That was the first question that a mate from work asked when he found out about a colleague’s decision to transition. The starting point and the destination of the journey do not matter. What mostly fascinates people is not the reason behind an individual’s informed decision to pursue gender reassignment, but the way this is pursued.
In fact, there is no difference whether one starts their journey with XX chromosomes or with XY. Since people are not able to know what’s in your DNA at a glance, they are not keen on exploring biology and how medicine and technology might be able to assist in any adjustments required. What really matters is what you look like and most importantly what conclusions they can draw from your appearance.
Writing this article from sunny Greece I have to stick with the example of the beach. Why a top to support one’s breasts is so important? And why an empty padded bra matter so much?
Gender norms make society have certain expectations from male or female presenting individuals. Mums are eager to put on bikini tops to pre-puberty young girls, even though there is no breast development, simply because they are assigned female at birth. Dads secretly can’t wait to find out that their son can efficiently change a flat tire. If these examples seem to be taken from a Victorian novel, have a look around in popular media. TV hosts are mostly feminine looking girls with perfect bouncy curls, while newscasters are well-suited men with broad shoulders and deep voices.
It would be interesting to explore how today’s society would treat Louis XIV if he was strolling the capital’s high street with his prominently heeled shoes, symbol of wealth in the 17th century. A symbol of masculinity that turned to a mean of sexualisation for women as soon as cameras and media came in the picture. Another example would be men from African tribes wearing skirts and makeup to attract wives in local ceremonies. In that case, the perception of the man being the predator is challenged as the tribes give a more passive role to the males, letting the women pick their spouses first.
On the other side, the Navajo culture embraces ‘two-spirited’ individuals. Masculine women, considered sacred, are chosen by the community as representatives of this tradition, they are equally wealthy with cis-men and they are living their life as the opposite gender with the ability to marry a wife and also if preferred have sex with males, too.
Examples as such clearly demonstrate the social aspect of gender rather than the biological side of transitioning. Today most transgender individuals seek medical assistance and surgical interference to alleviate dysphoria caused by undesired body parts. But for some of them, starting hormone treatment or going under the knife might be a matter of social blending.
In the end, it will all change as technology and social media involve people in discussions about the matter and raise awareness regarding acceptance and equality. For the time being, I am grabbing my towel and running to the sea. In swimming shorts and t-shirt!
This article is part of my contribution in the very constructive Dialogue on Gender that Shama Rahman thoughtfully initiated at The Book Club in London, on Aug. 16th 2016.