Are you feeling yourself today? Lucky you.
There’s a small part of the population that’s feeling sick today. There’s also a small part that’s feeling down or alienated or grumpy. There’s also a small part of the population that feels like they’re not in the right body today.
Gender dysphoria is a real thing. It’s been described to me by those who’ve had to deal with it, as have the feelings of affirmation on discovering the source of the problem and doing something about it. We counterpose gender, as in gender roles imposed by society, as a quality separate from sex, which we have been taught is biologically determined at birth and inherent in an individual’s genetics. We’re taught there are two sexes, male and female, the infamous “sexual binary.”
Certain political movements, standup comics, evolutionary biologist atheists, and authors of whimsical childhood wizardry adventures seem to believe that transsexuality is the act of using the costume of gender to disguise oneself as a member of the opposite sex. They also seem to believe things even more wrong, but delving into that morass is a topic for another day.
Biological sex is more flexible than its common definition: xx chromosomes equals woman, xy chromosomes equals man. To quote from an article by Claire Ainsworth published in Nature magazine eight years ago and reprinted in Scientific American:
“Gene mutations affecting gonad development can result in a person with XY chromosomes developing typically female characteristics, whereas alterations in hormone signaling can cause XX individuals to develop along male lines.”
She goes on to describe many different instances where hormonal signals governed by varying activity or occurrences of some genes, or the sensitivity or insensitivity of some cells to certain hormones, can blur the lines between the two sexes we generally talk about as having solid boundaries between them. Changes can occur from as early as a few weeks into an embryo’s gestation to a decade or two or more of living in the world.
The conclusion of biology is that sex, not just socially-constructed gender, is a spectrum, that the rigid dichotomy probably doesn’t apply to most people, and demonstrably not to at least one person in a hundred. And those are just the people doctors define as having intersex conditions, or DSDs, “disorders of sexual development,” medically speaking. When we add to that number those with a powerful psychological sense, not genotypically reinforced, of being miscast as belonging on one side or the other of the oversimplified biological dichotomy, the number of our transgender friends and relatives multiplies.
The gender dichotomy was already understood to be a Procrustean diagram at least by the late 19th Century. The feeling even some of my most sophisticated friends have that this is happening “all of a sudden” comes from the increased visibility trans people have been demanding for generations and are now finally receiving. And it is the least they are due because, for all the centuries they’ve been treated as invisible, their existences were easily erased by the cruel, the phobic, the violent, and the opportunistic who capitalize on the cruelty and fear-driven violence of others.
Gender costumes and behavior should not be a prison imposed by society. For that matter, no type of conformity should: no job should, no status in any family should, no position in an institution should. I mean, really, prison shouldn’t be a prison imposed by society either, but as I observed last week, we’re a society of condemnation.
How the world dearly loves a cage, as Ruth Gordon said in Harold and Maude, speaking of Dreyfus imprisoned on Devil’s Island. That’s a film from the 70s very much about gender roles as prisons. It’s all to keep up appearances, isn’t it, the fascists’ demand that others submit to the imprisonment they insist is a rightful, natural place? And if a person won’t submit, they make up lies about their demands being immoral. They make up lies about them grooming, indoctrinating, or drinking blood from innocent children. Folks eat that stuff up. They’ve been eating it up for centuries. They’ll volunteer for your terrorist militia or torch-wielding mob for sure if you feed them that slop!
The first institution for treating victims of sex misassignment was founded in Germany in 1919. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. And just yesterday, ninety years later, the governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, put his signature on a law that makes gender affirming medical care for minors a felony. It categorizes as child abuse any care that includes hormone treatments or puberty blockers, meant to aid a minor “to identify with, or live as, a purported identity inconsistent” with their assigned sex at birth. “Purported identity?” “Live as a purported identity?” What exactly is being called into question by that language? Ah, yes, it’s not a real identity, it’s a disguise. It’s just a trick to help a prisoner escape.
Health professionals around the world recommend the healthcare Tennessee just banned for treating gender dysphoria. It can mean the difference between a teenager coming to accept themselves in the world or taking themselves out of the world through suicide. The law goes into effect a year from now, at which time all minors in Tennessee receiving such care must stop.
Governor Bill Lee coincidentally shares an identifying moniker with the nom de plume under which William S. Burroughs, the homosexual poet, wrote his first novel, Junky. Governor Lee on the same day banned drag shows on public property, an act that might be his indirect gambit to privatize libraries. Then again it might be an ironic homage to Burroughs, meant to make us imagine what he might say were he alive to witness this abomination. Like, “that fascist son of a bitch must be snortin’ Saniflush or something.”
This new resurgence of bigotry around the world is depressing, but there is reason for hope. The Tennessee laws and other similar ones being enacted in other states – let’s call them Vicious Blue Laws – are not going to be implemented without facing legal challenges that have already been prepared. Yes, the Supreme Court is made up largely of exactly the type of prison-loving jurists who would support the Vicious Blue Laws, but they’re also cowards, and current events show popular support for brutal closed-mindedness falling. The white supremacist “Day of Hate” was a no-show burger of nothingness. Likewise the audience for this year’s CPAC conference. Since Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity were recently exposed in emails as liars mocking the intelligence and beliefs of their own audience, things just haven’t been the same.
But it’s a crime of abuse that individuals merely struggling to be the person they feel they’re intended to be have to face victimization during this decade’s rightwing temper tantrum. It’s also a crime that women’s bodies and health are being booted around the political arena. It’s a crime of abuse that poor people have to continue enduring the indignities and violent barriers the profit-over-people system puts between them and opportunities to escape into a better future. It’s a hate crime when police decide to escalate violence toward citizens because they’re Black. It’s easy for me to say, “Just hang on, we’ll get through this,” because I’m a lot less likely to die than those exemplars as a result of these spasms of fascism’s restless leg syndrome, especially now that I’ve been vaccinated against the plague.
But lately, I feel we’ve all been showing how much we hate these disguises they make us wear. It’s like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in reverse. It’s “The People’s Painfully Uncomfortable Uniforms.” I don’t mean to commandeer the struggle of trans people as a metaphor, more to look to it as an inspiration. A trans journalist described what it would be like to be forced to inhabit their previously assigned sex, now that they’ve taken steps to become the person they always needed to be, as akin to wearing a skin suit. We know the rulers aren’t wearing anything special if they’re wearing anything at all. They have no right to enforce a dress code of ill-fitting skin suits.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!