Conundrum, Jan Morris, The New American Library, New York, New York, 1974. p. 45-47.
It is not what is on the person that makes him or her a "him" or a "her." It comes from within. One of the 20 most common questions asked a transsexual person is "when did you first decide you were woman [or a man]?" Well, when did YOU first decide you were a woman [or a man]? You were born with a vagina [or penis], I see. Therefore you MUST be what you appear to be, right?
Allow me to let you in on a little secret. Most people know from biology that the difference between males and females in humans is the 23rd chromosome pair, the "sex" chromosome. This is XX for females, XY for males. Well, the "difference" between this second X and the Y chromosome is one, single, gene--or the order of four base pairs in DNA. If it is one way, then it will trigger androgens around the 8th week of pregnancy in the mother that will descend the gonads into their male constituents. If it is the other, then the body will automatically develop into female. After this point, hormones produced by the gonads do all the rest.
Experiments have shown that a genetically male person, who has androgen blockers introduced into the womb during the pregnancy, will be born a girl, with female organs, and naturally grow into a woman. This is true vice-versa as well. Some people born male have had a slip-up during circumcision, in which all or most of the penis was amputated, and were surgically reassigned female at that point. For them and male to female transsexuals who begin hormonal therapy before or early in puberty, the experiences of the deepening of the voice, the enlarged hands, feet, and general bone structure, the hair growing on the face and body, or any other changes that males undergo will never occur. Society determines EVERYTHING else.
I often look at people and think of what they would be like if that little gene had been flipped the other way. I strongly believe that our persona is entirely separate and independent from our bodies. We simply are socialized one way or the other, and most of us feel that that is who we must be. A big macho guy, if he had an "accident" and been surgically reassigned at birth, would never assume the role he now plays, and may have developed into a delicate, petite woman. How different his life experience would have been. Likewise, a mild and timid woman could have had male hormones injected into her during fetal development, and been born with a penis and testicles. Would she have then developed into a brash, womanizing man?
In our present day Western society the idea of changing gender, to many people, is wrong, sick, or strange. However, this is not the case elsewhere in the world, nor in the past. The following is an exerpt from Jan Morris' book, Conundrum, which tells of her own transition.
It was, I think, the eighteenth century which first imposed upon Western civilization rigid conceptions of maleness and femaleness, and made the idea of sexual fluidity in some way horrific. Perhaps it developed out of Protestantism, whose devotion to the patriarchal principle even forbade the cult of the Virgin Mary. Certainly earlier centuries did not require the male to be unyieldingly virile, or the female unremittingly demure, as Shakespeare's comedies happily demonstrate. There was more give and take in those days, it seems, the sexes mingled freely and easily, and the word "manly" had not acquired that intolerant connotation, that hint of cold bath and smoking-room caucus, which the Victorians were to give it (in older forms they made obsolete, it meant simply "human," or even "humane").
Other cultures too, ancient and contemporary, have freely recognized a no-man's land between male and female, and have allowed people to inhabit it without ignominy. The Phrygians of Anatolia, for example, castrated men who felt themselves to be female, allowing them henceforth to live in the female role, and Juvenal, surveying some of his own fellow citizens, thought the same plan might be adopted in Rome--Why are they waiting? Isn't it time for them to try the Phrygian fashion, and make the job complete--take the knife and lop off that superfluous piece of meat? Hippocrates reported the existence of "unmen" among the Scythians: they bore themselves as women, did women's work, and were generally believed to have been feminized by divine intervention. In ancient Alexandria we read of men "not ashamed to employ every device to change artificially their male nature into female"--even to amputation of their male parts.
Among more primitive peoples, so Sir James Frazer record in The Golden Bough, "there is a custom widely spread ... in accordance with which some men dress as women and act as women throughout their lives. Often they are dedicated and trained to their vocation from childhood." The Sarombavy of Madagascar, for example, altogether forgot their original sex, and regarded themselves as entirely female. The "soft-men" of the Chukchee Eskimo were ordered into their assumed sex by the elders at childhood, married husbands, and lived as women for the rest of their lives. We hear of Andean sorcerers obliged by tribal custom to change their sexual roles, of Mohave Indian boys publicly initiated into girlhood, of young Tahitians encouraged in infancy to think of themselves as members of the opposite sex. If to modern Westerners the idea of changing sex has seemed, at least until recently, monstrous, absurd, or ungoldly, among simpler peoples it has more often been regarded as a process of divine omniscience, a mark of specialness. To stand astride the sexes was not a disgrace but a privilege, and it went often with supernatural powers and priestly functions.
Since transsexuality is caused by hormonal alteration of the nervous system of developing fetuses, and occurs in perhaps all mammalian species, it would be reasonable to infer that it has been around for a very long time. Indeed, since birth defects in general are just part of nature, it would be unthinkable to imagine an era of Man devoid of transsexuals. We have always been, and from time to time, history has recorded that fact.
