reprints of articles published in magazines

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Changing Genders

Ms X is one of those regular girls we’d meet anywhere in India, she was tall, dusky, pretty and smart. And she hated being a woman. She felt her gender gave her no advantages. “How I wish I had been a man! Then I could have gone anywhere, anytime, no questions asked. I’d have so much freedom. No one would stare at my breasts or try to harass me. No periods to worry about! And best of all, I will not need to pretend to be subordinate to men! I can be their equal!”

Girls like Ms X are so common, it is a fact the most women today would have preferred to be a boy rather than be a girl. But the curious fact is, nowadays more and more boys have started wanting to become girls.

As for example Mr Y. He is a tall, athletic and well made young man. He is intelligent, broad-minded, artistic and quite gentle. One would think girls would just love to spend time with him. But the sad twist is, he does not like to spend time with girls. Mr Y thinks he himself is a girl and likes to spend time with macho men.

From his childhood Y had always preferred to play with girls’ dolls; he liked playing with crockery, wearing frilly dresses, long hair and lots of make-up. His mother had found his play-preferences very amusing. She even helped him dress up like a girl and had taken his photographs in frilly costumes. None of those who later saw the picture could guess that the girl in the picture was actually a boy; he looked so girlish. And Y was so proud of that.

His father would for the most part ignore the son’s antics. Those days that he actually noticed his son’s effeminate tendencies, father got really angry and scolded him for behaving like a hijra. Little Y never knew what that word meant. But in his heart, he longed to become a girl. Somehow he felt it was just not right for him to be a male.

When he turned 14 years, Y started developing hair over his face. He hated that. He wanted to have a flawless skin with no whiskers. He carefully kept shaving his whiskers, and when he was sure his mother would not notice, he even shaved his eyebrows into beautiful arches.

By 16 his penis had become bigger and thicker, and his testes had grown big. His voice was beginning to get hoarse and his facial hair started to grow coarse. Y hated all of this. Particularly his penis. Somehow it felt very alien. It just did not seem right. For inside his mind, Y always thought of himself as a beautiful girl. A girl whom men would fall in love with, hold gently and make passionate love to. But this penis thing was a stark reminder that he was not a female. And Y wanted to remove it from his body. It simply did not belong there!

Y also started feeling the pangs of first love. He began to feel strongly attracted to a brawny senior in school. He fervently hoped the boy would let his gaze fall on him. But the boy he so much was in love with, did not take Y seriously. He thought Y was weird. A Hijra. Somebody to laugh at, poke fun at and bully mercilessly.
The boys in school seemed to realize that Y was different. They started teasing him, pinching his private parts and treated him like a girl. Some teachers even called Y home, “to just spend time with, dancing and having fun.”

Y did not like being the butt of every one’s jokes. He did not like being treated like a sex toy. He wanted to be taken seriously. Treated with dignity. But his effeminate movements and graceful gestures made others ridicule him. Even the girls laughed at him.

Y did not like going to the men’s bathroom, he felt so shy pulling his pants down in the presence of other boys. And the other boys boo’ed him so much on seeing the only masculine part of his body. Y would have preferred to go to the girl’s bathroom, he felt he belonged there. But the girls believed he was a boy, they never let him even change clothes in Ladies Room during school dramas.

It was during one such drama that Y met Z. Z was a boy, but he believed he was a girl. He dressed up like a girl, talked like one and even made gestures like a sensuous dancer. Y felt intensely drawn towards Z. He voluntarily approached Z and said, “I never thought I would meet someone who is so much like me!”

Like kindred spirits, Y and Z became thick friends. It was from Z that Y learned that he could stop growing in to a man. By taking shots of female hormones.
Y was excited on hearing that he could reverse his masculinity and become a female. “You mean I can have breasts! Like the women!”

Y had always wanted to be buxom and sexy. In fact he had on several occasions used padded brassieres and worn women’s clothes. He had even gone out in public dressed like a girl and to his great happiness, found that he could very well pass off as a girl. As long as he spoke softly and took care to apply layers of foundation on his jaws, he would easily pull off a “girl appearance”

That he could go in public dressed like a female, made him want to do that permanently. He lost in patience with the “boy’s clothes”. He found that the pretence of behaving like a boy was so taxing. He felt liberated when he was dressed like a female. He wanted that feeling forever, he wanted to convert to a full female.

Z told him that to become a full female, he had to undergo Nirvana. Nirvana was a surgery in which a man’s testes and penis would be removed. With the testes gone, his body would no longer secrete male hormones. Then all he had to do was take female hormones to get that rounded appearance of a woman. Laser treatment would help remove all unnecessary hair. Padded brassieres and knickers would make him get that hour-glass shape that he so longed to have.

Y felt very enthused on hearing this. He wanted to undergo the Nirvana surgery. But the surgery could only be done after taking psychiatric opinions. That made him meet a psychiatrist.

Y explained to the psychiatrist that he had since childhood, always felt that he had been mistakenly born with a wrong body. He felt very feminine inside, but his body forced him to be a male. He did not like that. He wanted to change his body so that it would match his mind. He wanted to become a full female.

