Dr. Broida delivered his lecture to an audience of about twenty-five, including at least one other trans person besides myself, a lovely contingent of sceptical Queers, and some students and community members. I found Dr. B's explications of fetal sexual development and a couple of intriguing intersex conditions to be valuable. I was also grateful for his downplaying of dichotomies in favor of spectra, and I appreciated his refraining from an overt statement of the biological determinism I feared. Other than that, I found the talk most interesting for what it left out, for a troubling blurring of key terms, and for its uninformed and negatively-skewed characterization of the trans experience.
A significant omission came on an early slide listing the defining characteristics of sex/gender in humans. Gonads were on there, along with genitalia, chromosomes, and a catch-all category for social expressions of gender, but a person's own stated sense of their gender was not. Although it disappoints me, this omission doesn't surprise me, for two reasons: first of all, because stated sense of gender has got to be annoyingly hard for scientists to measure objectively and precisely; but also, and more importantly, because I don't think most cisgendered people understand how clear and powerful this sense of one's gender can be. I fear it takes enduring the adversity of having the sex of your body be out of sync with the gender of your mind to truly grasp how crucial it is that stated gender sense should be included on Dr. B's list.
The key terms Dr. B was less than precise about were "sex" and "gender," which he sometimes used interchangeably and sometimes conflated. I see this lack of precision as another facet of the same cisgendered obliviousness I mentioned in the previous paragraph. A trans person would be highly unlikely to blur these terms, because their seperateness defines our dilemmas, and our dilemmas are real and often dire. Sex is of the body, gender of the mind. Why does it seem so hard to preserve this simple distinction in orthodox thought and speech?
Regarding the negative characterization of the trans experience, Dr. B told us that studies have shown that 85 percent of post-op transsexuals report being unhappy with surgery results. A Google search on "percentage of people happy with sex change" returns no reference in the first two or three screens of results to any such studies, but does return multiple mainstream media references to a recent and apparently reputable survey which concludes just the opposite, that 85 to 90 percent of M to F transsexuals are happy with surgery results. (One such story here.) This was the most troubling moment in the lecture for me. I'm afraid I find myself wondering whether Dr. B's overlooking of such easily findable results betrays a selection bias based in prejudice.
Dr. B's lecture reminded me of a frustrating debate I've been having with my endocrinologist, who is another straight white male in a position of power. Dr. S's office has careful courteous protocols about accepting me *socially* as a woman - calling me "her" and so on - but his diagnosis code is still "gender identity disorder," and so insurance doesn't pay for the tests. When, I have asked him, if ever, will I appear in his professional gaze to be simply a woman lacking proper gonads and so seeking hormone replacement, which is covered by insurance? His answer so far is, demonstrably, "not yet," and verbally, "I don't know." I plan to ask him again after I've had the surgery, because at that point I'll have little left about me that's male except my chromosomes...presumably; I've never actually had them tested.
In my dealings with Dr. B and Dr. S I sense on both their parts a kind of complacent inertia. Both men are clearly smart, courteous, and pleasant, but neither seems willing to bump up out of his comfortable construct of values and beliefs and truly challenge his traditional assumptions. So, the most valuable benefit for me of Dr. B's lecture has been a furthering of the evolution of my understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific/medical establishment when it turns its attention to something so elusive and so politically and socially loaded as peoples' senses of their genders. An obvious strength would be that if and when solid science of gender happens, it will be solid science, and may teach us useful and amazing things. A clear weakness is a cautious conservatism which might by turns manifest as benignly unrigorous, or harmfully reactionary, in the face of evolution and change. Gender *is* changing, right now, in huge ways in our society. I'm afraid I have fresh doubts whether science will ever catch up.