Ever notice how mainstream media tend to use the word "truth" as "a strong belief in our subjective viewpoint"? The Washington Post did it with a profile headlined "Truth and transgender at 70: A story of enduring love."
The enormous, 2,700-word profile was the first in a two-parter on Dr. Bill Rohr and surgeon Marci Bowers, whose surgery turned him into Kate Rohr. The articles show great sensitivity and telling detail. They also take such a hard-sell tone, they miss a list of questions, many of them religious in nature.
In a familiar script, Post tells how Rohr always felt different but submerged it for fear of censure. This self-repression also, of course, meant hiding his felt identity while attending church with his parents.
So he endured, through a childhood that was confusing and a puberty that was torture. He felt hormones "ravage" his body, turning him unmistakably male. He avoided looking at himself in a mirror, even to comb his hair. But in every other way, he tried to be the best, most typical boy he could be. Growing up in the suburban hamlet of Fanwood, N.J., he played sports and studied hard, and even though he believed God was deaf to his prayers, he dutifully sat next to his parents in church every Sunday.
This would have been a good place to check with the folks in Fanwood. What did his former classmates notice? How about his brothers? And former fellow congregants? Maybe his pastor, if still alive? We're not even told the church's name or denomination.
And do the Rohrs attend worship anywhere now? Did they ever? Many churches accept LGBT people, starting with the United Church of Christ four decades ago. The list now includes mainline Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Did the family try any of them?
The only other religious reference in this profile is a quotation from the Bible: "Life is a 'chasing after the wind,' Ecclesiastes says. 'Time and chance happen to us all.' " And I'm not even sure why that was added, except to introduce Rohr learning about sex-change surgery.
In 1966, Rohr read about transgendered people and decided that it described himself. He began taking female hormones, then finally opted for surgery after retirement.
"It was an operation he’d long ago dismissed as unattainable — but one Linda said he deserved to have," the story says, citing his wife. Their kids, Matt and Megan, are likewise supportive.
The story then shifts into overdrive for Kate, as Rohr has already called himself/herself:
By 2 p.m., the 25,579 days Kate had lived, anatomically, as Bill were finally over.
"She’s a girl," surgeon Marci Bowers announced when she came out of the operating room. Everything had gone smoothly, and her handiwork was top-notch, she declared.
"She’s gorgeous," Bowers said. "On a sliding scale of one to 10, she’s an 11."
Linda beamed, hugged the surgeon, then quickly texted Matt and Megan with the news.
In the late afternoon, the 70-year-old patient was finally wheeled out of recovery and up to her hospital room. Linda was waiting there, of course, relieved and excited. When the gurney rolled over the threshold, she started to laugh.
"She still has a smile on her face," Linda said. "Can you believe it?"
The second story is a profile of Dr. Bowers, herself a transgendered person who underwent surgery in 1997. "Meet the gender-affirmation surgeon whose waiting list is three years long," the headline says. The story never says why it uses the loaded term "gender affirmation," rather than "sex change" or "gender reassignment." After the first reference, in fact, the newspaper drops the quotes around the term.
The Post tells how Bowers continues the work of Stanley Biber, who performed his first transgender surgery in 1969. Now she divides her time between surgery in northern California and teaching at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
The doctor argues for separating sex from gender:
"Assigning gender identity on the basis of genitalia makes about as much sense as assigning it on the basis of height," Bowers said. "Biologically, we’re much closer to each other because everyone starts out with a primordial female anatomy, so everything a male has, a female has, and vice versa. It’s just a matter of how the cards are shuffled."
"And Marci can reshuffle them," Rohr responded with a smile.
But here we are at the end of the 3,300-word two-parter, still left with questions. For the Bill/Kate profile, they include:
* If Bill didn’t feel he could talk out his feelings to friends or congregants, did he try a counselor? If not, why not? If so, why didn’t it help?
* How do Kate and Linda define their marriage nowadays? Is it wife and wife? Something else? Does the surgery change the dynamic?
* Has their relationship changed with friends and other acquaintances?
For Dr. Bowers, another few questions:
* How many transgender people are there in America? The most common estimate is 700,000. I'll bet the Post could have found that as easily as I did.
* How many such surgeries have there been? Are all or most considered successes?
* How long do marriages last between heterosexuals and transgendered people? Longer than traditional marriages? Shorter? About the same?
The Post two-parter offers an interesting look at how one man decided to undergo the change, as well as how a doctor took on the specialty. But it could have been better with a few penetrating questions. As it is, the stories read less like newspapering and more like transgender propaganda.