Making the private public – turning the tables on transitioning as a public experience

By , December 10, 2012 9:27 am

(This is yet another post written while waiting to board an airplane.)

The first question people ask when they hear I’m going to New York to get a custom mold of my penis so that I can make (among other things) penis candles is “…why?” (Either that or they start laughing hysterically.) My first answer is, “Because it’s funny?” But after talking about it with a friend last night, I want to expand on some more subtle motivations.

Transitioning is a private issue that inherently becomes public. Coming out as gay doesn’t necessitate a discussion about your sex life, your relationship with your body, or your changing ideas of ‘self.’ Transitioning necessitates making public (to a greater or lesser extent) many of those things, whether or not the trans person wants to. As I transitioned, people could stop by my office at work and see how my presentation and my body itself were changing. That visibility meant that they felt comfortable asking questions, many of which – on the whole – weren’t really any of their business.

That’s part of the reason I perform the material that I do.

I view it the same way as self-deprecating jokes: If I say something first, the tone and tenor of the discussion is in my control. If I stay silent, I open the possibility that you’ll frame the conversation in a way I don’t like, or maybe even one that’s hurtful to me. My openness and choice of performance material stems from, in part, wanting to remain in control of my own story and how my narrative is framed.

Which brings me to the penis mold.

I’m not going to lie and say I came up with this idea as a political commentary on how society views trans people. I had two thoughts when I decided to do this:

  1. It’s funny.
  2. It’s a reward I can offer to donors to help in my fundraising effort.

But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of this project as a commentary. That is, The Surgery is such a discussed topic. It’s often the first question people ask: “Have you had The Surgery?” Without even knowing what, exactly, that means, people want to know if you’ve had it. My genitals become appropriate for public discussion, whether or not that’s something I’m comfortable with. Fortunately, I usually am, but many trans people aren’t. And my personal comfort level doesn’t mean it’s right when people assume they can ask any trans person whatever the hell they want. This project kind of takes that idea of transitioning as a public endeavor and pushes it to the logical extreme, making my genitals very public, often beyond the point of comfort level for some of the people in my life.

I don’t want to be a pushy bitch, and I’m not going to go waving my penis (candle) in anyone’s face. But I’ve been made intensely uncomfortable many times by people who decided to pry without thinking through how I’d feel about it. This project puts some of that power back in my own hands.

(Aren’t you glad I resisted that one final penis joke?)

2 Responses to “Making the private public – turning the tables on transitioning as a public experience”

  1. joe says:

    this is so much the awesome.

    i do get the sense that other people are ok with talking about/concerned with my (or other trans*folks’) genitals much more when they control the dialogue. when i’m in charge of the conversation (about my body? what??), suddenly it becomes taboo or disgusting. what a weird double standard.

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