Go….Labia? Or rather, Twisting My Anatomy

Oh, Feministe, you bring a tear to my eye, you really do. It’s unfortunate that the tear isn’t one of joy.

The post in question is titled “Don’t Do This”, author Jill

Post below,

“Surgically altering your labia: DO NOT DO, unless there is some actual medical reason. Also ohmygod forget anyone who tells you your labia are too large or that virginal vulvas look one way and whore’s vulvas look another. They all look really different, I think! But also kind of the same! Also if someone is face-to-face with your labia, everyone involved should be having fun, so focus on that. If someone says something bad about your labia, not only are they terrible, but they really need a new hobby because what? You’re evaluating and insulting labia now? I’m kind of mad, actually, that this is now making all of us think about the relative sizes of our labia, which is not something I had ever seriously considered before, but which I’ve just wasted five minutes of my life considering. (Conclusion: This is a fucking stupid thing to be thinking about).

Also isn’t “labia” such a gross word? We need a new one. I hate that word. I think we should call them “vips” (rhymes with “tips”). The outer ones can be “vipos” (rhymes with “tip-toes,” kind of) and the inner ones can be “vipis” (rhymes with Skippy’s). “

While I’d like to agree with the sentiment I believe was – supposed – to be expressed (your labia doesn’t need to be changed to please someone else), that’s not what was actually said. In point of fact, the first words were DO NOT DO. With the added addendum that ‘of course medical reasons are an exception. So much so that we need not discuss them, at all, and in fact may hypothesize at our leisure about people’s reasonings for surgery of every kind while denying they might be in the least bit medically necessary for mental and/or physical health, so long as we don’t think the reasons themselves are deserving enough.”

And labia isn’t a gross word. So there!

And here’s a reply that I snagged from the comments thread, because it says all that I wish I had, only better –

“IrishUp 9.30.2011 at 11:12 am

Watching this go forward, I actually think there were options that would have helped frame this discussion better. How about “WTF Is Wrong With A Culture that Sets Beauty Standards for Labia?” That way the interrogation is set up on the cultural Beauty Standard.

“Do Not Do” frames the interrogation on the person. AND it’s the damned lede of the piece, so other qualifiers tucked in come after the frame has been set. I can easily imagine how anybody who HAS had or has contemplated this procedure is not feeling any fucking better about being shamed by “Do Not Do”. Whereas “If the culture makes you feel this way, please know we think that’s fucked up and support you!” might be more empowering.

Medical vs. cosmetic is spurious to the issue of “Is it OK to set yet another misogynist goalpost?” which is the systemic critique. The line between “medical necessity” and “cosmetic” is not hard and fast. Medical necessity certainly should include mental health, but who can really tell when something isn’t body dysmorphia (medically legit right?) but vanity (personality disorder? asshole personality trait? do we really know?) for instance? Also, how about when our misogynist culture makes something cosmetic a virtual gottadoo for women? What if you’re an adult movie performer, and this becomes a Gottadoo for you to get work? Is it vanity then?

I’m having trouble seeing a conversation that is framed in a way that further shames already marginalized peoples as a particularly healthy feminist one. Why are we interrogating marginalized peoples’ choices? Who does that help? Why are we putting it on them? Aren’t they US? Isn’t the richer discussion critique of the CULTURE which pretty much ONLY allows women CHOICES AMONGST LACK OF OPTIONS? Maybe evn proposing changes that don’t shame the damned victims? Could I possibly have included moar ??????????s”

So, Mmhm, yet another post I disagree with (this one on a topic oddly late –
I remember it being discussed in Fetlife and other places quite
some time ago) about labia surgery.

Notice I dropped the ‘cosmetic’. Due to the cultural views on the
word as a whole, like, say, the overlying assumption that the definition
of cosmetic = unneeded et cetera and so forth, well, I figured we’d dispense with that defunct piece of reasoning. ‘Cosmetic’ the word will be used below, because frankly y’can’t get away from it in the comments and people are using it as a ruler in what’s a ‘possibly acceptable’ choice with regards to surgery and what’s a ‘culturally indoctrinated’ choice that you SHOULD NOT DO.

Now, some people are saying y’can have both, or many more than one reason for surgery – that things are complicated and not easily discernable at first glance, or discernable to people not making such choices for themselves at all.

Unfortunately, those people are few and far between. Now, the idea that someone wants to change their labia because they’re ashamed of it is abhorent to me – you can’t please everyone, so best just try to please yourself, particularly since it’s your body. Let’s make that clear.

But then, someone brought in GRS. And lo, trans people’re used as an example without really being included in the conversation. Again.

