TW: descriptions of transphobia, interphobia, dysphoria
When you think ‘trans awakening’, the TV show House MD isn’t generally what comes to mind. The mystery-medical drama about a faux-Sherlock doctor leading a diagnostic team has enough moments that could bristle people. I remember a particularly horrible transphobic and perisexist episode featuring an intersex person, and lots of biphobia towards 13 in later seasons. Yet, 13 was a very rare openly queer character for the time, while House and Wilson literally rode off into the sunset together at the end (because they were so gay), and the episode with the intersex patient? Well, that’s what made me realise I’m trans.
Skin Deep is the 13th episode of Season 2 of House MD. The patient of the week is a teenaged runway model who ultimately gets diagnosed with Testicular Cancer and… ‘male pseudohermaphroditism’’. Yeah, a horrible, offensive, obsolete term. We’ll just call it what it is, Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Basically, the model is a cis woman, but she has XY chromosomes and testes since CIAS made her body immune to androgen (a hormone). Nobody knew about it until the plot unfolds, not even the model herself. House, of course, immediately starts misgendering her to reveal this diagnosis. “He has cancer on his left testicle,” he says, and then continues to misgender her. The patient is understandably confused and eventually breaks down over her identity as a girl being invalidated. Did I mention the incredibly creepy subplot that involves pedophilia and incest?
So yeah, all in all, horrible representation. Yet, it was my first time hearing about an intersex person that wasn’t one of the two ‘disorders’ in our Biology textbook. It was my first time seeing the idea of someone having XY chromosomes but presenting physically in line with society’s notion of a cis-woman.
After watching this episode, I immediately fell into a rabbit hole of research into a variety of intersex conditions. By this point of time in my life, I had already begun dreaming of waking up as a girl. Now I started dreaming about the possibility of getting diagnosed as intersex; maybe it would turn out I have XX chromosomes and that would mean I’m actually a girl after all. Looking back, I know that is not how gender works, and my approach is very fetishistic of intersex people. Past-me was still figuring things out, however.
Eventually that rabbit hole led me to trans people, a topic I’d only briefly encountered before. I rejected the idea at first, I was in such denial. Clearly, I was too ugly to transition, and even if I did, trans people never look like real women (Again, past me thought up some nasty thoughts).
It was a few months later that I, having been down this path and thinking about it constantly, stumbled upon someone’s transition timeline. From thereon, I found many others’ as well. Everything changed. I saw real transitions. I witnessed many actual, real trans people. All lovely, all happy. That’s how it all came together for me. That’s when I realised that not only can I transition and be a girl, but that I AM a girl.
Yes, the House episode is terrible. I rewatched it recently and it made me cringe hard. Yet, some part of me will always remember it fondly, as a catalyst to my journey to being the actual, authentic me that I am today.