Bruce Jenner recently underwent surgery to alter his genitalia, reassigning his gender from male to female. Previously, he was a male who self-identified as female, and he had corrective surgery to bring his physical aspects in line with his sexual identity. In short, he had a sex-change. Bruce Jenner is now Caitlin Jenner. In the LGBTQ community, she would fall into the “T” category, transgendered.
Transgendered people suffer the worst intolerance and persecution, even within their own community. Over the past few years, I have learned through listening to podcasts hosted by my friends in the Pride48 community, that transgendered people endure the same careless comments, insensitivity, and even cruelty that they face from those outside the LGBTQ community. As is always the case for a white, straight male (i.e. privileged), it has been an eye-opening and educational experience.
Even doing a “Google-search” to try to find a history of transgender rights turns up little more than scathing gossip articles about Caitlin Jenner. There are resources like the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the Transgender Civil Rights Project, Lambda Legal, and well-known advocates, such as Janet Mock. For those who are still learning about the transgender community and the difficulties they face, ABC News recently posted an article: 7 Questions Answered About Transgender People.
The advances that have been made for transgender equality have been meager at best. In July, the West Virginia DMV was forced to reverse their policy regarding how transgender residents can dress for their driver’s license photographs1. OSHA now requires businesses to allow transgender people to be allowed to use whatever restroom meets the gender they identify as2. Meanwhile, transgender people continue to face persecution, harassment, and even murder3, just for being different.
But even though lesbians, gays, trans-genders, bi-sexuals, and queers enjoy some basic freedoms, there is still a long way to go. Just look at the historic battles of the past few years over the right to marry for evidence. And yet, trans-genders seem to have been left behind by what little societal advances have been achieved, even by people within their own community. If anyone could use a hero right now, it is them.
The Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey. He is one of the social elite of that planet’s culture, a Time Lord. And right from the start, the reproductive system of the Doctor’s people was established because the Doctor was not the first Gallifreyan to appear on screen. That honor goes his granddaughter, Susan. We never saw Susan regenerate because back in 1964, the Doctor left her in the 23rd century in the classic story “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” She reprised her role once, in the 25th Anniversary special, “The Five Doctors.” She hasn’t been seen on the show since, though Carol Ann Ford has returned to the character in the Big Finish audio dramas.
Throughout the 51 years of Doctor Who’s history, the gender of the Doctor has been a constant. Regardless of which body he regenerates into when he dies, regardless of the circumstances, he has always been… a he. Over time, a steadily growing faction of fans has been saying that the next time the Doctor regenerates, he should become a woman. For years, this idea has been squashed simply because it had already been established within the continuity of the show that Gallifreyans have the same male and female gender distinctions as humans, with a slight difference. For women, it is easier to regenerate than for men. Women choose when to regenerate into a new body. And when they do so, they can try out multiple forms before settling into a permanent one. All of this was demonstrated in the first episode of the 1977 story “Destiny of the Daleks” by the Doctor’s companion, Romana, a Time Lady from Gallifrey. Men flounder. They regenerate unwillingly at the time of their deaths, and they have no way of knowing what form they will take. And whatever form that is, they are stuck with it, no “take-backsies.” All of this has been demonstrated every time the Doctor has regenerated over the past 47 years, from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton, and every time since then. “That’s the problem with regeneration,” as the Fifth Doctor stated after seeing himself for the time in a mirror, “you never know what you’re going to get.”
There has never been any particular reason why the Doctor should regenerate from a white man into a white man. In fact recently, Patterson Joseph was the favored contender for the role that was claimed by Peter Capaldi. And while many might have cried out that this was another blatant example of a white man getting the role over a man of color, this time no one complained. Peter Capaldi really is that good.
But the idea of the Doctor regenerating into the body of a woman was considered either ridiculous or simply contrary to established continuity. I myself have made the rude and insensitive comment that I “do not want to see the Doctor arbitrarily switch genders like some sort of South American tree frog.”
But over the years, more and more female fans have been finding their voice and establishing themselves within the Doctor Who fan community. And they have been voicing their ideas that there should be a female Doctor to represent them. And the great Neil Gaiman himself fueled the fires of this discussion in his episode, “The Doctor’s Wife,” with an off-handed remark made by the Eleventh Doctor about regenerating into a woman.
Doctor Who has always changed with the times, not always gracefully, but the effort to remain timely and reinvent itself has always been a vibrant and essential part of the show’s success. Prior to 2005, it would have been unheard of to see a regular cast-member who wasn’t Caucasian. And the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness brought the show a companion who was not only bi-sexual, but also undeniably cool. The Doctor’s gender would not be the first change the show made to suit a new audience.
Over the past few months, it has become obvious that trans-gendered people still face unreasonable cruelty, judgment and persecution with Caitlin Jenner’s very public transition from male to female. The hurtful comments can be found everywhere. There is no need to share them here.
Above all else, the Doctor comes to the aid of those in need. Right now, there is a part of our community who continue to suffer persecution and cruelty. Their only notable representatives in film and on television have been serial killers, such as seen in The Silence of the Lambs, and convicted criminals, such as the character Laverne Cox plays in Orange Is the New Black. And last year, even Doctor Who crossed that line with the evil Master regenerating into the body of a woman, now calling herself Missy (short for “Mistress”). But while the Master’s gender-shift from a man into a woman may have been written off as “fan-service,” it also presents an opportunity. The door is now opened for the Doctor to change into a woman. Granted, the gender-switch happened off-camera, so there is no way of knowing yet what the circumstances were that initiated this change. It could very well be that the Master literally stole the body of another person as he did in the classic story “The Keeper of Traken.” Or his body may have been forcibly changed into that of a woman with the use of potions. This opportunity was presented to the Doctor in the 50th Anniversary special “Night of the Doctor.” Or it could be that continuity has just been re-written, and Time Lords now have the option of becoming Time Ladies.
If the Doctor were to change into a woman, this would not only give female fans a Doctor that they can personally identity with, this would not only give little girls a Doctor of their own to aspire to be like, but it would give a positive role model to a criminally underrepresented section of our community. Changing into the body of a woman, the Doctor would become trans-gendered.
The trick would be to do this with great care. If the first female Doctor were not treated skillfully, then she could be over-sexualized. Unskillful writers could turn her into a damsel-in-distress or yet another example of television’s long line of subjects of objectification. Doctor Who was famous for this back in the 1980’s as female companions were cast based on attractiveness, so that the show would have “something for the dads.” Lesser writers could reduce witty dialogue to menstruation and boob jokes. The first female Doctor would then become nothing more than a cheap stunt, a footnote in the show’s history, an “I-told-you-so” for the “old boys’ club” to hang their argument on.
This probably should not even be attempted with a male show-runner. But I now believe that this change is not only good, but necessary. There are people within our fan community in need of a representative, a role model, a hero. To paraphrase the Master, “This community has been sick, this community needs healing, this community needs medicine – in fact I’d go so far as to say that, what this community really needs, right now, is a Doctor.”
Do you agree or disagree? Do you have any further insights you’d like to share? We welcome your comments. Feel free to take a moment and enter them below.
- LA Times: West Virginia DMV Changes Policy
- Washington Post: Transgender People Should Use Bathroom of Gender They Identify As, US Urges
- Human Rights Campaign: Shade Schuler Is the 13th Transgender Woman Killed in 2015