“Natasha 9.29.2011 at 11:40 pm

igglanova: The only thing in common between the kind of cosmetic labiaplasty we’ve been discussing and GRS is the fact that they’re both surgeries of the genital region. The motivations for seeking them are, by and large, totally different. People don’t become trans* because they are facing targeted shaming or experiencing the media saturation of ridiculous standards of beauty. Likewise, negative self-image re: the size of your labia [if you’re cis] is not directed by some inborn trait.I don’t understand why we’re being expected to treat them as part of the same phenomenon.”

So you think that motivation is the key difference, one being cultural, the other being biological? I don’t think it’s that neat and tidy, for either party, and the issue is divided even within the trans community (not all trans ppl think they’re born with the wrong body; I sure as hell don’t know all trans ppl in the world but the trans ppl I do know are very diverse in their trans-being). Oh those long, colorful, beautiful continuums! Which brings me back to my earlier culture critique about the whole either/or, dividing & packaging & *controlling* that this dis-eased colonist-culture is obsessed with & tries to inflict on our Being Human.”

Picking on neither of the two commenters there,
but why is it the only time cis people (in general) consider trans people (in general) is when surgery comes up? There’s more to us than the knife, thank you very much. Particularly when sociological and kyriarchal things are being discussed.

Bluntly, I agree with Natasha in that it certainly isn’t that neat and tidy for either party.

“karak 9.29.2011 at 11:58 pm


We’re clearly not discussing GRS, we’re discussing purely cosmetic surgery done on people who have vulvas and plan to continue having a vulva, a population that consists overwhelming of cis woman.”

No, you’re also discussing GRS. Really you are. This conceptual framework of cosmetic that people have (including most of the people on Feministe, no special snowflakes there, I’m sad to say) has a hell of a lot of holes, and you just fell in several. Cissexism demands a single narrative from trans people to get hormones and surgery, and now (general you, because I’ve seen this argument from trans people as well, mores’ the pity) want to hang on to that narrative by teeth and claws.

And, I’d like to add for the rest of you, shut the fuck up about ‘The Great Majority”, would you? It gets ancient fast. Just…..don’t. Particularly when the Great Majority that gets elective genital surgery aren’t *cis women*.

And here’s tmi, but considering the erroneous assumption in the last sentence we’ll try to clear it up anyway. GRS is not a flipped coin, there are not only two option, and I’d greatly appreciate it if people would quit acting like it was. Money and health willing, I’ll get my own version of GRS. I’ll also still have the vulva, as I don’t see that going anywhere. It’s not what I want, but it is what I have, and damned if I won’t make the best of it in whatever way I can. So why, I’m wondering, do you think cissexual people feel any different about surgery?

And you know what? My surgery options are still considered cosmetic because GRS itself is considered cosmetic. For comparison, a lot of dental procedures are also considered cosmetic. And yet – the dental procedures aren’t really cosmetic, either. People can, and do, die from bad teeth. In this life time cosmetic seems to mean “Anything done to you that isn’t currently saving your life from a traumatic accident where you lie bleeding on the pavement at the mercy of passing cars.” That definition in particular needs to change.

matlun 9.30.2011 at 1:15 am

“Natasha: Is there a difference / what’s the difference between a cis-gendered/sexed woman getting cosmetic surgery on her genitals (or breasts or face or whatever), say, to match those of the latest Playboy bunny centerfold cuz that’s how she feels she should have been born, and a transwoman or transguy getting genital or top surgery?”

“For the top surgery part, I at least do not see any difference. However, the genital surgery in GRS can be seen as a functional rather than a cosmetic change.

Regarding some of the comments in this thread, I must say I find the arguments about choice (ie we do not have free choice) very suspect and troubling. If you want to call out some behaviors and choices, do that honestly. Arguing that these are not free choices is denying agency and does not make the argument less oppressive.”

Top surgery changes the look of the thing, and as such, the function of it, simply by it not being identical to your previous construction. I consider it in the same realm as GRS and most other body mods.

Function in these kinds of discussions have several meanings. Let’s use ears as an example. Say someone needs/wants their outer ear reconstructed. So function would be = What a body part is for, (ears for hearing, although really it’s the eardrum and the shell ‘merely’ helps it along, but pretend with me!), what a part can do after surgery (ear reconstruction, the reconstructed outer shell can now carry the sound better), and anything surgery added that wasn’t the purpose of having said surgery. That is, things y’might not have been able to do before (carrtilage piercings now possible!). So, in my view, no matter the surgery, the function changes, even if it is a miniscule amount in others eyes’.

As for genital reconstruction, eh, depends on what type of GRS you’re aiming for. The function of mine will be basically the same, with a few alterations. Two of my hopes aren’t even considered genital reassignment by society, and yet they do have an effect and change the look of my genitals. The same can often be said for other genital surgery. Your meaning of function seems to be ‘Does it work radically different than how it used to’. I think this harks back to the cissexist idea that GRS is a coin flip, with only two options. That idea also seems to negatively color wants for surgery that aren’t considered GRS by cis people. “It’s all the same, why bother? You’re wasting energy/money/time/health/what-have you for something *I can’t tell the difference in*).

