Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"surgery does not make you a woman"

or so said the almighty Harry Benjamin. (paraphrased)

what does that mean for post-op TS women? Is the guy who named our condition saying we'll never be female?

I've read a few nasty TG bog blogs that say exactly that. they delight in finding that statement and use it to attack post op women. Declaring that either the concept of transsexualism is wrong, or men can never become women. They seem to take perverse delight in undermining the womanhood of women born TS, as if denying it grants them some kind of transgendered superiority. I feel that they are trying to 'take down' people that they themselves have put on a pedestal. more on that in a later blog.

How valid is that claim? If it is valid, then there are a lot of very deluded men out here, myself included, because we see ourselves as female. Fully female. Are we mad? Is the Law that acknowledges us mad? (as indeed, the recent Argentinian law that allows men to legally declare themselves female without examination or surgery indicates it may be) Are our lovers and family mad?

If the claim is not true, then what about the rest of Harry's work. do we ned to throw it all out, because we don't like that last bit (as the TG bog explicitly claims we do).

I think that there is no direct connection between the infamous statement of surgery not making us female' and the rest of HB's work. There are no assumptions being breached. There are no causative links being challenged. The rest of the work and that statement exist in isolation, so we could, if we chose, reject it without invalidating the rest of his work. It is a moot point, since the days of TS are long gone, and we are now diagnosed with GID (although with much the same requirements), or, if we are not actually TS, with GID(not otherwise specified), or, if we are not diagnosed, 'TG'. (This is in the medical world, not in the crazy world of GLAAD media manipulation.)

However. I think it is true. Surgery cannot make you female. It is impossible. We are born male, or born female. In our selves, not in our bodies. Our bodies mostly fit, but occasionally. To use the medically derived TS figure:1 in 20 or 1 in 30 thousand, not the more common TG figures of one in a few hundred.
We know pretty early on in the piece: "i've got the wrong body". Not, "i've got the wrong social role", although that may also follow. Neither, "i've got the wrong clothes", although, again that may follow. The fundamental marker is "i've got the wrong body". For a woman born in a male body, that means she knows she is female, from really early on. From there grows the struggle between self-understanding and societal stereotyping. Between Nature and Nurture. Eventually that woman may access surgery to correct the issue. That surgery does not make her female, because she already was. It simply adjusts her body to match who she knows she is.

If a man, for some reason fetishizing being female (and really, who would? it is not the easiest path in life, for anyone) to the extent that they can pass the gatekeepers, accesses surgery; what then? Well, they are still a man. Surgery cannot make you female.

This is one of those things that we, as women born TS need to accept. Instead of rising to the insult intended when the TG bog proponents throw this challenge, we need instead to face it head on and re-affirm it. Surgery cannot make a man into a woman. It is true.

At the same time: Surgery cannot make a man into a woman. So anyone not born transsexual needs to be aware of this. The knife is not going to perform magic, all it can do is change your body. If you are transgendered, not transsexual, and you are considering surgery. ARE YOU SURE? you may be able to provide the correct answers to fool the gatekeepers, and you may be able to play a good enough role to pass the real life test. However, if you think that surgery is going to overcome your actual male identity, then you are in for hell.

I'm happy with this concept. I've looked at it from many angles, talked about it, taken time to let it settle and mature. Its annoying. Why? because it means that there can be women out there who truly are women, but who simply don't want surgery to correct their male anatomy.

I've met natal women who, when asked about it, said that if they'd been born with a penis, there's no way they'd have them removed. The idea of power, or penetration of others, of privilege is too tempting, too alluring.

So, it becomes harder to say to the very strange TG people who have active male sex lives yet claim to be female: "you are not female". perhaps they are. Or perhaps, my argument to allow acceptance of HB's irritating statement was too clever, and deconstructed the idea of 'female' to such an extent that i broke my understanding of it.

What do you think?


