The discussion about the nature of gender — and what makes someone a man, a woman or someone outside the binary system — is ongoing, and it’s unlikely that one true, definitive consensus will be reached any time soon. Is gender essentialist? Is gender constructed? Is a woman defined by her biology, or the identity of her innate inner self, or her choice of clothing, or her lived experience as a woman?
Or is a woman defined by her breast size?
Delphine Ravisé-Giard, a member of the French Air Force, transitioned in 2007. Upon her transition, the French military quickly and easily changed her documentation to reflect her identity as a woman. The civil court system, however, is making her legal transition infinitely more challenging. After the Ministry of Justice overturned a ruling requiring Ravisé-Giard to undergo sex reassignment surgery, a court has now required her to permanently enhance the size of her breasts.
Trans Aide has come to Ravisé-Giard’s defense and is encouraging France to comply with the European Commission on Human Rights and not require trans people to undergo surgery before legally identifying as their preferred gender.
The request is ridiculous but this is what the state demands. I am satisfied with the progress I have made through hormones but as far as the state is concerned, unless I take steps to augment what I have now through surgery, I am not being serious about my gender change. …Of course, if the state applied the same test to cis [non-trans] women, it would have to redefine the gender of many French women. But of course, this would never happen.
…What size breasts are required for a change in civil status? Will that breast size be established nationally by the Minister of Justice or will it be up to the personal tastes of individual attorneys?
Ravisé-Giard points out a critical flaw in the court’s decision. Basing one’s identity as a woman on breast size is completely illogical, because women — cis and trans alike — have breasts that come in all shapes and sizes. If a cis woman wears an A cup, does this make her a man? Is a trans woman with large breasts “more committed” to being a woman than a trans woman with small breasts. And what about women who do not have breasts?
There may not be clear answers as to what defines one’s gender as “woman,” but this much is certain — women are far more than the sum of their physical parts. Women are diverse — there is no one narrative of “female experience” that all women share. So why must all women share physical qualities as well? Ravisé-Giard is a woman, and the size of her breasts have no bearing on her identity. Hopefully the French civil courts will soon understand that.