Totally agreed about the comments on this thread, though. Acknowleging that societal opinions might play a role in people’s decisions of what to do with their own bodies and also acknowledging that they might not isn’t the same as denying agency.
Unfortunately people seem more fond of the latter than the former.

karak 9.30.2011 at 1:46 am

“Sometimes, it has nothing to do with anybody else but the fact that they just felt like it, they just want to.

Why the strong push against it?”

I’d be deeply, deeply concerned if someone decided to alter their body for “the hell of it”, especially during something like elective genital surgery. People die on that table. They get infections, they lose feeling and sensation, and a whole host of scary other problems.

I mean, I wouldn’t body tackle them to the ground and have them committed or anything, but I’d certainly voice some concerns about a friend applying knives to her vulva for no goddamn reason.

And also, like I said above, I have some very serious body image issues I attribute largely to the greater culture, and yeah, those issues include my breasts and vulva, so this is a concern of mine that people like me are taking extreme steps to conform.”

This is something I’ve never quite understood. Not the serious body image issues, or that someone might attribute it to the greater culture (because frankly, there’s no surprise there – I’m damned certain everyone (or nearly everyone, there’s always a few outliers) struggle with the same thing, though everyone to different extents.

It’s the pervasive concept that people decide to alter their body for ‘the hell of it’ that gets me. “Just want to” does not equal “On a whim” or “For the hell of it”. I can honestly say I have never, ever heard of someone who was planning to get genital surgery (or another surgical body mod) do so as a passing fancy. And while I’m sure there are a few people like that (because I figure there’s a few people for – everything -), I’ll not that this idea that surgery is ‘the easy way out’ doesn’t seem to be lauded as that by people who actually get surgery. There’s this pervasice, ruinistic concept that we can’t think critically for ourselves that ties into thoughts like “Got it for the hell of it!”.

“igglanova 9.30.2011 at 2:01 am

“Well duh, GRS is also subject to cultural influence and shitty kyriarchical issues. I left that aside out of concern for brevity, since the reason it exists *at all* is separate from the patriarchy in a way that the kind of cosmetic labiaplasty discussed by the OP is not. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much detail; I’m not interested in obfuscating the main point of difference between the two practices. To put it another way: in the mystical magical future where rigid standards of beauty no longer exist, there will still be demand for GRS, but not for cosmetic labiaplasty. (Okay, fine, there will still be outliers like fucking Orlan out there, but they would be rare and you get the idea.)”

You fool, you fool. The concept of Genital Reassignment Surgery exists for cissexual people in its current incarnation *at all* is not and never has been seperate from the patriarchy in the remarkably similar way that cosmetic labiaplasty discussed by the OP is not (and I repeat the word ‘discussed’ very, very loosely). That is, those hard and dividing lines you wish to exist between one type of genital surgery and another aren’t actually there, not so’s you can tell the difference in another person without asking ’em, anyway. It’s just chalk, dust that you drew on the ground your very own self.

And it’s washing away.

Perhaps you’re not aware that previously, only people who fit gendered expectations were even allowed the possibility of getting GRS. Think of it as patriarchy and cissexism aiming for a gendered ideal. As a starting point. So tell me, what with these – other – genital cosmetic surgeries that, according to you and many others, exist only to perpetuate a rigid ideal of gendered beauty and added insecurity. And they don’t look similar to you at all. And your prescriptions and descriptions don’t look similar at all?

Far be it from me to say that, obviously, some people should probably not be reconfiguring their bodies for the reasons they are. Not arguing with that bit. Bad decisions happen every second for everything, from breakfast food to who you trust.

What I am mighty displeased with is the general assumption that genital (and other) surgery is fine (but only in certain circumstances!) and that someone not getting the surgery has the moral and ethical right to tell someone else what those circumstances are and what they are and are not allowed to do with their own body.

Because really, it’s none of your business. This “Your choice is my perview” that’s been floating around like jetsam is asinine at its very best.

“To put it another way: in the mystical magical future where rigid standards of beauty no longer exist, there will still be demand for GRS, but not for cosmetic labiaplasty. (Okay, fine, there will still be outliers like fucking Orlan out there, but they would be rare and you get the idea.”

I disagree. What is it with this idea that if in this mystical, magical future where standards of beauty no longer exist, there’ll be no demand for cosmetic labiaplasty (apart from GRS). Or any cosmetic procedure, come to that? Because I think, if anything, the practice will get – bigger -. Particularly the safer surgery becomes.
I can think of several things I’d get because I like the look of them but won’t currently do because they’re not permanent enough (for me) or not as physically firmly attached as I’d like, besides the probability of bodily-health-rejection. Think surface implants and piercings. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one with this view, either.

Hexy 9.30.2011 at 6:07 am


But some choices are anti-feminist, even when women make them.

