July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
…is what counts. At least that is how the saying goes. This will be one of those Chronicles where I am sure to put my foot in my mouth, as I dabble into territory with which I am quite unfamiliar. But I’d rather pose it as a question:
What is on the inside?
Inside Bruce Jenner was Caitlyn Jenner waiting to be set free. At least that is what the headlines say, and from all appearances it looks to be true. Well, more power to… which Jenner? Bruce, who started the transformation or Caitlyn who is the (more or less?) result? I suppose only Caitlyn is there now, so no sense in congratulating Bruce? In any event, the point is let Caitlyn do what Bruce wanted, I guess. All kidding aside, I say live and let live – if Bruce wants to be Caitlyn, then Caitlyn she is. But there are a few things I do not quite understand. Even a confession of ignorance such as this is sure to be met with some measure of ridicule or at the very least incredulity by the masses who have just as predictably voiced their support and admiration for Caitlyn Jenner, who apparently deserves a presidential “way to go!” Ok, I don’t want to rain on her parade just yet, but I’m not sure why ‘coming out’ as a woman after living 65 years as a man merits recognition more than say a Soldier or a police officer risking his or her life for duty, even without any special heroic deed. Yet very few Soldiers and even fewer law enforcement officers get the honor of a presidential nod (especially in these toxic times that have seen the wholesale vilification of police with little regard to the merits or shortcomings of individual officers). Not that I am criticizing our commander in chief. I would not do that. Plus I understand this is a public issue considered to be significant, so weighing in on it was probably appropriate and politically expedient. I also understand applauding the courage of someone who stands by a choice they feel is right despite exposing themselves to jeopardy of ridicule. I am sure there will be much talk about the “effect on our community” and the need for more “role models” who are not afraid to “be who they are inside,” and whatnot, in the name of “progress.” So, although I am perfectly happy to recognize the former Bruce as the new Caitlyn, and although I think this ‘news’ is not quite as newsworthy as the hype makes it out to be, I guess, this is also something I understand. Those things I understand. I take this topic to be greater than just a photo shoot involving a formerly male celebrity who now wishes to be identified as female. I do not care to dissect the various differences between transsexualism, transvestism, or transgender, and I do not know what Caitlyn Jenner’s physical status is. For my purposes, I wish to discuss the notion of gender reassignment through surgery, i.e. a ‘sex-change’ operation. Again, I do not know if Caitlyn has had or intends to have such a procedure. I am simply using the newsworthy topic of Bruce becoming Caitlyn to discuss an issue that I feel needs to be brought to light, at least for me. Which is precisely what President Obama did, so I suppose I am in good company. What I do not understand, admittedly among a whole host of things in this topic of which I know very little, is what exactly Bruce meant he said she is Caitlyn on the inside.
What is on the inside?
I am sure there are those who will enjoy explanations such as “the soul of a woman.” This, however agreeable it may be to one’s ‘spiritual views,’ is hardly sufficient scientific or medical justification to perform a surgery that mutilates the naturally present genitals and re-shapes them into a man-made proxy for those of the opposite sex. This, even with the rigorous accompanying hormone therapy, effects at best a superficial transformation, no matter how convincing on the surface. The bone structure, the chromosomes, the myriad of other sex-linked differences to include the inner workings of the ‘hidden’ parts of the sexual organs remain, thus exposing (or rather, retaining the possibility for) those who formerly identified as female to the risk of ovarian cancer, for example. I also don’t quite understand what a person such as Bruce says when he says he feels like a woman inside.
How does he know how it feels to be a woman?
Even for a person who has lived his whole life as a male but has always felt that it is not the ‘correct’ gender and he would rather be a she, it is still not possible to know what being a ‘she’ is like; he has never been a she. Nor will he ever become a she; at least not in a biological sense. Modern medicine may work wonders through surgery and hormone therapy, but the factual result is a genetically and structurally male person with surgically altered genitals and artificial hormones. I do not want to degrade any person for choosing this, and I will happily accommodate her wish to be addressed by the female pronoun and a female name (or vice versa). But that does little to change the underlying facts: while we as a society may defer to the wishes of such individuals in the spirit of honoring the principle of self-determination, the biological reality remains unchanged, thinly veiled under a man-made mask. Still, the issue of honoring that individual’s choice is not problematic. The thornier issue is why a claim like “I feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body” or “I have a soul of a woman” by a man is taken so seriously by the medical profession that it is seen fit to form the basis of drastic, irreversible surgery. I understand the difference between gender and sex, and I also am aware that many babies are born with physical characteristics that defy a rigid dichotomy and demand perhaps the broadening of our conceptual schemes. At the same time, it seems to me that such talk of one or the other gender being on the ‘inside’ is a throwback to, if not at least outdated concepts of Cartesian dualism, then to notions of daemonic possession. “He has a devil in him!” they would say, centuries ago, when our backward scientific understanding failed to account for the workings of our brain and nervous systems, and posited a ‘soul’ not as a metaphor but as the best explanation for what is responsible for our consciousness and intentionality. Even if we posit that there are gendered brains/nervous systems/other biological structures or even a ‘consciousness’ (but somehow a more scientifically defined one than a ‘soul’) that can be somehow misplaced inside the wrong body, as far as I know we still do not have any way to show this with any empirical measure. In other words, we have no more to rely on for this notion of being one gender trapped in the body of another gender than the individual’s own account. And that account cannot possibly be true, because that individual has no way of knowing what ‘being’ another gender is like. Yet we treat this with drastic, irreversible surgery which – if nothing else – seems to lack scientific basis and seems at any rate less justified than attempting to treat the cause of why a male might feel like a female trapped in a male body. Wouldn’t it make more sense to address the issue that causes this perception? If we ever do find a physically identifiable difference between the brains (i.e., whatever is physically on the ‘inside’) of those who feel they are trapped in the wrong body, why would we not address the issue by trying to change that brain? Wouldn’t that be a less invasive, less drastic step? As I said at the outset, I am no expert on this topic. More power to Caitlyn for doing what she wants, being who she wants to be. She is not harming anyone, so who cares? And whether or not the discussion of gender reassignment surgery applies to her, I do not know, and it does not matter. I am just raising the issue because that is the whole point of recognizing the ‘good’ of such publicity – to start a discussion of related issues. Isn’t it? From my perspective, I fail to see a sound, scientific, reasonable explanation why the medical profession would choose to address what I am sure is a very serious issue for a patient by performing such a medically extreme procedure involving surgery and hormone therapy, when less invasive procedures may be available to deal with the cause, including therapy and perhaps also hormone treatment, to perhaps change that “female” on the inside to match the body, or vice versa. I am sure there are those who are eager to lecture about the long process of verifying that this truly is the only option, etc., and of the heartache and often tragic lives of those who are forced to live in a way that they feel does not reflect who they are. I sympathize. However, all the talk of that individual’s perception of themselves does not change the fact that in addressing a perceived incompatibility between the person’s physical gender and who they feel themselves to be will require adjustment to one or the other: the physical body or who they feel themselves to be. Choosing the former in the form of surgery seems to be the more drastic option to me, and with at best questionable scientific basis. We look forward to your letters.