gender-image 17 Nov 2017


For most of us our sex and our sense of it, our gender, overlap seamlessly. Or at least they virtually do so. More or less. But in transgendered and intersexed people their sex and their gender can often be quite, sometimes even completely, distinct.

Our sex is a biological given with females being chromosomally XX and males chromosomally XY. So much is clear. Gender, in contrast, which may or may not be biologically determined (not enough is yet known about this, but there is some evidence that it may be, at least in part), is more obviously socially constructed. That is, it is further developed during our childhood and adolescent years by the way we relate with, and our related to, by others.

Some transgendered and intersexed people have the external sexual characteristics of their anatomies surgically altered or, as they experience it, corrected to more accurately fit their sense of gender. They show just how complex the very notion of gender actually is. They show it by not following the ‘normal’ developmental trajectory. Instead they have a greater or lesser certainty, which they may or may not express, that they are different from the norm in terms of their gendered sense of who they are.

Before I go on I have to declare an interest: I am an XY female who has had full gender confirmation surgery because from earliest childhood I ‘knew’ I wasn’t a boy. I couldn’t understand how I ‘knew’ this, but it was as certain as day follows night. Then I would wake up every morning to be confronted  anatomically with the fact that what I ‘knew’ to be the case was not actually true.

It was a bit difficult, to say the least!

Hormonal and surgical intervention are not lightly taken steps. Like that between the brain and the mind, an unbridgeable gap exists for some transgendered people between their given biological sex  on the one hand, and their personal sense of self or identity on the other, which at this present time in history only hormones and surgery can satisfactorily address. The stress of feeling wrongly embodied is otherwise just too difficult to bear.

So next time you consciously take a gendered look at someone, (and unconsciously we all do it all the time in relation to one another), remember that your gendered sense of who and how and what we are as human beings is sometimes not as straightforward as it might appear.

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre

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