Sunday, June 14, 2009

If the Shoe Doesn't Fit, Change the Shoe, Don't Cut the Foot

I recently read that Chastity Bono, the daughter of Cher and Sonny Bono, has decided to undergo a sex change. While I support the right of everyone to live their lives in whatever way makes them the happiest, I have to say that the notion of a surgical "sex change" makes me feel uncomfortable and frankly baffles me. What I'm about to write won't be politically correct, but is not meant to belittle anyone's experiences or concerns.

While I don't dismiss the concerns of those who are unhappy with the sex they were born as and would prefer to be the other sex, there's also the fact that "sex changes" are a misnomer. Sex change operations do not actually change a person's sex; they merely provide one with the cosmetic outer appearance of the desired sex. According to Wikipedia:

Sex in humans is usually determined by four factors:

  • Chromosomes cannot be changed.
  • Gonads can be removed, but not replaced
  • Hormone status is easily changed
  • Existing sex characteristics can to some extent be changed; existing ones mostly through surgery, non-existing ones can be induced to grow through hormones.
In other words, even with surgery, one would never be fully functional as a member of the desired sex. A man who wishes to become a woman could never become pregnant, give birth, or nurse children. A woman who desired to become a man could never naturally attain an erection, ejaculate, or sire children. This is because it isn't possible for the sex change operation to include implantation of functioning ovaries or a uterus for a male to female change, nor a fuctioning penis, testes, and prostate for female to male changes.

And even attaining a believable outer appearance of the desired sex can be problematic, especially in female to male cases, as Chastity Bono wishes to do. According to Wikipedia, changing a female genital anatomy into an even reasonably male appearing one however is extremely complicated and not successful very often; function is always limited.

The hormonal changes must be maintained by taking hormones of the desired sex indefinitely. If hormone treatment is discontinued, the person's true sex will begin to reassert itself. And this isn't even considering the heightened cancer risk.

From what I've read, people who wish to change their sex are more often unhappy with the stereotyped gender/sex roles that society has assigned to their birth sex, rather than the biological realities of being that sex, per se. We must remember that sex/gender roles -- notions of what is "masculine" or "feminine"' that are not directly related to reproduction -- are largely cultural constructs and not inherent in the biology of being male or female. They vary across history and from culture to culture.

In such cases, where the person simply wants their body to match their desired sex/gender role and has no interest in the capacity to perform in a reproductive capacity as a member of the desired sex, I don't understand why they don't simply shun sex roles altogether and live as they wish to live as an "effeminate" man or a "mannish" female or as an androgyne, rather than violating their bodily integrity for the sake of culturally mandated sex roles.

In other words, if the shoe doesn't fit, change the shoe, don't cut the foot

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