Birth Defects

Ladies and gentlemen, on the count of three, change your gender!

No, of course. It's not that easy to switch. In general, it takes a lot of time, effort, blood, sweat and tears to even stand a chance. Not to mention money, for all the psycological tests, the hormones, the electrolysis, the eventual reassignment surgery... All for a little peace of mind, and a shot at acceptance by that group of people you've always desired to belong to.

Hi there, I'm your author. I'm Belgian, 22, and male-to-female. This site contains my own perspective on gender and gender dysphoria, and it's a perpetual work in progress. Feel free to email me about its contents, or talk to me over a chat program. If you'd like to see more about my daily life, please take a look here. I'll interrupt the flow of the argument every now and again for a little personal background.

All because we were born with something between our legs that's different, wrong. Because our physical attributes are somehow incorrect.

Of course you were born that way

Many people claim gender dysphoria is innate - one of the chromosomes in their final pair has an extra leg, or is missing one. Or their actual genitals don't match the chromosomes, for instance when someone has XX chromosomes, and is a healthy young man. In this case, people who feel they're the wrong gender point to birth defects. Others claim that the feeling is caused by a gene or a group of genes, quite similar to a "gay gene", or that they have a male or female brain.

This is likely false.

Chromosomally speaking, many people who have a pair different from the "norm" aren't aware of this, since it's not routinely tested on. Exact numbers don't exist, but it's likely that if you test for it, you already suspect or hope they're different. When other people have been forced to undergo these tests, such as famously female Olympic athletics teams, a significant number turned out to have XY chromosomes, something they never suspected. They were excluded from the competition on that basis. Besides, a significant number of people are born intersexed, or with final chromosome pairs that look like XO, XXX, XXY, etcetera. The intersexed are usually "fixed" at birth by the surgeon, but many of them resent this, and recently the ethicality of determining the baby's gender in that way has been questioned.

Medical science has always started from the concept that only two sexes exist, and has categorized people who didn't fit as errors. Although it's true that "men" and "women" make up the majority of people, it's more than likely that genitals or sexual characteristics are simply legitimate alternate varieties, not necassarily handicaps or birth defects. People with differing chromosome combinations are usually in the same boat, although they're usually unaware of their status if they haven't specifically tested for it.

This is not a research paper. While I try to be scientific, sometimes I don't have these numbers or sources onhand - often the thought or reference has been stashed inside my head for a few years. I'll update my writing as I come to new insights or come across the source articles again.

The existence of a gay gene has never been proven, and genes are much less influential than pop culture indicates. Sociobiology does have its place in determining the origins of impulses, but humankind is in possession of free will: it can transcend base impulses and become more than simply a reproduction and fitness machine. No gene exists that resulted in Pythagoras discovering his theorem, that encouraged Breugel to paint or that stipulated Oscar Wilde become a playwright. Genes don't matter at all in human feats of engineering, or of economics, and no genetical configuration resulted in the Statue of Liberty being built. Humans are logical creatures and can make their own decisions, and your genes do not predict your future.

The "gendered brain" theories date back to Freud's days, and are based on the concepts that women's brains have been configured to deal with tasks traditionally considered to be theirs. These tests are more of an interesting indicator of what people think is feminine than whether your brain is feminine or no. Most of them are laughably unscientific, as they are often based on a single trait that is considered generally more masculine than feminine, such as mathematical aptitude or good spatial reasoning. This understanding of the brain is outdated, as well. Nowadays, we're aware the brain functions like a muscle you can train, and that it changes shape depending on whether it's being trained and what abilities are being focussed on. If a test claims that you are male because your brain is better at spatial reasoning than it expects, that only proves that you're good at spatial reasoning, because you do it often. Even logic is trained, to an extent: after two months of summer beach time, students score about 20 points lower on their IQ tests than they normally would. In any case, your score on these tests says very little about the physical makeup of your brain at birth, or your gender. If you were a female architect, you'd likely recieve very masculine scores.

The body you were born with says very little about whether you're likely to be a transsexual.

Catching genders

If transsexuality doesn't have a fixed biological cause, it must be societal in nature. For some reason, somehow and sometime, a self-identification as another gender than the one you were percieved as snuck in. A lot of factors could have caused this shift, admiration, fear, escapism.

The first gendered memories I have date back to when I was 7 or 8. I daydreamed about being like Barbie and the token females from my daily cartoons, taking characters' roles. I bought a candy lipstick from the store on a hot June day, when the asphalt on the playground stuck to my sneakers. Secretly, I practised in front of the mirror with it, somehow making it last all summer. I felt incredibly guilty, and it was the worst thing I'd ever done, but it was a very pleasant guilty.

The problem with accepting this position is that it's subject to criticism. This is the same reason why gay gene theories are so popular. People with certain genes are not responsible for their actions, while, if a certain behavior isn't determined by those genes, they are responsible. Non-genetic behavior that's undesirable is often considered a mental illness, so the studies focusing on the genetic or innate try to invalidate this criticism. This is tactically futile, since their political opponents won't be swayed. It's also ingenuine, and it's not a loving or empowering way of looking at yourself or others. The actual problem isn't whether anyone can "help it", but the tolerance and criminalization of effectively victimless behaviors. In other words, whether it should be helped and why.

But that does mean there's a choice. All of us have a say in their lives, we are not simply victims. Everyone can decide for themselves whether to conform or diverge.

When I was 16, I first found a reference to what I was in the library - a book about the horrible situations transsexuals foisted on their loving families by living out their dementia. But at least I knew I had a name now. I truly tried to be a man. I tried really hard. I had a loving girlfriend, a career in my sights, acceptance by my parents. I could have continued unhappily being a man, and being very good at that. But when I decided to tell my girlfriend how I felt, the relationship was de facto over. When it had run its course, I thought: no more lies.

Of course, this doesn't mean any man can state he's a woman now and suddenly have everyone treat him as one, nor can someone wake up one morning and say "think I'll be a man today," and then expect it to work. Gender is often seen as a group of mindsets, interests and mannerisms stemming from the physical body. If that was really true, transsexuals wouldn't exist. More likely these are behaviors and mannerisms attributed to or associated with certain physical bodies, but they don't flow from them naturally. That actually makes more sense, since the vast majority of what we think of as "gendered" is social, not biological. The upshot of this is that the true locus of masculinity is not your penis, but your mind. The best was to transition is study the gendered behaviors you see around you, and trying to understand why they exist, and which ones are typically masculine or feminine and therefore inappropriate for you.

That also means that that the process of fine-tuning this mindset, which in theory never ends, composes about 95% of the spirit of transgenderism, with actual operations to bring your body into line with the body type expected of your gender being just a small part. Simply undergoing an op won't make you any more of a man or a woman, in practice - it's just molding your body. The actual gender goes on in your mind.

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