I’m a medical student.
The scene: a group discussion around the various facets of a hypothetical medical scenario. A child with no significant previous history is brought to the family physician by concerned parents who’ve recently noticed that male secondary sex characteristics are appearing on their child who previously appeared typically female (5α-reductase deficiency).
My role: to present a short description of the words sex and gender, as part of considering the social contexts and implications of the case. I did what I was asked, in the most factual way I could. Sex = male or female, humans are sexually dimorphous. Gender = social constructs associated with sexes, with specific associations changing over time. I included a bit about how sex and gender don’t have any meaningful correlation in terms of the mind (i.e. no ladybrain). Cited the science.
After my short presentation, someone in my group asked (because someone always does) what I thought about medical transition. It wasn’t relevant to the case in any meaningful capacity, but I guess this is where equating inherited, medically proven
anomalies variations of development and ‘trans’ have gotten us.
I told my group the truth - that given the events going on in the UK, medical transition is not nearly so well studied as it should be before we give out puberty blockers and hormones to children like candy, that people who undergo bottom surgery often have no legal recourse when they go wrong as the procedures are so experimental, and that there’s some cause to consider whether transition is the right choice for everyone, given Keira Bell’s testimony. I mentioned that there are irreversible effects to medical transition, and that non-straight girls are particularly likely to seek out transition as a remedy. I even added that there might be an element of social contagion and that part of the reasoning for these young (usually) lesbians transitioning might be an attempt to ‘opt out’ of oppressive social forces. I added that I wasn’t sure I entirely subscribed to the gender-affirming model given the mounting evidence against it from patients’ own experiences.
I wasn’t sure about the reception I’d get. Shockingly, everyone (out of a group of 9), including my tutor, agreed. You know that feeling when you see it in someone’s eyes that you’re on the same wavelength about something? I saw it there, over and over. One other woman in the group even had a heart-wrenching anecdote about a friend she had in primary school growing up to transition, only to realise that this was not what she needed, transition back, then finding herself stuck with the lifelong consequences. This same woman sent me a message afterwards thanking me for the presentation.
I fully expected my tutor to pull me aside and explain to me why what I said was ‘problematic’ or something. I really, truly did. Instead, seeing my peers’ firm embrace of reality (side note: what a low bar indeed) has reignited optimism for our future healthcare practitioners.
And I swear, this isn’t an, “and then the entire restaurant stood up and clapped” situation.
Edit: I changed the word ‘anomalies’ referring to 5α-reductase deficiency to the word ‘variation.’ I should’ve been more careful with my word choice earlier, and I apologise for my insensitive language surrounding this condition. I will strive to do better.