  1. Comment from: Elspeth Wilson

    Very interesting article, Flow. Surgery does not make anyone a woman, neither does being born. No one is born a woman. We are all born neonates. A girl is not a woman. I agree that womanhood is in the mind and when the body matches the mind, womanhood becomes easier. I think womanhood is a skill learnt over many years. ( I couldn't post this on your blog as the Publish request left me bewildered.)

  2. Very well written! I disagree with Elsepeth Wilson. I do believe we are born women or men. If being a woman is skill that is learned, it can be unlearned. And thus, therapy would work as a cure. But as the David Reimer case show this is not possible. You cannot make, or teach a person to be something it is not. If Elsepeth Wilsons theory would be correct, we could make a woman become a man by teaching her to be one.

    1. Another comment from Elspeth:

      To: Mikael Scott BjerkeliMay 16, 2012 4:59 PM
      I was born as a baby girl and presumably you were born as a baby boy. I was certainly not born as an adult woman! This is an important point as the expression "woman born woman" is very appealing but totally false. Womanhood is part of adulthood, not childhood.I did not become an adult woman in a flash, I grew into it. And sure, if I had to learn to be a woman you can learn to be one too. I guess transsexuals are living proof that one can learn, practise and refine gender presentation!

    2. hi Elspeth. i think you are confusing the many meanings of woman and gender.

      perhaps it would be better to say "surgery cannnot make you female". you are either born that way, or not.

      gender expression (which is the context in which you are using woman) does indeed have a strong nurture component. We are not talking about that in this blog at all.

  3. Flow.

    I have been pleasantly surprised to find that you express in your blog a clear and simple understanding of what is in fact a relatively simple and treatable medical condition with an exceptionally high success rate if proper treatment is applied to the appropriate candidates.

    Both you and Dr. Benjamin are correct. Surgery and hormones cannot make anyone a woman. All it can do is to correct an incorrectly developed genitalia and attempt to offset the damage done to a developing body subjected to testosterone as opposed to estrogen.

  4. I have wondered about Dr. Benjamin's assertion. I think he meant it differently than you are meaning. I think he was being a scientist of his time, one who mostly relied upon the prevailing understanding of genetics to determine whether a person (or animal) was male or female. He knew that HRT and surgery could cure transsexualism, but they would never, in his mind, make the person female.

    I have wondered but I haven't worried. I just deal with my reality.

    I do agree with your premise. "Female" and "male" are really anatomical designation, but the brain is part of the anatomy as well, and we know from experience that a disconnect can happen. So certainly in one way, at least, a way that's very important, we were born female. And because of that, we change our bodies.

    I have to admit that I don't understand someone who is neurologically female wanting to keep (or have) a penis, nor someone who is neurologically male wanting female anatomy.

  5. Wow! so many terms used so interchangably..... it's so easy (for me) to loose direction here.

    See, I personally agree with Elspeth (on one thing at least), not every female on the planet is a woman, (they may well be destined for womanhood, but that is something learned/earned over time) "woman" in my mind is a term society bestows upon a person when the fit the right criteria, namely, they are female (phsyically AND mentally) and they have reached what society deems as "maturity".

    "hi Elspeth. i think you are confusing the many meanings of woman and gender."- Flow

    MANY meanings?..... you've lost me.... I've only ever thought "woman" to have ONE meaning. (matured human female)

    perhaps it would be better to say "surgery cannnot make you female". you are either born that way, or not.-Flow

    Um... K, so I kinda agree, but not completlely. pre op, your physical state was what?.... and now it is?....

    I've met natal women who, when asked about it, said that if they'd been born with a penis, there's no way they'd have them removed. The idea of power, or penetration of others, of privilege is too tempting, too alluring.-Flow

    how could anyone ever take that seriously?..... they'd have to have a point of reference before anyone could even consider that statement. (I'd like to own a brown ferrari, but the truth is when people pointed and laughed, it probably wouldn't be as great as I originally thought it would, maybe, just maybe I might get my brown ferrari cut off after all?.... who knows?)

