Transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner at the Oscars 

I recently spoke with someone who works with transitioning transgender persons. My interlocutor – who will remain unnamed – is not a transgender activist, but provides medical help to those asking for sex-changing surgery. 

This person told me that a conference about medical aspects of transitioning had been recently organised, and that the keynote speech had been given by another scientist who studies the anthropological differences between man and woman.

Quite candidly my informant explained that it was not enough to surgically modify the primary and secondary sexual characteristics of a transitioning individual to correspond more closely to the sex he/she identifies with. It is at least as important for the transitioning person to learn to behave as the members of the “new” sex do spontaneously (in consequence of either innate inclination or cultural influence or both, it doesn’t particularly matter here).

In the keynote speech of the conference, the presenter detailed “how different” the two sexes are, in a number of seeming minute details; however, he pointed out, it is precisely the sum of these details which make a male or female “persona”.

“Unless we teach the transgender individual how to gesticulate, how to shape his/her speech, how to move and to stand as the members of the ‘new’ sex do, he/she will be a feminised male or a masculinised female, not a ‘true’ man or woman,” my source reported.

The latter, as I said,  was very neutral about transgenderism, though deeply involved in the matter. What left me quite appalled, to be honest, was the evident contradiction which nobody seemed to notice. A person who feels he/she is born “with the wrong body”, and decides to undergo sex-changing surgery, will in fact biologically remain a member of the sex “assigned at birth”, to use the official (and highly misleading) definition. Only the outward appearance will be made to resemble, more or less successfully, to that of the opposite sex. But, as Giovanni rightfully observed, this appearance is not maleness or femaleness, it is just the visible mask for an unchangeable biological reality. 

However, from this correct premise, an entirely wrong conclusion was drawn: that we can successfully learn to imitate a number of other (innate and/or cultural) expressions of our biological reality.

The overwhelming majority of people who were born as girls couldn’t point out or describe precisely how the speech, gesture or posture of a woman differ from those of a man. It’s simply something we learn unconsciously, and probably we are predisposed by our very biological nature to learn it.

The transgender person who wants to become a female has not only to endure a painful, long and distressing medical treatment, but also to restructure his unconscious acts, gestures and mindset to match the look of his/her “new” body, which is, in turn, the result of a surgical alteration of the biological reality. 

It seems to me that a lie will not make us happy, no matter how sophisticated it is. I wonder whether the genuine suffering which most transgender individuals experience can be best addressed by building in them and around them a world of delusion. 

Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.

Chiara Bertoglio

Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Turin in Italy. Visit her website at www.chiarabertoglio.com