[Content warning: discussion of sex organs]
As most of our followers probably know, there’s been quite the hullabaloo in Michigan recently over one of our representative’s use of the word ‘vagina’ on the house floor. So much in fact, that Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues came up to the capitol on short notice to perform a rendition of the play. I was fortunate enough to have a free evening and a car, so I drove up to Lansing to watch the play and join in the protest.
When I arrived, the atmosphere was absolutely electric - I’ve never seen so many people wearing pink and displaying pride in their sex organs. There were signs everywhere - many of which were the standard, ‘Vagina. Can’t say it? Don’t legislate it!’ or ‘Banning vagina?!??!?!’, but I also found some that bothered me on a extremely personal level.
But before I get into that, I should offer a bit of background: I am a 21 year old transgender/transsexual girl (assigned male at birth) who’s been transitioning over the past year. I present and am usually read as female and still have my ‘original plumbing’.
I had just walked onto the capitol lawn when I saw someone carrying a sign reading, ‘Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.’ I assume the sign carrier intended this to be a matter-of-fact statement on how sex organs are natural and not a big deal, but to me, those words hurt. That was the most overtly cissexist sign I saw, but there were plenty of others championing gender essentialism.
Gender essentialism is the notion that for someone to be a certain gender, there are certain traits that they must have. In this case, the vagina = woman = feminine trope was playing out in full force.
Once the Monologues started, I realized that this pervasive essentialist atmosphere wasn’t going to go away. Stories about how women had discovered themselves through their vagina made me realize just how alienated I was from this community. I understand that vaginas are important to most women and an unfortunately taboo topic, but putting them at the center of one’s being is absolutely absurd and incredibly disrespectful to people whose sex organs might not line up with society’s expectations.
Am I less of a woman for not having a vagina? In Michigan and many other states, the gender marker on my driver’s license/birth certificate/other legal IDs can’t be changed until I’ve had an elective surgery that runs in the tens of thousands of dollars. Using the bathroom is nerve racking - I get harassed in the men’s room and can be charged with sexual assault if I’m read as male in the women’s room. If I were to go to prison, I’d probably be locked up with male prisoners. All of this because my genitalia isn’t what the government would like it to be.
So why do we place allow this gender essentialism to go unchecked?
What can you do to change this?