The NHS and professional bodies are committed to ending the practice of conversion therapy in the UK. With “gay cures” it is clear that means attempts to make a gay person attracted to the opposite sex or not attracted to their own sex, but what does it mean for trans folk?
We self-diagnose. No-one goes to a doctor with a set of symptoms and is surprised to be told they have gender dysphoria: if you know of anyone, please tell me. We have contacted people in the community and reached an understanding of what we want. Possibly we have got hormones off the internet, or already transitioned.
Gay identity can be liberated. Battered down by the homophobia pervading society, a person can actualise their fully functioning human identity by therapy, accepting their attractions, using them to build relationship and community, and getting sexual release without shame. The whole person is good, right and acceptable. Self-acceptance empowers them to fulfil their goals and share their gifts in society.
Trans identity comes from a feeling of not fitting, not being congruent. My being, my personality, character, real me, inner self, conflicted and oppressed through internalised transphobia, are nevertheless right and beautiful and can be liberated by good psychotherapy working with my intense desire to know the truth, my human capacity for growth and healing, and my Love. But that misses out my body.
Bodies are embarrassing. We cover them with clothes, not just for warmth. They do embarrassing things like belch, fart, excrete, menstruate. They get sore and tired. We want them to be other than they are, so diet and exercise to change them, rather than for the joy of it. Encouraged by the culture, we imagine an ideal body and always feel we fall short of it.
My body is beautiful.
My body is acceptable.
My body is full of potential.
I can develop it, but should be careful when I imagine I should constrain it, and only do that for good reason. Here is Walt Whitman, section 20 of Song of Myself, worth glorying in for its shocking Acceptance:
I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.
In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.
I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is my- self,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.
Is that not glorious? Read it again, breathe, glory in it. This- this creature, body, mind, spirit, brain, thews and sinews, questing intelligence, empathy, Love- is completely and entirely beautiful. My body is beautiful.
I only realised my body is beautiful after transition. My arm is beautiful: rounded, long and slim and strong enough, with a lovely, dextrous hand, and before transition I saw it as thin, weak and unmanly.
Something does not fit. What is it? There are three alternatives:
- The soft, gentle, empathetic spirit
- The body, with penis and testicles, precisely the size it is
- The cultural understanding that a man should be like this and a woman should be like that.
We take into ourselves that cultural concept. First I tried to make a man of myself, to fit that concept, and then when I began to accept my spirit as it is I transitioned, so I could be that spirit-self and at the same time conform to the cultural understanding. My presentation, as a man, dressed as a man, did not fit, so I changed it; my body, with a man’s facial and body hair, penis and testicles, did not fit, so I changed that too.
The NHS wants to end conversion therapy, but what would preventing conversion therapy look like, when the culture does such a brilliant job of convincing us that we are wrong, inadequate, not as we ought to be? It gives us two courses, both of which involve converting us to fit in: make a man of yourself, or alter your body and express female. We start therapy converted, not accepting ourselves. Therapy addresses the mind, and helps us accept our spirit, but does not address the cultural rejection of the body. Unless therapists take into account the conversion wrought by the culture, and oppose it, they are complicit with it. All of me is acceptable, just as it is, body as well as spirit.
The problem for me is that I don’t know if I could convince my 35 year old self, committed to transition, believing that was the way to accept and liberate my feminine self, and to give a clear impression of who I am so that others can interact comfortably with me and I with them. Clothes are so much of how you signal who you are. I always knew that I might be trying to live as a man five years after, but I had to get there via transition.
To accept my spirit, I had to transition, and spend years on it. I could accept my body if I saw it as female. I still best get a handle on my personality if I conceptualise it as “feminine”. To accept my spirit and body together without transition might have been too much for me.