“I’m Sorry, But We’ll Need to See Your Genitals”

Laurie and Marlene say:

(Marlene Hoeber blogs regularly for Body Impolitic. This post is cross-posted to Body Impolitic.)

From the Philadelphia Gay News comes this disgusting story of Kate Lynn Blatt, whose employer requested a photograph of her genitalia as a condition of continued employment.

Blatt was working for Manpower, a temporary employment service. After she was asked to leave a job she was on for Manpower in 2007, they told her that she’d have to provide documentation from her surgeon regarding genital surgery, plus a photograph of her genitalia in order to seek further employment through them.

The company (Sapa) lied about the reason she was terminated, and then would not let her return to work and use the women’s locker room unless she was willing to provide the documentation and the photograph. Manpower concurred.

Blatt filed bias complaints against Sapa and Manpower with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, alleging wrongful discharge based on sex and disability. She said her disability is gender dysphoria.

So now they are qualifying employees by their genitals. We’d love to see what would happen if they asked everyone in the company for these photos. (Especially love to see the CEO’s). Apparently Blatt’s driver’s license isn’t enough for them. They need explicit pictures.

Sapa and Manpower clearly consider Blatt less then fully human. No requirement is too degrading if she wants to work. She’s not a person, so they could ask her for anything they wanted, including a request that would be horrifying if it had been directed at them.

Bethany Perkins, a spokesperson for Manpower Inc., said she couldn’t comment on the specifics of Blatt’s complaints. But she said Manpower is committed to ensuring a safe and non-exploitive work environment.

“The biggest thing to remember is that we’re absolutely committed to the safety and security of our workforce, including the transgender members of our workforce,” Perkins said. “We’re committed to having diversity in our workforce.'”

It would be great if Perkins’ statement was true. What seems to be happening is a combination of serious ignorance and ordinary assumption of cisgender and cissexual privilege. We expect that Manpower is concerned (among other things) with lawsuits from other employees using the locker room. Since they don’t think Blatt matters, they are only concerned with protecting everyone else.

These things happen all the time and they’re invisible. The only thing that isn’t ordinary is that Blatt filed a complaint and a lawsuit and it made the news.

Thanks (again) to Lynn Kendall for the pointer.


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28 Responses to “I’m Sorry, But We’ll Need to See Your Genitals”

  1. Oh god, this is disgusting :(

  2. Katie says:

    I have always wondered what it is about a trans identity that makes people feel they have the right to demand information about very personal matters like genitalia and one’s surgical history. But to demand actual photographs? As a condition for employment?? This is absolutely revolting.

  3. I am in no way minimizing this as an instance of transphobia, but I do see it as an extension of how working class people’s bodies are seen as “belonging” to their employers in ways that would horrify the management-class if it was done to them…For example, I know several people who have had to display surgical and/or injury scars (on various parts of their anatomy) to “prove” they had been out of work for the reasons they said they were. Hysterectomy scars, you name it. (Doctors’ notes, one assumes, are easy to come by and/or forge). This is the transphobe-update of same: Instead of a “scar”–they demand to see the finished result. Gross, but same routine, taken to a different and new extreme.

    This type of humiliation would never happen to a professional person.

  4. Loosely Twisted says:

    I think someone there is a pervert and wanted free porn.

  5. Jadey says:

    Sexual harassment much. “Diversity in the workforce” is bullshit — no company that would demand a photograph of a worker’s naked body in order to employ her, which is both exploitative and humiliating, wants trans people around. One can imagine what their response would be if a picture she gave them failed to “pass”. (Though I’m not sure why they think that a photographer would be somehow more credible than a doctor?) But it’s definitely a losing game to give into their cissexist and transmisogynistic paranoia.

  6. MRM says:

    Reading this is making me feel ill.

    Helpful hint to Manpower: she’s a woman, so her genitals are female genitals. Fuck off.

  7. Mikeymikemike says:

    I just do not understand how anyone, anywhere would think that it is anyway appropriate to ask an employee for a picture of his or her genitals. This is one of the most bizarre violations of a persons rights.

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  9. Willow says:

    So this is maybe a little 101-y (or 301-y), but a quick question:

    I have always seen cisgender and cissexual used as synonyms, and my web search turned up pretty much just that. What is the difference?

  10. Marlene says:

    Willow, this isn’t the place for that question.

  11. Thomas says:

    The workplace from which she was dismissed was Sapa Industrial Extrusions, where she had a temporary position extruding aluminum parts. I mention this because the discussion necessarily focuses on this woman’s trans status and the discrimination that some folks inflict because of it, but she is not her trans status. She is surely a whole person, with friends and hobbies and interest. She was a person with a job. A job extruding aluminum. Maybe she was really good at it. Maybe she knows her way around a dozen models of aluminum forming machines like nobody else. Maybe she really liked that job. Maybe she’s a hell of a metal worker. Or maybe it’s just a paycheck. But whatever that job was to her, there is surely much to this woman other than her trans status. And some assholes at the plant, and at her temp service, made it all about her trans status.

  12. preying mantis says:

    “Sexual harassment much.”

    Totally. How the hell did they expect this to fly?

  13. Josh Jasper says:

    She should have included sexual harassment – if asking to see someone’s genitals as a condition of continued employment isn’t sexual harassment, I don’t know what is.

  14. yeuxdefeu says:

    so, so fucked up.

  15. SunlessNick says:

    They’re already asking for documentation, so what would they need the photographs for anyway, even if it wasn’t a gross violation to demand them? My guess someone wants them to satisfy their curiosity.

