Saturday, 22 April 2006

Homosexuality, Transsexuality, and Horror

It takes a lot to shock me these days, oddly enough. But this story did.

A lot of Religious groups, and a very few "old guard" psychiatrists, confuse Homosexuality and Transsexuality. This causes all sorts of problems. Up until 1997, for example, to be eligible for treatment as a Transsexual Woman, you had to be attracted to Men. Because if Transsexuality was a form of Homosexuality, then someone who was somatically male and attracted to females couldn't be Transsexual, could they? A "straight" homosexual was a contradiction in terms.

All those people who thought they were women, and had marriages and children due to a strong maternal urge, well they really had to be attracted to men as well, they were just supressing it. And if they insisted they weren't, they were mad.
Well, we now know (or at least, most of the medical profession knows) that there are Gay Transsexuals. They're the ones in female bodies who are attracted to men, but think like, and identify as, guys. The ones with female genitalia, masculinised brains, but a homosexual orientation. There's also Lesbian Transsexuals, and Bisexual ones, and Straight ones, and when their hormone levels are finally balanced and surgery completed, the ratios of each are comparable to those in the non-transsexual population.

But such medical evidence contradicts much religious doctrine. And in a Theocracy, that can mean unimaginable horror. Hence this article on Gender Identity in Iran, quoted in full.
This week I went to a Guest Lecture at the Harvard School of Public Health. Afsaneh Jajmabadi, a professor of History and Women's Studies gave a talk entitled: "Sexing Gender, Transing Homos: Travail of Sexuality in Contemporary Iran." I had no idea what that meant either, and so I went on my lunch break. I had bad flashbacks to the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" forum I went to earlier, as it was painfully obvious I was the only trans person in the auditorium. Amazing how all the eyes fall on you.
Professor Najmabadi began by saying she was planning on traveling to Iran this month to begin her research in earnest. She described what is happening now in Iran, and other middle east states with strict Islamic law. If you are reading this and are gay/lesbian/bi/transgender yourself, and you have not heard of this, this may be really disturbing. It was news to me, and I was shocked.
Iran allows gender reassignment surgery. It has even been sanctioned by the Ayatollahs to be within Islamic law. The same Islamic law that so strictly defines the relationship between men and women. How can this be, when even in more socially liberal states, religious doctrines forbid gender transition. The Roman Catholic Church being one example. The reason is because they see gender transition as a CURE TO HOMOSEXUALITY. They are taking caught gay men and lesbian women and FORCING them to undergo sex reassignment surgery. With no transition by the way. In the west, we have Standards of Care that generally call for at least a year of living in the preferred gender role before being allowed to have surgery. But this is for people who are truly gender dysphoric! Sexual preference is not the same as gender identity!! These poor people, to have their bodies mutilated in the name of Islamic law.
It is impossible for me to imagine what is happening there to these people. Homosexuality is not only a sin in Iran, it is a punishable crime. The proliferation of Sex Reassignment Surgery there (in the range of hundreds per year) is not a benevolent action by the state to assist those who truly are gender dysphoric.
I asked the professor about how she plans to conduct her research, and she replied that it will be very difficult and dangerous, as even though she is Iranian, she will probably be watched by police. Many people will not want to talk to her because of the fear that they will be raided by the police.
This is mind-boggling. I felt good at least being able to speak up finally and ask some pointed questions, and I told her that I wished to follow her research closely. But what can you do? I feel incredibly helpless, it's one thing to be active here in the states in fighting for transgender rights. But how is something like this going to be toppled?
I know that the transgender rights community has had a checkered past with many gay/lesbian rights groups. We have felt excluded and left out on issues. But the fight for human dignity is not about sexual preference or gender identity. And as trans persons, many of us who benefit from having the opportunity of gender reassignment surgery available to us, we specifically cannot allow this abuse. I dream of the day that I will finally have my surgery, but I cannot think of a more cruel form of punishment to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Please spread the word, this fight must begin.
They're creating Transsexuals there.
I imagine most of my readership isn't personally acquainted with that condition, and most are straight males. Imagine being castrated, treated with feminising hormones that disorder your thinking, and forced to live the life of the second-class citizen that is the lot of females in Iran? Imagine being "married" off by your male relatives, and forced to engage in sex with a man?

