The other class I am taking this semester is Prof Hugh English’s Topics in Genders and Sexualities, so today, right before finishing this reading, I was engaged in a class discussion of Christine Jorgensen’s A Personal Autobiography. (Jorgensen was the first male-to-female transsexual who underwent sexual reassignment surgery in the United States). This is one of several case studies, novels, and memoirs we have read on this topic this semester, and while I consider myself extremely open-minded and tolerant of people’s rights to express their genders/sexuality in whatever ways they please, many of these readings left me troubled and even offended by their blatant sexism.
For, if one is to accept the idea that one can be a “woman trapped in a man’s body” as the cliche goes, then one must accept the idea that “woman” is a state of being that can be identified without the physical markers of vagina, uterus, ovaries and sadly, in many of these works those non-physical gender markers are simplistic and sexist– dolls, make-up, skirts. This trouble arises because of what deconstructionists identified as the system of binary operations. Man/Woman is one of the most basic binary systems at work in a logocentric culture, and in English, the supplementation is clear even in the words themselves (Woman=womb+man). Man is privileged, woman inferior, and even when the subject is trying to reverse this relationship within themselves– turning from man to woman, at least as close as they can come physically using modern medical science– they cannot escape the binary. Instead of becoming women and moving “woman” to the privileged space in the binary, Jorgensen and Jan Morris (another 20th century MTF transsexual) willingly put themselves in the inferior role, all the time acknowledging the privilege of “man” while rejecting it for themselves.