I’ve been attending a series of sessions on transgender issues over the last few months. It’s a feast of food for thought. Here’s a morsel– one study found that the typical transgender person knows they’re trans by age 8, but doesn’t tell anyone until age 17. That’s a long time– half a lifetime– to be sitting on that big a secret. However, there are families that are open and supportive where kids disclose to parents at a young age and get various kinds of support, emotional and medical. One possible step is to give a kid drugs that are known as puberty blockers. Say your kid is freaking out about being a boy in a girl’s body. The last thing he wants is to start growing breasts. So you put him on puberty blockers. But wait– what if he changes his mind, decides he’s really a girl after all, and you take her off the puberty blockers? Was there any damage from being on them? Not as far as we know, but there’s no real knowledge base. What if a girl feels like she must be a guy because she falls in love with girls? Fine, put her on puberty blockers.
I use the example of the budding trans-guy because there’s another interesting set of data. It turns out that boys who will grow up to be gay men typically know their orientation at a relatively early age. These are boys who know they’re boys & want to go on being boys, but who will fall in love with other boys. As for girls who will grow up to fall in love with girls, they typically don’t come to that understanding of themselves until late teens– after the age at which they could, for example, have sex reassignment surgery if that’s what they thought they wanted. Hey– lots of 18 year olds get tattoos they don’t like later in life. What happens when you get sex reassignment surgery and later regret it?
One of the interesting factoids is that some people go one way, then another, then go back. AND– people who describe the original feeling about their gender is that “when I was a kid I knew I was the other gender are not as likely to change back as though who describe their experience as “when I was a kid I wished I was the other gender.
Interestingly enough the percentage of folks who get this kind of surgery (sex reassignment procedures of all kinds for both genders) & are unhappy with it later is lower than for people who get cosmetic surgery in general. Hey– whatever people’s gender identity, looks, etc., you can’t please all the people all the time.
So part of the seven course banquet in food for thought about gender is this– gender is, after all, a seriously cultural thing. Guys aren’t supposed to wear makeup. Women aren’t supposed to chew tobacco. Guys are supposed to know how to fix cars. women are supposed to know how to bake cakes. Make your own list.
So here’s my speculative question– are there times when the psyche is in a state of genderless awareness? If I’m sitting at a computer, typing, that’s not really a gendered thing, is it? If I’m driving a car (in the west, not In Saudi Arabia), is that really a gendered activity? Even if I’m doing something that might be associated with a particular gender, like cooking, do I necessarily do it as a male or female?
I posed the question to Julie, the presenter in the series, who began the series by saying she identifies as genderqueer (not pigeonholed), she said that there are times when she makes a movement or gesture that she feels is particularly masculine. My reaction was that I sometimes feel I’m cooking in a genderless way, and at other times may feel nurturing and feminine.
There’s another possible perspective on this analogous to the idea that fish don’t know about water. If I’m completely immersed in my gender identity and there are no incongruities, then everything I do is “just me,” but I am completely identified with a particular gender. Personally, I don’t think this case holds as widely as some people would like to believe. I think people experience incongruity between their mental/emotional experience of self and their social presentation of gender at some time or another.
Bottom line, whoever you are, a lot of people find that “being me” can be difficult. This is just one of the more obvious areas of struggle.
Of course, the North Carolina HB2 flap has brought these issues to the fore. I think people who are overly interested in who potties where & how have a set of problems that they need to address within themselves, not in the state legislature. As for the trans man whose photo appears at the top, I think it would be problematic for him to show up in the lady’s room. Not because I think he’d do anything wrong. Trans people tend to be aware of issues of compassion toward and safety for others. As a generalization, I’m sure it has its exceptions, but my guess is you can see how what they have to go through just to be themselves would promote that kind of awareness. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone, regardless of gender identity, had a high degree of compassion for others, and wanted to promote safety for everyone?
Photo at top: Shawn Stinson, trans man, champion body builder. Photo by K. Dae