The Doctor had a sex change.
Now that they are in the body of actress Jodie Whittaker, Doctor Who is a woman. Reviewers praise the performance, saying the 13th Doctor now has “malleable status,” moving from palsy to authoritative as needed, not staying in as fixed a role as a man might.
“You don’t look like an alien.”
“You should have seen me a few hours back. My whole body changed. Every cell in my body burning. Some of them still at it now. Reordering. Regenerating.”
“Sounds painful, luv.”
“You have no idea. There’s this moment, when you are sure you are about to die, and then, you’re born. It’s terrifying. Right now, I’m a stranger to myself. There’s echoes of who I was and a sort of call towards who I am and I have to hold my nerve and trust all these new instincts. Shape myself towards them.
“I’ll be fine. In the end. Hopefully. But I have to be, because you guys need help, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, when people need help I never refuse.
“Right? This is gonna be fun.”
That moment, that self awareness, came when faced with the kind of challenge and conflict which clears the mind.
“We’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can avoid while still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m glad you asked that again. Bit of adrenaline, a dash of outrage and a hint of panic knitted my brain back together.
“I know exactly who I am. I’m the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe. “
The doctor found their anchor, and so was able to act without fear, without the kind of self doubt that corrodes away the power of so many of us raised human.
I knew that I needed an anchor to keep me strong and focused as I approached transgender expression in the world. Why do I do this? Is it just for indulgence or for some kind of truth?
Real is the word that vexes me most in this binary world. For things to be “real,” many say, they have to fit nicely into binary categories, be this or that. Male or female, man or woman, good or evil, privileged or oppressed, patriotic or destructive, one of us or one of them, whatever or whatever we believe its opposite to be.
Reality, though, is much more nuanced, more faceted, more complex than that. As much as we might feel comforted dividing into binaries, the quantum state is truth; observation creates the form.
The 13th Doctor knows they are really the Doctor, so has no reason to doubt or justify why in this moment they are wearing a bra.
Many transpeople fall into this trap when they want to present themselves as anchored in a way that binary thinking people must accept. “I am really who I am right now! This is who I always really was, no matter what you saw me as in the past! Questioning me is questioning reality, because the reality I assert is the only real reality ever!”
I knew that this kind of anchor would just drag me down, forcing me to deny or hide the facts of my extraordinary life, my stories of exploration, and the truths that I worked so hard to unearth from the conventions of society around me. I would have to police myself to placate anyone who might question me, have to defend myself from challenging connections, have to surrender my hard won voice.
My transgender nature is part of my work, my calling. That’s the anchor I found to save me, the idea that there have always been people created like me because we serve an important role of connection in human culture.
“In societies that are rigidly binary, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity.” That’s been my anchor since I first heard it said by anthropologist Anne Bolin in 1994.
While that is a sensible and powerful anchor for me, I don’t find that it keeps me anchored well when I don’t have explicit, focused work to do. This is a problem because it means I am not ready to do the work that comes along in everyday life, not able to be present in a comfortable and assured way.
Where I am most unanchored is not in my trans expression, it is in my essential, sharp humanity.
When we are young, we create strategies to handle the challenging assaults we face. Those strategies are not considered, though, not build in context, so they can end up being more draining that empowering, more ballast than anchor.
My family was not encouraging, not affirming, not empowering to me. My common name in the house for years was “Stupid,” at least until the therapist told my parents to cut that out.
Like most boys, my value was not seen in my special grace and beauty but rather in what I could and should do to serve. I was seen as a human doing rather than a human being. This is reflected in the first post on this blog, from 13 years ago now.
My anchor in trans expression is in doing, in the work I have been called to do.
It isn’t, though, in being. Just being trans in the world feels indulgent, selfish, an in-your-face kind of challenge that just isolates me, calling me to wear the kind of social armour queers are heir to in a world where reality is expected to be compliant and binary.
To do, my anchor can be abstract, conceptual and cerebral.
To be, though, my anchor must be emotional, celestial and bright.
That’s not at all easy to do with no deep anchor in my own beauty. My anchor became doubt, questioning why I was so intense, so fluid, so queer and so irritating & offensive to others, including my own mother.
Questions are powerful and magical in their own way, but so is the simple act of confident presence, in trusting our own nature.
My endless search to find an anchor that lets me be comfortable and assured simply being in the world still is a quest for something that escapes me.
Then again, I’m not from Gallifrey, rather just an human.