Penis Impossible: The most baffling transphobia ever

Purely out of necessity, people can be very creative when trying to invent real-world evidence – rather than merely abstract objections – to justify hating and fearing trans people. Some of this transphobia relies on arguments about scenarios that are theoretically possible, but do not actually occur: things like cis boys passing themselves off as trans girls to peep in locker rooms, something which happens only in the imagination of Bill O’Reilly. Other transphobia relies on citing situations that probably do occur sometimes, and then using them in arguments that are plainly illogical – like a cis man picking up a trans woman he finds attractive while assuming she’s cis, having a mutually enjoyable tryst with her, and later discovering she’s trans and retroactively declaring this was now a singularly horrific event which was wholly her fault.

Occasionally, we get the chance to see transphobes wander just a little too far into the realm of fantasy. I don’t know how I managed to miss this, but last year, transphobic radical feminist “Ann Tagonist” took the typical disclosure-and-deception sex trope and ran with it – directly into oncoming traffic. Tagonist’s breathtaking new argument (I’ve honestly never seen this one before) is structured as follows:

  1. Cis women can be at risk of becoming pregnant from sex.
  2. Cis lesbians might assume that limiting themselves to lesbian sex means they are not at risk of pregnancy.
  3. If a cis woman sleeps with a trans woman, the cis woman could be at risk of becoming pregnant.
  4. If the cis woman in question has not been informed that her partner is a trans woman rather than a cis woman, she might not realize she needs to take steps to mitigate her risk of pregnancy.
  5. Therefore, trans people should be obligated to disclose that they are trans before having sex.

Before getting into this, I’ll give you a moment to locate the exact point where this falls apart. (Hint: somewhere between 3 and 4.)

Tagonist first makes reference to a real-life case that can’t possibly support this line of argument:

The Scottish Transgender Alliance has filed a petition with the Home Office demanding that Scotland’s courts stop jailing people who lie about their trans status to their sexual partners. Over 2,400 people put their names on this thing. The Scottish Transgender Alliance argues that a person’s “gender history” is their own personal medical history and they are not obliged to disclose anything to do with it.

This petition followed the conviction of Chris Wilson, a trans man who did not disclose that he was trans before dating two women. Trans men (men who were assigned female at birth) lack the capacity to produce sperm, no matter which procedures or surgeries they may have had. There is no way in which the risk of pregnancy is relevant to trans men having sex with cis women – not even in theory.

Undeterred by this particular fact, or any facts at all, Tagonist goes on to lay out her concerns:

Lesbians, when they consent to sex with female partners, are doing so on the understanding that they are definitely not going to become pregnant. … If a lesbian ‘consents’ to sex with someone she thinks is reproductively female but that person is actually reproductively male, that lesbian has not given informed consent. She has not been given enough information with which to make her decision. Women need to know the reproductive capacity of a potential sex partner so they can decide not to engage, or take steps to protect themselves. …

“Gender history” is irrelevant here. We need to know the sex of the people we’re having sex with because, hello, pregnancy. Legislation which allows males to lie about their sex in order to obtain consent contravenes women’s bodily autonomy.

Rarely do I encounter transphobia rooted in something that is not just improbable, not just illogical, but in fact literally impossible. If we were to make a decision tree of every different way in which such a hypothetical event could proceed, there would be no possible endpoint where the cis woman partner would both experience an event leading to pregnancy and remain unaware that her partner is actually a trans woman and not a cis woman.

In order for it to be possible for a trans woman to impregnate a cis woman during sex, that trans woman must still be capable of producing sperm. This would no longer be the case following vaginoplasty (commonly known as “The Surgery”), during which the testes are discarded. A trans woman with a vagina has no remaining tissue in her body that can produce sperm – ever.

The only way in which a trans woman could conceal the fact that she’s trans during any kind of genital-genital contact is if she has a vagina, and thus can’t produce sperm. After all, the entire trope of trans women not disclosing prior to sex relies on a scenario where our partners can have sex with us and still not be able to tell we’re trans. Conversely, the only way in which a trans woman could impregnate a cis woman during sex is if she still has a penis (and testes), the presence of which can be assumed to disclose one’s transness inherently. Yet Tagonist seems to be under the impression that these two mutually exclusive possibilities could happen concurrently – that a cis woman could have sex with a trans woman without knowing she’s trans, and become pregnant due to this.

