Can you live without a penis?
A Better Manhood?
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A Better Manhood?
As soon as someone reveals that they are or are involved with a female-to-male (FTM) person, they inevitably get the same questions. Have you had the surgery? Have you/they gone all the way – the penis and everything?!!! It’s not enough to simply say they were born female and now live as a male: That they prefer male pronouns, use the men’s room, and looks like a guy. No, this explanation doesn’t seem to satisfy most people. They need to know what his body looks like, how it works, what physically makes them a ‘bloke’!
This response is linked to our society’s deeply entrenched beliefs about biological sex and gender: In other words, genitals determine gender. I suspect that it’s also based on some people’s awareness of male-to-female (MTF) people, for whom sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is common. When folks ask about ‘the surgery’ of FTMs, most don’t know that there isn’t one option, but many (see ftm-intl.org for more information). In fact, the most popular method of body modification is non-surgical—testosterone hormone therapy can broaden shoulders, narrow hips, enlarge the clitoris, and cause facial and body hair growth. When it comes to what’s often referred to as ‘top surgery’, some transmen opt for a double mastectomy followed by chest reconstruction. FTMs with small breasts may opt for the ‘keyhole’ procedure, in which a small incision is made just below the areola, and breast tissue is removed through liposuction with little scarring and a better chance of retaining nipple sensitivity.
‘Bottom surgery’ options are more complicated. The most common are hysterectomies and metoidioplasties, in which skin around the clitoris is removed, freeing the clitoris from the pubis. Some trannies get silicone implants for testicles and a scrotal sac crafted from the labia. Phalloplasty is the most complex, least successful, and least common option. Surgeons can create a penis out of skin taken from the forearm, the abdomen, or the upper thigh, but a urethral extension is needed for urinating out of it and the sexual sensitivity varies (many leave the clitoris at the base of the new penis). Erections are also tricky: Surgeons can leave a hole to insert a rod or a built-in inflatable pump. These phallic devices may resemble high-tech Sharper Image toys on paper, but most of them don’t seem to look (or work) as good as they sound.
And how do you know what they look like? Photographer and transman Loren Cameron has documented the bodies and narratives of 12 FTMs in his new e-book Man Tool: The Nuts and Bolts of Female-to-Male Surgery
Building on his first book of transsexual portraits, Body Alchemy, this interactive collection closely captures transmale bodies, making the hidden visible. While the owners of these new man tools are content and upbeat about the results, you can’t help but see big differences between SRS for transmen and transwomen.
In her comprehensive research study, Anne Lawrence, a Seattle physician specializing in transgender medicine, found that the happiness, satisfaction, and quality of life of one group of MTFs depended greatly on the physical success of their sex reassignment surgery.
“Buying a vagina these days is like buying a Toyota Camry. The technology has largely been worked out, and consumer satisfaction is very high. You can even shop around for the particular model you want,” says Lawrence. On the other hand, buying a penis is more like buying a Wright brothers airplane. Can it fly? Yes, sometimes. But how high, and for how long? Is it something you’d really want to fly in? In female-to-male surgery the engineering challenges are far greater, and the technology is still being worked out.
To look at trans bodies is to see the ways in which our sex organs are more alike than different. A big clitoris look a lot like small penis, for example. One person may have a flat chest and a testosterone-enlarged clitoris and another breasts and a member from metoidioplasty. To many FTMs, their working parts are not in limbo between male and female; they simply live in a different kind of body that moves beyond male and female into exciting gender territory. For some, the ‘tool’ doesn’t necessarily make the man.