Trans patients need equality

Gender is a concept created by society. We are born as one of two sexes; but from thereon in gender is a choice: for example, if you are born “female” and identify yourself as a “woman” this identity is a performative choice not a predetermined characteristic. Society does have preconceptions of how someone born with certain genitalia should act; but it remains a choice whether to accept that prescribed identity or decide to perform one’s self differently.

Gender is not required for an accurate diagnosis of an illness. There are health differences between the sexes; but most doctors (and the NHS) would never say that your identity is relevant to your illness and yet the Health Centre at the University of York refuses to allow students the right to identity choice.

“from thereon in, gender is a choice”

What does the Health Centre gain from disallowing this basic freedom? It seems that instead of following NHS policy they are instigating unnecessary offence and arguments. But in having said that, even the official NHS line – “even trans people get colds” – is not much better suggesting that trans people are somehow different in their gender performance than anyone else by making that very statement. Shouldn’t there be extra clauses: “even trans people… but also men, women, students, Eskimos…” or how about just: “even people get colds.”

There is no (or very little) formal discrimination in gender anymore; but prejudice is reinforced by the smallest of remarks, the tiniest of statements – the most throw away one-liners. Society is made up of these interactions that in turn reinforce divisions in society between the majority and the “other”.

The Health Centre’s archaic approach to gender is also an intrusion of privacy of individuals who want to be identified as a “woman” or a “man” (or simply a “person”) – not as “trans”. Refusal to change the prefix of a patient’s name in a letter means a denial of the right to identity choice and means that people could be “outed” without consent to housemates or university staff.

In continuing their policy, the Health Centre is maintaining discrimination because the culmination of such small things in society allows divisions to be sustained.

YUSU needs to support LGBT with all its resources: because even a small change to practice, like altering prefixes, can make a huge difference to the structure of society.

2 comments

  1. 21 Jun ’11 at 11:46 pm

    Anonymous trans man

    Great comment piece Sam!
    Just two points I need to make.
    Firstly, there are many more than just two sexes. Doctors force the parents of anyone whose body doesn’t easily match the two common sexes into picking one and then gives the person medical treatments to make their body more like that sex than it would naturally.
    Second point, quite a lot of trans people don’t believe gender is a choice. They feel that their gender identity is in some way innate or predetermined and just happens not to match with the ideas other people have about what their body means.
    I personally think that gender is part innate, part social. But it doesn’t hugely matter.

    Whether we choose our genders or we’re born with them, other people’s ideas of what sex and gender we are shouldn’t be considered more important than our own experiences. Trans patients need equality because it is *evetyone’s* right to choose what their name is and to control who can see their medical details without a pressing medical reason.

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  2. I really appreciate your comment on this article because it validates my argument :) its a sensitive subject and I’m glad that you think it was a good piece

    Being a Sociology student, I have learnt that the predominant thinking in gender studies is actually the opposite of what you have suggested here. Most feminists for example will refer to ‘sex’ as innate whereas ‘gender’ is used to describe what you have argued is ‘sex’ (see Judith Butler for example)

    However, I am very interested in your thoughts on this and I particularly like your first point that there is only two choices.

    I have also posted this article on my blog and would really love it if you would be willing to comment on it there: http://www.esjaybe.net

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