I’m not denying that some choices are inherently anti-feminist. I just don’t think that choosing to have your own body modified to your own specifications for your own reasons is one of those anti-feminist choices.

That is a decision worthy of criticism, to say nothing of the criticism labiaplasty itself / society / greedy fucking surgeons deserve.

So the fact that those “greedy fucking surgeons” are helping people with medical conditions and providing a way out (admittedly one you don’t seem to approve of) for people with body hate issues doesn’t alleviate some of your disapproval? I do think their prices should be less astronomical…

Although, I don’t even think that Jill was criticizing women’s choices in the OP. The tone struck me as more sympathetic than anything; the ‘don’t do this’ reads not like an order but more of a recommendation.

I don’t think you can possibly say to someone “don’t do this” and then act surprised when they feel like you’ve been judgemental about their choices.

*It is common for people who opt for cosmetic surgery to have low self esteem or even full-blown BDD, so let’s be real here and not bother hand-wringing about the approximately 7 people in the world who have reasons for getting labiaplasty that are all about social commentary and personal empowerment.

I’m sure it’s not uncommon for people who get plastic surgery to have low self esteem, but it’s far from universal. I know a lot of people who’ve made that choice for personal reasons (or business reasons) who have perfectly healthy self esteem and positive body image. The idea that body modification is a sign of low self esteem is borderline offensive.

K__ :

Shouldn’t we be talking with people who have had these types of surgeries done, instead of talking about them? Like, shouldn’t we be seeking out their own reasons instead of attributing reasons for them?

Talking about rather than to is a common problem around here, even when the people being discussed are in the room.


Hexy, I personally feel very free to judge certain choices. I judge Mr. You Must Be a Virgin To Ride, and I judge people who feel that God wants them to cut off their baby’s foreskin, and I judge people who want to convince women that their labia are ugly and in need of painful surgical intervention at the age of 15.

Judge all you like. But call it what it is. Don’t be all “don’t do this, it’s a terrible idea” to someone’s choices and then insist you’re not judging their decisions.

I mean, FIFTEEN, Hexy. How on earth does a child of 15 get the idea that her labia are ugly and must be changed, and what parent of a 15-year-old supports that choice with medical intervention?

Possibly parents who have been hearing their child say since puberty changed the shape of her labia that she’s experiencing physical discomfort, and who are in the habit of believing said child instead of deciding that she’s lying and must instead be solely the victim of social programming. Is it really impossible that she’s actually telling the truth, and that female clothes (like, say, underwear) are causing her discomfort enough for surgery to be an option? Why are we presuming that she and her parents or guardians didn’t even think this through?

And I’ll just point out the heterosexism apparent in this thread. People seem to be leaping to the assumption that all people considering or having this surgery are getting it for the benefit of men. It is actually possible that people who are dissatisfied with their labia (or who aren’t dissatisfied but who would prefer a different kind of labia) might be attracted to women, or men and women, or all genders, or no one.”

And there’s Hexy. Love Hexy. Read Hexy. Hexy makes Valid Points. That is all.

“Florence 9.30.2011 at 7:56 am

What the hell, people. If the OP stance is specifically about cosmetic labiaplasty, and differentiates the opinion from medically necessary labiaplasty in the first sentence, why is medically necessary labiaplasty even getting dragged into the conversation? I swear every comment section at Feministe is derailed by this propensity to be all, “Hey, I experienced something only marginally similar to this once, and this blog is not representing my experience correctly! HOW DARE THEY.””

(not her whole comment, but this bit is pertinent.)

Before some ass threw me in the spam filter at Feministe and left me to linger (and linger I will) there was a post and thread on cosmetic and medically necessary surgery and the funding thereof. I remember being quite vocal in it, since I plan on having what’s commonly considered cosmetic surgery, and because I’ve previously had medically necessary surgery that was considered cosmetic by insurance companies. (for those curious, one of my aunts ended up paying for it, though it came a bit late due to price and hope. Though I suspect mainly price.)

At any rate, the post and comments ended up being a vicious, vociferously verbal diarreah with quite a bit of blaming and no little snark. Because no one could agree what was ‘medically necessary’ and what was ‘cosmetic’. What might be medically necessary for someone else could be cosmetic for me, and vice verse. But for some reason, people can’t get that through their heads, that there’s no hard dividing line in the realm of such surgery when discussing quality of life. And quality of life is what if comes down to.

Short version – shut the fuck up and listen to people who actually go through these things when they say that someone (in this case the OP and some of the commenters) are being judgemental and hiding behind the thinnest veneer of concerned morality in the name of, of all things, *my* bodily integrity and self esteem.

Katniss 9.30.2011 at 8:40 am

Anyway: Personally I would rather hear a direct “You are wrong/acted badly” than a patronizing “You are incapable of making an independent choice”. YMMV.”

