Maybe women aren’t the world’s most complex thing

opinion July 12, 2017 01:00

By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

Ever questioned why men who want to be women are often frowned upon? Considering that all heterosexual men desire women, could it be that those who actually want to be women are merely taking things a step further? Maybe their desire is just one notch stronger.

This column is inspired by the real-life story of a Thai man who has become a “woman”, surprising or even shocking everybody who knew the person before. He was married and also father to a child. As a young man, he was never an out-and-out playboy, but he did everything a hormone-driven heterosexual male typically does. Guys he hung out with noticed “zero” signs there was a woman beneath the “shell”. He worked in a male-dominated sphere, gaining acceptance from his peers for what he did.

His story is even more baffling than award-winning Hollywood biopic “The Danish Girl”, which features a sensitive male artist whose hidden desire is stimulated by his unsuspecting wife, a painter herself, when she unwittingly uses him as a female model. The real-life “Thai Girl” encountered no such stimulation or encouragement. His “shell” just got thinner and thinner by itself before being completely replaced by his “new” self. (Or perhaps we should say his “real” self.) 

I use male pronouns to refer to this individual because technically he’s still a man. From what I have read, though, his inner self has all but taken over. Decades ago he would have been an outcast, perhaps persecuted by authorities or forced to undergo horrible “medical treatment”. His story would have been anything but an inspiration.

He is lucky to be able to show his real self. He is also incredibly brave. Not brave in the sense of “The Danish Girl” – a true-life story from the conservative 1920s of one of the first-ever surgical sex changes – but brave all the same. Unlike in the past, his “closet” was reinforced more by social taboos than legal ones. It must still have been hard breaking out, but he did it. 

There’s a thin line between wanting to be a woman because you love men and wanting to be a woman because you love being a woman. In other words, a man may want to be a woman because he sexually desires other men, or simply because he believes there’s a woman inside him. What’s the difference, you may ask. Well, the line is thin, but it’s there all the same.

There’s more to gender than meets the eye. As with many issues, new discoveries have led to new questions rather than satisfying answers. For instance, we have learned that some animals can switch genders, depending on the environment. We still don’t know why the human world is male-dominated whereas in certain other species the female is boss and the males are slaves. Then we have the issue of when exactly we are conceived – is it when the strongest sperm penetrates the egg or when the chromosomes decide our sex? (The latter process occurs later, meaning we all begin as “female”.)

The intervention by chromosomes has huge, countless consequences, so let’s focus on the simple day-to-day ones. Going by scientific data, the Thai man in the news must now talk more, laugh later, and, perhaps contrary to popular belief, listen better.

Scientists say women use an average of 7,000 words every day, compared to 2,500 words for men. However, women tend to listen better thanks to their different brain chemistry. They also evaluate information (such as a joke) for longer than men before laughing. Simply put, when boys start laughing at the way Donald Duck walks, girls tend to wait for him to step on a banana skin. Throughout their lives, women spend an average of two years in front of the mirror, compared to six months for men.

The Thai man may consider himself “reborn”. There are still some finishing touches to be made, but he has taken the significant leap of faith. Public response to the story has been mixed. Some are cheering him on, while others are giving him nasty looks. And what of feminists? Should they be defending the “woman inside him” or decrying the “ultimate infringement” of womanhood by the opposite sex?

The bottom line is he has chosen to be honest about what he always wanted to be, and that takes an incredible amount of courage, sincerity and self-respect. Given he has a wife and child, critics are raising the issue of responsibility, but you have to first be responsible and true to yourself before you can be responsible and true to others.

Men want to be all kinds of “others”. We want to be jet-fighter pilots. We want to be scorer of the winning goal in a World Cup final. We want to be Captain America or Superman. We can even be forgiven for wanting to be a Casanova. Why, then, is wanting to be a woman the toughest thing on the list? This might be a question as complex as women themselves.