Friday, 9 November 2012

Impossible to get the real message across?

Following on from my last post, I've been thinking again on how little ordinary people (even if they are completely on your side) can ever really know about how you feel, about your own transness, and why you had to go through That Process to become what you now are.

The prospect looms of meeting some people who will be full of questions. I don't expect them to be antagonistic, but they will want a straightforward, clear-cut 'explanation' for what has happened to me. I anticipate being asked why I did this, or did that. Couldn't I have waited? Didn't I realise the effects of what I was doing? What justified this or that? They might even want a full 'debate' on what transness is all about.

Well, they might want, but I wouldn't comply. I can't. There is nothing to argue about. No merits or demerits to assess. What I have had is a medical condition that needed treatment without delay, and involved serious personal upheaval, a life-altering change of direction. The condition, once recognised, will not go away, and moral questions about whether it should be treated, or not, are irrelevant. It's like a mental cancer. It has to be dealt with. And if the treatment and its consequences come late in life, there are bound to be many effects on others, some of them bad. But those bad effects do not make it wrong to administer the cure. The patient is blameless, even though the potential source of much grief.

Maybe I won't be called upon to explain anything, but if I am, I know that I shall not be understood. Even if my words are eloquent, and taken on trust. Because they cannot know what I feel.

I search for parallel examples of mutual incomprehension. Such as a natal man being incapable - with the best will in the world - of really 'knowing' and 'understanding' what it is like to feel the tug of motherhood, and then to conceive a child, then to carry the growing baby through pregnancy, and finally to give birth. Actually, that's not a bad parallel example, because it's still in the medical arena, and it involves highly qualified male doctors and specialists who are experts in helping women through pregnancy and the birth itself. And my point is this: that although they know their stuff, and may be hyper-sensitive to each stage of the process that natal women go through to have a baby, they cannot (as men) experience for themselves the inner feelings of the pregnant woman, and what she has in her mind as the pregnancy reaches its climax. They can only observe what is physically going on.

And equally obviously a female obstretician, who could have had children herself, will indeed 'know' exactly what the pregnant woman has felt from the first craving for a child to the ongoing experience of nurturing the baby after birth.

It occurs to me to add that some adult trans women must be nudged by their female brains to feel the tug of motherhood. They must share with a minority of natal women the agony of not being physically capable of having their own children; and this too is something no natal man can feel for himself. I don't see any way that a natal man can. That is not to say that a natal man can't try to imagine how it is, and I am sure that perceptive men do get insights, but the actual mental sensations cannot be shared.

So, to return to transness, and who can understand it, it seems to me that only other trans people can fully appreciate what is going on, and what it is that drives a trans person forward to 'do' what they do.

In the last day or so I have been party to a conversation about whether young children who say they are trans should receive treatment. The person who raised this topic was very unhappy at the thought that any minor should have genital surgery, and irrevocably change their physical appearance and sexual capability. How could they know for sure that they were female, when so young and immature? (She didn't mention little girls who might say they were boys) This exposed my own ignorance a bit, as I didn't have the full information at my fingertips, but I ventured this response: that in this country, the most that could happen would be that the child would receive a course of drugs to halt puberty, so that their physical development would be frozen till eighteen, when they would be adults and legally competent to make a choice. I thought puberty-stopping the proper thing to do, since I would regard 'pre-adult' surgery of this sort as inadvisable, and for all I know impractical, as the body parts and spaces used in the surgery would not have grown to adult dimensions. I also said that some children 'knew' they were trans at a very early age, and whatever the practical difficulties with toilets and changing rooms and so forth in school, what they said about themselves should be listened to and taken seriously. And they should not be forced to participate in 'wrong-gender' activities, or forced to dress or behave in ways that to them seemed inappropriate.

After all, a child who is brave enough and articulate enough to 'come out' at six still has (at least) twelve years to live through before surgery, even if the puberty-blocking drugs are administered at the proper time. Twelve years or more of life in suspension, while schoolmates change and develop in radical ways, leaving them behind physically and socially. Bad enough. And this is assuming that the child in question is listened to without prejudice, and not 'argued out of it'.

I could have said (in that conversation) that, if given the chance when young, I would have asked to have my gender reviewed. Then I would have - in theory - avoided fifty years of living the wrong sort of life.

But of course, back in 1958 when I was six, there was no way I could have appealed to my parents to approach Authority and get my gender looked into. Even if I could have formulated the words, and my parents had believed me, and we'd gone to see the doctor, no diagnosis could have been made. And even supposing we had an enlightened doctor who had vaguely heard of 'sex change' work undertaken in America, no such remedial treatment was available in the UK. I'd have been stuck. But also stigmatised, marked down as odd, strange, a source of trouble and shame for my parents. The issue would have been swept under the family carpet, but never forgotten. And the psychological repercussions for me would have been huge. I might have been considered a child to watch. And if, in my struggle to cope with this Big Secret, I had shown any signs of mental stress, I might have been whisked away to a special hospital for whatever dreadful type of treatment was then fashionable. In a way, I'm quite glad that I came out only in 2008, when modern, progressive medicine would be practiced on me by sympathetic professionals.

But despite their sympathy, and their kindness, am I (and the trans people like me) truly understood? I doubt it. I rather think we are seen as genuine but rather strange cases, psychological oddities, people well out of the ordinary run, people singularly hard to relate to. And although the proper professional care may be given, warmth and smiles and other signs of bonding will depend much more on the personal character of the trans individual than on comprehension of their state of mind.

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