Often when discussing the reality of the transgender experience, a debate will evolve around whether gender is determined on the basis of chromosomes (i.e. XY is male and XX is female) or whether gender is a purely social construct.
Someone will usually point out that while one’s sex is usually classified as male and female, gender is a separate concept and is defined around how people exist in the world (i.e. as a man or a woman). Also, someone will likely bring up the existence of intersex individuals (e.g. those who have genetic abnormalities that result in atypical sexual development) as proof that transgenderism is a legitimate condition.
That sex and gender do not always align does not disprove that in the great majority of cases it aligns quite nicely. But sex and gender sometimes misalign, and when this happens, gender confirmation surgery (formerly called sex reassignment surgery) seems to be an effective way to restore harmony.
Often in my travels across the interwebs I have found people who have claimed that while genes and sex are fixed, gender identity is a social construct. No argument there. But where I disagree is when these same people argue that because sex is fixed and a “natural” phenomenon, it is real, while gender identity or expression is a cultural phenomenon, not fixed and therefore a figment of the imagination.
Culture is real. It’s as real as the air we breathe, and the earth we walk on. While it a less tangible, less fixed entity than air or earth, and while it is more malleable than a rock, for example, it can have very serious, very damaging effects on the quality of people’s lives if it is not properly tended to. We each are responsible for the culture we live in; we shape it with every interaction we engage in.
As a trans man I want to see a society that acknowledges my right to exist. I claim the right to define my own gender regardless of my sex. This is not delusion or insanity. It is something deep inside of me that wants expression, that is entitled to that expression. And while, up to this point, only two genders have presented themselves as viable options, I can imagine a future where many more may exist.
If gender truly is the product of social conditioning, then the conditioning that would have aligned my biological sex (female) with my expected gender (woman) simply did not take. And my deciding to surgically and hormonally alter my physical body to align my external appearance with my internal sense of self (as masculine) does not mean that I am being a traitor to women or, for that matter, the lesbian cause (another tired argument that reappears online from time to time).
What it means is that I recognize my right to live the life I choose. As the man I choose to be. Just as every man, woman, and everyone else has the right to expect that their decision to live according to their values and beliefs deserves respect so long as that decision shows respect for others.
I am not interested in denying my past as a female. That, too, is part of my life story. I am also very aware of the very real mental distress I suffered as a result of the misalignment between how the world was perceiving me (as female) and how I felt (masculine).
I hope that we can build a world that understands that gender is real even if everyone experiences it differently. And the person who gets to define it, is the person who has to live it.