I've been thinking more and more lately about the effect class has had on my gender. We tend to think of gender (those of us who do often ponder it) as very personal - an expression of identity that is fundamental to the core of our being. Yet, when I think about where I am in my self-understanding and self-acceptance, as well as how I got here, my relationship with my gender becomes less intimate, personal and direct, and more practical, lucky - a product of the same system we often perceive ourselves as opposing.
Let's examine this by working backward. I am Drew Cordes, female, currently 30 years of age, and happy with my gender identity expression. After 30 years, I finally feel I'm the person I should be. How did I get here?
I'm a veteran of successful sex reassignment surgery and facial feminization surgery; I have years of hormone replacement therapy under my belt; I have endured hours upon hours of electrolysis; I've had voice modulation lessons/therapy; I've spent many hours talking (and some just blankly staring) with a therapist who specializes in gender transition. I know (I don't "believe," I know) that I would not be who/where/what I am right now if not for all those things, and more.
I am the end; those were the means.
How did I come to have access to those means, though? Money is the easy answer, but that explanation is reductive. Raw spending power and cash flow is certainly one way to access those things, but the reflexive focus on wealth as the answer ignores how one achieves wealth, in its various forms. A more accurate (albeit still fairly reductive) answer is class. The means to my end were accessible to me through social standing.
Make no mistake - I am not rich, and I do not come from a rich family. What I am is middle class, white, and the only child of somewhat upper middle class parents. This grants me certain privilege - privilege that many people like me don't recognize because we're born into the world with it as our "normal."
This is where a lot of those in the "majority" (white/cis/straight/etc.) freak out and say "Hey, I'm not privileged. I work hard to provide for myself and my family. I don't have a silver spoon. Nobody gave me anything." Quite right. I'm not saying there are no hardships and that being white and middle class is a 24/7 happy-hour boat cruise. Everybody has hardships; the difference is merely that if you're white and middle class, statistics show that chances are you have fewer and/or less threatening problems than someone who's black and lower class.
Let's examine just one facet of my gender transition, and break down the role my privilege played. My sex reassignment surgery cost $20,000. I don't have that kind of money, but I do have health insurance. Because of that, my operation cost me $240 (not counting travel expenses, etc.).
I have health insurance because I have a good, professional job. I have a good, professional job because I made the most of a good education in a relatively stable environment. My education and positive environment was made possible by my parents, who could provide it because they earned a comfortable living. And in turn, they earned a comfortable living themselves because of the educations and positive environments provided by their parents, etc., etc. You get the idea.
This is class - privilege perpetuated through the generations. As much as I should thank my doctors, I should also thank my grandparents and great-grandparents for working hard and raising their children with opportunities to do even better than they did. I'm the beneficiary of all that work, after all. I should also thank my lucky stars they were white.
If I were black or Latina or the child of immigrants would I be where I am? Race and ethnicity basically decided where you could work and what you could provide for your family back in the days of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Even today they still routinely factor in who gets hired where, and educational inequality across race lines is prevalent.
If my father was black would he have made it to optometry school? The class privileges he enjoyed might not have been there in that case. And if they weren't, would I have had access to the various forms of care and assistance that I required? Where would I stand with my gender then?
A slight change in profession alters everything. If I instead grew up and worked in retail or the restaurant industry ... well, no more health insurance. No more surgery. Maybe I could afford hormones, but as I said before, I'm positive that every medical treatment I received was necessary to make me the person I should be, the person I am. Without the care I received, I'd still be despairing, if I were alive at all.
I'm finally fulfilled in my gender identity, and it was a long, arduous, process of intense personal confrontation. However, I can't ignore that my class and race (and the privilege inherent in each) made that confrontation possible.
(Different person graphic via Bigstock)