- transgender daze
The current edition of the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association lists a condition called `gender dysphoria' or `gender identity disorder`; it is charactersied by `strong and persistent cross-gender identification' and `persistent discomfort with the assigned gender role'. Does this mean the medical profession is suggesting that people who are very unhappy with the gender role they were assigned at birth `suffer' a medical condition? ... well? ... yes.
But at a practical level it means that most medical treatment becomes a matter of diagnosis of `true transsexuality' and so gate keeping access to THE operation. Albeit the most modern medical opinion doesn't look for the `true transsexual' but helps the individual deal with issues such as anxiety, depression and loneliness and aims to empower the individual to make their own choices.
Transexuals themselves are divided on this issue; some want their condition to be seen as medical so they can claim pity and clear medical intervention. But many transsexuals don't want to be considered mentally ill and want the option of choosing to alter their bodies.
What is it like to be transsexual? Well I am and I was a perfectly happy child, until people started expecting me to be a `boy'. ``Why should I be slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails?'' ... ``Why couldn't I be a ballerina and have plaits?'' It all seemed very arbitrary and mean to me. It meant I couldn't explore the range of my abilities; I was limited to choose from what was `appropriate' for boys in the 1950s.
All children are pressured to fit into gender stereotypes. And it seemed to me that most were happy with the roles they were assigned. But I certainly noticed that those who didn't capitulate were subject to derision or at best pity.
When I got to primary school we had gender segregated class rooms and playgrounds and I wasn't allowed to play with my best friend, Angela. I was even teased if I walked to school with her. We were still friends out of school but at school I just felt sad, and became reclusive and started to dream about being a girl. In year seven I was sent to a boys-only Christian Brothers' school. I felt engulfed by machismo. I learnt to not be noticed, be secretive, avoid people and I loved my dreams.
Most trans-people can get away with non-conforming behaviours in early primary school but then the pressures from family, school and church increase. Most kids fight to be themselves until they cracked or go underground; some pretend to be who their parents want them to be, some suicide.
Being different in gender takes its toll whichever way you try to deal with it; your energy is being sapped. And that means you aren't growing at your potential either academically or socially. And if you aren't able to completely hide your differences you suffer incredible discrimination and harassment.
But the worst pressure placed on a transsexual is self-hatred. Transexuals grow up in a very gendered society and like most children they believe the social models they are taught. A child doesn't blame society for having unreasonable sex roles; they blame themselves for being sick. And the worst thing about an internalised self-phobia is that you really do know exactly how you feel and think.
Some males who want to be women try to deny their feelings by over-compensation; some adopt very stereotypical masculine behaviour and then surprise everyone later on in life when they change gender. I've met transexuals who were once macho truckies, shearers, soldiers and yachtsman.
Others find it very hard to relate to people because they just can't honestly be themselves. Many of these get involved in hobbies and occupations where they can work alone; such as in engineering and computer science.
Trans-people who start to live in their chosen role suffer incredible discrimination and often become obsessed with `passing' as normal. And many desperately adopt every stereotype they can find to try to fit in. These are the most publically visible group of transsexuals and that is why feminists such as Janice Raymond and Germaine Greer accuse transsexuals of seeing women as a set of stereotypes; saying we swap one set of stereotypes for another.
But feminists are known to have stereotypes too. Sheila Jefferys in `Anticlimax' says, ``it is difficult to see how the gender fetishism of transvestites/transsexuals could do anything but reinforce the construction of the whole of male-surpremacist culture around the concept of gender difference.'' But her whole argument is based on only two quotes from the 1950s and 1970s. She doesn't acknowledge that the aim of transsexuality is to move beyond the limitations of gender.
Many male to female transsexuals do experiment with stereotypical behaviour - most women-born-women experiment with pink frilly tutus as children - but they quickly realise that leaving one set of stereotypes to fit another set is not a gain. And they start the long search to become themselves.
The most logical solution to gender dysphoria is to change socially constructed gender; to learn from feminism ; to ignore binary gender and encourage people to find their own genders. We don't live in a `logical' society and we all need to proceed at our own rate. We have to find a balance between our goals and our strength in dealing with vilification.
We live in a very gendered society and not in Utopia. And if I have to choose a gender the `real' me is better expressed in this culture as female.
© Copyright Julie Peters 2000