Since Y strongly believed that he had a mind-body gender mismatch, there were only two ways to resolve the problem. One would be to change his mind, so that his body would then match. Two would be to change the body to match his mind.

Although to an outsider, it would seem that changing the mind to suit one’s body is the more acceptable solution to this problem, for people like Y it is not even thinkable. Because people like Y suffer from a strange condition called Gender Identity Disorder.

We are all born with sex chromosomes. These are a pair of chromosomes. If one is born with 2X chromosomes we call that individual biological Female Sex. If someone is born with one X and one Y chromosome then that person is biologically of the Male Sex.

But this is only a genetic definition. Society gives individuals another choice, an individual can identify oneself with the female gender or the male gender. Gender is a social role; it depends on how society expects a man or woman to behave.
If a society allows its men to wear make up and jewelry and dress in colourful costumes, as for example the ancient Egyptian society, then it would seem masculine for a girl to wear makeup. If a society only allows its females to dress up sensuously, and wear dramatic makeup, then it would seem that wearing make-up is feminine behavior.

Masculine and feminine behavior has a lot to do with social conditioning. If a society repeatedly keeps telling that cooking is a woman’s job, then it would seem effeminate for a man to cook. Whereas if the same society keeps saying that engineering is a man’s job then the very job would seem masculine.
Make-up, clothing, jewelry, cooking or engineering have no actual gender meanings. But it is the society that allots gender- specifications to these neutral entities.
What role one chooses depends on one’s gender identity; whether they think of themselves as male or female.

In the past people used to believe that genetic sex is destiny. If you were born with 2 X chromosomes, you were a female, no other choices were allowed. But now, we know that in spite of our genes, there does exist a choice. Some individuals choose to identify themselves with the opposite gender; they dress up like the opposite gender and like to have sex with the same sex.

Until recently, it was never understood why some people chose to identity with the opposite gender. But now, we have some information. Very interesting one at that. At formation, all babies are originally female, irrespective of their chromosomes. For the first 6 weeks of life inside the uterus, all babies are female. If the child happens to have a Y chromosome in its genetic makeup, then this child’s body forms organs called the Testes. These testes secrete a hormone called testosterone. This hormone then converts the baby’s body into a male. It travels all through the baby’s body and rewires every cell from its original female form to a male form. This entire process is called Masculinization.

Most importantly, the testosterone rewires the brain of the little baby and upgrades it into a masculinized Male Brain. Rarely in some cases, the testosterone fails to masculinize the baby’s brain. In these children, the brain remains female as it was originally, whereas the body changes to male -complete with the testes and penis.
Because the brain and the mind are female, this child though born with a male’s genitals, thinks of itself as a female. Hence this child prefers all feminine activities, prefers playing with girls and dressing up like them. But when it comes to sexual orientation, they are attracted to males, because in their minds they remain female forever.

Since the mind is female, it is nearly impossible to change it to male later on in life. It would be much easier to change the body to female. And that is why many individuals with Gender Identity Disorder prefer to undergo Sexual Reassignment Surgery and convert their bodies into the female form.

But converting oneself into the female form is not without adverse effects. For one, after such a conversion, the body loses the ability to secrete testosterone. Sudden dip in the testosterone levels may make the individual feel tired, weak and depressed. Of course, over time the body adapts itself to the lack of testosterone, but it takes weeks to months before this transition can take place.

Apart from that, becoming a female makes this individual vulnerable to all the social evils that threaten women. This Nirvanized female is now open to sexual harassment, eve teasing, partner abuse, relationship betrayal and all kinds of other ills that have for long plagued women. The realization that being a woman is not easy after all can make most transgender individuals feel disillusioned and exploited.

This may finally help them understand why those biological women born with 2 X chromosomes and all those voluptuous curves hate their gender roles so much. But a free society allows its citizens choices. If any individual chooses to change his/her gender, it can be done. But like all else, every action has its own consequences. If the individual is ready to face the consequences, then science is ready to help them achieve their dreams.


kayal said...

it s all new!!!
i have never read abt transgender so elaborately. in addition to looking at phenotypes and genotypes ,these are issues to be kept in the back of the mind.

PARIMALA said...

Dear Dr.
While so much scientific (Gender Identity Disorder) explanation and justification were done for MrY, what could be your advice for MsX like females especially after marriage?Her husband being a typical male may expect a pucca female (like any other female in his family)as wife.He will be shell shocked to see his wife doing things that were even unheard of in his family (his mother or sister will dare not do such activities).Is marriage not a good option for MsX doctor?

ஏஞ்சல் கிளாடி said...

awesome explanation Madam. its really useful for to understand about transgenders better then before they get aware.

ஏஞ்சல் கிளாடி said...

awesome explanation Madam. its really useful for to understand about transgenders better then before they get aware.

Anonymous said...

Nice article Dear Shalini. I got enlightened by you

balaperfect said...

This completely changed my stand on transgenders