Earlier this month, The Washington Times printed some commentary by Matt Philbin of the Reston, Va.-based Media Research Center. Essentially, he’s disturbed by transgender self-identification, and to a seemingly lesser degree by progressives changing language to ever better identify the world around us. Considering how annoyed I get when Associated Press tells me it’s ”Web site” one year and ”website” the next, I suppose I feel his pain to some extent.
But when he complains of being told to ”check his privilege” because he’s a ”straight, white guy” who’s unwilling to respect a fellow human being’s self-identification, empathy turns to pity.
”This charge of privilege amounts to a simple statement: You had your time, white guy. You built this civilization. You’re going to sit quietly while we dismantle it. So ‘check your privilege’ and shut up,” he writes. Leaving the question of who built this civilization – and didn’t get paid for it – for another day, I can’t say I’m surprised by this mix of hostility and defensiveness. Media Research Center reduces efforts toward transgender equality to a ”campaign to normalize gender confusion,” which is certainly hostile and the sort of stone-throwing that might leave you feeling defensive.
Never mind that transsexualism and other gender variations are as old as humanity, from Thailand to Tehran to Tulsa. My beef is with Philbin’s assessment that by accepting transgender people for who they are ”civilization” takes a hit.
Trans folks – transmen, in particular – are in a unique position to improve our civilization. As Ian Harvie, a transgender comic, says, ”Everybody in the world has something about their bodies that they feel awkward about.”
I could not agree with him more. Breast augmentation, for example, is the most common form of cosmetic surgery. Breasts are these nearly mythic body bits. Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Justice Department even spent $8,000 to hide the Spirit of Justice’s exposed boob.
Men, on the other hand, are not quite so exposed. While women must often make an effort if they want to desexualize their chests under wraps, men are more likely to be making an effort to show off a visible penis line. While I doubt most men would make that effort, I think it’s safe to say far more are nevertheless obsessed with their dicks. I’ve seen men fixate on the size of their junk. I’ve seen amply endowed men filled with otherwise unearned confidence, and I’ve seen some harshly objectified for it. I’ve known black men on the shorter end of the scale who have cringed more than once when a trick of another ethnicity begins foreplay with, ”Show me that big, black dick.” It’s sadly not hard to believe that when pressed on Vietnam during a White House meeting, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly made his point by exposing an infamously meaty member, nicknamed ”Jumbo.”
If men could add inches as easily as women add cup sizes, which they cannot, the medical industry wouldn’t be able to keep up.
No one knows this better, I imagine, than transmen. Despite advances in phalloplasty, a transman is likely a man without a penis. While I would wish for everyone to have whatever equipment they prefer, I can’t help but see an upside here. Transmen can show civilization a version of manhood that is not penis-centric, that a penis is not what makes a man.
My hope is that transmen can contribute to a civilization with fewer pissing matches. I’m not arguing for a penis-free civilization. God, no! But one less penis-centric? You bet. I’d gladly let transmen lead the way.
Will O’Bryan is Metro Weekly‘s managing editor. Contact him at wobryan@MetroWeekly.com. Follow him on Twitter @wobryan.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: As originally posted, Philbin’s affiliation was mistakenly listed as Media Matters, rather than Media Research Center.]