The Socialist Unity Network

Transsexual wins Big Brother

Andy Newman


    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 the Independent "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 sex.

    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 priorities?

    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.


August 2004


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