OPINION: Sam Trans Man – Thinking beyond gender.

February 21, 2019

Dr Samuel Hall on dismantling the false divide and achieving true equality.

JUST recovering from my second lot of genital surgery. The first operation, where they skinned my arm to make my penis and sliced both buttocks up to cover the deficit on said arm, left me deeply traumatised, both physically and mentally. It’s perhaps a good thing you can’t really know what this is going to be like until you do it (a bit like having a baby). I could only ever glimpse what was to come – ultimately the acquisition of a functioning penis, bodily integrity, improved mental health and wellbeing.

I could barely imagine the impact for those close to me, who cannot yet see how much happier I am, because there is a time lag as what is going on under the surface rises slowly to become visible to others. The fact is, this second (and not so long) operation, involving some very unpleasant rearrangement of my undercarriage, has meant I can now pee through the penis created at the first surgery. And that, my friends, has led to happiness I have rarely experienced, save perhaps following the births of my three children.

This has taken me totally by surprise. I didn’t expect to feel quite this degree of joy, peace, integrity and contentment. At huge expense, but totally worth it, and importantly for me as a clinician, proving that this is indeed the cure for gender dysphoria. I cannot see gender any more, it’s just… disappeared.

This element of transition isn’t something all trans people do, or need to do. There are more trans people who haven’t and never will have gender reassignment surgery, either through lack of funds or access to surgery, or through lack of need from a psychological perspective. This is a little known or understood fact outside trans circles, or perhaps even within them, where the binary persists despite the very deconstruction of it that we are doing with our bodies. There is no one way, no right way, to be trans. For some it’s as simple as needing to be acknowledged as sitting more comfortably outside of the binary; using gender neutral pronouns, seeing themselves as a person first and foremost. In fact this is increasingly common, and rightly so, since the gender binary is an arbitrary societal construct which has been increasingly reinforced throughout Western and much religious history.

More and more people are defining themselves as non-binary, including many people who don’t see themselves as trans at all, which is fair enough, since the very concept of non-binary is transcendent of gender altogether. To me the arrival point of this natural evolution of thinking is beyond gender. To a place where an understanding of what true equality means. In the same way that the breaking down of racial barriers or even the concept of race at all, results in an appreciation of the equal value of human beings of all skin colours.

Other trans people, myself included, have such a severe sense of mismatch, that the surgery becomes inevitable, a matter of time only. Especially if you live in a country where there is access to surgeons and/or funding for treatment, which is increasingly the case in first world countries.

I can’t help thinking though, that we are missing a trick here. You see if the issue of gender is a societal one, then surely the breakdown of gender in society can lead to the equality so many of us long for. I may have this wrong, but my understanding is that one of the fundamental aims of feminism is to achieve equality with men. If the abolition of gender as a restrictive binary choice is championed, surely this is one of the quickest ways to achieve equality?

This is why I struggle so much to see the logic behind the anti-trans lobby that is so very vocal and well-funded at the moment. We are natural allies with feminists. With the mothers who are distressed by their child’s gender variance, with the angry lesbians and loud voices protesting against the violation of women’s safe spaces. There is so little logic behind the constant assertion that trans women (assigned male at birth) are a threat to cis female people in any circumstance.

Of course it’s always possible to find the exception that proves the rule. So a sad case of a trans woman sexually assaulting female prisoners has been held up as the reason for initiating the exclusion of all trans women from all such safe or female-only spaces. This is akin to suggesting that all people of colour should be excluded from a certain place or space based on the infringements of one individual. Such action would never be condoned in our society today.

The breakdown of gender is both desirable and necessary for the advancement of human consciousness and our understanding of ourselves as species. It is equality that drives respect for all people, animals, plants and planet. It is equality that underpins political movements on the liberal left, seeking to iron out the grossly unfair distribution of wealth, food, education and opportunity. It is equality that should prompt us to move away from using ‘political correctness’ as a slur, or accusing people of being snowflakes because they call us out on things we hadn’t considered before.

Gender causes the oppression of half of the Earth’s population and, like race, affects us all. If we truly believe that all human beings are equal, we must continue to fight this battle against the increasing tendency to reinforce gender norms in both subtle and brutal ways. From the pink or blue nursery wares, to the rape of women and girls in war-torn countries, we are all steeped in, and deeply attached to this false divide. Modern feminists on the right side of history need to let go of their firmly held position in this binary to see the wood for the trees. Then we won’t need a debate. We are all the same.