In the news this week – though it could have been any week, since these stories seem to crop up with increasing regularity – the sorry tale of a trans woman whose transition has not quite gone to plan.
Its left her – as the lazy stock journalistic quote has it – “half man, half woman”: and she’s not happy. Why? Basic lack of boobage!
She’s asked her local pct to stump up the funding for breast augmenttion and they have refused. Meanwhile, Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle has stuck in his two pennyworth, stating: “I completely agree with the NHS. Money should be spent on life-saving and urgent care treatment rather than on cosmetic surgery.”
Yes. Up to a point.
Dig thru the high comedy, which is how the tabloids like to present such a story, and you are faced with two quite serious issues.
What makes a woman?
First off is the question of whether one “needs” boobs – or long hair or hips or smooth skin or any of the other so-called “secondary sexual characteristics” that hormones/puberty give you to count “properly” as female.
That’s a toughie – and one much harder to answer from the relative luxury of a body that has “feminised” well. At the outset, i said absolutely that i didn’t wish to go for surrogates: one specialist advised that i ought to wear breast forms, as otherwise i might scare people (huh!). Ditto wigs. And the whole other host of tv paraphernalia.
My view was contrary: i’d see what i got… and if the result was not acceptable, then i’d contemplate other intervention. I’d love to be able to say that all was plain sailing. But i remember shedding absolute bucket loads of tears over the state of my hair at the outset.
Still not entirely happy with same – but its acceptable. So I can empathise. I’ve got boobs: and barring the occasional BHS-inspired glitch (their bra fitting service is a bit random!) i’m increasingly happy with what i have.
So. I’m fetishising the female form? No. Well, yes: a bit. But so does every woman.
For me, shape works in two ways. First, because i “socialise female”, the more acceptably female i look, the easier it is for me to live as a woman. So looks count in terms of how i function socially – and that’s no small thing!
Second, however much i protest it ISN’T the body, even i have been astonished at how post-op feels. Just…right. SO-O-O-O right. And the cofnidence boost has been immeasurable.
So clearly there is something about having the right shape that is important. For me, i still wish, wish, wish i was a bit shorter, had smaller feet and an all-round slighter shape. Well, let’s face it: i’d trade bodies for Haydn Panettiere in a flash (without the nasty tattoo)…and i guess that most women have similar thoughts from time to time.
Social conformity/ selfish cosmeticity
Second, though, is the public policy aspect of all this. It sounds so straightforward, mouthed by a smug male middle-aged MP. “Necessary” is OK: “cosmetic” is not OK. But hang on…why is breast augmentation post-mastectomy “necessary” or “life-saving”, when otherwise its merely “cosmetic”.
Talk to the psychs. Talk to my partner who claims that if ever – perish the thought – she had to have a mastectomy, she wouldn’t grieve the loss of her boobs. Some women have enormous issues over how they look: enormous to the point where medical intervention is absolutely necessary.
Others just get on with stuff.
Hirsutism is another of those odd conditions where appearance matters. Certain conditions – esp. polycystic ovary syndrome – give rise to hairy women. In such cases, the NHS will probably treat, paying for laser and/or electrolysis.
Why? Because presumably a psych evaluation suggests that failure to treat is likely to be so damaging to the individual’s self-esteem that it can’t not happen. Except much the same could be said for many trans women, for whom surplus hair – as opposed to lack of boobs – is often the most expensive issue.
Indeed, it could be argued that gender re-assignment surgery is just this entire principle writ large: aligning body with psyche, because the damage to self otherwise would be too immense to contemplate.
And sure: there is a good and arguable case as to why women “shouldn’t” want to look beautiful. But i’d suggest that that particular argument sits on a different plane altogether. Do we treat people the way they are – neuroses, hang-ups and all – or how they “ought to be. I think the former.
So, screw the tabloid comedy: this whole issue is a lot bigger and a lot more complicated than simple cosmetics…and maybe its time our MP’s grew up and read a few books (by women) on the subject instead.