17 January 2010

Giving Birth To New Definitions Of Ourselves

When I began my current life, I had assumed that there were two things I would never have: XX chromosomes and a uterus. Somehow I had the feeling that even though I never would have either one, sometime in my lifetime some trans woman would be fortunate enough to get them.

Well, it seems that the dream of a uterine transplant will come true for a trans woman even sooner than I imagined it would. For the past few days, I've seen stories about Sarah Luiz and her belief that she will become the first transgender woman to give birth.

More than one commentator has said that Ms. Luiz was to the '80's as Christine Jorgensen was to the '50's. She knows this, which is the reason why she has applied to become the first trans woman to receive a uterine transplant. She figures, and she believes the doctors at Downtown Hospital know, that her ability to garner publicity will help them get the money they need to do the research necessary to refine their techniques.

Actually, if any transwoman were chosen to be the first recipient of a uterine transplant, that would generate much more publicity than if a non-transgender woman were to receive it. When I read about the surgery, I had a fleeting temptation to apply for it myself. But I've decided not to, mainly because it's hard for me to rationalize giving birth to a child at this point in my life. After all, by the time that child is a sophomore in high school, I will be eligible to collect Social Security--if indeed it's still available.

Also, I'm not so sure that giving birth will make me more of a woman than I am. Many other women are no more capable of having babies, for any number of reasons, than I am. Yet almost nobody doubts that they're women. Some--including some of those women themselves--may consider them as somehow incomplete or defective women. But in a world--or, at any rate, in any country in which people don't have to give birth to ten children in the hope that four of them will make it to an age in which they can help to support their parents--no one has a responsibility to have children in order to continue the species. Furthermore, women today--again, at least in modern industrial and post-industrial societies--have roles other than those of birthing and nurturing.

One thing I've come to realize is that I am part of what may be the first generation of people to be free of the notion that sex can be justified only for procreative purposes. Some may think it's caused a decline in morality; somehow I get the impression that morality never existed, or at least wasn't as widespread or ingrained as some people seem to think it was. Anyway, I think that being freed of the notion that love must lead to marriage and sex must lead to babies has given us more freedom to define our sexuality and our gender identities--and what those things mean to us--in our own terms.

I think now of how Christine Jorgensen tried so hard to be what women in her place and time were expected to be: As she was researching the new science of gender reassignment, she was also studying to be a nurse because it was considered to be a "woman's job." I also think of how being able to "go stealth" was considered the sign of a successful transition, and how I believed I wouldn't be able to pull it off. And, naturally, my self-esteem rose faster than a rocket Amanda Simpson helped to design whenever I "passed." What that meant was that I seemed more or less like what people expect a woman of my age to be.

Another thing I've come to realize is that, just as the definitions of sexuality have expanded with every person who defines him or her self in his or her own terms, each of us who decides to live by the gender of our mind and spirits rather than what's on our birth certificates is also expanding the definitions of "male," "female," "man," "woman," "boy" and "girl." Even the ones about whom people marvel, "I couldn't tell" change our ideas about gender.

So, it's a most interesting irony that Sarah Luiz is trying to become more like what people have traditionally defined as a woman and that in doing so, she's actually helping to change the definition of "woman, " just as "the man who had a baby" will have contributed to such a change.

As for me...I don't think I need to have a baby in order to feel complete. Perhaps I will feel differently as I spend more time in my new life. But I never before had any wish to have a child, mainly because I felt that someone as conflicted and as full of self-loathing as I was would not make a good parent. I don't regret that decision; I've seen too many kids who were born to such parents (or, worse, to parents who didn't want them). Still, I think it's great that I and many other women (I'm not talking only about trans women.) may soon have yet another choice to make--and another opportunity to define for ourselves what it means to be a woman or man, or, perhaps, something we haven't named yet.