The beginning of a discussion about sexual transition, or rather the wider topic of gender identity when it doesn’t adhere to dominant binary norms.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
A friend wrote suggesting we discuss sexual transition, a subject she was eager to explore for professional reasons. I agreed, although her title struck me as too limiting. That’s why I added the question mark in my reply.
Extending the discussion
The term ‘sexual transition’ suggests a shift from one state to another, focusing on those trapped in a body with sexual attributes that do not match their deep sense of gender identity and who wish to alter their body to better reflect that identity. As a result, the use of the expression limits the discussion by excluding all those who express their difference in terms of gender without having recourse to a scalpel. Such is the case of Peter, one of main characters in my Boy & Girl Saga. He dresses as a girl and, in many respects, lives as one, but he has no wish to ‘transition’ and ‘become’ a girl.
Returning to my friend’s suggested subject, the use of the word ‘sexual’ tends to confuse the issue of sex, sexuality and gender. Treating these three as distinct but interrelated is essential to understanding questions of gender. Certain people interpret the Christian religion to mean that sex and gender are inseparable and limit possibilities to the two options ostensibly created by God in the Garden. A position that is only convincing if you adhere to their limited lecture of the Bible. Despite its questionable validity, it is used to justify extreme violence against those who cultivate ambiguity when it comes to gender, like Peter in Boy & Girl. As for sexuality, such Christian fundamentalists insist only ‘commerce’ between man and woman is acceptable. All else is condemned as sin and abhorred.
But it is not only religion that holds sway over questions of gender. Language is solidly built on the binomial: man/woman, masculine/feminine even when a language has a third option like in German. Since our thinking depends on language, this binary bias makes it difficult to think about states that diverge. Current attempts to change language to echo a richer and more varied notion of gender are unfortunately impractical, inept and frankly ugly. That doesn’t mean they are not necessary, but we have yet to find a suitable solution. In languages like French, I favour the feminine over the masculine when both are involved. The inevitable tiny discomfort doing so produces in the reader must surely provide food for thought.
Psychiatry speaks of gender dysphoria. In the current state of health care in England, given the successes of those who seek to make transition on the national health service nigh on inaccessible, only those diagnosed by a doctor as having gender dysphoria, and therefore officially deemed to be mentally ill, may proceed to an assessment by experts of their demand to transition. Even if the diagnosis can come as a relief to some, the stigma it vehicles is neither healthy nor productive. The discomfort felt by those at odds with their body regarding their gender is seriously aggravated by the negative attitude of society. Is it not possible to imagine a society in which multiple gender expressions would be welcome as a richness rather than a defect to be eradicated?