Power and Control

Facebook spits out old posts — “memories” — and sometimes it yields something fascinating or insightful.

This morning, I had an old post presented to me, one which is still timely:

15K words on the second draft of the book. The narrator explains trans people problems in a prehistoric world. Not sure about use of the word “gender”; I’d have to do more research into concepts of gender in cultures without written language:

“I suppose I should feel fortunate she didn’t just say I should be cast out of the longhouse entirely, but sleeping in a pile of dogs that bite and smell like shit didn’t make me very grateful. It also didn’t make me very grateful that, though I tried to explain to Meldwyn, and then Rigan, that I was a man, I was apparently not the expert on my own gender anymore. No of course not. I have no experience with my own body and who I know myself to be. I have no experience of living as myself, as a man. None at all. And so my word could be disregarded, because what do I know of being myself?”

I wrote this six years ago, and of course it is still true. Doctors, therapists, government bodies, etc., all still determine what a person’s gender is for them, based on cultural “norms” and not that person’s lived experience.

Exhibit A: my insurance will let me have surgery, but I must meet with at least two therapists (who are probably not trans) who decide, for me, if I am eligible for surgery. If you have a burst appendix, do you need two therapists to decide if you are competent to receive surgery before you die? If you break your wrist and require surgery do you need a therapist? The only other area I can think of that has such restrictions is tubal litigations and hysterectomies, in which case a surgeon will flat out not do the procedure if the patient does not meet certain criteria.

Make no mistake: in both the cases of trans patients and tubal litigations and hysterectomies, it’s all about power and control. It’s about codifying what is or is not a man or woman. It’s about telling trans people: look, you can be trans, but only in the way we (cisgender people) say so. We must conform to gendered ideas of what it means to be male and female.

I know this because I’ve been through this rodeo before, when I began hormone therapy. Prior to transition, I primarily experienced discomfort in social settings, being called “she” and “miss”. This is referred to as social dysphoria. I also had some physical dysphoria, discomfort with aspects of my body (my voice, for instance), but overwhelmingly I just knew myself as male. Maybe with some unique attributes and experience, but I was male. Yet in order to receive coveted hormone therapy, which would allow me to transition into the person I saw myself as, I had to sit down with a therapist for three sessions and have them write a letter detailing how eligible I was for hormone therapy.

I would also have to lie. I knew this based on what other trans men had told me. Don’t mention you liked dresses and princesses as a kid. Butch it up. Wear plaid. No long hair. Oh, and pretend you are straight.

I didn’t have to lie about any of this.

I lied about how I felt about my body. Because while there were things about my body I desired to change, there were plenty of things I did not dislike at all. But that is not the textbook trans person, at least according to cis people: we loathe our bodies. If I didn’t loathe my body, then I might not be get the hormone therapy I desperately needed.

So I lied to get the letter.

I transitioned nine years ago, and wouldn’t you know? I’m a normal, healthy man in my 30’s, who just happens to have some interesting parts. And I like them, thank you very much. I yearn for the day I don’t have to wear a binder when I go out and I can just be what I am. I am not ashamed of my body as is. A hysterectomy would be nice, mostly for convenience. Beyond that I have no desire to change my body and kowtow to cultural expectations of what it means to be a trans man.

And I wish there were more narratives like that out there — of trans and nonbinary people making unconventional choices, choices which defy the existing power structures that seek to neuter them, literally and figuratively.

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