(Disclaimer: I am a cis-gender male talking about topics surrounding trans-gender people. This undoubtedly puts me at a large risk for making assumptions and explaining topics which I have not experienced myself. Hence, I welcome any comments or feedback on these thoughts to help inform me better on what I say in this post. Additionally, I talk about sexual terms in this post, so I might have to add that discretion is advised (although discretion, especially related to social customs, is another topic in and of itself, one to be argued and challenged).)
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I was in the coffee shop yesterday having a final meet up with a dear friend of mine, Andrew, whom I met through two of my political philosophy modules. (Our modules were split up by an hour, which was just enough time to have a coffee but not enough time (arguably) to do any actual work/reading.)
Our conversation, as usual, centred around many an interesting topic, drifting eventually into a mutual friend’s dissertation (shout out to Oli!). Oli’s dissertation focused on the rights of children with gender dysphoria, especially focusing on the child’s ability, or capacity, to make the decision to go through with cross hormone therapy (to transition from one gender to the other). (As is the nature of socially-constructed topics, one must pick and choose what they will discuss in a paper addressing gender, and Oli’s dissertation stayed within a gender binary framework, but making note that he simply did not have enough space to cover gender dysphoria under the gender-fluid or non-binary framework.)
Okay, so I know that I’m throwing a lot of terms at you, and some may not understand or have a concept of what ‘gender-fluid’ entails. Instead of giving a glossary of terms, I hope that this short(ish) piece can help the reader come to know what each term I use actually means. In other words, it’s best to use a common tactic that language learners use, which is to use contextual clues to help ascertain the meaning of these terms (or, you know, Google helps too).
Andrew and I got to talking about the main push of Oli’s argument, which was that children with gender dysphoria should be given the opportunity to make their case against a team of gender dysphoria professionals, where each case of gender dysphoria within a child would be considered individually by the team and not automatically denied based on the gender dysphoric child’s status of ‘child-incapable-of-decision’. This argument is made in the light of certain medical professionals publicly stating that children, regardless of reasons outside of their age, should not be given cross-hormone therapy, citing that these children are too young to make decisions on their gender and would possibly regret the decision later on. What Oli was arguing, then, was that each gender dysphoric child’s health was too valuable, and too much at risk, to automatically deny them cross hormone therapy simply because they are perceived as being ‘too young’ to make a decision.
The fact of the matter is that, yes, many children with gender dysphoria early on, pre-puberty, will usually lose their gender dysphoria by the time (and after) they’ve reached puberty. However, there’s still a significant portion of children who remain uncomfortable within their own bodies, *knowing* that they have been born inside the wrong body, that their genitalia do not correspond to the gender that they know themselves to be.
It’s true that we face a risk in assuming that a child may regrettably make a decision to go ahead with cross hormone therapy at a young age, but the absolute worst thing we can do is ignore a child with significant gender dysphoria, assuming that they’ll just be able to ‘grow’ into their gender, or ‘grow out of’ their ‘gender-confused’ state. (Might I add that ‘gender-confused’ is a highly problematic term, oftentimes used by those who deny the existence of any human who falls outside of the heteronormative framework, e.g. a transgender person or gender-fluid person.) However, I might add Oli’s point, that waiting for a child to ‘come of age’ to make a proper decision would be essentially inflicting harm on the child with deep-set gender dysphoria, and hence this sort of ‘wait and see’ method would be unethical.
I won’t go further into Oli’s argument, but the endpoint that he lands on is that each case of a child with gender dysphoria ought to be considered individually because, as a matter of fact, it is possible to tell how deeply rooted a child’s feelings of gender dysphoria are within themselves.
I’d like to add a few thoughts of my own that may take a step outside of what Oli argued in his thesis. Being similar to a remark I made earlier in the post, one must choose a framework for their argument, such that they don’t bite off more than they can chew. As such, Oli’s argument focused on the fact that a transgender person falls into the construction of gender that implies that one must have a gender, where their gender falls into the near-binary, male or female. For the sake of argumentation, I think this sort of framework is okay to take on for one essay or a dissertation. However, as is what came up in my conversation with Andrew, gender is not so clean-cut in the real world. Furthermore, I would think that, in most idealistic terms, Oli’s entire dissertation would be useless had we (as a society) not developed the concept of gender.
