We are all "psychosexually neutral" says Dr.Money

This is going to be a difficult post for me, as I'm not sure how to articulate any of this. But I will try.

Essentially, it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to function with breasts. With each year - and each day - my dysphoria is more easily triggered by them. Once triggered, I spiral into feeling really hopeless and trapped.

Relaying this reminds me of a psychologist in 1952 named John Money. He developed a 'theory of Gender Neutrality', which promotes the idea that gender identity develops primarily as a result of social learning from early childhood and could be changed with the appropriate behavioral interventions. He argued that everyone was born "psychosexually neutral".

One day a baby named David Reimer was born. By way of a medical accident at 8 months, his penis was burned beyond surgical repair. Worried about the gender development of their son, Reimer's parents brought their baby to Dr. Money. As per his recommendation, Reimer's parents had his testes removed and scrotal sac refashioned to resemble female labia and genital folds. Now named Brenda, her parents were instructed to raise her just as one would any other little girl. Give her dolls to play with, dress her in dresses only and instruct her in all things feminine.

Accordingly, Dr. Money predicted that Brenda would live a happy, functional female life. She wasn't, Dr.Money asserted, intrinsically and physiologically hard-wired to be male-bodied. No one was. It's a social construct.

When Brenda started to struggle with her role and anatomy, she was then put through years of having a procession of doctors, social workers and councilors aggressively harping on her to accept herself as a girl.

Brenda ended up going in for a mastectomy to remove the breasts grown while taking estrogen. He went through painful procedures to fashion a rudimentary penis. He started to hide in the basement of his parent's house, watching television and waiting to emerge publicly as a male at age 14, fearing public ridicule.

At age 39, due to years of severe depression and financial instability, he committed suicide on May 5, 2004.

Meanwhile, a biologist named Milton Diamond and other researchers were questioning Money's assertion that human beings are born psychosexually neutral. Other researchers had found increasing evidence that other factors were involved, including hormone exposure during gestation, chromosomes and genes. They published results of studies which contradicted the views of Money and his followers.

But the research was ignored for a long time because Money's views were met with more acceptance by the medical community and the general public. Doctor Milton Diamond said,

"Reimer was forced to live a life that was not his own, was not of his making, not of his choice, in which every time he tried to assert himself, he was thwarted by the two forces which are supposed to be the most helpful in our lives - our parents and our physicians."

, and added,

"The sense of who one is... is a crucial existential aspect of humanity. It is powerful and inborn. The most important sex organ is the brain."

It's unfortunate to me that even though there were numerous researchers learning about the vast spectrum of human complexity and variation -- many in the medical community and general public have a lot of core paradigms and biases that make such information difficult to accept. So it was (and still is in some circles).

I wonder, growing up, why I never heard about studies showing that sex and gender are a complex interaction between chromosomal, genetic, prenatal and postnatal endocrine influences and postnatal environmental influences. That the biology of sex is a lot more complicated than we're led to believe? I was always taught the outdated ideas of Dr.Money, and that the gender binary was it - there are boys and girls, end of story. That men have XY chromosomes and women have XX. Adam and Eve. Procreation.

But wait, what's this about a gene called SRY on the Y chromosome that usually makes a fetus grow as a male? And that SRY can show up on an X, turning an XX fetus essentially male? Or that if the SRY gene doesn't work on the Y, the fetus develops essentially female? Or that an XY fetus with a functioning SRY can essentially develop female, in in the case of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome?

Whoa! Uh, more to the picture, perhaps? A thing called variation, and not two hyper-polarized ends of a way-too-simplistic spectrum?

What about a guy I read about recently who appears male-typical, who was raised as a boy and identifies as a heterosexual. Then finds out, by way of some medical problems, that he has ovaries and uterus - a condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, where the adrenal glands make so many androgens that even though a man can have XX chromosomes and ovaries, his body develops to look male-typical.