Or for the women reading this, imagine having your breasts cut off, and being dosed with hormones that will forever change your voice, cause you to lose you hair, and grow a full beard? Losing much of your sense of smell, feeling your skin become leathery and insensitive, growing chest hair?

Speaking from personal experience as someone with TS, it's actually far worse than that, worse than you can possibly imagine. A masculinised brain bathed in female hormones, or a feminised brain bathed in male ones, doesn't work very well in the emotional department. It is intensely uncomfortable. If one has been born with the condition, you get hardened to it, and even though it gets worse with age, for some it is tolerable, just. At least, for a while. I think 70% of us attempt suicide at least once. I never did that, I had it comparatively easy. But quite bad enough, thanks.

For someone to be suddenly thrust into that position, and without even a period of transitional therapy going the "right way", it is utterly horrific.

I can imagine worse fates, just : some of the medical "experiments" by Dr Mengele and Co at the Nazi Extermination camps would qualify. But a fate worse than death? Oh yes, by far. I'd be very surprised if 50% of them survive a year without killing themselves. The survivors of those forced into this would be the ones whose husbands don't let them near sharp objects, make sure there's no ropes nearby, and keep a careful watch on them. Or those hopelessly catatonic, driven insane by their condition. A very few will be TS, and for them, they are released from Hell, not placed in it. But they'd be the volunteers, anyway.

I wish I had the words, the eloquence to portray this in all its utter abomination and evil. Or at least, I wish I could send the victims some razor blades so they could put an end to their suffering. It would be so much kinder.


M said...

I think it's odd the way we cling so hard to gender stereotypes at the risk of ostracisizing so many people. I hate that families get torn apart and people get cut down just because of our stupid need for taxonomy.

Anonymous said...

Michelle, I believe it is certainly tragic. But absolutely not odd in any way.

Most human social structure has depended upon a binary gender taxonomy - nurtured it and been nurtured by it - for millenia. The need for it has been anything but "stupid", irrespective of the fact that it is turning out to be completely erroneous.

Only within the past few years has our science risen far enough above our prejudice to give a few of us, outside the circle of individuals directly affected by these phenomena (such as Zoe), even a fleeting glimpse of the actual realities. Labeling mainstream beliefs (and I'm certainly not referring to the Iranian protocols here) as "stupid", "odd" or "hateful" not only ignores human history, but is counterproductive as well, IMHO.

Characterizations of common notions as "stupid", "odd", "hateful", "wrong" and worse serve to do three things. They harden the defenses of those who, out of fear and ignorance (is that redundant?), cling to binary gender as the only acceptable condition. They create a distorted, "unhinged" caricature of progressive thought that is exploited both through sensationalism by the media and through ridicule by theocrats. And perhaps worst of all, they alienate those in the middle who might be otherwise uncommitted.

When a child struggles with basic math, one doesn't lord superior knowledge over them, calling them "stupid" or "odd", one calmly teaches them how to do the math. IMHO, patience, science and education are going to change minds. Revolutionaries in rainbow t-shirts (and I'm not labeling you personally here, Michelle) who deride commonly accepted attitudes as "odd", "stupid" and "hateful" are not.

Zoe Brain said...

I can't blame anyone for their ignorance of the situation either.

If you read my blog's archive, you'll see that I was ignorant too, as recently as this time last year. I knew almost nothing about transsexuality, and nothing at all about Intersex. I'd never heard of the terms "Gender Dysphoria", or "Gender Identity Disorder". I certainly didn't ever see myself as being a candidate for a "sex change", they were entertainers and people who lived on the fringe, lefties and gays, not people like me.

I was just a guy who should have been born a woman, but wasn't, and accepted that fate. My distress was caused by my failure to think like a guy no matter how hard I tried, but I could live with it.

How was I to know I'd be one of the 1 in ~1000 TS women whose bodies start feminising without Hormone Therapy?
On 23rd April 2005 I had no plans for transition. I've had to learn an awful lot, very quickly!