Born in the wrong body.
For some folk, the use of the above phrase is offensive, even when that is unintentional. There’s been issues with my body since childhood diagnosis of a bony disorder. Frequent surgery in primary school years was a bit of a skive, invariably relieved by multiple gifts from my Mum of books she knew I’d lose myself within. Naturally the extent of my good fortune did penetrate when able to leave hospital and the wee friends I’d made there were left behind, some doomed never to see the outside world again.
Come teenage years there developed embarrassment and envy – friends could wear short skirts and weren’t restricted to black tights and midis for their legs did not vary much in length or width and were not criss crossed by scars. Puberty is difficult enough for everyone without feeling unduly different from the crowd. There were times I could have been encouraged to attribute all my mistakes, woes and bad decisions to my physical problems, but that would have been short-sighted, dishonest and storing up trouble. It didn’t stop me chancing it though.
In those years of my youth of course I was unable to consent to surgery – my parents were obliged to do so on my behalf, it being understood that as a child I most likely wouldn’t understand or wish to choose the medically correct pathway, the one promising temporary discomfort for ultimate gain.
However, by my 20s, something much worse occurred – malignant developments. There was a time I feared not to see my 30th birthday, but it did occur, last century. There have now been dozens of operations, all done out of necessity, whereby there have been biopsies, excisions and amputations. At no time had I the choice to grin and bear it, for each process was vital to save either my mobility or at times my life.
There have been many occasions when I railed against the injustice visited upon me by fate – but those bits of my hands,feet, legs, ribs, spine and shoulder which have been removed were diseased and I was better off jettisoning those thereby maintaining life and its quality. There has been mental and physical pain involved, but always a realisation that fear of the unknown is worse, for me, than confronting the known. Not everyone will feel that way, but honesty from my doctors and nurses invariably helped my understanding, recovery and at times acceptance.
Many times I found myself angry and in dispute with nurses removing stitches and staples, physios making me exercise, get up and walk when all I wanted to do was hide, cry, sleep or swear; doctors telling me scan results were not great and another bit was for the chop – these folk were, without exception, delivering advice and help which was sore to hear but they were being kind – temporary pain was for my own good in the long run.
I have been unable to live a life of fantasy pretending to be someone I was not; the last three weeks have been intensely irritating following a fall which has rendered me temporarily wheelchair bound. That will pass, soon. Meantime it is as important to me as it has ever been that I am honest with myself. I regard the stump where my left leg used to be and can do so without regret – had I stubbornly held onto my foot I’d not be here to annoy you today. Those operations though addressed illness, and at no time did they offer me the legs of Angie Dickinson or the paralympic abilities and dancing skills of Jonnie Peacock.
All of us have friends who have had life altering illness and surgery; those most psychologically painful for women include mastectomies and for some hysterectomies or mesh implants. None of these people were able to self-identify themselves healthy and well, because we don’t ignore medical, scientific or biological reality.
That we now find ourselves adrift in a Scotland where daily we are confronted by the saddest of teenage girls seeking breast binders,puberty blockers, referring to top and bottom surgeries, amidst a set of guidance from a Scottish Government promoting the notion of the trans-identifying child, without access to mental health support, keeping secrets from parents, is nothing short of a national and political disgrace. Add to that a woefully under funded and ill equipped child and adolescent mental health service; consider those children who claim to be trans but have added troubles including the impact of peer pressure, trauma, family breakdown and potential ASD disorders – and you may then understand the folly of the diversionary, advisory stance of the Scottish Government.
That we have politicians insisting that self-identification for transpeople, without a medical diagnosis, will not affect the rights of women and girls is disingenuous in the absence of a direct succinct and unmistakeable commitment to the maintenance of current rights to single sex spaces, coupled with an acknowledgement that biological sex is immutable. Some women like me need those assurances for ourselves; some men and women seek those guarantees also for their loved ones.
Adults who have transitioned after a diagnosis of dysphoria tell us that mental health support and counselling were vital lifelines for them; they did not embark upon surgery without years of professional help and advice; some will explain that such advice, including honesty about outcomes, led to decisions not to transition. Others explain that transitioning turns out to be wrong and the sharpest piercing regrets are of those seeking to detransition many of whom have lost their fertility along with their hopes of a better life.
We are all influenced by experience and led or misled at times by dreams because reality can be almost impossible to tolerate. My view now, when approaching my bus pass years, remains that nobody is born in the wrong body; that children and young folk should be cherished, protected and enabled to be comfortable, confident and secure; decisions on lifestyle and choices about changing gender are adult decisions to be made when fully, safely informed and able to make far-reaching decisions sure in the knowledge of the nature of the likely outcomes. Kidology doesn’t cut it. Neither does a legal fiction albeit that its kindness may be welcome relief for some. It’s time these policies, plans and legislation were debated by adults for adults, not in darkness or by stealth, through power of parliamentary numbers, but with respect for the views of the sensible, realistic and honest majority of the adult population.