“I would too, but the opposite of “your choices are constrained, to varying degrees, by the sexist society we live in” is miles away from saying “you are incapable of making an independent choice”. You can make independent choices! But at the same time you can also analyze how those choices are influenced by the world you live in.

This isn’t directed at you, matlun, but just the thread in general:

What frustrates me in this thread (and discussions about choosing your husbands last name, or choosing to shave your pubic hair, or any other controversial choice in feminism) is the people who REFUSE to accept that society has influence on their choices. That does not mean I want to tell them they did not make their choice validly and because it’s what they really did want. It just means that in the end I get sick of hearing, for example, “I shave my legs only because I want to and societal pressure had absolutely no influence on me ever”. To me that’s almost arrogant, it is acting as if you are above all those other people in the world who are in big and small ways influenced by the society they live in. It’s essentially claiming to live in a vacuum and that isn’t possible.

And let me point out that I apply my own logic to my choices. For example, I have done nude modeling many times for several different nudie sites. I made the choice to do so freely and it is something I wanted to do. That doesn’t mean that my choice was completely free from societal expectations about what is “sexy” in women or an ingrained desire to be praised for my looks or any number of other influences. But I did not make that choice in a vacuum, no matter how freely and happily I made it. That doesn’t mean I have no agency, it just means the agency I have still exists within this particular society.”

Yeah, there does seem to be an implied either/or that goes on with regards to choice, doesn’t there. I also notice the ‘societal implications’ on choice are always framed in the negative. (though not saying the poster above did this, I’m commenting in general on what I’ve noticed).

As in “You want —— from society, and you match the ideal (or want to match it) so you get this done to portray it or do this to make it happen, so your choice really isn’t a ‘choice’ so much as further confirmation of your indoctrination to societies current ideals of beauty and gendered expectation.”

And that isn’t true, either. sometimes you do things because you, yourself, think whatever it is deserves to be portrayed and admired, if only *by yourself*.

I have a screen saver full of pictures. Quite a few of them are of people done in artistic shots, ones I don’t seem to find in general. Quite a few of them are also of larger people. One in particular makes me exceedingly happy. It’s of a white (I’m assuming) guy, middle age, balding, heavy, a bit hairy and in a pair of pink underpants, standing almost on toes with arms upraised and beaming at a spot just beyond your field of vision.

The joy seen on that face? In the way the body is positioned? In the body itself? Absolutely priceless. I’ve no bloody clue why that picture was taken, but it’s as good an example as any of flouting social expectations, considering the person there doesn’t meet the current western media standards of attractive, what with being unapoligetically larger with visible hair. And one hell of a beautific expression, might I add. Point being, sometimes things are done to celebrate variety and difference, not with the aim be similar.

The same can goes for the expectations of surgery. I know, that wasn’t the ‘original topic’, but people seem to be deliberately forgetting that not everyone gets surgery to please others. The whole post is based on such an assumption to the exclusion of all others.

This comment is long, but well worth it, every word.

“Donna L 9.30.2011 at 12:28 pm

“Body hate”? What the hell is that? Unless you’re the elephant man, if you hate your body the problem is the hate, not the body.”

I don’t mean to pick on you, jose, but this is simply another example of the ciscentrism that’s so rampant here. I hated my body once upon a time, and I wasn’t the elephant man. Have you ever heard of gender dysphoria? Or are you one of those who tells trans people to fix their delusional minds before they start mutilating their allegedly healthy bodies?

And that applies to your earlier condemnation of breast implants, too. At what point, if any, are breast implants acceptable for trans women? Never? What if someone takes hormones for years and, basically, nothing happens? (As has been the case for some trans women I know, particularly when they begin transition later in life.) Should they just live as women without breasts and learn to accept their God-given lot? If not, and it’s sometimes OK for trans women, then why not for cis women too?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not always so easy to draw the line between medical (including psychological) necessity, and culturally-influenced vanity. I know damn well that the only reason I’ve always wanted my nose “fixed” is that I’ve internalized cultural standards of beauty that exalt Northern European features and consider traditionally “Jewish” features — noses, in particular — to be ugly. But that doesn’t make my feelings any less real. (It’s a good thing, probably, that I’ve never had the money to spare to get my nose fixed, or I would have done it years ago. It also helped to realize that my nose didn’t in any way prevent me from being perceived as a woman when I transitioned. A Jewish woman, perhaps — NTTAWWT — but a woman nonetheless.)

By the way, to some of you who responded to my comments last night: I’m well aware that what the OP and others were addressing was not “medically necessary” labiaplasty or other genital surgery. (Not that the line is so easy to draw, whether for genital surgery or breast augmentation or anything else.) I’m neither stupid nor ignorant. I was, however, entitled to point out the fact that some people’s rhetoric was so broadly condemnatory that it far outstripped their intentions. And that when you talk about “women” and their decisions to “cut up” their bodies, and suggest that there’s no possible justification for it, you might want to keep in mind that trans women are women too. The predictability of the Sneering Defensiveness of some of the responses doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

“Natasha: Is there a difference / what’s the difference between a cis-gendered/sexed woman getting cosmetic surgery on her genitals (or breasts or face or whatever), say, to match those of the latest Playboy bunny centerfold cuz that’s how she feels she should have been born, and a transwoman or transguy getting genital or top surgery?

