Gender Studies and the objectification of transsexual people
Guest Blogger // 22 March 2010
thisismytruth girl explains why Gender Studies academia is not for her.
As a transsexual woman I feel strongly that Gender Studies academics objectify transsexual people like lab rats.
A year or two ago I considered doing Gender Studies at the local Uni department. As I got more into preparation I was concerned that there was a complete lack of interest in the physical and neurological side of it; VS Ramachandran for instance has investigated neurological mapping, the phenomenon of phantom penis in ftm trans guys and the converse of this in mtf women.
Another example of the importance of physical and neurological aspects of gender identity is the tragic David Reimer case. David was accidentally mutilated as a baby being circumcised in the sixties and surgically and socially reassigned as a girl on the advice of John Money, a so-called ‘expert’ in the field. For a long time the follow up research claimed that he was adapting well to being raised as a girl, this had a big influence on me as a young trans undergraduate in the ’70s and contributed to persuading me that I could condition myself to accept my body.
The truth is different. As a teenager David Reimer rebelled against his assignment as a girl, his mother was unhappy with the way things were going and told David what had happened. David retransitioned to being a boy, took male hormones and eventually had some reconstructive surgeries. He actually had an identical twin who was uninjured and grew up naturally. Tragically they both committed suicide some years ago.
The moral of this story has to be that we are born with some sense of bodily identity.
The GS department seem completely uninterested in lynchpin cases such as this. The turning point for me was having a conversation with one of their students who attempted to deconstruct me to my face, asserting that I must have acquired my gender identity by identifying with my mother as a role model, imagining that ‘role’ was more important than my body. This kind of condescending attitude is totally unacceptable.
So not long after, I decided that GS was not for me because I didn’t want to go to a department where I would be some kind of specimen to be deconstructed, and become part of some zeitgeist which completely ignored and denied my own sense of bodily identity as who I am, as well as the medical and scientific evidence which supports that.
Anyone who has taken hormones will know that they affect the way that you feel, and so to a degree male and female bodies have certain characteristics, feelings etc. However, of course this is greatly modified by social example. I am with those who really want to get away from social ‘role’ models of gender as there is so much potential for variation. For me it is about morphology.
One interesting thing I have observed about people in the GS department is that most (not all) are actually quite conventional in appearance and gender expression, totally cis one might say. This adds to my feeling that they have something of a lab rat attitude towards us. They seem to be totally committed to an absolute deconstruction of gender for us, based on Butler, while themselves conforming. In Julia Serrano’s book she says there are no ‘essential differences between women and men’. If so, why would transsexuals feel such dysphoria and such a strong drive to change our bodies? We have to acknowledge the biological need for a two sex system for reproduction however ‘politically unacceptable’ some people might find that.
More recently as my views have become known, I have noticed that the lecturers are touchy about me, don’t like me to ask questions at public events and even students act like I am ignorant on the subject of gender, when I had transitioned while most of them were still children.
In my view they seem to be acting in such a way that indicates they feel threatened by the fact that I have so much life experience and they only have theory.
It is twenty five years since I transitioned and I have come to realise my empowerment about this. I don’t need academics to interpret me for myself, they should listen to my experience rather than ignore and condescend.