The subject of gender identity is something I’ve been learning more about in recent years. As a straight white male I have the easiest time in regards to sexuality – everything in western society is geared to affirming that I’m making the right choices about my sexuality and gender identity. Maybe the whips & chain and creative use of condiments are slightly outside the vanilla spectrum but I have nothing to complain about.
I will admit to one of my enduring prejudices toward people whose gender identity fell outside the idea of a male/female binary was that they were being a bit self-indulgent, maybe they’re just a bit messed up and they’re taking things too far. The truth is, you only have to do a very small amount of research into the issue to realise that what’s really self-indulgent is thinking you can assign everyone a simple male/female identity.
Just the physical characteristics people can be born with go far beyond two options. Then there’s the loss/removal of body parts as a result of accident or illness. To say someone is less of a man or a woman simply because they don’t have the external (or internal) signifiers that define male/female for you is insulting and flat out stupid.
And let’s not even start on what defines your identity in the emotional or non-physical sense. Seriously, let’s not go too far down that road. I’m not an expert and I’d be bound to say something stupid. Nobody *knows* exactly what defines an individual’s identity and sexuality (anybody who says different is deluded or lying). There are a lot experts with their own hypotheses but as the dominant school of thought seems to change every decade or so, I take the idea of there being a definitive answer with a grain of salt. I try to accept people for how they see themselves and choose to lead their lives so long as they aren’t actively hurting someone else.
All of that was a lead up to talking about a story a friend shared with me recently. The story was headlined “Should trans people have to disclose their birth gender before sex?” It’s written from an activist viewpoint with a clear agenda and I always try to not take this type of article at face value, even if I agree with their standpoint. We all have a tendency to succumb to confirmation bias so I decided to tread carefully with this one and not automatically assume everything in the article was true.
The writer make some amusing points out of a quite serious court case. Namely, that you can lie about the size of your dick, or if anyone else has a claim on your dick but you better not lie about whether or not you actually have, or used to have, a dick. If your opinion of your gender identity doesn’t match the opinion of someone who has sex with you, you can face criminal prosecution.
The case involved the prosecution of a 17 year old whose birth name is Justine McNally but is more comfortable presenting himself as a boy, using the name Scott. Scott was convicted of sexual offences for “deceiving” his 16 year old partner into thinking he was a biological male. For an example of confirmation bias coming from the opposite direction, try reading the Huffington Post’s description of the same case: “Justine McNally, who pretended to be a boy to take 16 year old schoolgirl’s virginity, jailed“
Just the choice of emotive terms in the headline gives you all you need to know about the article. Even though there is only a one year gap in the two parties’ ages, the report makes it clear they see this as a simple case of a malicious deceiver targeting an innocent virgin schoolgirl. The two had known each other since they were 12 and 13 and McNally waited until they were both of legal age before initiating sexual contact. I’d argue that hiding the central factor of your gender identity is unwise but it’s hardly evil. If every teenager who made poor choices as a result of romantic or sexual longing was jailed, that would make for some seriously overcrowded prison.
This article gives some considerable analysis of the actual judgement which makes it fairly clear that the Huffington Post article is not simply wrongheaded, it’s factually wrong. The HuffPo doesn’t limit itself to completely glossing over the gender identity issues, saying the person of Scott was a simple lie, not an attempt to express a true sense of self, but actually says “Promising the girl they would marry and have children, McNally had sex with her three times using the strap-on dildo.” This is simply not true.
One of the factors that led to McNally being “found out” was parental discovery of a sex toy and there was an allegation this was used on the 16 year old girl. McNally categorically denied this and the charge was never pursued. While the conviction was for “sexual assault by penetration” the penetration was with tongue and fingers. While that would still be a serious form of sexual assault, McNally asserts that the relationship was consensual and it really does seem that the conviction is based solely upon McNally’s identity not being what her partner thought it was – “I wanted a boy to do that to me, not a girl.”
The HuffPo article is so much worse than wrong – it is dishonest, bigoted and hateful. It helps no-one and anyone associated with its publication should be ashamed of themselves.
For people whose sexuality or gender identity makes them marginalised, it can be very difficult to know when to fully explain the situation to others. More than that, it can be life threatening. Trans and gay people are murdered far too often simply for who they are and the disgusting thing is that the perpetrator can use “gay panic” as a defence and it can work. In fact, this case is so similar to “Boys Don’t Cry” that it freaked me out a bit.
For myself (and I know this is coming from a position of privilege) I say as a hard and fast rule you should tell someone the whole truth BEFORE any intimate contact. But what’s the worst that could happen to me? Someone could get pissed off at me but I’m not going to face criminal charges. There is established case law that says I can’t be prosecuted if I lie about the size of my dick, how good I might be with it, my marital status, my wealth, my age.
But if you’re in a sexual situation where you don’t fully explain something that even you might not fully understand, it looks like you’re shit out of luck.