Transgender, Intersex; Mind, Body
Critical Feminist Literature
3 October 2008
Transgender, Intersex; Mind, Body
Scene: a hospital. In a room waiting to be filled with either pink or blue balloons, a mother’s cries cease, replaced by the shrill shrieks of a just-born baby. The doctor cleans it up, wipes off the last of the placenta, and checks between the legs. The doctor spies the missing clue and makes an announcement: “It’s a girl!” It’s met with cheers, with talks of pink wallpaper, of Barbie dolls, of cheerleading. One voice, however, cries out in protest: the small baby, still adjusting to the reality of being born, a foreshadowing to a childhood of dissociation from female expectations and maturation into becoming true to itself, a boy.
The child, a boy born as a female, would be considered transgender. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines transgender as “one who wishes to be considered by society as a member of the opposite sex.” Others would see the child as a transsexual, defined as “appearing as, wishing to be considered as, or having undergone surgery to become a member of the opposite sex.” While others still merely interchange these terms, an important factor separates the words: one involves surgery, and the other does not. There are myriads of surgeries that help people physically appear to be their true gender, yet not all transpeople – those who are of a gender different from that assigned at birth – choose to undergo the physical process.
One would think that such a condition – to be born into the wrong gender – would have a universal solution. However, this inconsistency demonstrates the spectrum of opinions among transpeople. Some seek surgery, while others seek therapy. This leads to the question: is being transgender a “mistake” of the mind or the body? Is it a mistake at all, or a sign that we, as a culture, must stop insisting on only two genders?
For some, gender and sex go hand in hand: men have penises, and women have vaginas. Any variance from this dichotomy is considered a psychological disorder, categorized under “Gender Identity Disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: “A strong and persistent identification with the opposite gender. There is a sense of discomfort in their own gender and may feel they were ‘born the wrong sex’” (APA). Some therapists, such as Dr. Kenneth Zucker, realize that many children have desires to become part of the other gender, sentiments which must be dealt with through what is called ‘reparative therapy.’ This process involves banishing these ‘unnatural desires,’ and replacing them with ‘healthy activities,’ such as cars for boys and dolls for girls. For example, a parent would bring their son in, and be told that “feminine toys and accoutrements […] are no longer to be tolerated at home, much less bought for the child” (Bailey 31). Instead of “[letting] their sons express their feminine sides,” reparative therapists attempt to lead the children away from “a diagnosis in GID,” which is considered “a bad outcome” (Bailey 31). This, of course, ignores the possibility that some “boys with GID grow up as normal gay men,” making the “discouragement of femininity that Zucker recommends is unnecessary and even cruel” (Bailey 32).
While some, such as those who consider themselves to be ex-homosexuals, feel saved by reparative therapy, they are in the extreme minority to those who were threatened and damaged by the process. It’s hard, and dangerous, to be told that your sense of being and that the way you are is wrong, and that it needs to be fixed. This criticism is one of the deepest injuries to one’s mind. It contributes to the suicide rate among queer youth, which is more than three times higher than that of non-queer youth (Rutter).
Others have come to the conclusion that being transgender is merely a problem of being wrong with the wrong body parts. Women who are born male lament that that they “can’t even bleed without a wound,” and their “body can’t do” what women are expected to do (Stryker). It makes one wonder, “why [has she] always felt that way?” Why does she “claim to be a woman?” (Stryker). This would require defining gender itself, and what constitutes variance from it. Is gender wanting to play with certain toys? Wear certain clothes? Act in a certain way? Does gender variance happen when “[boys] play with yarn, or [girls] play with trucks?” (Butler). The answer is a simple one: gender is defined by announcing one’s membership in it. Saying “I am a woman” or “I am a man” or any other announcement makes it so. Yet, with that announcement comes the expectations and skills required of the gender, and thus a desire – not necessarily by the announcer, but by anyone – to inhabit the body commonly associated with that gender. It takes a chest with “smaller nipples” to make the “grocery store clerks and people behing the counter at the post office to call [a man] sir instead of ma’am” (Califia).
Would this condition, being born in a body that does not match one’s gender, then be considered a variation of sex development? Both involve having a body that is incorrectly assigned to male, female, or neither. However, many are mixed on the issue: Some, such as the AIS Support Group Australia, explicitly state that people “who claim that transsexualism is an intersex condition [are], quite simply, incorrect” (AIS). Others have concluded that, “any intersexed person that just knows they are a man or just knows they are a womyn [sic] deep down despite their body betraying them, should surely know the transgender plight… because that’s what transgender is” (Natalie). Regardless of who is correct, both groups are, in one way or another, excluded from the binary gender system on which our society is so based. Both are forced into a gender role they may or may not fit, and while one might be subjected to life-changing surgeries without their consent, others are denied life-saving surgeries despite overwhelming consent.
It’s such an explosion of concepts and language, talking about gender. Impossible to define or explain without including some, dooming some to impossible expectations, uncomfortable situations, and ostracization. Kate Bornstein notes that, “eventually the gender system lets everyone down. It seems to be rigged that way.” So why the need for it? Some Native American cultures have more than two genders: the Navajo have the nadle, “a sort of a transgendered male-to-female person,” who [reversed] the course of the age-old theme of the strike of one gender against the other” (Bornstein, O’Flaherty).
Would we be better off without a gender system? Perhaps. There would be no reparative therapy. There would be no need for gender-related surgery to make others treat people how they expect to be treated. There would only be a group of people, undivided, living their lives the way that makes them happy.
AIS Support Group Australia. “Transgender & Intersex?” AIS Support Group, 2003. 01 Oct. 2008. < http://home.vicnet.net.au/~aissg/ transgender_ and_intersex.htm
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth . Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 01 Oct. 2008. < http://dictionary. reference.com/ browse/ transgender>.
American Psychological Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder, Fourth Edition., 01 Oct. 2008, < http://all psych.com/ disorders/dsm.html>
Bailey, J. Michael. The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism. Joseph Henry Press: 2003.
Bornstein, Kate. “Gender Terror, Gender Rage.”
Butler, Judith. “Doing Justice to Someone.”
Natalie. “Intersex vs. Transgender.” eFeminate, 2008. 01 Oct. 2008.
O’Flaherty, Wendy. “Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts.”
Rutter, Phillip A. “Youth suicide risk and sexual orientation - Statistical Data Included.” BNET Today, 2002. 01 Oct. 2008. < http://find articles.com/p/articles/mi_m2248/is_146_37/ai_89942832>
Stryker, Susan. “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix.”