When I met Ruairí we bonded over the fact that our bodies didn’t comply to societal norms. I’m a woman with an underdeveloped vagina, no womb and no periods, Ruairí is a man with a vagina and a womb.
There’s a huge stigma around gender and genitals. We are automatically defined by what’s between our legs - this is a misconception of who we really are which can and does lead to shame when our genitals don’t conform to our identities and true selves. Some trans men who don’t have surgery may always be looked at as “Nearly a man“, or questioned whether he is a man “yet”. A trans human being is not an incomplete man or woman, they are wholeheartedly themselves and their gender should not be assumed by their body parts.
Not all women have periods and not all those who have periods are women- a quote still argued the hell out of (mostly by angry keyboard warriors, or JK) because gender has been lost in translation and trans folk are being dehumanised and attacked for not being born into the body of the gender they are in their hearts and in their minds.
No womb, no less woman. No penis, no less man. Say it louder, for the people at the back.
Thank you, Ruairí for sharing your voice as a man, with a vagina.
The Vagina Manologues
“This is probably too much information”, my new classmate begins to tell me as we walk back from lunch, “but when women have their periods…” I nod along, and allow myself to be congratulated for being the kind of man who isn’t grossed out by periods, thinking all the while about the menstrual cup between my legs.
In every new social circumstance I find myself in, I have to quite quickly decide whether or not I want to disclose my transgender status.
And more often than not, what drives my decision to speak openly and candidly about my transgender experience, is a snap judgement as to whether to do so would cause the person or group of people I am engaging with, to view me as less of a man.
Ultimately I have repeatedly allowed myself to be defined by what others perceive my body to mean, and in doing so, reduce other men to definitions of manhood that are ruled by their bodies.
On the whole, in the UK among other places, we have a habit of understanding masculinity as the total opposite, and rejection of the feminine. We think of man as that which is not woman, and our manhood becomes defined by that which we are not.
I knew I wasn’t a woman, but I didn’t know how to be a man if that meant rejecting that which was feminine in me. I was nurturing, and empathetic, and emotionally intuitive, all things that I had been taught were inherently feminine. But I knew that womanhood was flexible, and open to interpretation, not confined to any particular shape or definition.
I had spent years trying to find a version of womanhood in which I could see myself, unable to be sure that I was a man because society taught me that the tenderness that was inherent in me, did not belong in manhood.
For a long time I struggled to accept that I wasn’t a woman because I loved womxn, and to live openly as a man felt like jumping ship, abandoning the cause, rejecting the queer identity that I had taken so long to grow into.
Did I hate living as a woman? Or did I hate living as a woman in a world that devalues womxn? I looked everywhere for a version of myself that fitted into what society called womanhood and when I couldn’t find one I figured, that’s okay, there are some 4 billion womxn on that planet, which means there are 4 billion ways to be a womxn. It hadn’t occurred to me that the same could be true of men.
One of the first steps for me, in accepting that I was a man, was understanding that to be a man, and to be tender, made me no less of a man.
More recently, I have been unlearning the idea that I am less of a man for the absence of a penis. That has been particularly hard of late. In the past month, I had masculinizing reconstructive surgery on my chest to remove my breast tissue. Three weeks post-op and the procedure has already changed my life.
Surgeries of all kinds can be life saving for many trans folk, but when, in asking after me, my partner’s friends and family ask her off hand if I will be getting any other surgeries, then
But to view myself as a man without, to allow myself to be defined primarily by that which I lack is to do a disservice to myself. To live in the world as a man with a vulva is rare, and sacred, and worthy of being celebrated, because vulvas, in all their shapes, sizes, and nuances, are worthy of being celebrated.
I remember reading in Gloria Steinem’s foreword to Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, how the clitoris is the only organ in the body with no function other than to feel pleasure. “If such an organ were unique to the [cisgender] male body,” she wrote, “can you imagine how much we would hear about it?”. Reframing my anatomy like that, I could begin to see all the ways in which I could be allowed to enjoy and celebrate my own body. That which I seemingly lack is necessary in revealing all that I have.
I am not a man in spite of having a vagina, I am a man when I can reject the idea that men have to look and act a certain way, and see that my body does not inhibit my masculinity, but reminds me to be constantly challenging my own ideas of what it means to be a man.