In the final week of
Channel Four's big brother show, 6,366,325 votes were cast, 3.9
million of them going to the Portuguese transsexual Nadia Almada, who
is a 27 year old bank clerk living in Surrey. Nor is Nadia the only
post-operative transsexual to gain public acceptance, the winner of
the 1998 Eurovision contest was "Dana International", an Israeli woman
born as a man, Yaron Cohen. As far back as 1968, Gore Vidal's novel
about transsexualism "Myra Breckinridge" proved considerably
less controversial than his much earlier gay novel "The City and
the Pillar" (1948), and Myra inspired a poor but mainstream
Hollywood film starring Rachel Welch. Arguably Hollywood found it more
acceptable to deal with gender reassignment than homosexuality!
Certainly the victory of Nadia reveals
a relative liberalism amongst Big Brother's voting audience.
Liberalism is better than prejudice. But what are we to make of
transsexuality? The left has been remarkable silent on the issue,
although Germaine Greer caused quite a stir with her 1989 article in
"On Why Sex Change is a Lie".
Greer quite sensibly pointed out that biological gender is reproduced
in every cell in the body, and is not a function of the sexual organs.
However this issue is not disputed by transsexuals who admit that
gender reassignment surgery can never truly change their biological
Anyone who has pre-school children will
know that from a young age boys and girls settle into different
patterns of play, presumably related to testosterone levels. Girls sit
there happily colouring in and cutting out, while boys run around
hitting things. It is not inconceivable that when Transsexuals speak
of having a female brain in a male body, (or vica versa), that this
could have a biological basis. Surely science can help us out here?
Strangely less than you might think. While the political left has
preferred not to seriously discuss transsexuality, much of the medical
profession has also been surprisingly coy. Transsexual activists in
the USA have shown that in the 40 years since 1962, the Journal of the
American Medical Association published only 21 articles on
transsexualism, 9 of which discussed technical aspects of the surgery,
and many of the other articles had dubious claims to objectivity.
We might speculate that the funding of
the American Medical Association is linked to the Medical Insurance
companies who currently do not have to pay for Gender Reassignment
Surgery, which is regarded as cosmetic. Surely only a cynical
socialist would believe that would influence their research
In the UK the prevailing view is that
Gender Identity Disorder has a biological basis, and that hormone
therapy followed by surgery should be offered on the NHS, and indeed
this has a 97% success rate. To quote from the 1996 Parliamentary
report on Transsexualism: "Dr.
Harry Benjamin, who introduced the syndrome to the general medical
community in the early 1950s, favoured a biological explanation of the
syndrome, believing that the genetic and endocrine systems must
provide a "fertile soil" for environmental influences. The weight of
current scientific evidence suggests a biologically-based,
multifactoral [causality] for transsexualism. Most recently, for
example, a study identified a region in the hypothalamus of the brain
which is markedly smaller in women than in men. The brains of
transsexual women examined in this study show a similar brain
development to that of other women."
Most transsexuals are happier after
gender reassignment surgery than they were before, whether or not
their gender identity issues were biological or psychological. Of
course the convenient aspect of regarding the cause as biological is
that it transfers a political issue into a medical one, and the
funding follows that diagnosis.
Socialists should defend the right of
people to have surgery simply on the grounds that it makes them
happier, and this should be done at public expense.