This letter is addressed to cisgender (yani non-trans*) gay men in my extended community. It is not addressed to transgender men, khwajasaras, or transgender women. I’m making this specific because i) I don’t want to trans* men to feel for a second that this is about their masculinity; ii) khwajasaras are not a part of this group of people, since they are not men, although some, such as zenanas, may slip in and out of this category, so if you feel like this might be you, then that’s fine; but I’m not aiming at you with my pointy pengun; iii) transgender women, likewise, don’t fall into this. Making ii and iii clear is important because folks get confused/transphobic about people with conventionally male bodies and people who identify as men. And it’s important for me, anyway, to say who I’m talking to.
It’s been almost ten years, boys. I’ve watched you, I’ve watched us, slowly become community to each other. We have sat on rickety plastic chairs in public parks in Lahore, drinking coke and chai, and talking about nothing in particular. We’ve had private parties where you wore, maybe, an apron that had the torso and groin of a naked man on it. And you enjoyed that tremendously and didn’t notice that the women in the room were getting super uncomfortable. We’ve had meetings where we’ve worked out, together, our plan of action; and we’ve had meetings where we’ve fought, with each other, about how much the space is full of penis-talk and therefore uncomfortable for gay women; and how much the space is the one space you can come and do penis talk freely because it’s your space. We’ve talked about you not wanting to be restricted, and us wanting to restrict you because your freedom comes at the price of my discomfort, my exhaustion, my nightmares.
Love is beautiful and exhausting. And before I go any further, I must make sure you understand that: I love you; I’m glad you’re alive; I’m glad you’re in my life; I’m glad for the fights we have fought alongside each other to get ourselves away from heterosexism, from condemnation, from hatred, from the disgust of our most dearest loved ones.
So, dost: believe me now that this comes from both love and exhaustion…
I don’t care about your penis.
I mean, I care. I care that you have one (if you want one), that it’s healthy, that you are happy in your relationship with it, and that it wears a condom in all dodgy situations. I care that you and whoever else decides to join you have a long and fruitful relationship with your penis.
But I am a cisgender, bisexual woman. I do not want a relationship with your penis.
This means I do not want to hear more than 2.3 penis jokes in any one sitting. I do not want to hear about who you blew when in what unimaginably tight (and unlikely) corner of which public place. I don’t mind you checking out a guy’s package because, like I said, I’m bi and boy packages can be very poondi-worthy. But if you’re going to do that, let’s do it together, make it a team sport. Let’s respect each other’s desires equally.
Because I cannot sit next to you in the lawn of a public park around 5pm, spread my legs and part my flaps at the world to let them air, as comedian Aisling Bee recently said. I’m not going to turn to my butch friend and ask her how many times she made her girl come last night, and then go on to make some joke that I can’t even sum up an example of right now. Something about her fingers being long enough probably. If I made those jokes, you would laugh for 30 seconds and be super uncomfortable for the next 30 minutes.
And you can say at this point, “Go ahead! Do your thing! It’s your space, too!”
And you’d be right. I could say my thing. But as it turns out, that is rarely my thing, or any cis queer woman’s thing, in my experience. Not openly, baldly, the way cis men do it. And the reason is not that there’s some inherent difference (maybe there is; but I don’t care). The reason is that “I am a Pakistani girl from a good Muslim family” and whatever else I was raised to be or rebelled against, I was not raised to think that talking about intimate things in a joking manner in mixed company in a public space is either polite, or healthy, or safe. And this is why.
It is not polite because you don’t know if everybody in the room, that you have identified as your community, btw, so presumably you care about their happiness and wellbeing: as I was saying, you don’t know if everybody in the room is comfortable with that dirty joke you’re about to make about your penis. And furthermore, you don’t know who has had a terrible horrible life-altering experience with a penis that they did not want to be around. And if without checking this, you start talking about cock fluff, you can really make others uncomfortable, hurt them, trigger them, and make them not want to come back. The goal of our gatherings, our community coming together, is to come together, yeah? To keep coming together? So can we talk about you putting your penis away?
It is not healthy because what it might trigger might be something deeply felt, psychological, emotional, traumatic, and not yet explored. And while we can’t account for our every word that might inadvertently hurt someone, we can easily change one behaviour that has a higher likelihood. No?
And it is not safe because if one of us reacts very badly, or is triggered in their own trauma, by a random joke that you didn’t need to make, chaos will come and we will worry deeply about what kind of environment we are creating; a crisis will ensue; many meetings will happen; and we’ll come back to insisting the same thing: please put away your penis, okay?
You are raised to believe that you can get into almost any space. Your queerness makes you realize the true value of that almost. You create spaces where I am almost welcome, it is almost my space. But for it be truly mine, either you have to get out of my way, or I have to tolerate you and your penis flopping about the conversation 68.7% of the time. Which is too many percents. Which do you think is more likely that I will do?
We can have special penis days. Celebrate your body, bro. Just not all the time. And not with people who support your celebration but don’t wish to participate.