The sixth public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Friday, April 20, 2018. Our guest was Dr. Maria Debinska.
Dr. Debinska discussed her anthropological research on transgenderism in the People’s Republic of Poland, focusing mostly on the 1970s and 80s. Debinska study focused on popular publications by Polish sexologists. She argued that expert discourse on transsexuality was inspired by both a medicalizing and a sociological approach, as Polish sexologists were developing a language that would be appropriate to the difficult experience of their patients.
Debinska also presented a concise historical overview of the way the Polish judiciary was making it possible for a Polish citizen to legally change her or his gender. The Polish state used to be significantly more supportive of trans people than it is nowadays: medical costs were covered by the state and the legal procedure was simpler than it is today. Before 1989, people who wanted to legally transition did not need to sue their parents, as they do now; the courts would decide on gender reassignment solely on the grounds of expert medical and psychological opinion. However, Debinska discussed the contrast between the state’s supportive stance and the everyday discrimination of trans people.
An underlying and perennial heterosexual bias in Polish sexologists’ approach to transsexuality has been the explicit goal of ushering patients into a “healthy” heterosexual relationship and marriage. Unlike in the case of “sex correction”—as gender reassignment was called at the time—the goal of heterosexual marriage was not achievable for others, notably not for homosexuals. The methods available to “treat” homosexuality were increasingly deemed ineffective. At the same time, professionals perceived non-monogamous relationships as detrimental and even “perverse.”
The event was attended by about forty people, marking the rising interest which these seminars evoke.