What do you think DonnaL?”

When you present the contrast like that, it’s easy to make the distinction. In real life, it’s not always so easy; things aren’t always at one end or the other of a spectrum running from medical necessity to complete vanity. Which is why, as much as the idea of purely cosmetic labiaplasty makes me queasy, it isn’t for me to decide that anyone’s decision to have any kind of surgery to alter her body is, in fact, “purely cosmetic.” Returning again to breast augmentation, would I be happier if 11 years of hormone therapy had had more of an effect on my body? Maybe, but I’m lucky enough to be only 5? 2? tall, so that what did happen is sufficiently proportionate to my size that it allows me to “blend in” as female, and it simply isn’t important enough to me to do anything further. Not to mention the risk of loss of sensation. So for me, a decision to have breast augmentation surgery would, in fact, be based entirely on vanity. But if another trans woman in the same position as I am made the decision to have breast augmentation surgery, I’d never in a million years presume to to say it was solely because of “vanity” for her. Culturally-influenced? So what? Is she supposed to wait for the utopia in which breast size would mean nothing to anyone? The same way those who oppose GRS would have trans women wait until the utopia in which, supposedly, nobody would want to alter their bodies because all bodies are equally valued? (Not that I buy for a moment that the need and desire for GRS would vanish in such a utopia.)

On the other hand, genital surgery was sufficiently important to my identity, and sufficiently necessary to help with my body dysphoria, that I went through with it a couple of years ago regardless of the risks — both general risks, and those personal to me given all my serious health issues including Crohn’s Disease and a long history of severe complications from every major surgery I’ve ever had. Without going into too much detail, most of those risks unfortunately happened for me, including very serious complications requiring emergency hospitalization in the nearest hospital in Montreal, where I spent six days in the ER while they decided what to do with me, followed by an exciting ambulance ride to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, where I was told “we’ve never had a patient like you before and don’t know how to take care of you” in terms of that aspect of my care — all of which ended up in less than perfect “cosmetic” results. Which I may or may not do something about someday. I’d still do it all over again, though; it was worth it.

So let’s not forget that there’s a “cosmetic” element to GRS, too, and that there are plenty of trans women who decide on a surgeon based, at least in part, on photographic examples of their surgical results. There’s one website in particular that has dozens of examples from different surgeons, and I’ve known trans women who can get pretty obsessive about which one looks “best,” or the most like the mythical ur-vulva and ur-vagina, the Platonic ideal of vulvaness and vaginaness that they have in mind. And, of course, every surgeon does try to achieve a particular standard look which clearly is based on cultural standards of what female genitals are supposed to look like.

I didn’t care so much about specific appearance, but I don’t condemn for a second those who do, given their underlying fear of someone looking at their genitals and being able to “tell,” and saying “those aren’t real.” Me, I’ve seen enough examples of female genitals in my life to know that they all look different, and maybe I’m overly cynical, but I’m convinced that most straight men wouldn’t be able to “tell” no matter what the results look like, as long as everything isn’t sideways. In the end, though, I do believe that people should be able to do what they feel is necessary. Cosmetic or not; culturally influenced are not. It’s not for me to draw lines.

And I never forget for one minute something that most people here seem entirely clueless about: that both historically and today, the loudest feminist voices opposing cosmetic surgery belong to the most rabid, virulent, and disgusting anti-trans bigots, the Germaine Greers and Janice Raymonds and Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindels of the world. In other words, people I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with, let alone be on the same side.”

I think I’m in love.

“Lucy Gillam 9.30.2011 at 3:45 pm

You know, I’ve got a lot of feelings on choices vs influences, on whether a post that starts with “DO NOT DO” can be called starting a discussion, etc. But as the mother of a daughter, I have to say that the idea of a bunch of strangers on a blog not only discussing my daughter’s medical decisions based on a second-hand line in an an article, but mocking those decisions, make me a little ill. The original author and a number of people here are speaking of her symptoms and the solution with a great deal of surety for a situation you haven’t even read a first-hand account of, to say nothing of actual medical facts.”

And yeah. that. That’s rampant, paticularly when discussing (dis)ability and ability of any kind regarding surgery or medical issues. Fucking disturbing is what it is. (and if someone thinks discussing surgery and ability with regards to genitals that such conversations don’t often involve some level of disablism, I’ve got the deed to this terrific bridge….) There’s a large, startling difference between discussing a medical procedure and why people might get it done and discussing someone’s personal medical symptoms and decisions about them.

