25 October 2016

Gender

There are some aspects of my life that I like to keep quiet. Not least is the fact that I am a landlord. Not the landlord of "The Red Lion" or "Ye Olde Bull's Head" but a domestic landlord. I achieved this position, not through ambition but by default, when our son departed the city of his birth to live in the den of iniquity we call London. We took over his house.

For the past year the house has been occupied by two young men. They have been perfect tenants - even though they refused to doff their baseball caps to their landlord. They have kept the house nice and tidy and paid their rent on time every month.

Yesterday they reached the end of their tenancy so I went over to check out the house and collect the keys. No problem whatsoever.

One of the young men said he was moving back to his parents' house. Twice he muttered something about a medical procedure for which he'd need a lot of cash.After his third reference I lowered my voice an octave and asked what his problem was. Well, you could have struck me down with a feather when he replied he was hoping to change his gender! In other words, a sex change operation!

Growing up in East Yorkshire, I had never even heard of people opting to change gender and the idea of a sex change operation would have seemed like a notion from some twisted science fiction novel. 

Immediately, I felt a wave of pity for this pleasant and well-mannered young man. Of course all of us want happiness in our lives and need to feel comfortable within our own skins. But is a sex change operation with all of the associated medicines, gradual  physical changes and counselling sessions really going to lead him to the gates of happiness? I very much doubt it. And what will his grandparents think... and his old schoolmates? I rather fear there'll be hell to pay.

Long ago, on my South Pacific island, I taught a teenage boy called Susau. He lived in the westernmost village - Lopta. He had never seen a television or any media images of transvestites or cross-dressers. and I am sure he had never read a word about blurred gender boundaries or ladyboys.

In the school, Susau only mixed with girls. He had a strong and funny personality and was popular with all his classmates. You couldn't miss him. Back in Lopta, he spent much of his time playing with the small children or giggling with the womenfolk while other teenage boys went off into the  bush with machetes or clambered into dugout canoes with fishing spears.

Susau was accepted for who he was. How this latent femininity arose in him, I have no idea but he certainly wasn't imitating anyone else. He was just being Susau.

With our young tenant I cannot say where the drastic notion of a sex change operation came from. Such medical procedures arrived pretty recently in the great span of human history so I think it is worth considering how gender-confused people got on in the past - people like Susau. Surely they learnt to live within the bodies they had been given, allowing their hidden female or male qualities to emerge naturally or suppressing them.

It's hard to know what to think. I just know that my gut reaction was to feel very sorry for the tenant when he broke the news. Poor lad. I hope he finds happiness...one day.

26 comments:

  1. I can't begin to imagine how these transgender folks feel, and I try to be sensitive to their inner struggle. That said, I hope this lad has seriously thought through all of the long-term implications. I would say the same about any permanent decision, like getting a tattoo or having a child. It's not something to be taken lightly.

    Good luck to your (former) tenant. I hope everything works out well.

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    1. Your reflections seem to mirror my own but perhaps we are both rather innocent about transgender matters.

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  2. I felt a wave of pity for this pleasant and well-mannered young man.

    In my experience the new reality although challenging is far happier than life before

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    1. I can see how coming out as gay and living proudly is a recipe for greater happiness but transgender surgery seems to be something quite different.

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  3. Who gives a @#$% what his "grandparents think... and his old schoolmates?" think!? Not me...and neither should this young person. It is his/her life...and no other.

    Only he/she knows what goes on within his/her own true self. No one else is or will fight this person's battles...only he/she will do that. If this is how it is to be...he/she has to do what feels is right for him/her....not for anyone else. It must be a hell of a battle to fight...one that obviously has been raging inside for a long time. So sad...but I hope happiness and peace of mind follows...and the future path is clearer.

    I wish that young person all the best in life.

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    1. But we are all social beings with families and social connections wrought through the years. I don't believe we can live well if we disregard those connections.

