Gender Bender

31st August 2009

It’s been a big month for gender – with the globally publicised scandal of gender testing of Caster Semenya, the South African runner and the humiliating trails she has had to undergo to confirm her sex. Regardless of the outcome and regardless of the surrounding ethical debate and constructs around this particular case I think it has, avertedly, illuminated the fact that gender can be more ambiguous that we like to think. Like so many things, it is somewhat of a grey area  – a rainbow terrain with two poles at either end – uber male, uber female and a thousand nuances betwixt them.  The novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is a beautiful illustration of this, the story of a person born with Gender dysphoria – initially pushed into a female identity by her parents (apparently as many as one in two thousand children are born with some kind of gender dysphoria that either need surgical or genetic ‘correction’) and whom ends up living as a man – compelled psychologically. This is a far more complex issue that society will admit and I suspect, for obvious reasons, still finds disturbing. (for reference there is a great article in The Independent, Science 21/8/09)
One of my very close friends (now tragically deceased) was, when I met him was a 19 year old transvestite who had undergone hormonal treatment so was living as a woman (with a penis and breasts). A year later he’d changed his mind and had shaved his head, stopped the hormonal treatment and was living as a bi-sexual man. I’ve never known such a maverick as he – and certainly he was most anarchistic in the way he would throw up (with a great deal of wit and humour) our (heterosexual) prejudices and assumptions.  He still traces a path through many of my books, and for my readers, you would recognise the shadow of him in some of my characters.

¬_Okay, reasons to be cheerful – the artificial trees they are thinking of constructing along the freeways to absorb carbon dioxide. Have you seen these? They kind of look like a cross between a cheap fan and a triffid – and do not resemble trees in any way except for their ability to absorb the culprit emission. However, as an admirer of the single propeller wind farm prototype (there’s a great example in California driving towards Joshua tree – set against the desert horizon, they loom up like a field of fantastic sculptures and somehow, the way they rotate imbues them with a strange intelligence) I’m all for the artificial algae screen tree. If you painted them sky blue they would look surreally beautiful against forest or bush, or seashore. And given how ugly most freeways are it can only be an improvement, not to mention the huge ecological gains.  Bring them on, and fast!

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