Social Constructions

The Right Body for the Right Person

Sometimes great lengths must be travelled to gain the greatest outcome.

K. Eastland

A boy named ‘Agnes’ went to these lengths to ensure that the gendered identity that he desired, took shape with a minimal amount of fuss or interference by authoritative institutions. Agnes presented ‘herself’ to doctors and came out with the diagnosis ‘Testicular feminization syndrome (Spade, 2006)’ and underwent plastic surgery to right a wrong. ‘Testicular feminization syndrome is a genetic disorder that makes XY foetuses insensitive (unresponsive) to androgens (male hormones). Medical Dictionary definitions of popular medical terms easily defined.  This essay is all about what is a right, and what is a wrong body, according to the social normatives that citizens have been governed to live by.

 

It was 1958, and Agnes approached the psychiatry department at the University of California, seeking a ‘remedy for an endocrine abnormality (Spade, 2006)’. Agnes out played their education and presented herself as a ‘feminine woman with female secondary sex characteristics (Spade, 2006)’. However, Agnes had more up her sleeve, or in her knickers, than she first revealed, she had a ‘fully formed penis (Spade, 2006).’ Agnes was a man. She knew very early in her life, as most Trans-persons do, that she was a woman with a healthy mind, but was inhabiting the wrong body (Jordan, 2004). At 12 years of age, Agnes began taking her mother’s oestrogen, and the chemicals created a true feminine identity. Agnes out foxed the governance surrounding qualification for ‘sex reassignment surgery (SRS)’, and underwent surgery to remove her penis. 5-years after the surgery, Agnes revisited the doctors and told them how she beat the system (Spade, 2006).

 

So how can a society dictate to someone that the body that they are in, is the right body, when the individual inhabiting that body, knows that it is not? What right does a government have to conclude that their ideal of the ‘right body’ is correct, when many children are birthed with ‘ambiguous genitalia (Hill, May, 1977)’ or ‘sexual ambiguity’ (Dreger, May/Jun 1998), sometimes known as ‘hermaphroditic infants (Hill, May, 1977)’? Upon the birthing table many individual ‘true selves’ are decided for new born babes by the rule of acceptable societal norms (Davis, 1995).

The idea of a body’s morphology revolves around the extent of socially correct perspectives adopted and maintained by medical and moral ideologies of modernised humans. Where once intersexuality maintained a space in human culture (Hird, Summer 2003), it is now decided according to a very dualistic characterisation. Sex, other than male and female, influence both medical and social discourses to maintain ‘the modern western system of gender difference (Hird, Summer 2003)’. Modern medicine is now able to perform examinations and tests to discover the sex of a genetically ambiguous baby (WHO, 2013). However, in pre-modern medicine, ‘a hermaphroditic infant was simply assigned the sex it most resembled externally (Hill, May, 1977)’. A hermaphroditic infant gains its name from the ancient Greek god’s Hermes and Aphrodite, the goddess of love (Grosz, 1991)’.

 

There are many people oppressed by social normalcy’s in our modern society and not all [ab]normalcy’s are externally evident at the birth of a child. Not all [ab]normalities are gender related either. Human beings are subjected to acceptable societal norms. They are forced upon them through a genital identification at the time of their births. Parents are informed by an authorative person, if their child is right or wrong, normal or abnormal, girl or boy. The Foucaultion concept of Bio-Power recognises that ‘at its most material level, life is engendered in and through a vast network of regulatory mechanisms’ from the medical to the intimate. Bio-power is ‘linked to oppressive practices that have been enabled by authoritive entities (Kristensen, April, 2013)’.

 

Rene Descartes’, ‘I think, therefore I am’ aptly describes the internal workings of every human being. A dichotomous logic works into the lives of almost all people, with most adults accepting that they are their job; that they are a homemaker, amongst other, ‘what I do, I must be’ imageries. Nevertheless, many experience the mind body split at a different level, most times at a socially unacceptable level. Their body, according to their mind, is wrong according to the constructed social norms that they have been indoctrinated into believing are correct (Davis, 1995). Some people will take steps to become the person that their mind has always been, as Agnes did. Sadly though, some are so traumatised by the construct of normalcy’s, that they end their lives because the wrongness of their outward appearance, and the oppression of expectations is too much for their minds to endure.

