Gender Bending Part 1: Stop. Think. Accept

(This post was originally published on 8 April, 2011 on my first blog).
It was a nice summer afternoon. My girlfriend and I were invited to a gay friend’s party, a different crowd than we normally hangout with. As we walked into the door all guests– who were all gay men –  stared at my girlfriend, their eyes full of interest, curiosity, and lust. They were pretty much undressing her with their eyes.
Something wrong with this picture? They’re gay, why are they lusting after my woman?
Because they think she is a young sexy man, just their cup of tea.
My girlfriend can be classified as butch, although she is such a girl beneath the tomboy exterior. People on the street call her “Mr”. Wherever we are, I hear people asking each other “is this a man or a woman?”
It does not bother my girlfriend, but it drives me mad sometimes. I get upset that people regard her as a freak show. They give themselves the right to point and snigger amongst themselves. They give themselves the liberty to laugh at what is different, and at what they do not fathom.
Their responses baffle me when they find out she is a woman. For example when women try to kick her out of the women’s carriage on the metro, they always give two reasons for their confusion about her gender: She has short hair and no earrings. Is that all it is to differentiate between a man and a woman? Hair and earrings?!
It intrigues me that, in Egypt at least, people are not able to explain why they really think she is a man and not a woman. Earrings and hair is just an excuse to vocalize what they are unable to comprehend and digest. Their gender perception is very narrow.
My girlfriend friend really pushes the gender boundaries. Does this affect how LGBTs are accepted? Perhaps a blurry line between genders can indeed make our acceptance more difficult. All over the world, transgenders often fall of the LGB”T” wagon as they are thought to give “LGB”s a bad image. Tolerance amongst members of the LGBT “community” is worth a post of its own!
I know we are not about to be accepted today or tomorrow, but on the long run, people fear and dislike what they do not understand, and would probably have a harder time accepting our gender-bending brothers and sisters, and by default the rest of us.
Regardless of annoyances, my girlfriend has no problem being accepted by whom she works with and the straight community she lives in. She is successfully shattering images of what women should look and dress like. She makes people think about how they perceive genders, and although the average citizen might not have the mental mechanism to really think it through analytically, they still give it a thought.
She makes people stop, think, and eventually accept. This is what we really need.

To Cut or Not To Cut: That is a Free-Willed Woman’s Decision

(This post was originally posted  on 1 April, 2011 on my first blog).
I had heard and read about labiaplasty before, but I recently watched a documentary (Perfect Vagina, 2008) that resonated with me. I had been discussing and reading about Female Genital Mutilation, and it seemed to me that FGM and labiaplasty were not very different.
I hate to compare a crime that is forced upon unconsenting young girls, one that is dangerous to their health; with a practice carried out by consenting women who are making their own decision regarding their own bodies in order to feel better about themselves and to improve their sex lives, thereby empowering themselves.
But I am going to anyway.
Labiaplasty is the surgical reduction of the labia major and/or labia minora .While some women may have their labia “trimmed” due to medical reasons, such as damage during childbirth, most women who opt to have labiaplasty do so for aesthetic reasons.
According to the World Health Organisation; “Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Which sounds to me as though labiaplasty fits under FGM. But is labiaplasty a form of FGM and should therefore be banned?
Supporters of labiaplasty – as well as supporters of aesthetic plastic surgery in general – say that women undergo labiaplasty to feel better about themselves, sexually and physically.  It is not FGM, which is forced upon women and effectively deletes their hope for pleasurable sexual relations.
I say to that, young women in communities that practice FGM are often too young to understand the implications of FGM, and many of them see it as a rite of passage that makes them “big girls”, aims to and control their sexual desires, in their mind a good thing. If given the choice, they might choose FGM, something they see as empowering. It protects them from lascivious acts and ensures that they find a husband.
Their societies force them conform to what other women do, so they can fit in better.
Many women who undergo Labiaplasty suffer from pressure as well, from peers and sexual partners. Through various media, such as scantly clad models which we all know are not representative of what a woman looks like, women form ideas of what a perfect vagina looks like: shaved, in proportion, disturbingly looking like a little girl’s. They go under the knife to reach this aesthetic ideal they see.
Their societies force them conform to what other women do, so they can fit in better.
This brings us to the question of free will – what is it? It requires education and independent decision making. Young women who undergo FGM are not educated about it, and about sexuality. Their decision making ability in this matter is therefore nonexistent. This is the difference. Women undergoing labiaplasty should be educated, and fully understand what they are doing. With the knowledge they need in their hands, they should be able to make a pragmatic decision, and the right decision as to whether or not they need labiaplasty, and whether or not to under go it.
“Women come in all shapes and sizes” it is often said. Genitalia do as well. It is very easy for me to say that women with non-porno-star-looking-labia should love their bodies, and accept them without mutilating them, but I am not in their shoes. I can only hope that before they go under the knife, they are sure it is their own decision , and that it is an educated decision.

"The Great Wall of Vagina: Changing Female Body Perception Through Art" is an art exhibition where four-hundred women from 20 countries, aged 18 to 76 had heir vaginas cast for this project. The casts are displayed in large panels, showing the varying shapes and sizes of labia. According to the artist, Jamie McCartney, the project is all about saying to women “Look! This is what normal women look like!” For more info. Check it out, it is really cool and has a short video on the project. The exhibition will premiere at the Brighton Festival in May 2011.