    So, it becomes harder to say to the very strange TG people who have active male sex lives yet claim to be female: "you are not female". perhaps they are.-Flow

    Ah... NOPE, not from where I'm standing it doesn't. if you have it and you use it and you WANT to use it, and you don't NEED the other kind, then, in my books, sorry, but YOU AINT (mentally) FEMALE! females are programmed to BE female (physically) that's not overlookable. (so if you aint mentally and you aint physically, then I fail to see ANY criteria for female that you DO actually fit). I had thought that was part of the original premise/priciple of your post?.... (again, I'm confused)

    woman and female aren't the same thing, but they are depandant on each other.

    in order to be a woman one needs to be female; both the physical sex, (what resides in thine nether-regions), and the mental sex and at the same time, MOST females (again, those with an INNIE between their thighs and the right brain for the job) are desitned to become women when society deems them to be "matured".

    Where Elspeth looses me is:

    I was born as a baby girl and presumably you were born as a baby boy.

    same concept Elspeth, boy/girl man/woman, they're societal roles based on sex (again, both mental AND physical). I was born to have a girl societal role, that's what I was programmed for(mantally, so I was born a baby girl as well, shame no-one can see the brain huh?), same as you, the difference?, you were born Physically FEAMLE (and they COULD see THAT), you had the right body for your (intrinsic/natual) societal role, and THAT is where flow DID get it you are born to be or you are not.

  6. Hi Flow, I was responding to your initial adapted quote, "surgery does not make you a woman." Maybe it's time for you to define what you mean by "female" and "woman." I thought female reflected a certain arrangement of chromosomes, hormone balance, gonads, skeletal formation etc and "woman" reflected the adult social expression congruent with the physical body. Cheers and thanks for an interesting blog!

    1. Benjamin states in The Transsexual Phenomenon that he uses gender and sex interchangeably, with gender merely meaning the 'nonsexual' aspects of sex. He also mentions the 'gender is above the belt' definition that gets on my nerves every time I read it. That thinking didn't really change until the latest 60's to 70's, with the second wave of feminism.

      As we know it now, 'woman' -- or one's gender -- is part societal construct, part expressed and lived experience. A pre-op transsexual usually lives as a woman, and one who has undergone the operation is then female in terms of sex.

  7. Hi Elspeth.

    we are not in agreement in terms, it appears.

    'woman' is what a natal female girl becomes when she passes puberty, unless she dies or is TS or has some unusual genital transformation.

    it has nothing to do with society, or social expression. A hard arsed Dyke dropping testosterone and pulling weights is as much a woman as the femmest of male-pleasers.

    your definition will fall foul of a lot of feminists, as it implies that our womanhood is in some way bestowed upon us by society.

  8. I may be able to shed some light on things for you. People who point to that Benjamin quote have never read The Transsexual Phenomenon and understood the status of things in Benjamin's time.

    He suspected there was a physiological reason for transsexuality, but had no proof. He also noted in his book that questioning sex itself was 'taboo' -- it is protected because society has structured itself around the 'purity' and clear dichotomy of sex.

    Transsexuals cause the institutional 'purity' of sex to come into question. That's why what the transgender community does is far more insidious than they usually even know. They basically support the discredited John Money in saying that there is no sex 'hard coded' in the brain and attempt to make that sex into gender -- an ambiguous, formless, and often completely useless definition that devalues our existence. Without the concreteness of sex, our issues can only revolve around society as opposed to having society revolve around us. I unfortunately see many transsexuals playing into these common transgender party lines.

    It was Simone de Beauvoir who stated that, "One is not born a woman, but becomes one." Part of what her expressed existentialism really comes down to is facticity. As transsexuals, we were thrown into an uncaring world with brains that are not sexually masculinized in the ways that really matter to being a male individual. These brains may still be in flux -- depending on how serious the lack of proper sexing is -- and prone to influence.

