I was presenting on a trans panel recently, and the facilitator asked each of us to introduce ourselves and say a little about ourselves, including whether we were pre-op, post-op, or non-op. Although I was slightly taken aback, I simply waited my turn and explained that I don’t identify myself by my operations.
I have covered this before (and I usually keep it covered), and I realize that this is a very common practice. When I first wrote about it, almost two years ago, I found it problematic, but I really didn’t care if someone used the “op” word to refer to me. Times have changed, and so have I.
Aside from the fact that this is only someone’s business if I want it to be (and I usually do talk about it in presentations), it is basically a useless descriptor that immediately gets an audience concentrating on my genitals (I guess I shouldn’t complain – at least somebody is).
It might seem as if I should have bigger things to worry about, but as public accommodations laws are being debated and the focus has turned to “bathroom bills,” I think that this is becoming a bigger issue – or it should be.
The “op” words have become common adjectives – descriptors for ourselves. Blogs, news articles, and other sources, particularly within our own community, use these terms frequently when they refer to trans people.
We introduce ourselves this way: “I’m John, and I’m a pre-op trans man” or “I’m Jane, and I’m a post-op trans woman.” We might as well say, “I’m John, and I’m a dickless trans man” or “I’m Jane, and I’m a vaginally endowed trans woman” – because these terms specifically refer to genitalia.
We don’t generally refer to ourselves or each other as “post-op” when we’ve had some type of chest modification. Nobody calls me “post-op” because I’ve had gall bladder surgery. We are literally describing ourselves through our genitals.
I realize how important “post-op” is to those who are – if you’ve waited all your life to have something or to get rid of it, you might want nothing more than to let people know that this is the case. It’s kind of like working for years for a PhD. Suddenly, you want everyone to call you “doctor,” and you won’t sign your name without adding the necessary letters. It’s understandable – you put in the work, and you want the recognition.
It is similar, I believe, for some trans people. While we haven’t taken to putting “op” phrases before or after our signatures, we have put in the work (a lifetime of suffering and the whole surgery thing), and now we want the recognition, not to mention the legitimization.
Those who use “pre-op” want to make it clear that they’re on the path – they just haven’t reached their destination yet. And “non-ops” are basically illegitimate, bucking the system, or completely lost.
I’m transsexual, and I have considered myself transsexual for the last fourteen years. I don’t have a dick, and I no longer care, so this isn’t a sour-grapes post. I don’t mind telling people that I don’t have a dick. But I do mind telling people that I’m “non-op,” because I think it’s a false classification.
When we make “op” status a central part of our existence, our self-definition, and our definition of others in our community, we legitimize every discriminatory action that’s been taken against us based on genitalia. And we de-legitimize ourselves as anything but a walking penis or vagina.
I used to think it was a small thing, but I’m not so sure that it is anymore (well, mine is, but I’m talking about the issue, not what I was issued). I really think we’ve got to stop seeing ourselves this way and defining ourselves by our surgery.
I have no problem talking about my decision not to have lower surgery. But I’m not going to introduce myself as a “dickless trans man” – which is exactly what “pre-op” and “non-op” mean.
Why are we the only group that seems expected to introduce ourselves by describing our genitals? I don’t really care what’s in anyone else’s pants, but I can be just as curious as the next guy if it turns into a requirement for everybody. Until then, I am still in favor of losing these “op”-tions altogether.