 

Many people are mocked or physically harmed, from their childhood into adulthood, if their outward appearance differs from another’s. So indoctrinated are constructed normalcy’s, that the man looking into a mirror reflecting back the woman that he is, or the woman downcast by society, because the man that she was to be, was taken from her at birth, become objects to be hated. Trans-people are not always considered socially normal people; Trans-people are normally treated like outcasts. There is a dualistic ideology of what are acceptable social norms around everything, but damagingly so around the concept of an acceptable sexual identity. This ideology is a conflictive subjection of discriminative proportions.

Accepted social identities do not always include ‘intersexuality,’ as a recognised sex for a human being. Intersexuality is a fear-based atrocity, enacted during early human history, to produce defined lines between what is male and what is female (Fausto-Sterling, March/April 1993). Apparently, every vagina must look the same, and every penis must be of a suitable size to ensure that innocent children are acceptable to each other in the change rooms. Statistically, babies born with ambiguous genitalia are just as natural as every other child is because all are biologically determined sexual states for infant humans, with around two intersexed births for every one-thousand (20% birth rate) (America, 1955-98).

 

However, early scientific tests could not provide definitive answers for a majority of persons deemed to be deformed (intersexed) at birth. Therefore, the dualistic male/female ideology dominated the deformed, and most sexually ambiguous genitalia were surgically transformed into vaginas, because “It’s easier to dig a hole than to build a pole (Gender Identity Disorder Information, n.d.)” some in the medical community quip. The biological determination of an eight-year-old boy named MC, resulted in an abuse of his human rights, when he was sexually, surgically altered by the state.

Eight year old M. C. Crawford was born with ambiguous genitalia. Abandoned by his father, ‘the courts terminated the parental rights of his mother (Dreger, 2013)’, and placed MC into state custody. Before MC’s adoption by the Crawford family, at ’16-months old the state decided to reconstruct MCs genitals, by removing his penis and one testicle. This left enough of MC’s genitalia to form a clitoris and labia (Dreger, 2013)’. The Crawford’s knew about MCs sexual ambiguity before they adopted him, and their first desire was to ensure that the state did not perform any surgery on MC. When they found that it had already been performed, they raised MC as a girl, but when MC approached his new parents with his desire to be a boy, they supported his decision. His hair cut short and allowed to dress as a boy, MC is now happy and also’ has the support of his community and his school (Dreger, 2013)’.

The case of MC is an exception to the rule, with many now sexually confused adults of a bygone era, fighting the constant fight against their own true selves, in the hopes of ‘sitting right’ with acceptable social norms. Many Trans-people are finally breaking free, revealing their true sexual identity, and are refusing to accept the construction of normalcy forced upon them throughout their lives. The only persons disturbed by the generation who dare to be true to themselves, are those who took it upon themselves to decide who would be male and who would be female. Worse than that, they decided that there could only be male and female sexual identities. This ideology was dangerously filtered through to every person, with an indoctrination through scary bed time stories and movie making criteria, to enforce a demonization of homosexuality, transsexualism and other perceived body deformities, upon the citizens of the world.

Some infant genital mutilations are not the result of biological determinisms however, but are in fact a consequence of social constructionism .

During a medically performed circumcision procedure on an infant boy, the surgeon slipped and burnt off half the penis. After discussions with other medical experts and sexologists at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, it was decided to medically reconstruct ‘Johns’[1] genitalia and turn him into Joan (Dreger, May/Jun 1998). John Money gave the name ‘John’ to David (Bruce) Reimer so that he could create a paronomasia and used the name ‘Joan’ for the male that Money surgically altered into a female. After the reconstruction surgery, Joan became subjected to further surgical and hormonal treatments, in attempts to make his body look more feminine (Dreger, May/Jun 1998). Intensive psychological counselling was used to help both Joan and her/his family, to feel more comfortable with John’s new gender (Dreger, May/Jun 1998).

