Sunday, 23 November 2014

You're All Freaks; Reviewing Nature Vs Nurture

The 'nature vs nurture' debate has always been something which has intrigued me from a young age. Partially because the concept that at least part of our preferences, behaviours and biases might be encoded in our very genes and thus translated into neural structures as our bodies develop in the womb. Partially because it means that by tweaking the physical layout of our neural pathways we can modify the way we think, react and what we prefer. Many scientists and less-than-scientific individuals have attempted to use this principle to 'fix' various disorders and conditions attributed to wrong wiring in the brain. The more cruel approaches here involved electroshock therapy and lobotomies.

What part of a person's behaviour and preferences are taught and thus able to be changed has also long been a topic of debate, with some refusing to acknowledge the genetic contribution even long after such a connection has been proven, as is the case with for example sexual preference where a distinct part of the brain has been shown to infer this preference for a sexual partner. To some extent one can override these neural-encoded preferences via conditioning, also known as 'brainwashing'. This underlies the 'therapies' being offered to desperate parents of children who have shown a sexual preference for a partner with whom they'd not be able to reproduce.

Brainwashing is something I am sadly intimately familiar with. First there was the brainwashing out of ignorance about my true condition for the first 21 years of my life, whereby the facade was kept up that I was a boy even as during puberty the first major cracks in this lie began to appear, while my body and appearance increasingly became more mismatched with the falsehood being kept up. Then another decade would follow in which active brainwashing was applied by the medical profession in the Netherlands.

It only needed some bright lights shining into my face to complete the image, and some doctor or psychologist yelling into my face with specks of saliva flying into my face as my hands were tied behind my chair. As it was I might as well have been trapped in some KGB or CIA secret prison and subjected to daily torture and brainwashing sessions. There was no room for discussion or compromise. I absolutely, completely, beyond any shade of doubt was a boy, biologically and in appearance. The medical results I had brought back from German private clinics? Utter nonsense, the imaginings of incompetents. I was shown the MRI images over and over as they pointed out that nothing could be seen on it.

I'm a boy. I'm a male. I'm a guy. When I look into the mirror I see a guy. Everything about me is male. Even when friends, colleagues and random strangers see me as a woman, I'm still a guy. When I'm dating lesbian women, I'm still just a guy. Thus speaks the brainwashed part of my brain.

Catching sight of my profile in a window's reflection or similar I'm often hit by the fact that I look like a woman. That I have curvatures which can only be described as 'female'. That my voice is considered to be that of a female, even by random strangers. When shopping for clothes I have to go for women's clothing and realize again that I have such boring dress sizes that I can pick anything and know it'll just fit. I'm a woman, then?

Growing up, I always knew something was wrong. That I wasn't really a boy. My mother and grandmother shared that feeling, as they told me later. Clearly my genes were fighting back against the unintentional brainwashing as the male gender role was being rejected.

Now, after a string of successes in getting my official gender and first name changed, many things have normalized now that my name, appearance and official gender are finally in alignment. Not having to explain my situation to flustered assistants and officials is a major relief. Yet the brainwashed part of my brain is still informing me that I'm just a guy.

It often feels like my psyche has fallen apart into three pieces, many years ago. One is the part which is the 'I'm a guy' part and although it's been losing in influence the past years, it's still there. There's also the 'I'm a woman' part, which is about as self-assured and confident as a 6-year old girl being sent by herself to fetch some groceries for her mother for the first time.

Then there's the part which is simply put the 'hermaphrodite' part and may be the one true part of myself. It feels the most stable and... normal, I'd say. Though it comes with its own set of complications. As I have learned to see myself as having a normal (male, then female) body, this has significantly affected the way I see others. At this point, to me there's clearly only one 'normal' type of body: that of a hermaphrodite, i.e. a woman with also male genitals. Seeing a naked male is just... bizarre, like it's some kind of alien. The spindly form, without any hips or breasts looks almost comical. Similarly, a naked woman looks almost normal to me, just with some genitals missing.

This is the part where I'm not really sure where nature ends and nurture begins. Of course I have had no one teach me what it's like to be a hermaphrodite, or to feel like one, so that has to be something genetic. The way I regard the bodies of plain men and women might also be genetic, or something I have taught myself over the past years as I felt myself become ever more estranged from such bodies as my own body and my being intersex got rejected again and again by the 'normals'. Or a combination of both. It's hard to say, really.

I do know that I am likely to find some answers if I can ever extricate myself from this tangled mess of medical madness and get the female side of my genitals sorted out. The recent request I sent to another surgeon has gone unanswered so far, which isn't very hopeful. With that surgery completed, however, I could start healing and resume my journey of self-discovery. Maybe I'll be able to figure out what part of 'me' is truly genetics and what part isn't.

At any rate, you're all a bunch of lovely freaks to me :)



Patrick Horgan said...

You are a lovely freak to me too. I still have trouble saying out loud to someone why I consider myself gender queer. It hurts. I do it any way. Truth is truth. I'm girl and I'm boy. (Even writing that felt scary.) You have suffered horribly and from the universe I offer apologies. Your grace under fire makes me so much more hopeful though. Thanks:)

rebel without applause said...

Dear Maya, I wondered whether you had read this article:

Best wishes,
Reentje Kay

Maya Posch said...

@rebel without applause: I hadn't read that article yet, but I did get the feeling that Phelp's girlfriend is intersex and not transgender just looking at her. I didn't get the 'trans' vibe at all.

It's indeed many shades of disgusting how the media treats her. I know that I already hate it when I get reported on as 'born as a man' and such nonsense (I never was a man!) or when I get paraded around as if in some freak show.

Fortunately the media here in the EU tends to be a bit more sensitive, because this example shows just how vicious the media can be. There's another person's life and credibility destroyed. Great job, guys =/