  16. @#6, Willow: That’s a good question, and not at all 101. The person who answers it best and most completely is Julia Serano in her superb book Whipping Girl. In fact, she may be the person who has actually made a distinction between the two terms. (I’d summarize her distinction if I could do it justice, but I don’t have the book in front of me.)

    Thanks for asking.

    (Just for context, I blog with Laurie and Marlene regularly and I started working on this post, but ended up handing it over to two women who could write it better.)

  17. Alara Rogers says:

    The only possible excuse for demanding to see her genitals — and it’s a bad excuse, for reasons I’m about to rant about — is that they believe the bullshit argument that men commit rape because men have penises, and if they didn’t have penises they wouldn’t rape, so letting a person with a penis into a women’s room is letting in a potential rapist.

    And this is stupid. Because what makes a rapist is not the presence or absence of a dick but the presence or absence of misogyny, a massive sense of entitlement, and the desire to hurt others sexually — in other words, what makes a rapist is that they’re a rapist. Certainly, 99% of rapists are men, but 99% of men aren’t rapists and not all people with penises are men. And there are rapists who do not have penises, either because they’re not men (women who assist men in sexually assaulting women, women who sexually assault men or other women themselves) or because their penis was removed. Castrating rapists just makes them use objects instead.

    So it doesn’t *matter* what her damn genitals look like. If she was a rapist before, she’ll still be a rapist; if she was not a rapist before, she won’t be a rapist now. Rapists do not go and get legal sex changes so they can get easier access to victims. They are much more likely to go and get power instead; male executives are more dangerous, statistically, to the women of this company than one co-worker who used to be legally male. If this company really cared that much about making sure no one gets raped on their premises, they’d focus on sexual harassment… which, obviously, they can’t have done, or they’d know why you can’t ask for pictures of someone’s genitals as a condition of employment!

  18. This is so outrageous, under what circumstances could it ever be appropriate to demand a photograph of someone’s genitals?

    Two things spring to mind: if an employee spontaneously included a photograph of their genitals with ID information when taking a new job they’d quite possibly be sued for harassment themselves. Secondly, could a grassroots protest to this take the form of many people voluntarily sending photographs of their genitals? Perhaps with some crotch shots of baboons for good measure.

  19. Marle says:

    That’s just gross.

  20. Sailorman says:

    Alara Rogers says:
    August 18th, 2009 at 12:10 pm – Edit

    The only possible excuse for demanding to see her genitals — and it’s a bad excuse, for reasons I’m about to rant about — is that they believe the bullshit argument that men commit rape because men have penises, and if they didn’t have penises they wouldn’t rape, so letting a person with a penis into a women’s room is letting in a potential rapist.

    Well, in theory one’s genitals could be an issue, if members of a certain sex did not want to be in a changing room with members whose openly-displayed genitals indicated they were of opposite sex. I think that’s actually fairly common for a variety of reasons which include but are no means limited to the rape issue.

    But I assume that didn’t actually happen: if it DID, they would already know, and wouldn’t need to see her genitals. So if she’s already been working there and it hasn’t been an issue, why is it becoming an issue now?

    (Actually, that last part is what makes me the most curious. What caused the change? Did they just find out? Did something happen between the employee and a supervisor, or with another employee? Why break an apparently-good status quo?)

  21. julian says:

    …This is the most fucked up thing I have ever heard.

  22. preying mantis says:

    “Secondly, could a grassroots protest to this take the form of many people voluntarily sending photographs of their genitals?”

    Even if people were willing to do that, I don’t think harassing office assistants, secretaries, and/or mailroom clerks with amateur photographs of strangers’ genitalia would really help anything.

  23. @15, Rosemary, and @19, Preying Mantis: Sadly, lots of people, most (but not all) men, already send around pictures of their genitals, mostly but not always to people they hope to date. So I don’t think this rather charming idea would work.

  24. @3, Daisy. Sorry about that. Body Impolitic gets a lot of comments, but not compared to Feministe with several guest bloggers blogging at once, and we just didnt’ realize how far back we had to look. Thanks for checking!

  25. laprofe63 says:

    Wow. A new low for Manpower and global corporate forces.

    I agree w/Sailorman, Thomas and DaisyDeadhead. This has to be seen in the context of gender/sexuality functioning within the context (rules/priorities) of property/capital.

    I hope they find she was wrongfully terminated.

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  27. A.W. says:

    laprofe63 says:

    “Wow. A new low for Manpower and global corporate forces.”

    Well no, I don’t think it’s a new low. Sounds like the same old low, really, just with a spin depending on which minority they’re shitting on. It’s just that this one got in the news, and I hope Manpower dies a horrible, horrible death in court. About fucking time, really. I know that when I went to fill out the paperwork there, the guy told me, quite bluntly with a witness in the room, that he wouldn’t use my application, that I’d be a ‘liability’. To be clear, I’ve low vision, but I’m also a trained diesel mechanic. Manpower sucks. So does Sapa, which I hadn’t heard of before. I don’t believe being trans is a disability, however, and the problems would’ve been much better situated under sexual harassment.

  28. kloncke says:

    And now the same treatment for Caster Semenya…Gynecology, endocrinology, psychology, “transgender issues” expertise — all prongs of the official “investigation” into her legitimacy as a world-champion runner.

    Btw, interesting how the Guardian headline quotes her father defending her legitimacy with the phrase, “She’s my little girl.”

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