Today's blog article has kindly been provided by Andrea Brewster OBE, Leader of IP Inclusive.
Andrea writes: "This week I travel to Bangkok, to be with my daughter who’s having gender reassignment surgery. This is the culmination of years of soul-searching and heartache for her; I’ve done my best to support her but she’s travelling a tough road and I can only wonder at her courage and commitment.
Having a transgender child is an inspiring reminder of a very simple truth about human relationships: that there are many layers to a relationship, but very few of them depend on gender.
Yes, if it’s a sexual relationship you’re after, the other person’s gender may be important to you. And maybe if you like a relationship based on power, you might use gender as one aspect of it – but I’m going to discount that because in my book, that isn’t a valid human relationship.
In most other contexts, the gender label is superfluous. You love someone as you find them, for what they do and what they believe, for the responses they evoke in you. Assigning them to a different gender category won’t change that. You’ll still love them. Even in a sexual relationship, there will be foundations beneath, that have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the human being who simply makes you smile, allows you to speak, helps you face the day with enthusiasm.
It never occurred to me that I should feel differently about my son when he turned out to be my daughter. And I don’t. “Male” and “female” were labels that were entirely inadequate for encapsulating her mind and personality. Neither category could contain the love and respect I felt for her. Neither could define the way we interacted with one another.
And once that thought comes into focus, you realise that all the other labels are superfluous too. In your relationships with friends, family, colleagues or advisers, gender simply shouldn’t come into it – and nor should sexuality, race, religion, physical or mental capabilities, physical appearance, background, age or a whole host of other so-called distinguishing characteristics. Each person is a unique meld, impossible to deconstruct without devaluing the whole. So instead you build a relationship out of trust, respect and shared values. You experience things together. You work together, laugh together, cry together. You support one other. As you are. The whole of you.
The media today is somewhat swamped by the Trans* conversation, whether that be the discussion of whether or not to prescribe hormone blockers to children or Trans* ‘idols’ such as Caitlyn Jenner, Eddie Izzard or Riley Millington. Sometimes lost in the rhetoric of inclusivity and acceptance (and unfortunately, scandal), however, is actual understanding of what it means to be transgender. People do not tend to wake up one day and decide, “I was born a girl, but I am actually a boy”, or vice versa or otherwise. The mysterious “feeling” can hide itself behind many guises, including confusion over sexuality, social anxiety and a whole host of other issues that can be easier for the mind to contend with. Part of the reason that Trans* issues can be so hard to wrestle with is that the Trans* conversation is sensationalist, it is not mundane. The more mundane that it becomes, hopefully the better our understanding will become.
This article is intended as an explanation of and an introduction to Trans* issues as well as quite likely an important correction of any misconceptions the reader may have gleaned from the populist media. There is much to explain, so let’s start at the beginning.
Often the first question that is ever asked about a new life is: “Is it a boy or a girl?”. Before a child is born we begin to make assumptions that will profoundly affect its life, based entirely on an aesthetic difference detected by a scan. This isn't a decision that is being made by the parents, let alone taking into consideration the feelings of the child. This is purely a visual means of segregation.
In the ideal world, babies are born as humans - nothing more, nothing less. Nursery decorations are chosen, clothes are clothes, not because of what genitalia happen to reside between a child's legs but because of what the parent(s) actually think are practical or nice or sometimes, in the case of a lion onesie, a little fun. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world; children are born into one of two possible genders based on their outward appearance. They are taken home and announced to the world as "A little baby boy/girl"; it is at this juncture where sex has crucially been confused with gender.
And it doesn’t stop there. The first piece of knowledge almost all children have growing up in our society, along with who Mummy and/or Daddy are, is whether they are a boy or a girl. And this isn’t just an arbitrary label, it means things. Like what your favourite colour should be, whether you should be mad about horses, what toys you are allowed to play with, which other children you are allowed to play with, whether or not you should have pierced ears, what clothes you can wear, which changing room you should change in and which sports class you attend. We are segregated from the moment we come out of the womb and taught to be proper boys who grow into proper men, or proper girls who grow into proper women.
Most people accept this as the normal order of things and their prescribed place within it. Other people may not accept it but decide to live with it anyway. A further group of people decide they do not want to live with it and as a result become labelled by society as strange, subversive or in the more extreme cases perverted and morally abhorrent. Yet this need not be the case. Whilst the world at large is likely not prepared to be the ideal world that one could wish for, there are simple ways in which we can educate ourselves so that future generations are not pigeon-holed into two factions without so much as a whisper.