We have all wondered what it would be like to be the other sex. But imagine if you woke up tomorrow the opposite sex, and you were stuck like that for the rest of your life. Would you try to get the real you back?
There are a lot of negative perceptions about transgender people. I believe this is mainly because of ignorance. They are viewed as outcasts, monsters and mentally ill. There is also a lot of speculation about why people choose to be transgender. Some believe there is a faulty belief system in the individual, a Godly intervention or some biological mishap.
John Money, a psychologist and sexologist worked with David Reimer, aiding in his sex-reassignment, after David’s penis was accidentally burnt off during a botched circumcision at 8 months old. Under Money’s instruction David was given a female name, hormones and was raised then on as a girl. Despite his true gender being kept secret David never identified as a female and rejected behaving as one. After many years of struggling he was finally told the truth and returned to his original gender. Such a case is unique and demonstrates that nurture here lost out to nature.
So why do we think that a boy should be nurtured as a boy, and a girl should be nurtured as a girl, and there should be no cross over? It is no secret that transphobia is among us. At one of the many schools I attended for example, a male born student who identified as a female was banned from using the ladies toilets. It’s not uncommon for people to disapprove of transgender. However, like in all good science experiments, you need to make sure the environment of your test isn’t influencing the results. This is where things get really interesting.
When I visited Thailand I wasn’t shocked to see the Kathoey, ‘Lady Boys’, I knew they were almost a tourist attraction and performed in famous cabaret shows like Alcasar and Tiffany’s. What shocked me was the amount of Western men pouring all over them. Intentionally travelling across the world to be with transgender people in a place where it was accepted. I expected the usual embarrassed shrinking away at their advances and turning away from their revealing clothing. Instead, they had the Lady Boys on their laps in the bars, were walking hand in hand along the beach, and checking them out left right and centre. So it makes me wonder if this transphobia is just a social front.
A report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41% of trans people in the US attempted suicide. Discrimination is higher amongst people of colour, and medical treatment has even been refused to transgender patients. In 1995, Tyra Hunter an African America transsexual woman was injured in a car accident and refused medical care when medical staff discovered she had a penis, resulting in her death. Many have also reported being attacked in emergency rooms.
Half way between Hawaii and New Zealand there is a tiny island nation called Samoa where biologically born males are actively encouraged to behave and dress like women. The males who choose to accept this identity are called Fa’afafine, and are heavily involved in family life and domestic roles. Which can be unlike the situation in Thailand, where Lady Boys are often rejected by their families. The Samoan society, view the Fa’afafine’s sexual relations with men heterosexual, and are considered a natural third-gender in their society. This is seen as particular controversial since boys are raised as girls, rather than choosing the role due to personal preference in later life.
So what does science tell us? We have children expressing wishes to become different genders as soon as they can speak, so surely biology can shed some light on this. One explanation is the sexually dimorphic nucleus (SDN) in the hypothalamus, which is related to sexual behaviour and is larger in males than in females. Brain post mortem analysis has shown that in transgender people their SDN matches the gender that they believed themselves to be. There are other neurological and hormonal explanations, but I don’t want bore you too much with research.
Whether it is nature or nurture creating our third-gender of people, I believe we should all be more accepting and be questioning why we want to restrict freedom by allowing anatomy to decide our gender for us. Anatomy, is your sex, gender is your identity.