Dear Maasi is a new column about everything you wanted to know about sex and relationships but were afraid to ask! It’s a partnership between Sahiyo and WeSpeakOut, and is for all of us who have questions about khatna (female genital mutilation/cutting or FGM/C) and how it impacts our bodies, minds, sexualities and relationships. We welcome you to submit your anonymous questions.
About Maasi, aka Farzana Doctor:
Farzana is a novelist and psychotherapist in private practice. She’s a founding member of WeSpeakOut and the End FGM/C Canada Network. She loves talking about relationships and sexuality! Find out more about her at www.farzanadoctor.com
While Farzana is full of good advice, this column won’t address everyone’s individual concerns and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical or psychological care.
I am a transgender man who underwent female genital cutting against my will as a child. What happened to me as a child continues to affect my life and sometimes my romantic, sexual relationships. I chose to transition as an adult and while I’m out about that, I do find it awkward to talk about being an FGC survivor because I don’t relate to the “F”. Can you help me to understand the best ways to broach this topic with a partner? Also, many of the spaces for those who underwent FGC seem to be reserved for cisgender women.
Your question reminded me of a recent article by Dena Igusti who wrote, “From language to resources, all aspects of FGM, the before, during, and after, assume an FGM survivor (often a child) has and always will be a cis-woman. They also constantly associate FGM with just womanhood.”
The underlying assumption of most FGM/C organizations—that every survivor is a cisgender woman—is oppressive and needs to change. It’s estimated that there are 1.4 million transgender people and 1.2 million non-binary people living in the US, according to studies by the Williams Institute. Some of them are FGM/C survivors, who, like you, will likely feel alienated and unwelcome at these organization, including the ones with whom I volunteer.
These FGM/C organizations should invest in training around gender diversity and shift policies and language to be more inclusive. Perhaps we even need to consider abandoning the “F” in FGM/C while not losing some of the gender-based violence analysis that is critical to understanding this form of genital cutting.
But let’s get back to your question about how to best broach this topic with a partner. Here are some thoughts:
-It can feel fraught to disclose FGM/C. In this column, I answered general questions about whether and how to talk with a partner.
-For some trans and non-binary people, talking about pre-transition gendered experiences can leave them with a feeling of gender dysphoria. This might be what you refer to as the “awkward” feeling. If this is the case for you, Adam, be gentle with yourself. When disclosing to a partner, be as general or specific as you would like and use the words that best fit your body.
-Marginalized people can sometimes experience a kind of voyeurism from people who don’t share their experiences when they choose to open up. I know I’ve experienced this from non-FGM/C survivors, and I know my trans friends can experience this with cisgender people. So you might get a double-whammy of voyeurism as you talk about this dual experience. Be prepared for that, and consider your boundaries in advance.
-Address this experience as sexual trauma, which has psychological, physical and sexual impacts that are different for every survivor, but can include a range of things I described in this column. While there are unique features of our experiences, much of what creates healing lies in understanding some of the more common aftereffects of trauma.
-If you’d like to seek professional help, find a service that is both trans-positive and FGM/C competent. Check out the resources at Trans Lifeline and, because few mental health providers have been trained in FGM/C issues, you may have to follow the advice I offered in this column to find a service provider.
Adam, you are not alone, and I hope that FGM/C organizations begin the process of trans-inclusion; perhaps your question, and this column, helps with that process.
I also hope that you find the right support for you. Romantic and sexual pleasure is our birthright!
Note: For readers would like to educate themselves about transgender and non-binary identities and issues, check out The National Centre for Trans Equality.