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Gender Identity and “The Surgery”


Don’t you love statements that start with, “There are two kinds of [insert person type]”? It manages to reduce even the most complex personality characteristics into a neat little Cartesian dualism. No, no, I’m not talking about some jackass named Cartes who fought a dual, but the narrowing of options down to A or B, zero or one, black or white. I’ve heard rumblings of that kind of talk regarding the transsexual population. “There are two kinds of trans. The kind who get GRS and the kind who don’t”. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

I’m going to forewarn you, I am going to speak to my own personal understanding of my condition (or reality, or whatever we chose to call it), so this may come off biased. A little bias is unavoidable, but my point is definitely not to create an A vs. B argument here. Before we get to that, some more disclaimers, cause you know, what the hell, right? I use ‘trans’ for convenience and with the full understanding that the full umbrella includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens, genderqueer, etc. Sorry if I lumped you in ‘etc’, but the list is pretty freaking long. For the sake of this conversation, I’m using ‘trans’ to talk about transsexuals – we who feel very strongly that our operating system (brain, soul or whatever) does not match our hardware, and are compelled to make the change as a life continuing measure.

I’m going to anticipate the first objection up front. “But Michelle, there are so, so many who would kill to get GRS (SRS) but can’t! They can’t afford it, or they are not medically able to due to other reasons, or deathly afraid of surgery! How can you be so insensitive?” Ugh, tough crowd today. No, I’m excepting them from the discussion as that is a whole different topic all together. I’m specifically talking about why some trans who are able in every respect to get GRS do, and some are happy to leave things as they are. By the way, my sister Becky kind of addressed some of this already, and probably much better in her post.

In one of my meetings with my gender specialist, he asked if I was “a purist” or not in terms of wishing to go all the way with my transition, which he explained in his opinion is GRS. At the time, and this was a while ago, I didn’t realize anyone felt otherwise. Why on earth wouldn’t I want to? The question didn’t really make sense to me in that moment. My current, ahem, configuration sure doesn’t match my gender identity by a long shot, so why the hell would I want to keep things the same? While I didn’t suffer from the same hatred and revulsion about my anatomy as some do, I also have no attachment that will prevent me from making the exchange at the earliest opportunity. So what’s with the trans people who say, “nah, I’m good”?

Now, there are those among you I have heard speculate that those who have no compelling reason to seek GRS must not be “real trans” after all. It’s very tempting to think like that, because those of us who can’t imagine not doing it tend to find such thought processes somewhat shocking. “Really, you are going to keep it? Really? Why? What is wrong with you anyway? Poser.” This made sense to me at first. I thought about it though, and came to the conclusion that I was looking at it through “trannier than thou” spectacles. That isn’t right. If I’m trans and she’s trans though, shouldn’t we be marching to the same goal line?

I think the real answer fits in nicely with the truth about our gender identities. Our identity is what it is, whatever body we are in, or even if by some wacky mishap we end up as disembodied brains in jars. I hope the latter never happens, but if it does, rest assured that floating grey blob is decidedly female. From there it comes down to what we need to do to get comfortable in the body we have. Instead of it being a yes or no type question, it’s more a matter of scale as to what measures are required to live a comfortable life. If we were able to go forward doing nothing and making no changes, yet comfortable in our identity, then by all means we should do so. For those of us so horribly uncomfortable that every measure must be taken to move forward, it’s really nothing more than being on the suckier end of the scale.

The final answer is that there are not two kinds of trans, or even two-hundred. By fate, luck, or circumstance, we each land in our own little pocket of the roulette wheel and act accordingly. To those who can but don’t choose GRS, I don’t understand you. Not because I think you are wrong, but simply because I don’t have that. I think, however, that you fell on the lucky side of things, all things considered.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

8 responses »

  1. I am on the opposite side of the spectrum here. I can’t understand how one would go through the trouble of permanently changing their sex. Not that I don’t support people who do, it just doesn’t feel right for me personally.
    I’m not exactly trans either, genderqueer would be more accurate, so that might be why. At first I was angry that some people ‘felt forced to change themselves to be themselves’ before I realized how transphobic that was.
    Later, I realized my dysphoria must just not be as strong as other people’s. Perhaps, I am lucky. On the other hand, while I am spared the worst parts of dysphoria, I am stuck with a mild damned if you do/damned if you don’t position which I might never fully rid myself of.
    However, I still have trouble understanding the strong dysphoric feelings the people who get surgery feel. Perhaps it’s one of those things that can’t be properly understood without science and we’re just not there yet.

  2. This topic reminds me of a time long ago when I was decidedly atheistic and very unable to comprehend how anyone with any ability at all to reason and think critically could believe in a diety or any other supernatural entity or controlling Force in the Universe. It boggled my mind there could be not just some people like this, but a whole LOT of them, and despite their numbers falling off here and there, they just wouldn’t learn to think MY way quick enough to please me. I actually got angry about the whole situation at one point. “What dummies,” I thought. Somewhere along the line after that, I mellowed out and came to see that as long as they weren’t hurting anyone else or causing anyone to not enjoy the same freedom to think and practice what they believed as themselves, then these “believers” could do as they pleased as far as I was concerned.

