It is fascinating, the myth-making in which Rose indulges in order to find her way back to the familiar, comfortable narrative, the one that says people born with penises have inner lives and people born without them do not. She quotes Paris Lees in what she calls a “wondrous twist” on Germaine Greer’s basic point that males cannot presume to know the inner lives of females:
“Yes, I have no idea what it feels like to be another woman – but nor do I know what it feels like to be another man. How can anyone know what it feels like to be anyone but themselves?”
Very deep. Yet curiously, it’s an argument that would never be applied to any other class definition. I don’t know what it feels like to be raised in a working class household – but then I don’t know what other people from my social background truly feel like, either. So why can’t I lay claim to a working class identity? How can anyone else be sure – really, really sure – that this isn’t who I am? Because that’s not how socialisation and class structures work, obviously. Unless we’re talking about cis women. Cis women are the only people upon whom social experience leaves no meaningful cultural, historical or physical mark. We cannot write our own stories. The ink evaporates before we’ve reached the end of the first sentence.
Theoretically, all women could declare themselves not-women in order to escape this double-bind. We could present ourselves before Rose, in all our glorious complexity, demanding recompense for taking such a brave step into the world of the unconscious self. We’d have to chop off our tits first, mind. Chop off our tits, abandon our children, live like Amazons, scavenging in the wild, since it’s not as though simply announcing “I’m human” has done us any good. It doesn’t matter what we say. Our very bodies – each pound of flesh – are interpreted as offering non-verbal consent to whatever is done to us.
People with penises own the vast majority of the world’s wealth and commit the vast majority of the world’s violence. It is, however, considered impolite to dwell upon this curious coincidence. After all, correlation is not causation. It’s one thing to ask why people with uteruses are less successful at earning money (better nurturing skills, biological clock, lack of testosterone-fuelled ambition etc. etc.); quite another to ask why people with penises are so much better at rape and murder (shh!).
Writing for Glamour magazine, Juno Dawson defends the right of trans women not to have to talk about their genitals: “This isn’t a coquettish fan dance where I’m trying to tease and conceal, it’s just that by not talking about my genitals, you might have to listen to what’s on my mind.” Fair enough, although somewhat naïve when one considers that for female people, assumptions made on the basis of our genitals have been a reason why people haven’t listened to what’s on our minds since the day we were born. This isn’t just a case of mindless objectification; it’s a process of sex class categorisation, and it’s one we cannot avoid unless we can really, truly convince people that we are not members of the potential gestator class. For us, what is “in our pants” is not a subject of morbid curiosity; it is the void that makes us exploitable, expendable and less than human. And either way, it doesn’t really matter whether people can see what is in our pants as long as they can still see our tits.