. Is it any wonder that we are taught that a woman who looks like she might be trans is unattractive? Or that a woman with a penis is unattractive?

          We need to tear this shit down.

  • Owlie

    Zoe, how are most cis women bigots against the penis when most cis women are straight and fancy/sleep with men and only men? Myself included.
    The first thing I think of when I hear someone walking behind me on a quiet street is ‘Is that a male or a female body?’. When I turn and look I have one of two VISCERAL reactions: If it’s a woman I drop my shoulders and relax, if it’s a man I tense and reach for my carry weapon. All this happens without any thought what what their genitalia looks like.
    You seem very confused and angry. Please stop judging people based on how you’ve managed to survive. There’s no ‘right’ way, there’s only our own way.
    I’m glad you’re surviving and still out therefighting. Really. But I must urge caution. And in-fighting is getting ridiculous – perhaps we should all just focus on progression and equality and positivity instead of sniping.
    All the best.

  • Kathy

    Stavvers, I really want to agree with you, and politically and intellectually I kind of do, but I truly and sincerely am triggered by penises; I wish it was not so but alas, it is so. Maybe this is not how the trauma manifests for you or many others, and maybe this could be partly as I have never had a sexual experience with someone with one, so I have never encountered one except in a non-consensual context. If you have encountered them before and since in a good and consensual context, then maybe they are not solely associated with bad things, as they are not specific to those incidents, whereas the things like the accent and smell might be more specific to that individual thus triggering. So for example, I don’t find people with brown hair triggering as whilst he had it, so do many others I have had better experiences with, whereas penises, I associate only with him, I have no other associations, and it was very central to what happened, so I find them triggering.

    I feel very ashamed and guilty for feeling triggered by them as I really don’t want to hurt, exclude or marginalise any one, but it is not an ideological position but an involuntary physiological response, that means I certainly cannot be turned on, and do have panic attacks, vomiting etc. This does not mean I think women with them should be excluded from women’s spaces, but it does mean I cannot have sex with them, and ultimately that would also be invalidating and traumatising for them if I did but then clearly freaked out, maybe worse than not having it all. I have had lots of problems with feeling I should have sex with people to keep them happy, keep the peace, that I am trying to work through but now I don’t know what to do as I feel like in order to not be a bigot I need to have more inclusive access policy to my bed, but I find it so hard when I am physically triggered by penises. I wish I was not this way, I am trying my best through therapy but it is very hard. Maybe I need to abstain from all sex until I can overcome this, so I do not exclude and oppress anyone.

    • stavvers

      Hey, that’s absolutely fucking fine, darling!

      My biggest gripe is with a horrifyingly prevalent viewpoint that lesbian=fancies vaginas, which is categorically untrue. It’s good to finally hear survivors like me who completely reject the idea of women with penises in women’s spaces, as again, that’s my big problem!

      I wish you a happy recovery x

  • Miss Sudo Khaleesi (@miss_sudo)

    Nobody is telling anyone who they have to sleep with. Only an idiot would come to that conclusion. Well, maybe bigots as well. And to those who are obsessed with what is between my legs? You are a creep and I wouldn’t want you to ever see them. And I certainly would never care to think about your genitals.

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