For decades the success of this ‘cosmetic sex reassignment (Sullivan, 2009)’[2] had been reported by the psychologist John Money and others, as proof that ‘doctors could create any gender out of any child (Dreger, May/Jun 1998)’. Money believed that ‘gender was a matter of nurture and not nature. Money’s John/Joan experiment was performed on David Reimer in 1965. The Reimer family decided to remain anonymous to protect David from a media circus, but not Money. Money touted his own horn to any media outlet who would listen to his perceived success. The Reimers recognised very early in David’s, life that he was rejecting his new identity. When David was old enough, he became the boy he was born to be. Yet on the 4th of May 2004, Bruce Reimer, David’s chosen identity, tragically committed suicide. Money has refused to acknowledge the Reimer family since his death (News, 2009).

Money viewed that what he did to Bruce, would also work for sexually ambiguous infants, and he provided a template on how to create a perfect new identity, one that would guarantee complete success for other surgeons facing a situation where genital reassignment surgery (GRS) was required. However, not all persons inhabiting wrong-bodies are the result of surgical manipulations in their infancies. Some people are perceived by others, to be wrong-bodied people, because their body shape is contrary to advertised and nurtured socially acceptable bodily norms. These wrong-body persons constantly fight the ravages of age, or weight, and the ever more popular ‘photo-shop’ of normal bodies into the new normal. Many young people fall for the new normal, and to their detriment harm their bodies in attempts to gain the right body. Even Britney Spears, an already beautiful woman, is photo shopped (Ltd, 2009)

There is a whole range of persons that cannot be compartmentalised, according to acceptable social norms. Their experience of a dualism between their minds and bodies, buck these norms, and fly in the face of constructed normalcy’s that became part of a child’s instruction throughout the 1950s and 1960s (Pitalli, 2011), through educational institutions and good parenting expectations.

Some know instinctively that their biology is not the biology that fits with their identification of self. ‘Trans-people’ have had to construct a perception of acceptable normalcies. There are many different types of ‘Trans-people’ and they know from an early age that the body that they inhabit is the ‘wrong-body’. Trans-sexualism is male-to-female. Transsexuals desire to become a woman, not to have a woman as a sexual partner. Trans-genderism is a more recent term that describes some one who questions the dualistic genderisms that assign fixed identities to everyone, when not all people fit with those fixed identities. The medical term, ‘gender dysphoria (Service, 2012)’, describes the wrong body narrative.

It is interesting to note that should a baby be born with sexual ambiguity, surgeons cannot wait to reconstruct their sex. So why is it that adults who choose to surgically alter their bodies, to reflect the self that their mind has always been, must undergo years of therapy and surgical manipulations before doctors and other ‘authorities’ give the final nod, for them to be accepted for whom they have always been? If only MC had been treated this way, he would have been old enough to decide his true self before it came to such a drastic operation.

The idea of a wrong body narrative affects all of us to differing degrees. From biological determinations such as perceived birth deformities, true self identifications and genetically inherited hips, bums and thighs, to social constructs of surgical mishaps and reconstructionisms, to the construct of right and wrong of someone’s sexual identity squeezed into an immovable dualistic sexual, state sanctioned, identity. Now, the newest constructionism of the absolute unattainable identification is Avatarism. Perfect bodies and perfect faces, created on someone’s computer, that are brought to life by a puppeteer who sits alone, and identifies to the world, their absolute perfection.

 

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[1] A name John Money gave to David (Bruce) Reimer so that he could create a paronomasia and used the name ‘Joan’ for the male that Money surgically altered into a female.

[2] Nikki Sullivan. 2009. ‘The Somatechnics of Intersexuality’, Pp. 317