And wait, he's just ONE of MILLIONS of different types of people, who are all lumped in the same box but are very vastly different from one another. How is it that we're pretty much just barely even acknowledging the existence of biological variation in relation to sex and gender in the medical community and general public?

With my experience, this brain/body mismatch has taken a toll on my self-esteem throughout my teenage and young adult development. It just becomes increasingly more obvious with each new day; particularly with my inability to be touched by others, look at myself topless, constantly feeling like my body is foreign (which is becoming less so in other ways thanks to hormone therapy), and so on.

Additionally, everything I've tried throughout the years to make top surgery a reality has been toppled somehow. For example, I prioritized staying with a full-time job instead of aggressively trying to get back into school just for the health insurance. And then I was laid off. In many ways it felt like I'd spent three years constructing a building, brick by brick and, when I was just three bricks away from the top, the entire thing collapsed.

I haven't been able to pursue relationships, fearing the fact that intimacy is very triggering. Yet, I see many people around me who are able to experience intimacy with other human beings, despite their insecurities (which I have, also - but are a world apart from the experience of having a brain/body mismatch).

While I know that top surgery, for example, might be my reality in the future - in the meantime, it feels hopeless and far away.

My patience meter has been tapped out and is bubbling over. It's like a race against time, trying to cope with this struggle against my inner self while working towards a solution in a world that dismisses my experience as "cosmetic".

There are cisgender men with Gynecomastia (male breast development) which I'd argue sounds physiologically identical to what happened to me when puberty hit:

"Males who develop gynecomastia at a young age may become self-conscious and dissatisfied with their bodies. This lack of self-esteem can have long-lasting psychological consequences. Males who develop gynecomastia at a later age generally cope better with the condition, as their self-image has already been established to some degree. However, these men may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about taking their shirt off or even wearing certain clothes. Either way, gynecomastia can be damaging to the psyche, and many men would like to alleviate the condition."

Even though this is considered a medical emergency for a young cisgender man, it's "cosmetic" for a transgender man. That makes no sense to me, because my psyche is legitimately struggling. In some ways, I regret not doing something about this sooner. Regret waiting until I'd for sure exhausted all other possibilities and coping mechanisms before opting for hormone therapy and surgery. That whole time I ignored my mental well-being, and let it go for a lot longer than I should have.

On the plus side, this isn't the 1700s. Because, if it was, I'm 100% confident that I would've sold my rag tag trinkets and my uncle's favorite hoe for a rusty old saw to take care of things myself. The fact that surgical options and hormone treatment exist gives me hope. Even if it's seemingly impossible to afford right now, it can and will happen.

p.s. on another note, I intend to do some more video and photo documentation, but my foster pup Petey nibbled apart my camera cord when I wasn't looking!


4 comments:

  1. DUDE. It CAN and will happen for you, sooner than later since you really want it to.

    A little over a year ago I put a button up on my blog and asked for help from the blogesphere, we also threw a fund raising party to help out. The button and the party resulted in 83% of the cost of surgery. The wife and I paid for the remaining 17% and the travel (which believe me WAS NOT EASY at all but somehow it worked out). Oh... 47% of that 83% came from people online that saw my button and wanted to help. Many of them were people I had never met and may never meet.

    My point is that there are creative ways to get the money for the surgery. Asking for help was very difficult for me, but it was either that or continue along the depressing road I was on. It was eating at me.

    If you do set up a button, I pledge to be first to donate something and will help drive traffic your way.

    How sad about Reimer. :(

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jess: You're right. Thank you for the encouraging feedback.

    Like you mentioned, it's EXTREMELY difficult asking for help. Particularly so because I have this nagging sense of guilt, knowing that I want money to go to a slew of really dire causes that I care about.

    In many ways, it feels selfish - but, if I turn my brain around, I can try to recognize how irrational that is and just, well, make myself ask for help. ;]

    I will look into this button thing... once I succeed at turning my irrational brain around, that is.

    You're the best, Jess.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous: I'm glad that it helped you! Sounds to me like your college assignment rocked! ;]

    ReplyDelete

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