Pygmalion Syndrome

“Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of a person’s identity, gender deeply influences every part of one’s life. In a society where this crucial aspect of self has been so narrowly defined and rigidly enforced, individuals who exists outside its norms face innumerable challenges. Even those who vary only slightly from the norm can become targets of disapproval. Yet this does not have to be the case forever.”


“Sex-change surgery is profoundly conservative in that it reinforces sharply contrasting gender roles by shaping individuals to fit them […].”

(Greer, Germaine. The Whole Woman, 1999)

Well, I am finally “out” at work, and I have endured some narrow and suspicious looks, but have otherwise been treated sympathetically by the managers. So far so good. In theory, since my workplace is very blue-collar, and the women there are by and large treated as “the lads” as far as I can ascertain, this sort of thing should not present any problems, insofar as no-one should have to treat me any differently.* So why does that not make me feel entirely happy?

It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that the more I am treated like “one of the lads,” the lousier I feel, and that affords me a slightly worrying insight into my gender dysphoria. It seems that I not merely desire to be a woman, but I in fact desire to be that most alluring yet controversial of cultural constructs: I actually desire to be a lady. Not in the sense of having aristocratic status and licence to be completely idle and parasitic. One can be both a lady and a socialist (I prefer to believe). But definitely in the sense of craving a demeanour of elegance, gentleness, politeness, and a free exemption from ever again having to participate in the boisterous alpha-male behaviour norms that set my teeth on edge. Is this a valid desire, I ask myself, or is this the very reason why critics such as Professor Greer consider me and my kind as the implacable enemy of feminism and all of its hard-won gains?

I have until now considered my politics as feminist, but do I pay feminism a grave disservice by arguably embodying the idea that a certain physical form carries an “appropriately gendered” code of behaviour? Would the braver course not be to express myself as I please within my male-bodied form without seeking medical interventions to feminise its appearance and biochemistry, and thus make my contribution to opening up a future of free gender expression for everyone?

That course, alas, under current social conditions means always being thought of as a man, albeit a dragged-up one, and that idea is anathema to me. Conversely, the better I physically (and biochemically) resemble a woman and the more I am conscious of being treated specifically (albeit respectfully) as a woman, the happier I feel. Whenever I catch sight of my reflection and see myself looking more feminine than I once believed possible, self-centredness takes over and I couldn’t give a damn whether or not the whole idea of being feminine is a cultural trope that should have been allowed to die decades ago. I may be no great shakes at being masculine, but even in my times of successfully fitting in as “one of the lads” I certainly never enjoyed it.

Nevertheless, I cannot argue with the idea that in the perfect society, a male-bodied person should be able present as totally feminine and a female-bodied person as totally masculine, and no-one would even think to question it. That is an idea I will happily champion… though it does nothing to exorcise my desire for a total physical transformation. Gender dysphoria, at the end of the day, can only ever make so much sense.

* EDITED 2/4/15

Actually, most people at work are treating me differently, in that they swear less in my presence, are very careful not to misgender me, and are actually very polite and considerate. Others are their usual foulmouthed skiving lazy selves, but we take the rough with the smooth. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Pygmalion Syndrome

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  1. “I prefer to consider myself a feminist, but do I pay feminism a grave disservice by embodying the idea that a certain physical form carries an “appropriately gendered” code of behaviour?”

    Given that feminists such as Germaine Greer view gender as a social construct designed specifically for male dominance and female oppression, the short answer is “yes.” The slightly longer answer is that this idea of an “appropriately gendered code of behavior” is patriarchy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fraught topic, though in Prof. Greer’s specific case it is hard to have too much sympathy when she resorts to such hilarious hyperbole as…

      “There is a witness to the transsexual’s script, a witness who is never consulted. She is the person who built the transsexual’s body of her own flesh and brought it up as her son or daughter, the transsexual’s worst enemy, his/her mother. Whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother. When a man decides to spend his life impersonating his mother (like Norman Bates in Psycho) it is as if he murders her and gets away with it, proving at a stroke that there was nothing to her.”
      (“The Whole Woman”, excerpted at

      …but all absurd serial-killer similes aside, I do have to concede she has a point about the wider aspect of free gender expression, and how little I do to contribute to that debate by seeking medical solutions.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a long journey, and perhaps I will never make it, but the more moral support I have on the way the merrier (and I sincerely appreciate yours). 🙂 Nothing worth having ever came without its challenges, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

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