Saturday, June 2, 2007

Once again, it's all about the dick

I've been following the story of Shumail Raj and Shahzina Tariq in various online news sources. The short version: the Pakistan married couple was sentenced to three years in jail for perjury because the husband, Raj, who is transgendered, was deemed female by the court. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Pakistan, as is sex reassignment surgery, but what they were convicted of was lying about the gender of Raj.

When I first read the story, it said that Tariq claimed she married Raj so she wouldn't be forced into a marriage with someone else, apparently a man to whom her uncle owed money. Since then, the couple have recanted that story, and say they married for love.

In a country where SRS is illegal, what happens with a person who's had it? How does does one decide this person's gender? At first I thought it was gonna be the old "you popped out of the womb looking female, therefore you're a woman.*" Nope, that wasn't it. I read story after story before it dawned on me how the court came to decision. What I discovered was that Shumail Raj doesn't have breasts or a uterus (they were surgically removed) or a vagina (sewn up), and does have--I'm sure this wasn't taken into account at all--a male self-identity. Sounds like a guy, don't you think? Well, no.

A couple of the stories I read referred to "problems with the surgery." And then it hit me--Raj doesn't have a penis! After all, what girlie parts you have or don't have is pretty meaningless in this world. How many times have we heard the difference between men's and women's genitalia explained as what men have and women don't? Yup, when you come down to it, the almighty 3-piece set (or lack thereof) determines all.

To demonstrate just how unimportant other (non-phallic) body parts are in the grand scheme of things, a doctor said Raj is a woman because, although it would take some special medical procedures, he could conceive and give birth to a child. This wasn't just any doctor, folks--this is the guy who removed Raj's uterus in the first place. Hmm, so maybe the surgeon didn't remove the ovaries when he did the hysterectomy, and I guess the vagina could be opened up to allow birth, and there's always the oh-so-popular C-section, but where exactly is this alleged fetus supposed to hang out while it's coming to term?

When is SRS not SRS? When you're the doctor who did it and you're under investigation, apparently.

The couple has been sent to jail in seperate women's prisons, but say the three-year sentence is no matter, because they are in love, and will be together eventually. Their lawyers plan to appeal is. The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission is involved, along with other human rights organizations. There is information on how to take action, and to offer moral and financial support at the IGLHRC website.

*This approach is the one taken by American writer Debra Dickerson, who wrote her reaction to the story at the time the press was still working the forced marriage angle.

OK, being jailed for being transsexual is, like, bad, but half a planet full of women who so fear marriage that they leap to marry transsexuals (i.e. women) to escape their fate also seems relevant.
So not only is this transsexual man a woman, says Ms. Dickerson, but objecting to being forced to marry against one's will to settle a debt--and not even one's own debt, mind you--means one fears marriage? I don't even know what to say to that.