April 21, 2004 | Unknown

Kathy and Frank, Alex and Alistair

Discussion surrounding sexual assault allegations levelled at some sportsmen has challenged the idea that maleness is naturally expressed by certain behaviours. The Family Court’s decision last week to approve a 13-year-old’s eventual transition from woman to man appears, at a time when masculinity and femininity are viewed as social constructs rather than inherent states, as a judgment for traditional roles and against infinite ways to be human.
Evidently “Alex”, the biologically female teenager at the centre of the controversy, was, like most of us, socialised about what is an acceptable gender identity. Even today, girls are frocked up, forbidden to play certain sports and indoctrinated to be nurturers by endless Saturday morning television advertisements for dolls, while “Alex” was taught to be a boy by an “idealised” and since deceased father.
Given what girls are taught to expect from womanhood, it is not surprising that many fight against, become depressed by, or seek to delay, its onset. Although bioethicist John Fleming’s question, “if someone said inside her they didn’t feel like a human being, they felt like a horse, would the surgeons resculpture accordingly?” is a bit facetious, it is interesting to consider whether the fixated thinking that leads to eating disorders and self-harm would ever be approved of by members of the psychiatric community in the way this obsession to be a boy has.
Of course, real concerns existed about “Alex”, who reportedly suffered from suicidal thoughts, but politics probably played a part in the ruling as well. Was it political correctness or a submission to civil liberties’ advocates, as Dr Karen Brooks asked in The Courier-Mail on 16 April 2004?
While acknowledging sex and gender dilemmas is often seen as progressive, feminist and political scientist Shiela Jeffreys sees “GID (Gender Identity Dysphoria) (as) a living fossil – that is, an idea from the time when there was considered to be a correct behaviour for particular body types”.
Recent articles in two popular women’s magazines, Woman’s Day and That’s Life, about people who have undergone sex-change surgery reveal, unintentionally, that GID might really be about society’s need to turn ‘difference’ into a syndrome that can be treated. Sam, a female-to-male transgender wed to a male-to-female transgender says, “I don’t know how to live in a female body… but put me in a male environment and I feel the comfort I yearn for”. There is also a reference to “reversing roles” after the Registry Office married them according to their legal sex.
Who could blame Frank for seeking out the accoutrements of femininity to “feel good” after receiving advice such as “…only girls hide like that” and “…grown men don’t cry?” Presumably, if Frank had been Kathy all along, having fears during the Blitz and shedding tears after the loss of a child would have been okay.
This is not to argue that some people do not really believe they were “born in the wrong body” or that they should not have access to surgery as adults, however, we should wonder how much it would be needed if environments and roles were not so circumscribed.

Posted by Unknown at 10:37 am | Comments Off on Kathy and Frank, Alex and Alistair |
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