Conundrum – Jan Morris

conundrumA travel writer talks about a different sort of journey, the journey from male to female, from James to Jan.

 Solitary because of inner conflicts and a sense of difference which developed mystic trappings, he prays to God to make him a girl. He took the girl’s role in boarding school romances and he detested sports except for cross-country running. He said that it was not about testicle or womb about the self. He fantasised more about caress than copulation.

He explores the history of men cross-dressing and reckons that it was not until the Eighteenth Century that Western civilisation imposed rigid gender distinctions. In the past, cross-dressers didn’t believe themselves to be women. He wonders about the nature versus nurture debate.

He had a satisfactory marriage based mainly upon friendship but he fathered five children. Sensuality was more important than intercourse, though he uses phallic imagery: tanks are mobile guns which fulfil only one purpose – brutal thrust

People wrongly assume, he says, that gender dysphoria is a choice and he contrasts the transvestite who gets a frisson from wearing female clothes to the transsexual for whom it is merely a sense of relief

His psychiatrist says that his fantasy could be reality but that he must be regarded as sane. They won’t operate if he’s psychotic. While waiting for the operation he has to try to remember which role to play when.

 What did others think? The upper class tolerated mavericks and the Army was no exception. She was more approved of as esoteric than as homosexual. ‘Arabs asked me to go for walks with them.’ ‘Young people in West didn’t care.’ S/he came out to the eldest son by leaving books lying around, S/he regrets not getting job done properly or having his opinion listened to and, in the future, thinks that people will not see sex as something fixed as people did in the past.

There is a good description of Cairo, ancient and modern and the book begins and ends with Sibelius.

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