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The question we all need to stop asking trans people.

The word ‘transformation’ suggests two states of being: then, and now.

There’s the ‘before’, and then the ‘after’. One has negative connotations, the other positive. A transformation also suggests singular event, a rapid change, a shift so dramatic that you are considered brand new afterwards.

But when you consider a gender transformation, none of these rules apply. It isn’t about one, single change – it’s a lifelong journey. To be trans isn’t to be one gender or the other, but to select your own, individual place on the massive spectrum of male and female that exists in the world. Your place will be like no one else’s, but will be the perfect fit for you.

Saddening, then, to witness the world in a flurry over Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement of her gender reassignment surgery. A lifetime of transformation, whittled down to one (very personal) physical adjustment. Jenner apparently reveals her sex change operation in her new memoir The Secrets Of My Life. According to RadarOnline, she allegedly writes, “The surgery was a success, and I feel not only wonderful but liberated.”

Jenner, who announced she was transgender in 2015, apparently underwent the surgery in January. In the book, she is reported to say her penis “has no special gifts or use for me other than what I have said before, the ability to take a whiz in the woods,” adding that, “I just want to have all the right parts. I am also tired of tucking the damn thing in all the time.”

It was a surprising admission from Jenner, who – despite finding fame later in life as a reality TV star – was previously unwilling to discuss gender reassignment surgery.

caitlyn jenners transition
Jenner apparently reveals her sex change operation in her new memoir, The Secrets Of My Life. (Image: Getty)

“It’s nobody’s business whether I want to do that to my body,” she told Sports Illustrated last July. And quite rightly.

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The sexualisation around gender transformations is a stone-age view of a very complex topic. Like homophobic slurs or racist insults, asking a trans man or woman about ‘below the belt’ surgery is simply not acceptable. Sally Goldner is the Executive Director of TransGender Victoria, and says unless you are that person’s medical professional or lover, there is no reason you will ever have the right to enquire about what’s going on with their body.

“It’s not a relevant question,” says Goldner.

“Would you ask a 50-year-old cisgender woman about what she’s doing with her body? No. It’s no different.”

For Goldner, the fascination surrounding sex change surgery comes from the common confusion between the internal concept of gender and the external concept of gender.

“There’s still so much binary thinking around transgender people,” says Goldner.

“People still confuse gender identity with the body; that is, saying that you are not a ‘real woman’ until you’ve had lower body surgery. But the sense of identity is actually so separate from your body. These are incomplete attitudes, in my opinion.”

Listen: Georgie Stone was born in the wrong body. (Post continues after audio.)

There’s no doubt Jenner felt immense pressure from her hordes of online followers to reveal whether or not she had gender reassignment surgery. It must have been an enormous breach of her personal space in what was undoubtedly a highly emotional time. One cannot begin to imagine the intrusion of a perfect stranger - let alone a whole world of perfect strangers - probing for information about your genitals. It’s a leery fascination. And yet, as we can read from Jenner’s comments, she has sadly buckled under the pressure to reveal all.

When considering why she chose to discuss her sex change, she writes in her memoir, “...because I believe in candour. So all of you can stop staring. You want to know, so now you know.”

She added, “This is the first time, and the last time, I will ever speak of it.”

You only need to jump onto Twitter for a few minutes to witness the grotesque fascination with Jenner’s sex change.

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Close ups of her crotch, disgusting jokes, even just gossipy updates of her announcement prove just how far we have to go before we can begin to separate sex from gender, and body from mind.

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Sally Goldner is quick to point out gender reassignment surgery is far from the ‘final step’ for transgender men or women. In fact, many won’t even consider the operation, having found peace and happiness in their present body. 

“It varies from individual to individual,” says Goldner.

“For those who desperately need for the surgery to feel comfortable, it’s really important to them. Only around 30% of female transgender people have gender reassignment surgery, actually - some for financial reasons, some for medical, some because they don’t feel they ‘need’ to have it. They’re sense of identity is beyond their body.

Well, this is what my holidays looked like... from #NYE to #MLK. 10,000 signatures for my book! #secretsofmylife

A post shared by Caitlyn Jenner (@caitlynjenner) on

Not all male-to-female trans women will have taken the same path as Caitlyn Jenner. Not all want - or can afford - breast augmentation, or a designer wardrobe, or multiple ‘feminisation’ surgeries. There are indeed many M to F trans women who still have an Adam’s Apple, or are considered ‘pre-op’.

And who cares? To feel like a woman on the inside doesn’t have to be reflected literally on the outside. For some, that’s crucial. For others, it’s not. That’s their business, and their business only.

The big lesson we can take from the current media storm is this: don’t ever think you have the right to ask a trans person about their body. Open your mind to the true meaning of what it is to be transgender, and suddenly what’s going on below their belt won’t even matter.

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