The first time MrMenno heard about gender markers he was visiting a friend who was having a ‘full bottom’ operation. The experience has made him ask what drives facial feminisation surgery?
Written with sex-based pronouns
The first time I heard about gender markers was in 2017 when I visited a friend in hospital who was recovering from, to use the politically correct term, ‘bottom surgery’. Nothing to do with Brazilian bum lifts or anal fissures (ouch!), but what Germaine Greer would call “having your penis lopped off” (double ouch!). Between the ambiguous and the blunt lies the medical reality of my friend’s castration and the surgical inversion of his penis into what he now proudly calls his vagina.
While I’d only known him briefly before he came out as trans I wanted to support him as he was going through the process of ‘becoming a woman’. Not that I actually thought of him as a woman – I just wanted ‘to be nice’. And so I arrived into the private room with a pink “It’s a girl!” card in hand, as well as a little cupcake and a candle to celebrate the new ‘birth day’, which he loved.
At one point I reached for my bag on the floor, and when I got back up unsuspectingly caught a glimpse of the bloodied bandages in between his spread-out legs through a narrow slit in the footboard. I froze, as I remembered the picture he’d shown me of his rather sizeable manhood just before going into hospital. I had mournfully offered him his final blowjob, which he had wisely declined. And now that stupendous schlong… was gone. Shocked and confused my camp side kicked in and before I knew it I squealed “OMG, you’re having your first period!”
Most of the talk was about surgery, and in particular facial feminisation surgery (FFS). I’d never heard of that, so they explained it was about reducing the appearance of ‘gender markers’. I didn’t know what those were, either! “They give the game away” said one of them. “You can have a massive rack, but if you’ve got a protruding Adam’s apple everyone can tell you’re a man”.
Two other friends were also visiting, both males ‘living as a woman’. Most of the talk was about surgery, and in particular facial feminisation surgery (FFS). I’d never heard of that, so they explained it was about reducing the appearance of ‘gender markers’. I didn’t know what those were, either! “They give the game away” said one of them. “You can have a massive rack, but if you’ve got a protruding Adam’s apple everyone can tell you’re a man”. More info followed: how women generally have a lower hairline, less space between the nose and upper lip, a less pronounced brow, a softer jaw line, wider eyes, daintier noses… A whole new world opened up for me, and I was too intrigued at the time to realise that what was being talked about was the clinical deconstruction of ‘the female face’ into procedures to be marketed at men who see womanhood as the answer to their inner struggles or desires.
Demand for so-called ‘gender affirming’ surgeries is booming: the market is forecast to grow by 25% a year, set to reach over $1.5bn by 2026. For all this talk of “There is no such thing as a typical male or female body”, clearly those pursuing these procedures know what men and women ‘look like’ and wish for their bodies to be modified accordingly. Surgeons are only too keen to help, promising to not only give patients a pretty face but the one they “Should’ve been born with” (a birth right that comes with a considerable price tag).
But no matter how skilful a surgeon is, and how persuasive their marketing, most of the time us humans have an innate ability to correctly sex another person. It’s one of the most natural instincts we have, and hardly surprising when you consider how we’ve relied on sexual reproduction for the survival of our species for millions of years.
But no matter how skilful a surgeon is, and how persuasive their marketing, most of the time us humans have an innate ability to correctly sex another person. It’s one of the most natural instincts we have, and hardly surprising when you consider how we’ve relied on sexual reproduction for the survival of our species for millions of years. That’s not our inner bigot – it’s our basic instinct. All the chanting of “Transwomen are women!” and “You must respect my pronouns!” is not going to change that. In fact, it’s denying that instinct that fucks with your head.
What drives a person to seek FFS? Is it an attempt to silence that inner voice that whispers “male” at every turn, with every glimpse, in every mirror? Or is it more about controlling that natural instinct in others? “It helps to avoid the gender jar”, said one of the friends, before launching into an explanation of his own upcoming FFS. My stomach dropped as he described, almost with a sense of delight, how the skin would be cut near the hairline, the face pulled down so the brow bone could be shaved, and the skin stitched back in a way that the hairline would be lower. A nose job would be performed, the upper lip would be pulled up a little, and the jawbone would also be shaved down. “How are you hoping to feel once everything’s healed?”, I asked. Suddenly his tone changed. “I just want to be prettier”, he said quietly.
Reflecting back on this conversation makes me think about how much talk of “being your authentic self” so often goes hand in hand with rejecting the reality of our sexed bodies – our human nature at its most fundamental level. We are our bodies, our bodies are us. Gender markers are literally proof of that, and there’s only so much you can do to change them or influence other people’s ability not to spot them, especially when there are so many other things we instantly pick up on without even realising it – the way someone moves, the sound of their voice, their scent and even their pheromones…
Sex is real. Our ability to tell someone’s sex is real. Trying to escape or outwit it often is a losing game – and perhaps that’s why there’s so much pressure these days for us all to ‘affirm’ someone who wants to be perceived as they sex they are not. There are, of course, complex reasons why some people resort to surgeries, cross-sex hormones and new identities. They are trying to be free and find their way through the world, as we all are. I just wish more people could find that freedom by embracing their sex rather than fighting it, and particularly without gas lighting others into thinking that sex somehow isn’t real or relevant.
Without it, there would be no life.
And gender feels have got nothing on nature, or reality, for that matter. If they did, ‘gender affirming’ surgeons wouldn’t be making money. And my friend wouldn’t have been in hospital.
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