(This is an English translation of the interview with Dr. Jaroslav Zvěřina from the Czech National Geographic's January 2017 issue. We're publishing it for the purposes of this open letter.)
We’re Setting Ourselves Up for Our Own Downfall
The Czech Republic is a country where the option to change one’s sex based on a doctor’s recommendation was made available very early on. Since 1966, people can undergo surgery and even have their sex identity legally changed – that was not an option in many other European countries until the 70s or 80s. We talked about gender identity and the topics related to this special issue with the psychiatrist and sexologist Jaroslav Zvěřina.
In regards to human sexuality, we distinguish sexual orientation and sexual identity. How many people have issues with their sexual identity?
Sexual orientation is typically heterosexual – homosexual orientation appears only in a very low percentage of men and women. Sexual identity describes whether the subject feels like a boy or a girl, a man or a woman. Only a tiny fraction of the population – a few out of a thousand – has sex identity issues. And this ‘gender dysphoria,’ the dissatisfaction with one’s own sex, or true transsexualism, where the subjects consider themselves to be members of the opposite sex, may sometimes require medical care, but sometimes it may also not. Czech sexology never underestimated or ignored this issue. The Czech Republic is a country where the ability to change one’s sex based on a doctor’s recommendation was legalised very early on. Besides, the public is tolerant of ‘transpeople.’
How do transsexual people’s artificially ‘created’ penises and vaginas work?
A surgically constructed likeness of genitalia can never achieve the functionality of the natural organ. The external genitalia are adjusted to look like the genitalia of the opposite sex. Men who seek to be in the female sexual role are in a slightly better position. Making something that resembles a vagina can be done relatively well – at least in some cases. On the other hand, producing a functional penis for a woman who has become a man is, currently, a practically impossible task. For these men, various penis imitations have more of a cosmetic function…
It must be said, however, that transsexuals – despite being aware of the imperfections of their physical equipment – feel significantly better after sex change, psychologically speaking.
Are transsexuals successful in their relationships?
If they get involved in any, they can be surprisingly successful. So, if human rights lobbyists manage to make sexual identity a freely available “right,” then comes the question of how we’re going to solve the physical changes. They will likely fall not under general health care, but instead under cosmetic surgery.
Does Czech have some sort of a neutral term for those who consider themselves neither men nor women?
This invention of different sexes in the LGBTI communities gets very arts-and-crafty these days and we’re often surprised by many of their neologisms. But time and again these terms betray their inventors’ own inability to define or describe their sexual feelings. Sometimes it’s really just pure exhibitionism, because the more exotic-sounding hogwash term you come up with, the more interesting you are to these minorities. In cases where the terms still say something about the sexual orientation or sexual interests of their inventors, it can be acceptable. What’s worse is when – as you write further in this issue of NG – people, especially young children, are forced to not consider themselves boys or girls, but some sort of an ‘it.’ As far as I know, this has been pushed the furthest in Sweden, where they apparently even came up with some sort of a special pronoun for ‘it.’
So, alongside ‘ten’ and ‘ta’ also some sort of ‘tů’? (‘ten’- Czech male demonstrative pronoun, ‘ta’- Czech female demonstrative pronoun)
The idea is that pre-schoolers shouldn’t be “pushed” towards female or male sexual roles through the way they’re being addressed and that they should be free to pick their sex at some point in the future.
I remember well when I first heard about this nonsense from a certain sociologist at a conference in Brussels. The lady was pushing for unisex toys in kindergartens. According to her, in our modern society, boys and girls should have access to toys for both sexes. I asked her if she thought that if I were to give dolls and tanks with soldiers to children, boys and girls would go for one or the other just as often. She paused to think and then said: “Don’t bring politics into this.”
What do you think is the most important thing when it comes to his issue? What do you think is too excessive and, on the other hand, what is being neglected?
Currently, the thing that gets the most media attention is the question of the requirements for sex change. Czech legislature allows sex change after the transsexual individual has lived in the opposite identity for at least a year.
What does that mean, specifically?
They must undergo the removal of the gonads of their unwanted biological sex or be prevented from reproducing via sterilisation. Our transsexual patients therefore spend years socially living in the opposite role even before their final sex change and they have no issues with it. But some lobbying groups have spent years demanding that people should be allowed, through changes in legislature, to change their sex not based on the results of a professional diagnosis and treatment, but simply by declaring their desire to do so. And there are countries that have passed similar legislation. But then you can have men giving birth and women becoming the fathers of their children…that’s quite a doozy for my crusty, old brain.
These extremist views come from the idea that a person is not born a man or a woman, but becomes one through their upbringing.
But that goes against what we know about human sexuality. An individual’s brain is formed as female or male in the mother’s womb. Upbringing and cultural influences can’t change much about that.
People also say that it’s a basic human right to change one’s sex when a subject comes to the conclusion that he just feels different.
There are those who call for special bathrooms for ‘transpeople’. But my professional experience tells me that even the most intersexual beings out there either feel like a man, or a woman. So, the question is, who will want to declare themselves as something in-between. Unless it’s not some sort of fake news, the mayor of a certain American city reportedly came up with a policy that allows people to go to the ladies or the gents not based on how they look, but based on how they feel.
Wouldn’t that just play into the hands of sexual deviants?
Don’t worry. No such thing applies here, yet, so once again I guess we’re a bit behind the modern world.
How do you explain the ongoing world-wide gender revolution? Are there more transsexuals or is there just more talk about them?
There’s no increase in number to speak of. The topic of sexual minorities is so attractive to our mainstream media that it feels as if every other person was gay, lesbian, or at least a transsexual. The sad thing is that the real problems the majority faces—the declining popularity of marriage, the issue of single-parent families, fights for custody of children after divorce, and our catastrophically low natality—receive much less attention.
Why is marriage so important?
It’s a traditional institution, it fits into our cultural and social stereotypes. If we do not seriously respect marriage, we risk utter destruction of family values.
The article “For These Girls, Danger Is a Way of Life,” which appears in this special issue, talks about female genital mutilation. Why do some cultures continue to practise such degrading and even life-threatening rituals?
It’s a wide-spread custom in the communities of the Middle East and North Africa. It has nothing to do with religion. It’s a ritual ‘desexualisation’ of a girl. In its radical form – ‘the pharaoh’s circumcision’ – the clitoris is removed. I’d like to remind you that even in Europe, as late as the 1920s and 1930s, some girls had their clitoris removed so that they wouldn’t submit to the temptations of ‘onanism.’
“The Many Ways Society Makes a Man” talks about intense rites of passage in ancient cultures and primitive nations. Why are such rites not important in developed countries?
Rites of passage were designed to show someone’s freshly-gained status to the community or to help them in achieving that status. We never had similar rites, with the exception of some church ceremonies. So, the symbolic role was played by the age limit. The age of consent is fifteen, legal adulthood is achieved at eighteen. But I don’t know if these symbolic numbers were ever celebrated in a specific way by the youth.
What makes men here, when boys no longer undergo compulsory military service?
I consider the lack of compulsory military service a much bigger problem than most people do. I think that some form of military training, at least a few months of it, would help many young men – specifically with their transition into manhood, among other things.
After reading this special issue about gender revolution, what would you say to those who believe in traditional family values?
Today’s postmodern society, with its relativization of everyone and everything, is inviting its own gradual downfall by prioritising the diversity within minorities and suppressing marital and familial values. It is, without a doubt, a decadent phenomenon. A society which respects neither itself, nor its own values, is a defenseless one. Not to mention the demographic impact.