I’m getting so sick of hearing people blather on about how Chaz Bono shouldn’t be on “Dancing with the Stars” because his dancing team doesn’t include a man (they don’t consider him to be a man, and since they own the universe and are God now, what they say goes). I don’t like it when people talk and they don’t know what they’re talking about in general, but on this specific issue it irks the living shit out of me because people don’t even understand the complexities of sex and gender and they don’t even try to educate themselves about these issues before they go spouting off about things they don’t understand.
People can be born with XX or XY chromosomes. There are also people among us who have XXX, XXY, XYY, XXYY, etc. chromosomes. There are people with XY chromosomes with partial or full androgen insensitivity who live their whole lives as women. “Androgen,” also called androgenic hormone or testoid, is the generic term for any natural or synthetic compound, usually a steroid hormone, that stimulates or controls the development and maintenance of male characteristics in vertebrates by binding to androgen receptors. This includes the activity of the accessory male sex organs and development of male secondary sex characteristics. Androgens were first discovered in 1936. Androgens are also the original anabolic steroids and the precursor of all estrogens, the female sex hormones. The primary and most well-known androgen is testosterone, other less important androgen are dihydrotestosterone and androstenedione.
It sounds complicated, but basically androgens are the little doohickies floating around in our system that control our sex characteristics (help us develop those traits we identify as male or female). People with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (or AIS) don’t develop the characteristics we would associate with their assigned gender (women who look “too masculine” or men who look “too feminine” because they don’t display the gender characteristics that society is conditioned to think are “normal” for male or female).
We never know if someone has these XXXY or such characteristics because we never test our DNA. It’s just easy to explain XX and XY to kids in high school and to the layman, so we keep repeating this simplistic concept without allowing for complexities, nuance, and differences. Thus kids are taught that certain characteristics are “normal” and they conflate sex with gender, and everything turns unto a huge mess and we wind up blaming and shaming people who don’t present as “male” or “female” in the ways we’ve been taught are normal. We blame the individuals instead of re-evaluating our views of the concept of gender. In addition to chromosomal sex, there’s gonadal sex, hormonal sex, reproductive organ sex, etc. which can and often are different from the chromosomal sex (someone can have “female” chromosomes but genitals that present as “male,” for instance).
Regardless of your sex chromosomes, there are triggers which must happen in the mother’s womb to make you whatever your DNA say you are. For example, all babies are female by default in the womb (you may have heard this mentioned on the show “House” in a memorable episode). Some babies become male, not because they have XY chromosomes, but rather because there is a gene called SRY which must trigger the mother’s womb to respond with the right timing and the right level of hormones. If one little thing goes wrong, the baby may not become male. The baby can be born female, but still have XY chromosomes without having androgen insensitivity.
This is all referring to the biological sex of a person. Gender is a totally different issue. Gender is inside the brain. There are numerous genders. If you know a tomboyish girl or an effeminate man, you have already encountered some of those genders. There’s no “right” or “wrong” was to BE male or female, despite what we have been taught.
When we are born, doctors look for a penis. If a penis is present on the baby, the baby is considered to have the male gender. If not, the baby is supposed to have the female gender. They don’t go through a complex DNA test to see if the kid has different chromosomes or any of the other factors listed above. They look at the baby and say “it has a penis; it’s a boy” or “no penis; it’s a girl” and that’s that. Then when the kid gets older and thinks “I don’t fit into my gender…I don’t act or feel like a boy or girl is supposed to act or feel” the kid thinks “there’s something wrong with me!” instead of thinking there’s something wrong with society. Life is not as simplistic and easy as people think (or as doctors make it seem at birth). Life is beautiful and complex. There are numerous combinations of gender and sex, which most people do not even understand because we’re not taught that it’s important, so we don’t learn these things (like I never learned these things until I went to a conference in 2009 and had my mind blown open and now I can never look at anything the same again).
Some of us fit well into the gender assigned to us at birth based on the penis observation test I mentioned earlier. Many of us do not fit perfectly, however, and we are tomboys as women or effeminate as men. The rest may not be able to adjust at all to their assigned gender because their gender in their brain is too far away from the assignment – these are known as transgender people. Transgender people become transgender in the womb, at 15 weeks of pregnancy. Brain scans in gender-specific regions at birth and in the BSTc region at adolescence can tell you that a person is transgender.
Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a bit here. If you are female now, imagine yourself waking up tomorrow in a man’s body. If you are male now, imagine yourself waking up tomorrow with breasts and without your penis. That’s how *trans people might feel every day of their lives. Transgender people do not decide one day that they are transgender because it sounds like something fun to do that day. Most transgender people know that something is not right by the time they are 3 or 4. Most may not be able to articulate it until much later, however, and some never articulate it due to fear of not being seen as normal. Over 40% of trans people contemplate suicide, and over 20% actually commit suicide. Some live repressed, in depression, or aloof from society. Some cross dress to feel a bit better. Some may even transition to their desired gender and live “normal” lives. This is what Chaz Bono has done, and I admire him for it. I don’t know Chaz personally, so I can’t speak for him, but given all the complexities of chromosomal sex and gender I listed above, Chaz most likely didn’t just wake up one day and decide “I want to be a boy!” He struggled with not feeling like a good fit in the sex assigned to him at birth, faced turmoil for years, and finally made a decision to live his life the way that was right for him. I can guarantee he didn’t just do this to piss you off and mess up your favorite reality TV show.
If a child is not transgender, no amount of watching transgender people dance on TV, no amount of coercion, no feeding of hormones, no forced masculinization/feminization, no playing with toys made for the opposite gender, and no amount of dressing up in clothes made for the opposite gender will make the child transgender. Your kid is not going to suddenly want to become transgender by watching Chaz Bono on TV, and if your kid IS transgender, it’s not just because Chaz Bono is on TV, either. It’s because transgender people exist all around in the world (you just don’t know it yet). Trust me, if your child is not transgender, he/she is merely exploring the world by trying on clothes of the opposite gender or playing with toys that society thinks are made for people of the opposite gender. It is a phase which will go away on its own. It is completely harmless exploration (and freaking out and not letting your son play with a Tinkerbell doll will not serve to make him more tolerant and open minded of people around him who may be different than what he thinks is “normal). Basically, I’m saying that if your child is *trans, your child will be *trans whether or not Chaz Bono is dancing on a TV show.
If a child is transgender, well, not to be rude here, but you have to get used to it. Nothing except acceptance and support will help this child. You have to allow the child to do whatever he/she needs to do to feel better. Your choices are really a depressed-then-dead child or a happy transgender child. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have my kid happy and alive even if people don’t think my kid is “normal” than have my kid try to act “normal” every day until the pain become too great and the kid commits suicide. You may think I’m being overdramatic, but I’m not. This is the way things are. Accept and love your kids or refuse to accept and love them, but you make this choice and you have to live with the consequences. I don’t want to raise my kids to think only one type of gender expression is “normal” and then have my kid grow up to be an intolerant bully or commit suicide out of fear that I won’t love a kid who isn’t “normal.”
Finally, this is a dance show we’re talking about here (well, it’s more than that, but people are throwing a hissy fit over this issue and it really comes down to one hour of dancing on TV a week). Chaz is not going to be naked on this show. His genitals or his internal organs are not available for anybody to see. Neither are his chromosomes visible to anyone, which in fact you have no proof to claim his chromosomes are XX. He could be XY with pre-birth androgen insensitivity or XXXY or something else. You do not have his personal medical records, so you have no say in what is normal for him. Maybe he thinks YOU aren’t normal. Do you really want to be the one to tell other people how they should and should not act when they aren’t hurting anyone by dancing on TV, but you might be hurting someone close to you by being intolerant and ignorant and bigoted about things you don’t understand?
There are numerous transgender people living among us, both those who have transitioned and those who have not transitioned, and you have no idea that they are transgender people unless you ask. If people had not made such a huge fuss about Chaz being transgender, most people wouldn’t even know. Calm down. Educate yourself. Think before you speak. Realize that you are not the arbiter of what is and what is not “normal” for everyone else.
Thank you, Lillian, for sharing this 🙂