I had to smile, recently. A good friend, who once significantly outflanked me when it came to feminist issues, was reflecting ruefully on her life. Now 40-something, she expressed a degree of regret and – yes – mild anger at the way she had limited her life in previous decades in a vain effort to conform to what she felt was demanded of her by feminist orthodoxy.
“I wasted years”, was her slightly biter summary.
Fast forward to a debate going on right now on blogs and forums dedicated to some more rarefied theorising about the nature of gender and the rights and wrongs of transition. Specifically, thousands of words dedicated to whether it is “right” to use puberty-blockers to delay puberty for children that claim, early on, that they are trans.
Sub-text: maybe there i no such thing as “trans” after all.
A hard decision
It seems to me, pretty obviously, to be a fraught and difficult issue. But it also seems tht those opposed to this practice are somewhat over-egging their argument.
If we were proposing surgical intervention at 5, i’d be with them.
But no-one is. What is being proposed is an option that allows a child at 11 or 12 to put an outcome (puberty) on hold. Yes, but…yes, but…what if they’re not trans? What if they’re being pushed down this route by pushy parents and meddling therapists? Yep. I get that, too: and if there is any evidence that this is happening, I want it stopped. Now.
But still. This is not surgery. Nor is it even an inevitable preparation for surgery. Its dealing with reality. Because at the end of the day, either the child is going to become an adult that wants to transition or they aren’t. End of. And I defy ANYONE to tell me that they can listen to a child at 12 and tell me what the same person will want six years later.
At the same time, I know, how I know, the one thing that still, sometimes, keeps me awake (and in tears) at night: it is the grief, the awful crushing grief of knowing that because I grew up in a world in which trans was the “freak option”, I came to this late. Nothing can ever give me back the middle years, the teen years, the childhood when I should have been living as a woman.
But I know now, as sure as anything, that if I had been aware back then, and some meddling therapist had forced me thru puberty when I didn’t need to, I would be inclined to go back later and inflict serious and possibly terminal violence on that therapist.
The danger of absolute truths
Nah. The real issue here is not whether it is right or wrong to stop puberty for a particular child. It is a difference – which is not a symmetric difference – between those who argue that there is one truth, and those who argue that until we reach that point, we should allow for there to be many.
The rarefied argument going on right now is between those who argue for a purist genderqueer point of view and those who argue for diversity. The former argue, with some force, that the world should be constructed in such a way that gender is absolutely immaterial. That one can be a “boi” in the morning and “grrl” in the evening and no-one should bat an eyelid.
Added corollary is that in such a world, transition would just be unnecessary. Really?
I think it MIGHT be unnecessary. But I did that thought experiment a while back. What if gender really, REALLY didn’t matter? Would I still want to transition (physically)? Well, how the hell would I know?
We’re not there. Maybe my desire for a more female standard body is just me succumbing to social pressure. And sure: I thought, initially, that my trans-ness was more to do with identity than physiology. But then I was utterly taken aback by how right it felt to make the physical change.
So maybe, in the end, in a totally genderqueer world, whether one opted for surgical intervention for a more masculine or feminine form would be no greater a deal than whether one had a boob job. Which in the end is how I saw it. My grs was not a big thing.
But we’re not there. And that’s the prob. To debate some such possible future is interesting, but so what? It isn’t now. It’s a bit like pure Marxism, which actually proposes the communist model, but only after a great deal (centuries, maybe?) of consciousness raising – which is why Marxist thorists are not at all surprised by the failure of attempts to instal communism in a non-consciousness-raised society like Tsarist Russia.
On the other hand, to argue back from that vision to any view of how things “should be” now is quite malign. It’s a form of absolutism: an attempt to erase the way people live now, by appealing to some putative unknown future.
Individual freedom of choice vs conforming to the ideal
Its intriguing. I have a series of flashpoints with certain radical feminists. And they aren’t about issues per se, so much as the response to that issue.
Sex work? On the whole, I think its probably not ideal: but there are circs in which it makes sense for an individual. So don’t accuse individuals of betraying the whole of womanhood if they opt for it.
A boob job? Make-up? “Femme” lesbians? You know: there are intelligent informed adult women who opt for these for themselves and so long as they don’t, then, try and impose those choices on others, I believe they have the right to.
Whereas, making people feel bad about themselves because they fail to conform to some theoretical model, whether of feminism or of genderqueerness: that’s wrong. And when it shifts into actively stopping people from having access to particular options (like puberty blockers) that starts to become evil.