I struggle to comprehend the reasoning behind this. Perhaps Tagonist believes that cis women can become pregnant from exposure to trans women’s vaginas, something which is physically impossible. One might as well fret about the potential risk of virginal conception (and any unintended deities that may result). Or maybe she believes cis women are so totally ignorant that they would not recognize the presence of a woman’s penis as an indication that this woman is indeed trans – which is contradicted by her assumption that cis women will have enough baseline knowledge of trans issues that they will know how to act on this information.

Or perhaps she imagines that a cis woman could somehow remain completely unaware that a real, live human penis is present in close range of her genitals – before, during, and after a sexual act that could lead to pregnancy. Maybe, in Tagonist’s world, trans women are capable of flawlessly concealing their own penises even during penetration itself, like the sexual equivalent of the hallway scene from Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol.

Which totally happens all the time, what with our state-of-the-art Invisible Stealth Parts – the latest craze that’s sweeping Thailand! I mean, how else would such a thing be possible? Have I missed something here, like time-traveling trans sperm? I’m genuinely curious as to how this whole line of argument coalesced in her mind. For all I know, this is something she’s dealt with before, in which case she should strongly consider taking up Randi on his $1 million paranormal challenge. Otherwise, her ramblings about “informed consent” in regards to trans people having sex ring rather hollow, given that she doesn’t seem to be informed about much in this area at all.

The assumed primacy of penis-in-vagina sex

I’ve often noticed people leaving comments based on the assumption that if someone who (you believe) has a penis and someone who (you believe) has a vagina are having sex, then they must be having penis-in-vagina sex. I’m not going to get into specifics here, because that isn’t anyone’s business, but the topic itself is relevant to just about everyone.

I’m sure that for many of you this will be incredibly obvious, but for others, it’s evidently not. Just because someone has a penis, it does not mean they are at all interested in using it to have vaginal sex – even if the possibility of vaginal sex is readily available to them. Likewise, not everyone with a vagina is interested in having it penetrated by a penis, even if a capable penis is available.

To some people, this apparently defies comprehension. I suppose that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as our culture and media often treat “sex” in general as equivalent to penis-in-vagina sex, presenting this as the predominant mode of sexual interaction.

Some will protest, “But this is how lots of people have sex!” And that’s certainly true. But the near-exclusive focus on PIV sex often serves to erase and delegitimize other forms of sex outside of the standard script, limiting people’s imaginations so severely that they might not even understand what anything beyond PIV might look like. When it’s not about a specific type of sex involving the interface between a penis and a vagina, a particular mechanics of sex centered on repeated thrusting, and a timeline of sex oriented around when the penis-bearer has an orgasm, people are seemingly lost.

This is a pretty ridiculous situation. I know we’re not all experts here, but it should be rather obvious that people’s bodies can be stimulated by more than just a penis or a vagina. Anyone with long enough arms should have a very… firm grasp of this.

Yet even when people realize why asking things like “how do lesbians have sex?” is ignorant and unimaginative, they often still persist in the attitude that anything other than PIV is not quite “real” sex. To them, PIV is the indisputable gold standard of sexual activity, the pinnacle of sex itself. Without it, the very fact of two (or more) people having had sex is considered vague, nebulous, and potentially in doubt, because the standard of a penis in a vagina has not been met.

This is more than just harmless nonsense. The narrow focus on PIV is largely responsible for the idea that oral and anal sex are “not really sex”, which is both a dangerous misconception, and sometimes an act of strategic ignorance within an obsolete value system. It also serves as a focal point for the concept of “virginity”, a model which fails to describe sexual experience in any meaningful way despite supposedly existing for this purpose, and instead functions to define a woman’s worth by the history of her vagina.

More than that, the belief that PIV sex is desired and engaged in by anyone for whom it’s possible has a darker side: it implies that those who don’t or can’t have PIV must be suffering in its absence, with their sexual activity being an unsatisfying simulacrum of “real” sex. This perpetuates the idea that the relationships of same-sex couples will always be inadequate in this respect – their sex will never be as good as that of heterosexuals, and as a result, neither will their companionship. And if a gay or lesbian couple does happen to have a combination of bodies which makes PIV sex possible, people assume that it would be their first choice by default. It’s as though they believe penises and vaginas behave like magnets: get them close enough, and contact is inevitable.

This is definitely not the case, and it’s an insult to all the people who are having completely awesome sex without a penis in a vagina. Their sex is real sex, no less real and no less satisfying than anyone else’s. How do they have sex? The answer is: However they want. So let’s stop making unwarranted assumptions about the ways people must be having sex, and the kinds of things they enjoy in bed. That’s just… fucked.