She doesn’t know exactly when the operation will be, only that it will be soon. Her son will undergo gender reassignment surgery, and she is racing against the clock in hope of changing his mind, while at the same time trying to raise awareness of the side not often heard in searches for one’s sexual identity – that of the family.
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A sex change is an irreversible procedure, and in such a process, she says, one must also listen to the family. She has studied the subject and tried to explain the principles that have led her to conduct this sad war, but until now all doors have been closed to her. Now she is only asking that people listen.
It’s important to note that these words contain no judgments on the sex change process, and clearly there is no doubt that every individual should have the freedom to be who they are. All she is asking is that within this process, the family should be allowed to make their voice heard. She, who knows him better than anyone else, can see, for example, how well equipped he is to deal with the social difficulties that will come with this change.
M.’s mother, father and two brothers dealt with M.’s adolescent rebelliousness with patience. At one point, he became queer. They understood what was going on when they saw him in the street in a dress. A queer, he explained, chooses if he is a man or a woman, and that can change from time to time.
M.’s mother reiterated one important point: “We aren’t puritans. During all of these things he went through, we tried to be there for him. We paid for psychologists, and didn’t participate in the therapy to allow him his privacy. We spoke with him, tried as best as we could to understand. But now, when its about a sex change, the family has to have the right to get involved, despite the fact that he’s over the age of 18. I’m his mother. I know who he really is, and just how temporary this emotional situation is.”
Sexual reassignment surgery is not easy to get approval for. A Health Ministry commission requires an applicant to take progesterone (a hormone involved in the female menstrual cycle) for two years, which is meant to prepare the body for the surgery and ensure that the applicant understands the full scope of the process. The mother claims that the large amount of hormones has disrupted her son’s judgment and made his behavior more emotional, which essentially prevents him from making an informed decision.
M. is 23 years old. According to the law, she has no bearing on his decision, but she says that he has yet to have enough life experience – he did not serve in the army and has not seen the world. She says that all the things he’s going through are similar to a cult he cannot get free from. “I have trouble accepting the operation, because it’s irreversible. This person, in my opinion, is under the influence of drugs. He should get clean, have some experiences outside of this community, finish growing up and then – at age 30, okay – he should do it if he still wants to. I know that I might be mistaken, but I also might be right. I’m his mother and I know him well. I’m not saying to dress in a certain way or to change himself, I’m just saying not to rush.”
She’s not concerned with the question, “who is transgender?” or “is M. really transgender?” She seeks to examine the situation from a social perspective. Are the social mechanisms in place to help adolescent transgender people or their families? “I differentiate between ‘adolescent transgender’ and the classic phenomenon of transgenderism. Adolescents are youths in an interim phase, with devoted families – a youth living in a cultural fantasy reality that on one hand dictates a lack of boundaries and on the other hand dictates incredible fear. That fear is neutralized by the fact that children make themselves out to be superheroes, fighting against convention and the establishment.
“The LGBT websites in Israel and abroad are tools meant to ‘empower’ them. These websites can teach you how to avoid being drafted, how to get hormones, what to tell the sex-change commission and which psychologists will help to these ends. We couldn’t give M. anything except money, but even without money it’s possible to get by. He took on identities of the community, dress, behavior, changed his name. The community replaced us. Even when I went to an LGBT event at Tel Aviv University, I didn’t hear any kind of skepticism or criticism of the agenda. No mention of family, as if the transgender person came from nowhere.”
When she learned that he filed a request for an operation, she approached the commission and requested that she and the family be brought in to testify. She was told that legally, M. is an adult, and thus the commission does not need to hear from his family. She tried to explain that “the commission must make every effort to ensure that the operation does not do irreversible damage to the child and the family,” but her requests were denied.
“We’ve met with key figures in the transgender community, and they’ve told me that I need to come to terms with the fact that my son is a girl. Common expressions in the transgender dialogue, like ‘a woman in a man’s body’ or ‘I prefer a living daughter to a dead son,’ are fundamentalist in that they portray dichotomy: life or death, man or woman. There’s no mention here of the various possibilities mentioned in gender discourse – here there is one truth, one solution, and I have no say in the matter. I’m shut off,” she says, her voice trembling.