Sorry Owen and the Labour Party, But We NEED To Talk About Genitals
I am hoping not to make too many trans people feel ‘unsafe’ by writing this, that is not my intention. My intention – as should be that of any polemicist – is to start a conversation and, as always, I invite comments. A warning before we start, that this post contains some pretty explicit descriptions.
I’ve noticed recently a new argument that is being used to shut down any conversation about the growing conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, and I’ve got to say, I find it pretty offensive. It seems that it is being rolled out by people who, I can only assume, have their genitals intact and it is this: We don’t talk about genitals.
At the start of this week, Keir Starmer was asked: ‘can women have penises?’ Yes, I know it gets repetitive witnessing it boiled down to sex organs, but it is a vital part of the conversation about ‘what is a woman’ a question that frighteningly few people will agree to answer at the moment. Starmer – a man who wishes to be our next Prime Minister – refused to discuss genitalia on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show, he claimed he doesn’t like intolerance (is it ‘intolerant’ to ask a question?), he said he liked open discussion. And then promptly refused to have one.
Ok, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps a radio show is not the right place for this kind of discussion, perhaps it is better discussed behind closed doors by medical professionals. Except, cast your mind back to last week when more then 100 child psychiatrists who were meant to be attending a forum organised by Great Ormond Street Hospital with various keynote speakers and specialists on the panel for both sides of the argument had their discussion cancelled because it made some people – particularly (oddly) those who weren’t even attending the conference – feel ‘unsafe’.
On Tuesday, Angela Rayner was asked by Sky’s Kay Burley whether women have penises. She told her that having a debate about genitals 'debased’ the real issues people face. And by people, let’s be honest, she means trans people. So, we don’t talk about genitals cos it’s upsetting to that tiny demographic even though, most of us (and I’ll explain further on why I say most) are in possession of them and are identified by them even though we keep them inside our pants for the most part.
So, we can’t talk about genitals on the radio, or on the television, or in a medical setting. Perhaps this is why men will now be asked if they’re pregnant when they attend hospital for a scan of their body parts, a quick discussion as to whether they had a penis hiding under their gown would probably establish the answer, but ok, we don’t talk about genitals (no, no).
But then on Wednesday, Wes Streeting made the fatal error of talking about genitals.
He said that “men have penises and women have vaginas”. The same conversation I had with my daughter when she was approximately two years old, yet one that us grown ups are increasingly unable to commit to publicly these days.
Owen Jones was not happy about this. He tweeted that Wes Streeting should have refused to answer this question that every parent has to answer at some point (usually on a packed bus or in a busy swimming pool changing rooms after a lot of pointing and LOUD commentary). He said Wes Streeting should have said it was ‘tawdry’ to discuss genitals. He said that by talking about basic biology, Wes Streeting had left trans people ‘even more exposed to being misgendered’.
For those who don’t know, to misgender someone is one of the biggest crimes of the moment. It is a relatively new word, one that was first seen in print in 1989 and therefore coined when discussing – wait for it – trans issues. It means, and was used at that time, to refer to a trans person by their biological sex rather than that which they identify with – their preferred sex, if you will. It was also when discussing trans issues that the word TERF was born in 2008, an acronym which means Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist and is the 21st century’s ultimate insult and is, of course, directed almost always at women which feels a tad misogynistic. (And by the way, apologies if I’m teaching people to suck eggs here, not eggs that come from ovaries by the way – that wouldn’t be very inclusive, would it?)
So who is allowed to talk about genitals? Not those of us with vaginas clearly. I saw a trans woman referring to hers the other days when she was talking about experiencing her first period. Period, not menstruation, because presumably if blood was coming out of her penis she would want to get to A&E before she stopped to announce it on Twitter.
So, women can’t talk about genitals. MPs can’t talk about genitals. So that leaves only trans women and, presumably, Owen Jones, owner of a penis. So penis trumps vagina, to ‘debase’ the matter, as Angela Rayner said.
But – and I know this is going to come as a shock to some – these very same people who now find it debasing to talk about genitals forget they have been talking about them for a long time, particularly vaginas, because many of them campaigned or supported outlawing FGM (that’s Female Genital Mutilation). When he was Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer even produced an action plan to supposedly crack down on FGM and secure more prosecutions. So he didn’t mind discussing genitals then and presumably to do so he could also define what a woman was.
For those who don’t know, FGM is a procedure – and warning, this is the place where I get explicit – where girls as young as babies are cut, their inner and outer labia and clitoris are removed, and they are stitched up from top to bottom and left with a matchstick head–sized hole through which they must both urinate and menstruate. This traditionally happens without anaesthetic. Afterwards, once they have ‘healed’ they resemble something similar to looking between the legs of a Barbie doll – it’s all smooth, it’s all been cut away and stitched together. It means that a wee that takes us a minute or so, takes them about twenty because it must drip slowly and painfully down from their urethra and come out of that tiny hole where their vagina once was. It means that their blood backs up when they are on their periods which can cause all sorts of infections and complications. It means that on their wedding night their husbands have to break their way into their vaginas (sometimes first with a cow horn), and some women die of this brutality, if they haven’t already died as girls from the procedure itself. It means that their own babies may die because they cannot make it out of their bodies without medical intervention.
The reason this procedure is carried out is a) to strip women of sexual pleasure by depriving them of a clitoris and therefore deny them sexual desire, or that’s the thinking, and b) so men know they are the first to enter their new wife. As one man put it to me when I was writing a book about FGM: ‘You wouldn’t buy a kettle without a guarantee.’ Mutilating young women and girls means men are guaranteed that no-one has been there before them.
And don’t think this is happening thousands of miles away from you in the African bush, this is happening to girls in British schools. You can read about it in this book I ghosted by Hibo Wardere called CUT: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today.
And yet, Owen Jones and the Labour Party think it is ‘tawdry’ and ‘debasing’ to talk about genitals. But if these women and girls did not have vaginas this would not be happening to them. This would not happen to a boy or a man. It is not something that a trans woman would need to concern herself with because she was born with a penis.
So genitals are important. What can – and hopefully won’t – happen to your genitals as a woman informs the laws. It informs therefore public policy. It informs women’s rights to single sex spaces where they can discuss such traumas such as this. But, if what happened to Woman’s Place in Manchester last week is anything to go by, they risk angering the Trans Radical Activists by gathering because they wouldn’t be including trans women. Because they don’t need to. Because they don’t have vaginas. Because their vaginas are not at risk of brutality by people with penises, otherwise known as men.
You might think that I am talking about a small group of women who have undergone FGM, and so perhaps you think this argument is not as vital as the trans discussion. It might surprise you to know that it is estimated that more than 200 million women have been subjected to this brutality on their bodies, and it is still happening today, possibly as you read this. There are women and girls who have every right to feel ‘unsafe’ today because they are living in real fear of this happening to them, real fear of being taken out of school and cut, real fear of bleeding to death, or dying from complications. Yet we are constantly told by Twitter – by Owen Jones – that we make trans people feel unsafe just by talking about genitals. It’s so insulting to those 200 million women. So offensive. So exclusive of other women’s experience.
Perhaps you still feel that it’s debasing to talk about genitals. I’ll posit perhaps not all genitals. Perhaps only some genitals.
I offered on Twitter that I would send Owen Jones a copy of CUT. He didn’t reply. Of course he didn’t, he’s not interested in talking about genitals, or at least not 51 per cent of the population’s, not vaginas.
What I’m hearing from this debate at the moment is this: all genitals are equal, but some are more equal than others. And sadly, as always, they appears to be penises.