A Philosophy of Gender - Ramblings of A Pensioner

Vicky Haslam

Gendys Conference, 2000


The concept of the "in-between" that has been discussed at a previous meeting is one that does not appeal to all. However, just as there are physical intersex births, the transsexual is in a similar sense a psychological intersex, though indeed there is, as yet, no evidence of possible foetal hormonal alterations which may create an intersex state which although it shows itself in gender behaviour has nevertheless a type of physical causation.

Be that as it may, society requires in almost every aspect of life that an individual should come down on one side of the gender divide and anyone who attempts to do otherwise is an object of curiosity if not ridicule.

The speaker has experienced such ridicule, not within the gender scene, but in the self-confessed role of croquet player. This sport, for some reason, is an object of derision. For those in York who have been watching four legged large mammals run around a track and, while drinking large quantities of beer, have bet on which of them have come in first, then making their way from the racecourse to further public houses in the city, they pass York Croquet Club, where their remarks vary from the mildly witty to the frankly obscene. It is unfortunately human nature amongst the less educated section of humanity to mock the afflicted and those who are different. One should not perhaps be surprised since the same occurs in many other animal species.

Two aspects of gender will be covered in this talk, the one being why society seems to need to dichotomize people on to one side or the other of the gender fence, and whether if society did not have this need (a purely fantasy theory) the cross dresser would need to carry out all the passing rituals which need to take place and the surgery which in the transsexual end of the gender spectrum often must go with it.

Having recently in retirement taken up a theology course it is interesting to note during the last module that Robin Scroggs who was writing on the concept of Christianity as a sect in its early history could well have been writing on the cross dresser in the comments that he made. He saw the sect as a protest or reaction by a group against repression to whom status had been denied. There was always some rejection of the society that was humiliating the sect so that this sect would become more isolated. This led to increasing mutual acceptance and support within the sect group for each other as having a common enemy. This tended to override the more ordinary differences in status, work, interests or indeed intelligence that the members might otherwise find troublesome in normal society.

There was usually a "badge" of membership with some sort of initiation which identified the sect group and the sect in this way kept itself different from the whole.

There was within the sect a concept of looking towards a better time to come when all would be put right and the group would in some way be accepted. This in reality was often a vain hope, though it came perhaps in Christianity with the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, which made it acceptable if not compulsory for Romans to perceive the need for conversion. Perhaps Britain needs a transsexual Prime Minister or Head of State before this will come to pass here.

Finally the sect was Adventist in the sense of looking towards the future when the kingdom might be felt to be nigh. Perhaps this is where the gender community diverges from otherwise sectarian concept.

The vast majority of society, quite understandably, presumes that the difference between male or female lies within the possession of a penis or a vagina. Since some 999 in every 1000 births has a clear and unequivocal division in this respect this is not unreasonable. The small rare number who for whatever reason cross this gender or sexual in the anatomical sense divide may prove the rule but are not sufficient to create a new rule for society's behaviour.

Suppose brain awareness is different from body configuration in the transsexual and the non-fetishistic end of the transvestite continuum. What does that make the cross dresser, and indeed so what? Those who try to go against society's mores do experience the danger as does the croquet player in a bowls-orientated society of being marginalised and made to feel foolish.

It is proposed therefore to pose a number of questions to the reader in order to determine how one might react if one finds oneself in this situation.

1) Do you perceive yourself as being within the sect as described above?

2) Are you able to pass in your chosen role in society acceptably? If not do you care?

3) Do your friends and relations know about your condition and if they do not then why not? How does this relate to your family? Wife or husband or children? There are big ethical dilemmas in "coming out".

4) Is it practical for you to exist in the "other" gender role? This question embraces finance and the ability to earn money, the social networks which you may have to leave behind in creating the change, and the lifestyle that goes with these things. What do you have to give up? Is it worth it?

5) Is it practical to straddle the gender divide and to exist in two roles, and indeed is this something emotionally that you could cope with? This may be a compromise that is the only real way of coping with reality. Is it actually worth it?

6) Are you abnormal? Are you diseased? Should you be in the psychiatric section or any section of the International Classification of Diseases? What is it to do with doctors, how you choose to portray your gender in society? Your gender does not match your physical appearance. Is that a problem for society rather than for you? The reality is that the cross dresser is in the International Classification of Diseases and the equivalent American Classification rightly or wrongly whereas golfers and people with red hair are not. Is there a genuine difference? Presumably people who are highly skilled in golf are so for genetic and possibly early environmental reasons and certainly the individual with red hair is statistically deviant in the blond, black hair colour continuum. Is this where protest should lie?

7) If your brain does not match your body, which is actually right? Which is the dominant one that would identify your gender? A play by Alan Aickbourn comes to mind where two women both have their heads severed at the neck by a helicopter blade, fortunately in the presence of a very skilled plastic surgeon who was able to reattach them before they died. Unfortunately he attached the heads to the wrong body so that the attractive model found herself with a rather fat ugly body, and the lady with the fat ugly body found herself having to cope with the body of a model. It was not easy for either party or indeed for their male partners, and the play after this rather silly start explores in some depth how individuals might react to that type of body change. A transsexual is to some extent in that position.

8) So what is the big deal about gender? Why does society care so much, but indeed does society care so much? Are we actually making a fuss about nothing when exposing ourselves to public gaze? An interesting situation occurred at one of the early Scarborough weekend get togethers some years ago where the hotel bar was open not just to the cross- dressing guests who had come for the weekend but also to the general public. Initially one or two cross dressers entered the bar and were within a larger group of locals. They came in for some funny looks and some ribbing. Within the next twenty minutes or so however more and more of the TV/TS weekenders appeared in the bar and the locals increasingly became a minority, their attitude suffered an interesting change over that period of time, but in the end everybody finished up getting on all right.

9) Finally do you really want or need an operation? People do not see on the whole the naughty bits unless you choose to have sex. In which role will you be choosing to have sex if at all, and indeed post-operatively how good might that sex be? Is it possible to live full time without problems and without operative gender change? Simply having hormones and electrolysis, or whatever is necessary to pass externally. Charing Cross does not seem keen on this latter process.

To summarize therefore, taking everything into consideration, is it practical and realistic for you? How far along the road do you wish to travel? Can you afford it? Can you survive it? What will it achieve for you and what will you lose? Is it indeed worth it?

There are many steps along the way. For the male to female the removal of hair and particularly beard growth is essential. This really needs to be done before the real life test. Hormones will need to be given to the majority and these have their complications and dangers. Will breast augmentation be necessary for convincing change and how do the thigh, neck and shoulders match up, and in the male to female, the Adam's Apple? Voice pitch needs to be worked at, and the real life test experienced. Then there is the question of the operation with the highly mutilatory processes particularly in the female to male with breast, uterus and ovarian removal and phalloplasty. If this is to be done privately it is very expensive. If it is to be done on the NHS there is a long wait and hurdles to be jumped.

Would you therefore, if somebody produced an effective treatment that would alter the Brain gender making all these other problems unnecessary and allow you to revert to being a full- blooded male or female without gender problems, would you swallow the pill? In many cases, I suspect not.


Citation: Haslam, V., (2000), A Philosophy of Gender - Ramblings of A Pensioner., GENDYS 2k, The Sixth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
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