The term "vagina," as we learned earlier this year, is transphobic because its use is potentially dysphoria-inducing in trans men. And there's no excuse for using the term "vagina" when "more neutral language" is available to us—terms like "internal genitalia" and "front hole." The Nation covered the controversy:
[Some] online feminists have even deemed the word “vagina” problematic. In January, the actress and activist Martha Plimpton tweeted about a benefit for Texas abortion funds called “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” sponsored by A Is For, a reproductive rights organization she’s involved with. Plimpton was surprised when some offended Internet feminists urged people to stay away, arguing that emphasizing “vaginas” hurts trans men who don’t want their reproductive organs coded as female. “Given the constant genital policing, you can’t expect trans folks to feel included by an event title focused on a policed, binary genital,” tweeted @DrJaneChi, an abortion and transgender health provider. (She mentioned “internal genitals” as an alternative.) When Plimpton insisted that she would continue to say “vagina,” her feed filled up with indignation. “So you’re really committed to doubling down on using a term that you’ve been told many times is exclusionary & harmful?” asked one self-described intersectional feminist blogger.
Which brings us to this from Eva Gantz at the Good Men Project:
“Gay Men Draw Vaginas,” a project that—you guessed it—has gay men draw vaginas, has taken the internet by storm. Co-creators Shannon O’Malley and Keith Wilson have curated a collection of incredibly diverse portrayals of the ways that gay men conceive of a vagina, ranging from the realistic to the abstract. The Advocate proclaimed it, “the feel-good book project of the year," and nearly every popular sex and culture website has presented the project as fun, illuminating, and amusing. But beneath the surface of light humor, the underlying message of the project is troubling.
What's troubling about "Gay Men Draw Vaginas"? First, there's "the implicit assumption that gay men will find vulvas/vaginas ludicrous or mystifying." But Gantz's primary objection to "Gay Men Draw Vaginas" is this:
The more glaring omission—and the more dangerous one—is gay men who happen to have, or used to have, vaginas. The underlying assumption that a gay man will have rarely or never seen a vagina/vulva assumes that all men have penises, as do their partners. This project silently erases trans* and genderqueer gay men, along with gay men who have slept with a gay man who isn’t cis. Was this exclusion and erasure intentional?
For those of you keeping score at home: The organizers of "Night a 1000 Vaginas" are transphobic because they emphasized vaginas in reference to abortion services and by so doing excluded trans men who don’t want their reproductive organs coded as female. The guys behind "Gay Men Draw Vaginas" are transphobic because—per Gantz's assumption—they weren't aware that some gay men "happen to have, or used to have, vaginas" and consequently gay trans men were silently erased from their art project (and upcoming book) about vaginas. But let's say the creators of "Gay Men Draw Vaginas" had included trans men as contributors and subjects. What are the odds that they would stand accused of inducing dysphoria in trans men, ordered to change the name of the book to "Gay Men Draw Front Holes," and accused of transphobia if they refused? Pretty high.
- Shannon O'Malley (left) and Keith Wilson (right), co-creators of "Gay Men Draw Vaginas"
But here's a much more important question, a thoroughly obvious question, and a question that Gantz or Gantz's editors should've asked before publishing: Are the creators of "Gay Men Draw Vaginas" excluding gay trans men as either subjects or contributors?
"We aren't excluding gay trans men" said Shannon O'Malley, one of the co-creators of "Gay Men Draw Vaginas." "Absolutely not! If you're a human being who identifies as a gay man then we are interested in publishing your work. We've gotten drawings from people all over the world! We don't know what the people sending us drawings were born with and we don't ask."
One gay trans man did write to O'Malley and Wilson to ask if his contribution would be welcomed.
"He's a guy in Seattle and he wrote us a concerned letter saying that he was worried that we had the impression a gay man was one kind of thing," said O'Malley. "We assured him that didn't believe that. He made a great contribution—his drawing is of this punky, young, twinky gay guy, posing like a porn star, his hips thrust forward, and he's got a vagina. The artist explained in his letter that this was a drawing of 'a gay man with a vagina.' And we were like, 'This is awesome, we're putting this in the book.' And we are!"
So it seems to me that if anyone is guilty of "silently [erasing] trans* and genderqueer gay men" here it's Gantz. Because the assumption that "gay men = gay cis men" was Gantz's, not O'Malley's or Wilson's, which brings me to a question for Gantz: Was your erasure of gay trans men intentional? Or were you just in such a rush to draw attention to your own righteousness by leveling charges of transphobia that you couldn't pause to think things through? Or make a quick phone call?
There's more info about "Gay Men Draw Vaginas" at their kickstarter page, and you can read a longer HuffPo interview with O'Malley and Wilson here.