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  4. You bring up an interesting point. What did happen in the past to transgender people? One thing I know is that very few transgenders appear as happy campers. Some of the most difficult situations in school arose from transgender issues.

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    1. As I suggested, the sex change opportunity is a very recent option. Sometimes helpful talking and informed support would surely be better.

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  5. There is a blog I read where the writer talks occasionally about his transgender father in the deep south of the US. The man would have been born in the very early part of the 1900s. It is clear that the father identified as female, it is also clear that he had never heard of such a thing until his old age so he thought he was entirely alone with his "condition"

    When somebody tells that kind of story, I think it is obvious that nobody just decides to be trans and they probably dont think transitioning to be a radical prospect but more of a putting things right.

    In the past I have found the idea of somebody changing gender quite confronting but after watching a few docos and doing some reading I am starting to realise that it's just another variation of humanity

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    1. I agree that nobody just decides to be transgender. Like Susau in Fiji, that characteristic was within him. But the radical choices of surgery and hormone treatment - that's what I can't comfortably accommodate in my head.

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  6. I could say exactly the same as Chris, and I agree with Lee that what grandparents and old schoolmates think are not what such a decision is about. And yet - as humans, we are social beings, part of a society, and therefore how others see us DOES have implications on our lives, whether we like it or not.

    I am just so very glad that I have never had any reason to feel anything but comfortable in the body I was born into, and would not want to be anything or anyone else. There is such a lot to be grateful for in my life.

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    1. re. your first paragraph I said pretty much the same in reply to Lee.
      re. the second paragraph, like you I cannot imagine being anybody else or being in a different body so that makes it hard to put myself in the shoes of a transgender person.

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  7. I wish him well for his future . I hope that he has lots of support from his friends.

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    1. The other young man who was a tenant was the transgender lad's best friend. They had known each other since nursery school. He knows what's happening and I am sure he will stick by his friend.

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  8. I agree with Lee but accept that how other people lead their lives does impinge on other members of society.

    On a different point and following on from your previous blogpost I wonder about your use of the term 'gender' (as in he wanted to change gender). I always thought that sex referred to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women whilst 'gender' referred to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

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    1. Good point Graham. "Gender" was the young man's word. Perhaps it seems more polite to him, more gentle. A bit like saying fatigued rather than knackered.

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  9. I have a grandchild who has changed gender in that 'she' has changed name by deed poll to become 'he' after years of unhappiness. There is still a long way to go but things are becoming easier for this quite large group of people who feel trapped in the wrong body.

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    1. At least nowadays there's probably less suffering in silence than there used to be. People are generally more aware of transgender matters. I hope your grandchild reaches a happy place on life's journey.

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  10. This young man is making a decision to which I am sure he has given much thought and I sincerely hope it works well for him. I’m not sure happiness per se is main driver for sex change; it is a difficult journey and I worked with many colleagues who had chosen this path. I had only the greatest admiration for their courage at making their choice in a world where many things are seen as being black and white by many people.

    Alphie

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    1. I take your point about happiness Alphie. Perhaps what people like the tenant are striving for is something other than simple happiness.

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  11. Gender is a mysterious thing. While many of us were raised with the idea that it's a purely binary thing -- you're either THIS or THAT -- it now seems that it's not so simple. More of a spectrum, with lots of variables along the way.

    I think there are people for whom medical treatment and surgery is the answer -- they really ARE happier, or at least more comfortable, having gone that route.

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    1. Thank you for your reflections Steve. I have also sometimes viewed gender as a continuum. I believe we all have characteristics that might belong to the "other" sex.

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  12. It must have been a big decision for him to make.

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    1. To tell you the truth Treey, I don't think the "decision" has yet been made. There's medical and psychological counselling to get through first.

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  13. As Steve says there are gradations of gender and always have been. The difference today is that medicine offers an alternative to 'being happy in your skin' but I wonder if that happiness is real for everyone or just an illusion.

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