I love my parents. I truly do. But I find that I have not been enjoying their company on this occasion nearly as much as I should, for all of our interactions this time have been overshadowed and poisoned by that one great storm cloud on the horizon, the Issue Which Dare Not Speak Its Name For Fear of Reifying It.
My parents, as ever, don’t understand it. It confuses and frightens them. They are worried that I am ruining my life; that I will undermine my job prospects, my freedom and my safety by embracing such a reviled identity. I think that these concerns are legitimate, but I think that they are better directed at policy makers than they are at me; surely, if a minority is being oppressed, the moral thing to do would be to change society such that this minority is not being oppressed—rather than putting the onus on the members of this minority to hide themselves better. But alas, the thought of either of my parents engaging in political activism, even to the extent of, for example, writing their MP to ask her to support Randall Garrison’s anti-Trans* Discrimination Bill in parliament, is inconceivable, as it is, curiously, for so many members of their generation.
But above all, the main problem, as I see it, is that they do not understand my transgenderism. And while this is at least in part their fault for not bothering to conduct any research at all on the subject (the older generation, in addition to not utilizing the Internet’s political potential, also seem curiously blind to its educational power as well), it is also possible that I have not myself done an adequate job in explaining it. And this is because I have had severe difficulty rationalizing it to myself.
I am, first of all, a scientist. I believe that entities that exist in the real world are philosophically reducible to material causes and their logical effects. Thus, while I have tried (at least of late) to be more open-minded towards things like post-modernism, sociology and non-neurologically-based psychology, I find them inherently suspicious because they do not deal with robust, well-defined material causes—just ‘factors’ at which statistics can only hint, or worse, ideas which inhabit an airy-fairy world of their own where literally anything goes. I find post-modern theories of gender to be wholly unsatisfactory: likewise, while it may be true that different cultures have conceived of gender in ways that are wholly different from those of our modern western civilization (thus putting the lie to the naturalness or authority of the patriarchal gender binary), I find that such models have little to say about how these discrepancies arise in the first place. A range of sociological explanations have been put forward, mostly by people who seem to have never actually spoken to a trans person in the totality of their lives; they are easily (and correctly) dismissed. Nor do I believe (at least in any way that I would try to defend intellectually) in a Soul—in some animating principle existing separately from the meaty machinery of the body. For this reason, quasi-religious explanations in terms of gendered souls being entombed in the wrong bodies strike me as faintly ridiculous—like saying that thunder is caused by Angels bowling.
So what am I? I at first turned to a range of bio-medical explanations; there are a number of them, and perhaps one or more of them have some legitimacy. Allegedly, we trans women have female-typical brain structures, or at least tend to do so. I don’t know how much stock I put in this one, though: I know very little about the brain, but one thing that I do know is its remarkable degree of plasticity; surely it’s possible that these differences are acquired characteristics—the result of years spent attempting to ‘perform’ the female gender, even before coming out. This is not to denigrate the legitimacy of this performance, mind you: cis-gendered girls also teach themselves to perform their gender; my point though, is that it seems perfectly possible (at least from my own, admittedly ill-informed neurological perspective) that these differences are “symptoms” rather than “causes” (pardon the medical language). Moreover, I have never had my own brain looked at to see if this argument even applies to me, so if I were to run around saying that I had a female brain, I would be no better than those piteously moronic RadFeminist “Wommeen-born-Wommeenz” who run around boasting about their double-X chromosomal status without even knowing what the fuck a ‘karyotype’ is. There’s also that persistent suggestion that transgenderism is caused by the relative amounts of androgens absorbed by fetuses in utero. This one appears to have some degree of currency, and even relates directly to myself, since I have a female-typical digit ratio between my second and fourth fingers (which, allegedly, is a good indicator of the degree of in utero androgen absorption). But attempting to justify oneself through such a minor phenotypical trait would be ridiculous—like that scene in Life is Beautiful where Roberto Benigni’s character parodies Eugenics by arguing for the superiority of Aryan bellybuttons. And the idea of whipping out a ruler and measuring my fingers when challenged about gender identity is like a scene out of a bad farce.
And yet, though I cannot seem to explain it, or quantify it in any meaningful way (at least, not yet) I know it to be real. I am a woman.
What I can do, however, is try to conceptualize it; to show it through its effects: to provide a functional definition of what it means to me and me alone. And towards that end—putting my thoughts in order, so that I can better explain it to myself, so that ultimately I can better explain it to other people, I am going to embark on a rather ambitious project: a first-hand account of my experiences with transgenderism. A “Secret History” of my own life.