    What is known is that by puberty, transsexuality has either passed us on or it is so ingrained in us that no psychiatrist has ever been able to do a damned thing in the world about it. From that moment onward, there is only one path. One must render their outside to match that which is inside, and become a woman. Not for society or anybody else, but for each of us. For some of us, it is the first truly 'selfish' thing we've done in our entire lives.

    So to conclude my point... when one has had their surgery, they are then female as much as they are a woman. When Benjamin stated that, he had no idea in the slightest that the brain was hard sexed before birth. He was still relying on chromosomes and genitals. Douchey transgender folks who want to take that out of the context of his time -- as if it is support for their varied choice of lifestyle -- are being intellectually dishonest at best.

    A post-operative transsexual female has VERY little difference to a female that's had a hysterectomy, physiologically speaking. There are some slight differences to the bacteria of the neo-vagina and the bone structure of the individual (assuming they ever made it into male puberty) for example, but people who think there's some 'hard' sexual difference for life are either bullshitting themselves or allowing others to bullshit them. That one's flesh was temporarily a penis for a while does not mean it isn't the same flesh that goes into the opposite genitalia. Chromosomes are not nearly as meaningful as people think they are; genes are far more important to sexing than chromosomes will ever be.

    So in conclusion, stop letting people lie to you. Read about these things for yourself, and you'll realize all the evidence is in our favor. All of the evidence suggests we are created out of sex -- not gender -- and that we never had much to do with gender. I don't see many transsexuals that look like Stepford Wives, but I've seen a good many transgender individuals who fit that description.

    ...and no, I'm not planning to come out of 'retirement' on these issues anytime soon. :P Eventually, I'll sit down and reveal all that I know in one place. That day hasn't come yet.

  9. I for one, would most certainly like to read that Amberdextrix.
    Please let me know where to find it when you do.

  10. We are born girl babies and boy babies. We remain children until we mature usually into adult men and women. Various cultures around the world have ceremonies that mark the transition from children to adults and therefore men and women the age varies culture to culture. The principle is however universal. For transesxuals the divergence begins early in life and transition from one sex to another rarely takes place until maturity (more the pity)In the case of male to female it is man to woman and vis versa female to male. However usually there has not been a chance for them to endure that phase of mental maturing that takes place during teenage years. So often a second phase of teenage years takes place. If you like male to female transsexuals again become girls until they learn to mature. Very rarely do we have "teachers" ie Mothers to show us the way and they learn on the fly as it were. Needless to say they make a lot of mistakes.

    For many TS's and I was one of them, we never at any time in our lives accept we were male so really we do go from girls to women as all women do but we do it later in life.

    So, the answer to the question asked in the essay SRS aligns mind and body to the extent of available surgical and chamical technique as it currently exists. Chromosome definitions are unreliable except to the religious and prejudiced and as such can be discounted. If you tell no-one of your past and fit into society you are as you are perceived, endo of story.


    1. The reason that chromosome definitions are seriously pointless is twofold. First, that there are clear exceptions to the 'rules' -- XY females, XX males, and the better part of a dozen assorted chromosome types in addition to those. Since we know for a fact that such individuals exist, chromosomes cannot possibly be *that* much of an accurate indicator of sex to anybody who is being honest with themselves.

      Also, karyotype tests are rarely conducted in the US... if there's no accurate measurement of how many people have which chromosomes, how can we even begin to know the reliability of such a system in the first place? Common assumption has that the majority have their 'proper' chromosomes, but we lack solid, updated evidence.

    2. The genetic dividing line is not XX and XY. It's whether the SRY gene is activated or not. If the SRY gene is expressed, whether as usual on the Y chromosome or rarely on the X chromosome, the person is anatomically male. If the SRY gene is not expressed, then the person is anatomically female whether XX or XY.

      The exception would then be Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Without the ability to use testosterone, the expression of the SRY gene doesn't matter. The person is (mostly) anatomically female (though, strictly speaking, genetically male).


please be nice.