TW: Description of medical gaslighting, medical transphobia, details of conversion therapy
I’m always surprised by the amount of absolute irrelevant things we were taught in school. As a 27-year-old I stumble all the time while figuring out basic life skills. I wish a lot of adulthood essentials were taught to us in these educational institutions. I’m still unlearning a lot of the trauma of my formative years and relearning better ways of living, alongside my therapist, support group and queer-affirmative friends.
As long as I can remember, I had a fascination for biology and ended up studying dentistry for 3 and a half years because of this inquisitiveness. One of the things that fascinated me the most was the innate nature of living things wanting to survive. A group of inanimate molecules come together under the right conditions to form the first living cells? Sounded no less than magic to my teenage brain. Biology was the subject that allowed my teenage mind to be empathetic to all living beings. It taught me how wonderfully complex all life forms are.
In high school I used to think of myself as a gay boy (over the next few years I accepted my transness). I remember finding a biology blog that said over 1,400 animal species exhibit homosexual behaviour. This fact slowly helped uproot a lot of my hate towards myself, as I realized that my feelings weren’t unnatural. This feeling of me being some sort of oddity came from the fact that queer visibility in India was very restricted during the first decade of this century. Whatever queerness I did see represented in the media was vilifying or mocking it. Biology on the other hand made me realize that the feelings I felt were natural and an innate part of life itself.
The variations and diversity in all of nature and living beings were taught to us. What wasn’t taught was that people vary too. Diversity isn’t an anomaly. Able-bodiedness isn’t the norm. Queerness shouldn’t be written out of school textbooks.
A lot of my friends are doctors and dentists (former college mates) and have a lot of inquisitiveness around my transition. They ask me questions regarding my queerness and instead of asking them to google it, I am patient and explain. I make this exception of not telling them to self-educate as I studied the same books that they did. These books make no or rare mention of intersex people, yet have paragraphs on one-in-a-million diseases. Our medical schools aren’t equipped to pass on the knowledge that may help the students to one day be of actual assistance to trans or intersex people. Recently I was handed out a form for an appointment and not seeing my gender on it, I ticked the ‘others’ box. The lady who handed out my form crossed it out and wrote ‘male’ on it. My gender probably didn’t have any bearing on my ear infection, but the fact is that hospital staff and caregivers refuse to acknowledge that the ‘others’ might be people like them. People who actually exist and aren’t just a box, meant to not be ticked. People who they are supposed to treat and heal instead of causing agony for. I asked her to cancel the ‘male’ and write transgender on it.
Nature is bizarrely, beautifully diverse. The desire to pass on inherited data on to a newer, slightly more evolved progeny is universal in most living beings. The multitude of ways in which this reproductive urge manifests is divinity itself. Oysters are born male, turn female to lay eggs and often change their sex multiple times. A female Komodo dragon can produce offspring in the absence of males. If starfishes are broken into two, both turn into new individuals through the process of fragmentation. Many snails are hermaphrodites and when they mate, both can produce hundreds of eggs. Other hermaphroditic invertebrates can self-fertilize as they have both male and female organs. The ways in which organisms thrive on this planet is too voluminous for the scope of this article. The point I’m trying to make is that science continues to study and celebrate all the ways of living, except for one species. Transgender and intersex people find little to no mention in med school books. Asexuality is written off as an ailment.
The onus of educating my psychiatrist and psychologist on queer issues often falls upon people like me. I’m lucky to have queer-affirmative health care providers, for the most part. A few years back I was struggling with the disease of addiction and had to be admitted to a rehab. The rehab counsellors and owners, on multiple occasions dismissed my transness, ridiculed it and said that it is ‘a part of my disease’ that needs to be cured. Other trans friends of mine have had similar or worse experiences. Something like Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, that occurs to 1 in 4 lakh people is taught at length in med school, but intersex people (1.7% of all births) are ignored. As a person with a background in medicine and access to relatively better healthcare systems, I’m lucky. I can help my doctors understand me better and when they say something they shouldn’t, I correct them. I still wonder about the gay friend of mine who was forcibly taken to a doctor by his parents to ‘cure’ his homosexuality. He was prescribed a heavy dosage of medications given to people with schizophrenia and was locked up in a room as suggested by the doctor.
We perhaps don’t question the variations in nature because we were taught about how wonderfully diverse nature is. The same sense of acceptance and wonder can be instilled in young minds by teaching them that there is no ‘one mould’ for being human. People are diverse and not meant to be alike. That would be an evolutionary disaster. Kindness is missing from the curriculum. This inadequacy in education leads to hate and hurt towards anyone who does not fit in with the majority. Thankfully education does not end with institutions. After all these years, I am still learning to love myself unabashedly.