Not As We Expected

Whether disclosure of the transsexual condition comes at fifteen or fifty it seems to strike a major blow at the family and friendship circle of the person concerned. There are clouds of bewilderment and walls of disbelief, angry accusations and binges of blame.

How did this happen? Why you? Why us? Why now? That such people have existed throughout social history, and that the condition is medically recognised and clinically treatable, appears to be small comfort, for both the person concerned and those around them.

This paper explores some of the fundamental issues at the root of the pain.

From the moment we know our children are conceived we start formulating hopes and dreams for them, vague and nebulous at first - that they will be healthy and whole, that they will be happy and successful in life. Then birth gives us more information to process, and we become more focussed in expectations.

Even the most liberated of parents, who consider individuality above gender, bring gender related values into play. If it is a girl - better that she is pretty, if it is a boy - better that he be strong. Of course such things are not considered essential, but a little icing on the cake of life is seldom unappreciated.

We inhabit a competitive and challenging planet, and we all want our offspring to have the best of it, and, whether it matters to us or not, at birth we are given a simple gender label for our young, which colours our picture of hopes for them; the wishes that started the moment their existence became known to us become more finely tuned. Gender is the first call of our child?s life ?Congratulations! It?s a boy!? or ? Congratulations! It?s a girl!?, and a new individual is put into a category which, by the law of averages, will probably suit its nature, but once in a while, will not.

The reason that the majority of us have seldom deeply questioned the gender ascribed to us at birth is that it is congruent with our nature. We may wish that our qualities and attributes were greater, less, more finely honed, or even different, but basically the given category suits us.

As we grow and mature our sense of identity develops on both a personal and group basis, and the gender generalisation given at the moment of our birth provides a backdrop to our existence, an undercurrent to the flow of our life, and a basis on which we and others build. An old adage says ?If the cap fits wear it?; but how do we wear a cap that doesn?t fit at all?

The answer is at best with profound embarrassment and at worst painfully. How many of us cringe at the old photographs taken when our mothers knew what suited us best in clothes? How many can empathise with the feelings of failure loaded on to a child who has two left feet in a family of dancers or sportspeople? How much greater the embarrassment and pain when that which does not fit is supposed to underpin our very being?

When we are born a summary glance between our legs results in a cascade of anticipation and hopes being focussed on what is perceived to be a gender indicator, in a society built upon thousands of years of gender based culture. Thousands of years of human experience and endeavour have also proven that things are not always as they first seem, and human beings make mistakes.

Most times a persons physical sex and psychological gender match up sufficiently well for that individual to exist comfortably in their society, that is the way of the world. It is not however a Universal truth, and for some individuals genitals and gender are a mismatch.

When a transsexual person discloses their nature the intention is to be real and true, not to confound and disappoint. It takes a lot for any human being to stand up and declare themselves different from the others, the greater the difference the harder the task. Asserting our own unique individuality when it goes against the assumptions and expectations of our social group is something that most of us prefer not to do; human beings are social animals who seek the affirmation and comfort of belonging. Paradoxically each of us would also be recognised as individual and valued for our true self, most especially by those we love and value ourselves; in this a transsexual person is no different to the rest.

Perhaps one day we will celebrate the birth of individual people and wait for them to tell us who they are, and then our society will have a little less pain from its assumptions and a little more acceptance in its heart, on all sides.

COPYRIGHT Tina Livingstone B.Ed Hons, 27th October 2000

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