Farrukh Dhondy | Transgenders’ rights must be respected; they need empathy

Deccan Chronicle.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

Prof. Dawkins had tweeted messages denying that people could choose their gender

News

“Two could be counted coincidence
And three a play of chance
Four is stretching it too far
Five has definitely crossed the bar
By six we resort to causal sense
--- the dancers must define the dance.”
From Pate Pay Pair by Bachchoo

Richard Dawkins is our world’s best-known atheist. In the West, where he lives, publishes and pronounces, this is not a crime. I am sure the religious believe that he will get what’s coming to him when he dies. But not on earth.

It wasn’t always thus. One story goes that the playwright Christopher Marlowe was on the verge of being arrested and executed for his atheistic remarks but contrived to disappear and reinvent himself as the author of Shakespeare’s plays. (That’s my story, anyway, in my novel called Black Swan, which… How many times have I told you not to advertise your trashy books here? --Ed)

In other societies in our diverse world, a proselytising atheist would probably have his or her head chopped off. In the West, there are no punishments threatened for saying that God doesn’t exist, that virgins don’t give birth, that God doesn’t dictate books, that the earth goes around the sun, that vaanar armies of the Indian epic were probably adivasis (sure of that last one? --Ed) -- and other pronouncements from which the taboo has been removed. But even in these societies new heresies are born.

This observation, gentle reader, has been occasioned by the fact that Prof. Dawkins has been stripped of the “Humanist of the Year” award he was given in 1996 by the American Humanist Association. They withdrew it because Prof. Dawkins had tweeted messages denying that people could choose their gender.

Prof D is an evolutionary biologist and knows that every human being is born with either XX chromosomes, contained in each of more than thirty trillion cells in their bodies, which make them grow as females, or XY chromosomes, which determine that they are male. That’s biology. It can’t be changed, not by hormone treatment or by surgery to chop off penises and testicles and devise artificial vaginas or by the surgical removal of breasts. Obviously, if one ignores biology and asserts that people can choose their gender by saying so, then men who assert that they are women and vice versa have to be accepted as such. But assertion has never been the criterion for truth.

Prof. Dawkins recognises that unharmful assertion has to be respected.  “Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic! If you define gender by chromosomes, then, no! If by self-identification, yes. I call her ‘she’ out of courtesy.”

Reacting to the news that his award had been withdrawn, Prof. Dawkins said he’d erase it from his CV but couldn’t find it as he had no record or recollection of receiving it.

The continuing debate about the recognition of people who assert that they have transitioned to the opposite gender has had several feminists objecting to trans-women entering women’s toilets and changing facilities, being sent to women’s prisons and participating in women’s sporting events. The trans lobby has denounced these feminists as reactionary bigots. Joining or informing the debate was the case of Keira Bell, who sued the Tavistock Clinic for encouraging her as a teenager to undergo hormone blocker therapy, claiming that she was much too young as a pre-teenaged girl to take an informed decision about transitioning to being a male.  Other similar cases have been launched by parents who claim that their children have been misled by institutions which facilitate “gender transformation”.

In the debate, advocates of transgendering point out that some males, estimated at one in 500 or one in a thousand, have an extra X chromosome. In most males with an extra X, there seem to be no symptomatic effects, though in some there is a decreased creation of testosterone -- which doesn’t according to most medical science amount to any “trans” state of being. A male is a male for all that.

One of the pernicious fallacies I have heard in India is that our population of eunuchs, known as “hijras”, are transgender. A learned medical practitioner tells me that hijras are born males whose testicles are trapped in infancy in their bone structure and therefore don’t develop. This makes their bodies produce male and female hormones and they manifest secondary sexual features of both genders -- but are bodily male with penises. The reason we don’t find hijras in, say, Europe, is because infants receive medical attention from nurses and doctors and the obstruction to the testicles’ descent and growth is detected and easily dealt with.

As Prof. Dawkins recognises, people who are trans should be afforded the courtesy of being recognised as such out of fundamental decency. That there should be no socio-political discrimination against such people goes without saying.

I don’t think someone like Michael Jackson actually imagined that he was born in the wrong-coloured body. Nevertheless, he underwent all sorts of treatment to change his features, to lighten his skin and to make his hair Caucasian rather than Afro. His efforts could be seen as insulting to black features and identity but there were no voiced objections.

Evolution has determined that we don’t live inside but are our bodies. That some don’t want to be their bodies has in this day and age to be tolerated if not respected.

Read more...