I’ve noticed that I bring up scientific matters around transsexualism a lot on this blog compared to most others. The only trans blogs which cover this topic more than me seem to be written by actual scientists (for the record, I’m not one). I thought I might take a moment to explain my fascination with the topic.
Part of the fascination is because I like science and I like things that help improve my understanding of myself. But another reason is that science is just about the only weapon we have to combat the prevailing cultural opinion that being transsexual is a choice.
The better parts of society are ever-so-slowly coming around to the idea that being gay or lesbian may not be a personal choice, or “lifestyle option.” There’s even a very funny South Park episode sending up so-called reparative therapy for homosexual boys (when you’ve won over snarky, iconoclastic cartoonists you know you’re making progress). That said, there’s another very funny South Park episode sending up transsexualism by suggesting it’s about people choosing to live in deluded fantasy.
Our culture so strongly enforces the notion of a gender binary that most people believe it even in defiance of things they know to be true. Take the case of intersexed people. For about as long as mankind has existed we’ve known that not every child is born as either a boy or a girl. Some have bodies which are visibly somewhere in between – and will remain in between without surgical intervention. Since this is true it already disproves the notion of a clear gender binary. The notion that people are either clearly male or clearly female didn’t fit the known facts ever. Yet for cultural reasons most people still resist acknowledging this.
Which is why I like gender science more than gender theory in the cultural sense. It’s a sphere in which you don’t have to believe in order to understand. Science deals in facts.
And those of us of the transsexual condition can use all the facts we can get, because we’re treading against an avalanche of cultural bias everywhere we turn. The traditional values types are culturally inclined to believe we’re perverts and/or mentally deranged. The gender feminists are culturally inclined to believe we’re either deceptive infiltrators or willing tools of the patriarchy. A lot of gay and lesbian types are culturally inclined to believe we’re self-denying gays or lesbians. Even within the broader trans community, there are those with a strong cultural belief that we are traitors unless we help abolish the concept of gender altogether.
But you know what the science says? The science says we’re just people who developed in a gender variant way. Just like intersexed people with visibly non-conforming sexual anatomy, our largely invisible neuro-anatomy doesn’t conform to the standard male/female dichotomy. The body looks more like one sex, and the brain looks more like the other (at least in the areas that seem to drive a person’s sense of gender identity). The science says we don’t choose to be transsexual, but that we’re born that way.
Should we need science to tell us that before people accept transsexuals for what we have always claimed – that no matter what our bodies look like, our gender identity is the opposite and can’t be changed? Does science need to explain why it makes sense to alter our bodies in ways most people find inconceivable for themselves? Does science need to explain that while most people are strictly male or female some people are just born different? Maybe the answer should be no, but I’ve found for most people it’s actually yes. At least for now.
I talk about science because I don’t want transsexualism to revert to being a only matter of belief, rather than a matter of science. You’re free to believe the world is flat and the moon is made of green cheese. I may never be able to persuade you to change your mind. But if I can prove the earth is round and the moon is rock your beliefs aren’t going to retain much credibility with anyone else.
It’s like Al Capone’s famous quip “You can get more with a kind word and a gun, than you can with just a kind word.” Science is the only “gun” we’ve got in our ongoing negotiaton with a culture that still largely wants to deny we exist.