Last night I watched the re-run of the tele-movie, Carlotta, on ABC2. What a courageous production and beautifully presented. Jessica Marais was magnificent in the title role, the story of the legend of Les Girls who first appeared on the stage in Kings Cross in Sydney in 1959, and continued to perform for three decades. Born a boy in a household with an abusive step-father, Richard Byron knew in his heart he was feminine, and so at fifteen left home to become Carol Spencer and join up with fellow transgender performers. Carol took the stage name, Carlotta, and was one of the first in Australia to have successful transgender surgery.
The whole presentation made we wonder once again about the male-female gender thing. It seem to me that there is continuum from extremely macho masculinity to the most fragile and reclusive of a feminine identity. Where does each of us fit on the spectrum? How much of the male hormone, testosterone, does my body produce and how is this balanced with the female oestrogen? It all gets very complicated as we change through life, and especially when replacement or suppression of these hormones is prescribed by our doctors – for example, to counteract the effects of menopause in women, or the stress of impotence in men. And then, what if at certain times in our lives, in response to joy, sadness or trauma, the natural apple cart of the hormones is upset, the balance changes, and we are left confused – a feeling of not knowing oneself.
The hormone therapy I have undergone to suppress the prostate cancer in my body has brought about mood and outlook changes. Indeed, I wrote about this in my memoir:
“How could I be a man and yet feel somehow womanly. I could not describe my feelings as that of a ladyboy, more of a suppressed female twin within me fighting to escape and to be given expression, to be noted. Some sectors of society might suggest that I should feel ashamed, but I did not. Any shame had more to do with confusion, my concern over how my incipient femininity could survive in harmony with my outwardly male persona.”
So how difficult would it have been for Richard Byron to take his first coming out step, and how much more stressing for Carol Spencer to face up to the sex-change surgery. It makes me full of admiration for those in his/her situation who tackle their gender identity problems with courage. Fortunately most of our society has moved on from the prudish attitudes of the 1950s. We have become more tolerant and sympathetic .There are examples and pathways to follow. Many of us might very well ask ourselves, ‘Where do I fit? How female is my maleness, or how male is my femaleness?’