Colin Gray

Do I Have A Penis Or A Vagina?

Why do you need to know?

My name is Tyler Ford, and I’m a queer, transgender writer and advocate. Ever since I came out as trans on national television on “The Glee Project” three years ago, I’ve received tons of questions and calls for advice about being LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Asexual)-identified, and about life in general. I’ve carved out a space here to share my life experience with you, and to discuss any fears, feelings and curiosities you may not feel comfortable talking about with anyone else.

So let's get started with the questions!

I’m not judging, but I need to know: Do you have a penis or a vagina?

First of all, you don’t need to know anything. Personal information about my body is not going to tell you anything about me, my gender or who I am as a person. It is not going to change your life upon finding out; in fact, this information is not relevant to your life at all. So: Why are you asking? Would you ask this question to a stranger on the street? How about your boss or your teacher? Would you ask your grandmother what her genitals look like? No. It’s inappropriate and invasive. Why, then, do you feel it appropriate to ask me? I would like you to sit with this question for a moment. Why do you feel I owe you the intimate details of my anatomy?

What will my genitals tell you about me? Genitals do not determine gender. Some people have both testes and vaginas. Some women have penises. Some men have vaginas. Some people (like myself), regardless of genitalia, do not identify with a gender at all. There are so many different types of bodies out there, and none of them are exclusive to one gender.

Sex is not binary, and the construction of sex as a binary erases and stigmatizes intersex people. Healthy intersex people are often forced to undergo completely unnecessary surgery (often at infancy, sometimes returning for several surgeries as children and teens) so that their genitals will fit more neatly into one category: penis or vagina. It shouldn’t be up to a doctor or even to an infant’s parents to decide to surgically alter a body that is not their own just so that it aligns with society’s definition of “acceptable” genitalia. If one in 2000 people are born intersex*, why do we insist on continuing to uphold the construct of sex as a binary? Why do we have so much anxiety about sex and genitalia fitting into black and white categories when so many people do not fit into these categories?

We all have the right to self-define and label our own bodies and genitalia. The terms a doctor would use to describe my genitalia or secondary sex characteristics might not be the same terms I personally use for myself. For example, I typically call my chest just that -- my chest. Sometimes when I’m in a cute top and am feelin’ myself a la Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, I’ll reference my chest using the word “t-ts.” The same goes for my genitalia. It’s about comfort and ownership of my body. I’m not comfortable with other people labeling my body on their own terms. When I’m sexually intimate with someone, I always initiate a conversation about what words each of us uses to describe our bodies, and what we are comfortable with. So, when you ask if I have a penis or a vagina, my idea of what constitutes either of those parts is going to be different from yours. What you call a clitoris, someone else calls a penis, but that person does not owe you an answer when you ask what genitalia they have, nor an explanation as to why they label it in any particular way.

I am an agender person. I have a body, and that body does not speak anything to my gender, my personhood, my personality, my ambitions, or my character. My body is my business and no one else’s. But if you’d like to get to know me, you can start with, “Hi, how’s your day going?”

*Statistics from Inter/Act. Note: I am not intersex and cannot speak to the experience of an intersex person. For more information on intersex people and intersex advocacy, visit interactyouth.org

Thanks you for trusting me with your questions! If you have questions or need advice, send your concerns to me via Twitter and Instagram @tywrent. Tag your questions with #heytyler! For longer or more private questions and concerns, you can message me at facebook.com/heytylerford. Your questions will be posted anonymously.