Have you ever heard the phrase, gender is a social construct? If you have, this is what I’m getting at. Gender, I think, is the tendency of society to establish a set idea of what is expected of humans who have a penis, wide shoulders, small hips, no breasts, etc. versus humans who have a vagina, breasts, small shoulders, wider hips, etc. The idea of what ‘boys’ ought to do versus what ‘girls’ ought to do is worked into the minds of young children from an early age, where they start to draw a connection between their gendered self and their genitalia. This then starts to become problematic when a woman is growing up with this large piece of meat hanging between her legs, such that society tells her that because she has this bit of meat on her body, she must act and exist in a way that she simply does not feel she really is.
However, if we had never developed this sort of connection between gender and genitalia, the trans person would not have to battle with what is expected of them due to how they outwardly appear. In mentioning this idea (a society that is rid of the idea of what ‘gender’ ought to be) Andrew made a point that one’s being male or female could potentially develop from within oneself. In other words, regardless of developing within the body we are meant to have, we still develop a gender (noting that ‘gender’ does not have to fall into ‘male’ or ‘female’). Regardless of what our physical body shows, we still end up developing a gender. The question I have, though, is whether we develop a gender because we’re told that we have to have a gender, or if we develop the concept of gender naturally as humans living together who manage to look different and have different sexual organs.
I guess it’s hard to know where the origins of gender lay, since human society has been around for quite a while. It takes some mental gymnastics to understand whether gender, and one’s corresponding hormone contents that contribute to their outward characteristics, comes from a natural place or a nurtured place. I’m intrigued to know what will come of the idea of gender, especially in a world where reproduction is not absolutely necessary and even might bring the human race closer to destroying the earth on which we live. Our sexuality and gender, then, may grow increasingly independent of our ‘natural’ desire to reproduce our species, especially if gender, as I believe, is significantly dependent on nurture versus a commonly-conceived belief of gender being dependent on nature.
Without getting too far into this debate, which can perhaps be explored further by researchers studying gender, as well as by research on my own part, I would choose to hammer home the fact that one would have a lot easier of a time dealing with their gender dysphoria if they didn’t have to come to terms with a connection, or a mis-connection, between their gender and their genitals.
I guess this is a thought that really needs to sit with me for a bit longer, and perhaps needs to be informed by those who are trans or non-binary (please reach out if you wish to help me in this endeavour). Without providing any reconciliation on whether the genderless world is one which we should seek, at this very moment, I must call to light the problem that comes with having a dysphoria attached to one’s physical body. As Andrew pointed out in our conversation, there’s another type of dysphoria, that of being told that one is straight when in fact they are gay. I’m not diminishing any bit of ill feelings or stigmatisation that one goes through when experiencing dysphoria regarding their sexuality, but this sort of dysphoria is better alleviated by a different type of change, not with one’s body, but with their romantic partners. One can easily (in a society that finally learns that heteronormativity is not the end-all of human existence and interaction, and maintains a non-hostile environment for LGBTQ people) make a change in their dating habits if they know themselves to be gay, as opposed to the ‘straight’ that they were told they were while growing up. In contrast, if someone is transgender, it is much, much harder to make a switch to the other gender, as this requires medical intervention and changes to one’s body, their body being that which they cannot live without.
To sum up the last bit, dealing with dysphoria regarding one’s own body and self, as opposed to dysphoria regarding one’s sexual attraction to others, is a lot harder to mitigate and understand. Gender dysphoria has, then, extremely dire consequences if left unattended in this non-ideal world in which gender is given so much weight.
So in closing, I might argue that at the very least, we must fight to place less emphasis on what gender ought to be. Instead of treating one’s own existence as a testament against another’s existence, treat their existence as something that matters to them and their own wellbeing, while allowing them the resources, care, and support that allows them to find the body, gender, and state that leads towards their best state of wellbeing.
I realise that this post might be a bit confusing, and this is most likely because I have yet a lot of thought and conversation to do on the matter myself. I think it’s important to bring these ideas up here in my blog, though, because we’re in a very interesting spot in history, at a crossroads where unfair traditional notions of human existence are being constantly (and righteously) challenged. I encourage these challenges and, surely, welcome the fight against unfair norms that are justified simply by historical happenstance.