Donna L 9.30.2011 at 4:42 pm

I think some of you keep missing my point. Maybe I’m not being sufficiently clear, but if people are intending to limit their comments to cis women, why not say so when they make those comments? How is “your rhetoric is outstripping your intentions” not clear? Especially given the history of *exactly* the same rhetoric being used against trans women — pretty much word for word — how exactly is it that anyone is supposed to know that people like Jose don’t actually mean what they say about “women” to apply to all women (including trans women) if they don’t say so? Regardless of the context, it’s hardly safe to assume that everyone here shares the OP’s viewpoint. I know that using inclusive rhetoric might require a tiny bit of additional effort sometimes, but I think it’s worth it, no matter how many times people repeat that 99% of women are cis so it supposedly should be obvious that that’s what everyone means.”

Yeah, really. That that that that that. Gets damned frustrating. I’m also frustrated (and, frankly, rather darkly bemused) that whole sections of peoples’ genital wants / needs are getting ignored in the making of these wonderful theories about the differences in the right ‘choice = medically applicable’ vs ‘cultural indoctrination = cosmetic’, the wrong kind of choice. I’m not surprised, but eh.

–A Note. The post isn’t done, because the comments aren’t done, and I’m hopeful that someone else will bring up pertinent info.

…..And Lo!

karak 10.1.2011 at 2:38 am

@Donna L

I feel that trans women who desire GRS are desiring it because of something that springs mainly from inside them. It is a body modification meant to allow the person to become a more real and whole version of themselves. On a much, much, much smaller scale, I feel more minor types of modification (such as scarification, piercings, gauges, and tattoos) are also part of this idea–making your body YOURS, unique and individualistic.

On the other hand, I feel that cis cosmetic surgery is about making the body public property, standardizing it as something for society to consume.

I hate my body. But I don’t hate my body because it doesn’t do what I want it to do, I hate it because it doesn’t look like other people want it to look and it makes me feel inadequate. I’ve seriously looked into plastic surgery to “fix” the dark circles under my eyes, not because they interfere with my eyesight or self-image, but because I think other people look at me and think I’m ugly. If everyone else in the world could never see my face again, I’d have no reason to want surgery. On the other hand, I’m guessing that even if no one in the world would ever see you again, you’d still want GRS.

Again, let me break this down–I’ve considered paying someone to stick a sharp knife around my eyes and put synthetic material in my skin because I think my body is an offense to other people. And I’m still considering it, even though I’m risking my sight and my life, not to mention irreversibly pissing away a lot of money I could have used on thing I internally value, like charities or designer clothes (I love designer clothes and wear them in my room when no one’s around. If I was a hermit for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t give up my Jessica Simpson heels.)

I’ve a long and involved post to say absolute oodles about the whole concept-idea-thought process that general body mods are for uniqueness, GRS ‘as currently envisioned’ is from True Inner Feelings and never influenced by – anything – else, and that all other cosmetic surgery, particularly on genitals (barring that oh so nebulous ‘medical’ stamp o’approval) is only done to conform to what you believe others want Down There. Not picking on the author here, either. It’s a set of views I’ve been seeing a lot of, and I disagree with damn near every tenant of those views.

Hexy 10.1.2011 at 3:36 am

” Katniss:
Hexy, I’m not sure if you count me amount “people who insist that social influence is the only determining factor”, but I can assure you I’m not.”

No, I’m not, because you didn’t say that.

“Really all I’m wanting to see in this thread is a general understanding that societal influence IS a determining factor. It’s impossible to live in society and make decisions without being influenced by it.”

Of course. But it can still be not the primary determining influence in a decision.


However, we do have several people who are trying to claim that societal influence is never a factor as long as you choose your choice.”

Can you quote? I seem to have missed that, but it’s a long thread. What I see is a lot of people saying that maybe the specific girl being discussed hasn’t made the decision primarily based on social influence considering that she’s been referred to as mentioning discomfort, and a lot of other people saying that that body mod choices are valid, not that they’re necessarily free of social influence.


Once again we have a thread full of people talking past each other. Nowhere has anyone said, or even implied, that social influences are the sole determining factors in people’s decisions.”

The article linked completely dismisses even the possibility that the girl discussed is experiencing discomfort and attributes her motivations solely to social conditioning.

“I, for one, do not trust people to make the best decisions for themselves, or even good decisions. People make stupid, self-defeating choices all the time.”

Of course people make stupid choices. But they’re still in the best position to analyse why they made those choices, which is what I said I trusted them to do better than a stranger on the internet.

“I also notice that nobody is attempting to factually refute the idea that people overwhelmingly seek cosmetic surgeries* due to insecurity that is engineered and manipulated by cynical industries, not for personal funsies.”

You didn’t back up your claim with anything worth a damn, so why should the people who disagree with you feel obligated to do so? I pointed out that I know plenty of people with healthy self esteem who have sought out plastic surgery but, hey, personal anecdata.

