Friday, July 18, 2014

Our Bodies, Our Genders

I've been catching up on old NPR stories.  This story about transgender issues was on Fresh Air; it's worth a listen.

The three guests have written Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.  They modeled the book on the classic feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book written by lay people, not doctors.   It was full of information that wasn't available elsewhere.

It's hard to remember those days, when information wasn't available via the Internet.

I remember discovering the book in my college's library. It felt like a dangerous book to me. It talked so openly about sex and female bodies. It talked calmly about all the things that could go wrong and how one might right those things. It approached the human body from a health and wellness perspective. It had pictures. It had that 70's sense of earnestness and honesty that was immediately appealing. At first, I only read the book when nobody else was in the library--I didn't want to be caught reading it. As the year progressed, I grew in maturity to the point where I was able to actually check the book out of the library and read it openly.

I thought of that book when I listened to the authors talking about puberty and the betrayal of their bodies.  I, too, felt betrayed by my body in adolescence, but I don't feel like a male trapped in a female body.

I'm more medieval.  I just feel trapped in a body, as if I'd be better off, if my soul could break free of this earthly vessel.  I suspect I'd feel that way if I'd been born male too:  appalled by all the fluids and fleshly issues that are so distracting from the real purpose of life.

I understand how problematic that world view can be.  The book Our Bodies, Ourselves helped me make enormous progress in accepting my body.

And middle age has taken me further.  In this age when so many of my friends are stricken with bodies that are no longer healthy, I've found a new gratitude for mine.  I no longer spend much energy on how my body would be better if ______________ (so many ways to fill in that blank!).  Now I'm grateful to be free of disastrous disease, to be able to breathe freely, to be able to bend and stretch and make it through the day with energy and enthusiasm most days.  If I weigh more than I wish I weighed, well at least that flesh is healthy.

I do wonder, too, about the transgender people who finally get the surgery.  Are they happy or are they surprised by elements they hadn't considered?

One of the Fresh Air guests said, "Of the trans-women that I know, who have gone through transition, those who have had the softest landing, who have succeeded in that transition, are those who were feminist before, when they were men.  . . .   You understand what you'll be up against.  You can't build a life around stilettos and sponge cake.  The person who goes through transition thinking that being a woman is a big gender party is probably in for a big disappointment." 

I find myself, though, wondering about our insistence on a binary categorization.  We're male or we're female.

But what if there are more?

 I've often said that gender is a spectrum.  I have a BA in Sociology, so I will also say that I think that where one lives on the spectrum is deeply affected by our society.  I will also admit that recent advances in various scientific fields make me think that our biology has as deep an effect on our gendered lives.

How would our lives be different if we saw gender as a spectrum?  How would our societies be different if we thought less rigidly about gender?

The issue of gender, especially transgender issues, may come to be seen as one that's as important as the Civil Rights struggles of the 50's and 60's. And books like Trans Bodies, Trans Selves will likely be very valuable as we have the discussions we need to have.

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