42. Surgery as Mutilation

Why Would You Do That to A Healthy Body?

This is a little follow-up to yesterday's post. I left something out that I meant to include. I want to comment on something that is common both as an insult (whether intended or not — although it's usually intended) in radfem communities, but also amongst well meaning friends and family. It's the tendency to think of genital surgery as "mutilation." I certainly know more than one person raised this question when they heard about my decision to go for surgery (though they never asked it to me directly — maybe they know better).

teddybearhealing.pngFor trans* women, it's a little inaccurate to call it a single surgery, since it's really many procedures all at once. And it's anything but minor: it can last anywhere from 5 to 10 hours, under general anaesthesia. If all goes well, it's done in one go; if it doesn't go well (such as in my case), it can take a second 1-2hr procedure under local anaesthetic a few weeks later. There's also a long, involved, painful recovery.

A particularly horrible transmisogynistic radfem, Cathy Brennan, took her shenanigans to another level when she posted a picture to the feed of TransAdvocates with a doll and "Sorry about your dick" written on it. And that's how it is: trans women's genital surgery is often referred to as "cutting your dick off." She and her followers regularly, actively attack trans women — I've had my own dust-up with her on Twitter in the past.

So it's easy to see why people might construe the surgery as mutilation: it arises both from a misunderstanding of the procedures involved (very little is "cut off" and discarded), and viewing it as taking a "healthy" organ and messing it up. Often implicit in this later conception is that taking a (probably) reproductively viable body part and rendering it infertile is "unnatural" and unhealthy. But this begs the question, of course. For nearly every trans woman who undergoes genital surgery, they don't consider a penis to be a properly functioning part of their body. Instead, they consider their vagina to be the proper genital configuration. I hope I went some distance in the previous post to show this.

I never viewed going through surgery as taking healthy tissue and risking complications or "mutilating" it. Quite the opposite. Surgery made things right. Simple as that. For those who undergo it (and those who want to but may face barriers), it's a form of treatment, and a highly effective one at that. (There's data, if you want to go look.)

Of course, neither I nor anyone else is under any illusion that the end product is the same as a biotypical cis woman's genitals. I can't have children, for example, and I don't get periods. But — and this is important — not all cis women can or do either. Let's not forget the very wide variety of ways that women's bodies work. Of course, I'm fortunate that I never wanted kids in the first place, so I don't consider this a problem, although I do know people for whom this is a source of pain. But, again, that's true for some cis people too.

Finally, related to the "mutilation" point, others conceive of the surgery as merely "cosmetic." It's easy to think that way if one's never had to struggle with body dysphoria. But there's nothing "merely cosmetic" about it. It's about seeking bodily integrity. This isn't about "I don't like x about my body, so I'm going to change it." There's a deeper connection than that. (Now, this isn't to say that others can't have a deep connection to some things that *I* might consider cosmetic *for myself.* I would never get botox, for example, but I don't begrudge those for whom it's deeply important.) The important point is that we shouldn't judge what's "merely cosmetic" for other people.

Yours truly,