The only clues we have of paleolithic transsexuals would be by considering the societies of aboriginal peoples still living with stone age technologies. The few left remaining on the earth, in the rain forests of South America, or the remaining unspoiled lands of Africa, all have reverential positions for the transsexuals that are born to them. In such societies, Transsexuals are considered magical, kin to the gods or spirits, and possessed of shamanic powers.
Every society in history has had some name, role or way of relating to the transsexual, from ancient Canaan and Turkey to India, even to the present day.
Examples abound. For instance, in ancient Rome existed the 'Gallae', Phrygian worshipers of the Goddess Cybele. Once decided on their choice of gender and religion, physically male Gallae ran through the streets and threw their own severed genitalia into open doorways, as a ritualistic act. The household receiving these remains considered them a great blessing. In return, the household would nurse the Gallae back to health. The Gallae then ceremoniously received female clothes, and assumed a female identity. Commonly, they would be dressed as brides, or in other splendid clothing.
In India, ritual practices for transsexual individuals continue to the present day. Called Hijiras, this sect also worship a Goddess, and undergo a primitive sort of sex reassignment surgery. The Hijiras are treated in a rather hypocritical fashion within Indian society however, in that they are both despised and revered at the same time. Hijiras often are paid to attend a bless weddings, and to act as spiritual and social advisors, but are also shunned as less than worthy eunuchs. Yet in other circumstances, such as social situations, they are accorded the status of true females.
The Dine, or Navajos of the southwest United States, recognize three sexes instead of only two. For the Dine, there are Males, Females, and Nadles, which are considered somewhat both and neither. While those born intersexed or hermaphroditic are automatically considered Nadle, physically 'normal' individuals may define as Nadle based on their own self-definition of gender identity. The Nadle once possessed far greater respect before the Navaho were conquered and their culture all but obliterated by the forced assumption of Catholicism.
Among the Sioux, the Winkte served much the same function, and individuals could assume the complete role of their preferred gender. Physical females lived as male warriors, and had wives, while physical males lived their lives completely as women. In Sioux society no special magic was associated with this, it was just considered a way of correcting a mistake of nature. Winkte would also perform primitive reassignment operations of a sort, and history records the process used by physical males: riding for days on a special hard saddle to crush the testicles and thus effectively castrate the individual.
Being transsexual in ancient cultures took a special form of courage too, even if society may have been embracing of the Transsexed!
Whether it is the Sererr of the Pokots of Kenya, the Xaniths of Islamic Oman, the Mahu of Tahiti, or even the Sekrata of Madagascar, the story is essentially the same: transsexuality was a fact of life, and a place in society was made for the gender dysphoric to be themselves.
The modern classification of transsexuality and the medical intervention of sex reassignment was first attempted in Germany in 1930. Einar Wegener sought treatment and was operated upon. Afterwards, she lived as Lily Elbe, but alas not for long...the surgery had tragic complications. The first well known, surviving post operative transsexual was American ex-G.I. George Jorgensen, who became Christine Jorgensen in 1953. Christine became the center of a whirlwind of publicity despite an effort to avoid it, and had little choice but to capitalize on the misfortune. Christine became the first 'Media Transsexual' - or as some transsexuals put it 'Transie Martyr' , and suffered both the benefit and curse of fame. Christine starred in several hollywood movies as a result, and became celebrity enough to bring transsexualism out of the closet and into view of post-industrial society.
For decades only the rare individual physician dared treat the transsexual, while the mainstream medical community considered transsexuality to be a mere mental disorder without a biological basis. The first professional to truly try to help transsexuals with compassion and scientific study was Dr. Harry Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin carefully treated and studied the cases of transsexuals, essentially devoting most of his career to the project. The results of his carefully documented studies were published in 1966 in his book "The Transsexual Phenomenon". This work led directly to the benefits that we modern transsexuals enjoy, for it opened the door to serious study of the condition. Currently, the worldwide Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association continues his work, and helps to set standards of care for the treatment of transsexuals by the medical establishment.
Recent study of brain functioning has shed important light on the causes of transsexuality, and surgical techniques as well as overall treatment continue to improve. Society is slowly becoming accepting once again of the inevitable transsexual in it's midst, and it may well be that the future will hold even greater help for the transsexuals born into future ages.
IN A NUTSHELL: Transsexuals have always existed. In the ancient world, transsexuality was both accepted and respected. Throughout the ages, transsexuals have attempted to correct the error of their bodies, with varying results. The modern, technological world at last provides a real chance for the transsexual to finally, truly correct the errors of Nature.
The female to Male Transsexual History
Transforming History, Book Review by Sally Owen
Transsexuals in Turkey
What Transsexuality Is; Definition, Cause and History.
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