‘Born In The Wrong Body’ And Its Ableist Undertones


Dimitri Otis via Getty Images

Our society has very clear ideas of perfection and what makes a body ‘right’ and ‘normal’. We can see this wherever bodies are displayed publicly: in advertisements, news media, entertainment, etc. The picture these media outlets paint of physical ‘normalcy’ is strikingly monotonous.

The bodies usually displayed are white, able-bodied, young, thin, fit, cisgender and fall under society’s standards of what is considered ‘beautiful’. Ad campaigns that strive to show ‘normal’ bodies are therefore often seen as progressive, radical and always raise attention. These are campaigns or ads that focus on fat bodies, trans bodies, older bodies, disabled bodies and so on. The fact they exist and cause such reaction is just one example of how monotonous the picture is most of the time.

In our society, anything that deviates from this monotonous image is often labeled flawed or imperfect. Examples of this is the discourse around the bodies of trans people and disabled people. Their bodies are widely stigmatised in society. They often become the subject of discussion, scrutiny and question, and people who have such bodies routinely have their boundaries violated, both through unwanted physical contact and invasive questions regarding the function and appearance of their bodies.

For instance, it’s a common experience for trans people to have strangers skim for certain bodily features to try and find out if they’d “see” you were trans. This is usually bound to very binary ideas of what are considered masculine or feminine physical traits. Trans people are also often on the receiving end of countless questions about how their body works, what genitals they have, what surgeries they have had or may have, how they have sex and more. Similarly, disabled people often get questions related to their bodies, their genitals genitals and how they go about their daily activities.

All these questions and invasions set up a contrast between „flawed” bodies that need to be explained and interrogated and the „normal” bodies that do not. Our whole society is built around people’s bodies’ having certain functions, limbs or ability. The opposite of the disabled body is the able body that has certain limbs, functions and parts in place. Disabled people are dismissed as wrong and flawed while able-bodied people are viewed as right or normal.

Similarly, the discussion of trans bodies often has ableist undertones. The popular phrase ‘being born in the wrong body’ is an example of this – it implies that trans bodies are somehow wrong and that they need to be fixed. The opposite and what is considered a ‘normal’ or a ‘right’ body is therefore a cisgender body; a body that aligns with the gender people were assigned at birth based on the socially constructed requirements of what we consider ‘male’ or ‘female’.

Able and cisgender bodies are seen as the epitome of normalcy and rightness, against which all other bodies are judged and found wanting.

The fact that trans people have to refer to themselves as ‘wrong’ or describe themselves as having a birth defect in order to gain acceptance makes me extremely uncomfortable. It puts the problem on trans bodies instead of focusing on power structures and the hierarchy established in our society that marginalises and medicalises certain types of bodies.

This is one reason as to why I personally refrain from using wording such as ‘being born in the wrong body’. Not only for the reasons described above, but also because I find that it simplifies the experience of trans people and enforces a certain binary of bodies. It implies that there are two types of bodies, male and female, and that your body was somehow on the wrong side of that binary and needs to be fixed or corrected. It puts the responsibility on trans people and their bodies, instead of placing the responsibility on society that medicalises, marginalises and stigmatises the experience and identities of trans people.

If being trans was considered a part of human diversity, the fact people wanted to take hormones, have surgeries or somehow express their gender in certain ways would not be a problem and no one would be considered wrong, different or in need of fixing. We’d all simply be allowed to live our our true and authentic lives without being constantly compared to and marked by oppressive standards of what makes a body ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

I am not ‘wrong’ and I am not the problem. A society that marginalises me and embeds hate into our consciousness towards anything ‘different’ is what is wrong.

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