    With time, lots of it, I sort of came to the conclusion that maybe, possibly, there ARE things in this world that are beyond my ability to explain, and that perhaps don’t necessarily point to a designer or creator, but certainly merit some consideration as factual. Some circumstances in my own existence have perplexed me to no end, and despite my trying to explain them away reasonably (human propensity for pattern recognition and categorization, freak occurrance, etc), they keep happening over and over, as if the Universe IS trying to tell me something. So I suppose I am back to being an agnostic until someone comes along and says, “Oh, that’s just blah blah blah, and here’s the scientific explanation…”

    What I think I’m getting at here is that sometimes we take a very hard line attitude about what we think other people are capable of feeling or believing and filter that through our own current feelings and beliefs, and we conclude that these other people’s feelings are non sequitur. “How can one be transgendered and NOT want to have The Surgery? They are not true trans.” (I know I’m repeating a lot of what was already written here, but, so what.) For myself, I don’t associate my genetalia with my gender. Perhaps because of its diminutive size, I don’t know. Perhaps because it’s been part of me for a very long time and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. Perhaps I am intersex in some way; I can identify both ways, but I would much rather identify as female. Just don’t need to have the body part corrected.

    I loved the analogy of the roulette wheel. Reds and blacks, but a whole lot of little compartments, maybe one for every little ball in existence. Each of us unique. I learned that when I was self diagnosing my Asperger’s condition. It’s a VERY broad spectrum and there may be generalizations, but no defining one-size-fits-all description. Could very well cover transgenderism and all the associated -isms. Thanks for allowing me to contribute my thoughts…

    • Thanks so much for contributing Deanna! I don’t have much to add – I think we are very much on the same page. Actually, not true about nothing to add… I have noticed that taking estrogen has made me much more open minded in regards to spirituality. I’ll never be religious, but my attitude has morphed from hardcore agnostic and possible atheist to saying “I don’t know… maybe”. Or perhaps it’s just advancing age. If anyone ever catching me hanging tea bags from my hat though, you have my express command to shoot me dead. 🙂

  3. Have been doing some research on this and come to the conclusion that a person has not only a “body image” but also a “social image”. Pretty much, all trans are those of us who have a social image that matches that of a gender we were not assigned at birth. But there’s no guarantee that the body image is going to match that for folk like us who undergo surgery hopefully the change helps match up the physical reality with our body image.

    Mind you, I have heard and read stories about folk who were dissatisfied with the GRS, who either realised they’d “made a mistake”, or claimed that “they’d been pushed into it by medical experts” who said “it would cure them”. Naturally the media jumps on these stories because they’re sensational but there must be some who do make mistakes, and perhaps medical practitioners who perhaps mislead their patients. However I know that some patients aren’t always honest with their gatekeepers and medical consultants. I sat with a friend once who blatantly lied to her psych in order to get a referral for surgery. That might not have been a problem but she had major complications afterwards. Who’s to blame in such a circumstance – the psych of the client who lies to them?

    Anyway, when it came time for myself to undergo transition, I deferred my own GRS for some time. I chose NOT to make it my highest priority (in fact I started a bachelors in Fine Arts in the middle of things) because I didn’t want to get into “tunnel vision” where I saw the GRS as being either an end to the transition (it’s the middle) or “proof of womanhood”. As it happened I realised that I was ready for it when I went to Sydney to visit a friend who was recovering from their own surgery.

    The surgeon did two GRS surgeries each 2nd Monday, and while I was there I decided to visit the other patient. It transpired that it was someone I’d known during my teens, and not had much contact with since then! Wasn’t until I got home that I realised how meeting them had brought up just how strongly I felt about “getting done”. But I knew, after 7 years of transition, that I really was ready for it, and that it was only for myself and no one else.

    Never regretted it, but I can understand why others might not want it.

  4. Pingback: Trannier Than Thou « Michellelianna

  5. Pingback: So, which is it? | Women of the Patriarchy

  6. I, for the most part, agree with you. Recently I wrote a research paper on GID for a college class. In that, and through tons of research, I evolved from your original point to one that regards this more as a medical condition. Not a disease or mental illness, but like an intersex condition of the brain. I will highlight the fact that I said “like” in that statement, not “the same as.” The studies on brain structures and neuron counts is simply fascinating, and it is consistently pointing to the fact that trans* people have a fundamental difference in the brain that is almost identical to their gender identity – regardless of hormone use. I see it that, just as with any other medical condition, each person suffers from a different intensity of symptoms; two people both may have a cold with a fever, but one will experience far more pain and body aches than the other — yet both have a cold. I think the same concept applies here. Like you, I don’t understand those who do not seek GRS/SRS even though it is readily and easily within their means. The best way for me to understand it is that they do not suffer this particular symptom to the same degree as me, all things otherwise being equal, and that is okay. As a matter of fact, good for them! It saves them a lot of pain and expense. I, like you, find myself thinking that they are lucky in that regard. However, if one were to dangle a check to pay for my GRS/SRS in front of me with no strings attached, I would grab it in a heartbeat.

    • Very well said Valerie! I really appreciate you weighing in here. My investigations into the medical side of things has been sparse at best, and something I need to do much more of. Not that it changes anything, but I love speaking from a place of knowledge rather than going off half cocked like I’m often prone to. I would love to hear more from you! You have a talent for analogy that really affirms your position. 🙂



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