I Believe My Eyes
The language of reproduction. The language of gender. Remembering die, der and das in German and knowing in Russian that the second name is “daughter of [father’s name]” or “son of [father’s name].” In the Russian it is less important to be the mother, it seems.
Having never had children, their absence is not acute. If I had some, and knowing myself, I would surely love them. I sublimate all these instincts through beloved pets, so can empathize, if only a little. How much more would it be for a human child!
And yet I accept words such as father, or mother, or penis, or vagina (the latter from the Latin word for sheath). I once had a brilliant math student (from MIT) as a roommate. I made a comment about something and described it as having invaginations (a perfectly good word used in biology and medicine) and I though he was about to pass out — I guess the students in the MIT math department don’t expect to hear that word. He also was all weirded out by seeing someone, who was injecting estrogen, transform over the weeks right before his eyes. He said he was down with my transition, but saying and seeing are two different things. Two guys and two girls sharing a house works, but when it’s one guy, two girls and a person transitioning, he’s outnumbered.
The reason for the long story above is that the quick answers we get and first impressions we make can be indelible. The refusal to regender someone underscores the first impressions model.
True story: A person I knew was MTF and as part of the real life test got a job as a programmer at a new place as female. Then because of religious pressure from church headquartered in Utah, decided to not go through with it and stopped transition, returning to work as a guy. The people in the office went nuts telling “her” how wrong it was what “she” was doing by being a guy.
Folks like to talk about gender versus sex. Usually it is framed as social behavior versus reproductive functioning, and yet as someone who started the ball rolling about 50 years ago, I have watched the evolution of the sex-and-gender parsing, which really came into its own in the early 1990s. To be sure it has always existed, but the strong emphasis seems to have boiled up because of trans people as well as the women’s movement.
And yet, sex and gender are inextricably bound. For example TERFs argue a trans girl is not really a girl because she does not have a monthly. I could just as easily say if someone has not birthed a baby, they aren’t women, and yet some men have birthed babies. It’s all, “Who’s who at the Azusa zoo.”
I have met a large number of transitioners and saw 3D about 70 of Dr. Ousterhout’s post-ops (Mira said by the time he retired he had done just over 700 of us) when I was contemplating facial recontouring. Some of them had “before” pictures when they were boys and I could not imagine it! One set of side-by-sides showed a guy — I kind of ascribed who “he” is/was. Then the picture of this sweet looking woman. In no way was I able to reconcile the two pictures and the two backstories I placed on the person. The entire narrative changed immediately in my mind even though the person was the person. Intellectually I knew one thing but at another level that all went out the window.
Subconsciously words come out. Two women and some kids? Both are mothers irrespective of who was pregnant. Every time I speak, whether I am using a English or German, each word is triggered by images and all to some extent get gendered and carry a back story. The two photos above have different back stories.
People believe what they see and see what they believe and it all is a matter of words.