At the heart of the trans identity is a conviction that they have a right to assert and be recognised for a gender that does not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. What is the nature of this conviction and how does it stand up to being challenged?
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
“My name’s Gino. I’m a boy,” he insisted. “I’ve always known I was. But this damned body contradicts me at every turn. Imagine how you’d feel waking up every morning to find you’re a prisoner in a body that is completely alien to you. It’s enough to drive you mad. There are times when I wish I could take a knife to it and carve out the parts that don’t belong. It’s a nightmare. Why me? Why did God decide to torture me?” Colourful People
I attended the last day of the international colloquium CIST22 about trans health organised in Geneva by Épicène. The following text was inspired by the presentations and discussions there. As I write this, I realise how fraught with difficulty is such a tentative to explore trans identity and the dynamics that surround it. Words and concepts are continually trying to lead me astray and the temptation to add even more words to clarify only makes things more complicated.
One of the central tenets of trans identity is a conviction that gender as it is lived by trans people is a truth that cannot be denied. It is a perception anchored in how they experience themselves. It is a conviction that refuses to be questioned even when the world around them seeks to chip away at that certainty, even when biology seems to scream ‘what about me?’ More about the relationship between gender and biology later. For trans people, their gender is an integral part of who they are, of their identity. Denying it, seeking to ‘rectify it’ or trying to eliminate it, is tantamount to snuffing them out.
… or emotion-ridden fiction?
Those who oppose the trans perspective, often with a savage conviction that has no room for alternatives and invariably serves to justify violence against trans people, tacitly consider that feelings are not a reliable basis on which to assess reality. For them, the trans identity, founded as it is on feelings, on inner convictions, is a fad, a whim, a fiction, a delusion, an illness, a madness. As a ‘feeling’, it has no tangible justification. Yet their unquestioned reliance on solid ‘facts’, free of feelings, is itself a fiction. All our so-called rational decisions are necessarily shot through with feelings. It is impossible to consider the world, and even less ourselves, free of emotions. Suffice it to see the vehemence of those who oeuvre against trans people to realise that their convictions, for all their claims of rationality, are deeply rooted in untethered emotions.
To those who oppose the trans perspective, a binary view of biology offers an apparent backstop, a tangible reality, to ward against the threat of a rising tide of relativism and dangerous gender confusion. For them, gender and sexual assignment at birth are one and the same. It is self-evident. For many, it is god-given. It is the ultimate proof that trans people are misguided if not deranged and in need of ‘treatment’. Yet a closer look at biology, from a genetic perspective, for example, reveals that things are not so clear-cut. Ultimately basing an understanding of gender uniquely on the sexual characteristics of the newly born completely (or should that be ‘conveniently’) misses the point.
An increasing number of people consider sexual assignment at birth and gender as two separate and entirely different realities. From their perspective, for example, being born in a boy’s body can go hand in hand with knowing you are a girl at heart and wanting to live and be recognised as one. Affirming the existence of a possible divergence between physical form and a deep-felt sense of being does not prevent the gap being a source of pain and suffering. Various factors acerbate this distress. Firstly, as long as the dominant perspective in society is one of a strict male/female divide in which the sexual assignment at birth cannot be modified, then transgender will always be equated with transgression and fought against as an aberration. Not that such marshalled opposition could prevent the emergence of a trans identity, but it can and will seek to deter it. Furthermore, in the current state of medical practice, choosing to partially or fully realign your body to conform with the gender you are convinced is yours and escape the evident contradiction that is a source of suffering for so many, remains a difficult and painful journey.
Yet, despite the apparently fraught path of transgender people as portrayed above, the sheer joy of affirming who you are, what you are, in company with like souls, and the related feeling of finally being whole and at one with yourself is not so much a ‘coming out’ as a ‘returning home’.