Robert Ead, a 52 year-old MTF transgender living a quiet life in the country-side of Georgia, was betrayed by more than just society. Robert describes his experience with ovarian cancer as a “supreme irony”, his experience with giving birth as a “betrayal to his own body”. For many transgenders, the experience is re-told with a similar story, born and raised as one gender/sex but felt they were the other, their body trapped inside the wrong gender/sex. For Robert, the ability to reproduce felt foreign, his body committing treason against his own will. He explains his marital relationship with the child’s father as the only time he felt like a homosexual. Yet, Robert didn’t advocate the idea or feel the need to undergo bottom surgery to become a full man.
In light of Epstein’s article regarding the medicalization of the LGBT community, Robert is an exception to the case in point. In the medical world, gender and sex are one-in-the-same, strictly defined by the biological anatomy identified at birth. Those who don’t fall into the binary categories of female or male are quickly “fixed” into one or the other. Stories like that of ‘Bruce turned Brenda’ exemplify how gender and sex have little to do with genitalia but has everything to do with whats in your mind. But what’s more interesting than the distinction made by medical professionals who adhere to this ideology is the internalization of it among those who struggle with gender and sex identity as adults, conditioned to believe that they must fully transform in the physical to appropriately represent what is in the mental.
Fausto-Sterling‘s piece, “The Five Sexes: Why Female and Male Are Not Enough” , despite her focus on genitalia rather than the “gender that is performed”, attempts to restructure the limited categories of sex to eliminate this challenge. As we know, the exploration and identification within the two extremes does not always lead directly towards an explicit sex. But it should not be the obligation of the individual to choose an identity to conform to society but for society to surrender their attachment to a strict gender system and to prevent those who do not fit the categories of male or female to feel shame, guilt or confusion. We must do more than revise our language, as Sterling advises, but revise our understanding in a way that cultivates acceptance not only of others but of ourselves as well.