You know, I’d actually written a couple of paragraphs and then realized Igglanova didn’t merit a response to said trumped up claims. I’ll also point out that you can’t prove a negative, so demanding proof that you’re wrong instead of someone else being right is also rather asinine. Lot’s of things are asinine today, aren’t they.

Kaz 10.1.2011 at 8:30 am

Have been following this comment thread debating whether to comment, but hell with it, I’ll go for it.

I share DonnaL’s concerns about this ignoring and marginalising trans* people. It’s… everybody here is saying that it is easy to tell the difference between socially-induced and trans*-induced body issues and that the line between them is clear, but… I’m not entirely sure whether either of those things are true for all trans* people. Or, for that matter, whether socially-induced body issues can’t play a part in trans*-induced ones – for example, I remember a post by someone about how they think their dysphoria was much amplified by society telling them “having those bits make you a woman and you can’t be any other gender with them”. And I think especially for trans* people who don’t know very much about trans* issues yet and are only starting to sort out their genderstuff it can be very confusing. I know I’m very glad that a lot of my body issues go contrary to female beauty ideals, because it means that when I go “these breasts, they are not meant to be here” and discover that I am ridiculously happy when binding I don’t have to tangle with “but what if I’m buying into societal messages about female beauty ideals?” nearly as much. Others don’t and I think some are some dreadful mixture of societal messages and gender and societal messages about gender.

And… I guess the thing is that I like to embed surgery for trans* folk into a larger narrative of “your body, your choice as to what you do with it, if there are bits of it that make you seriously unhappy that surgery can change then you ought to be able to access that.” If we frame bodily modification for trans* people as exceptions to the general rule of “you’re born with it, you ought to stick with it” that can have the effect of making it harder for trans* people (forex, the “you have to prove you’re trans* before you can access this” requirements for some of this stuff can be pretty damn stringent) as well as encouraging cis people to start policing trans* identities as to what “counts” and what “doesn’t”. (Something similar can happen re: medical conditions, too.) For instance, I note that in this discussion most people seem to have been thinking of binary trans* people. Nonbinary people can want to have an entirely different genital configuration, which could include surgeries which are being dismissed as always cis people buying into social stuff… not sure about labiaplasty but I can imagine it for e.g. a neutrois person with that genital setup who’d like to get rid of their genitalia entirely and is going for minimisation, or the same person might want to get rid of their clitoris. Nonbinary people can also find it difficult or impossible to access the sort of surgery they’d need because it doesn’t exist or if it does exist it comes as a parcel deal with other “transition to the opposite binary gender” stuff they don’t want and/or they have to prove that they’re the opposite binary gender in order to be allowed it (which can be hard enough for trans* people who actually *are*.)

Disclaimer: I’d really, really, really like to hear what other trans* folk have to say about this, because I am kind of uncomfortable generalising from my experiences as a nonbinary person whose dysphoria isn’t that strong and who doesn’t think ze needs surgery for it right now. I’m really glad DonnaL has spoken up about her experiences.

Disclaimer^2: obviously it is really damn shitty that there are sufficiently strong social messages about labia size that some people who would have otherwise been fine with their labia feel the need for surgical intervention. I just prefer to attack this from the “stop sending those social messages” angle rather than the “surgical intervention is bad except in X, Y and Z cases” angle.

And, repeated for emphasis because it’s the main reason I posted,

” I just prefer to attack this from the “stop sending those social messages” angle rather than the “surgical intervention is bad except in X, Y and Z cases” angle.”

Also, what’s that I see? Someone else pointing out that, well, why -can’t- socially-induced body issues also play a part in trans ones? And that all the lines probably aren’t as clear cut as -some people – want. And that there’s more types of GRS for trans people than the cissexist The-Only-GRS-is-what-I-say-it-is (aka the flip-a-coin option), and that logical fallacy in particular is one that a lot of people are hell bent on continueing since they’re insisting on using trans people as objective lessons in ‘right’ vs ‘wrong’ surgery decisions. – – While – other trans people are pointing out that no, this preoccupation with using exactly – one – kind of cis-approved (in the very loosest sense) of GRS as a Shining Example of an “It’s okay, we feel your pain, there’s the table’ kind of way isn’t how how this should be played out.

I can type in all honesty, though, that this is the first time I’ve ever heard cis people go “Your kind of surgery is acceptable” (because you want what I have). Usually pitchforks are involved because they think we’re faking what they have, stealing what they think their genitals give them, or both.

DonnaL 10.1.2011 at 11:41 am

“Natasha: non-physical-pain, non-life/death genital surgery.”

Obviously you don’t know very much about how some trans people view the genitals they were born with, if you are willing to characterize trans genital surgery that way. And why the distinction between physical and psychological pain? I’ve had plenty of both in my life, and sometimes the latter is harder to bear.


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