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On Doctor Who and My Struggle With My Trans Identity

Doctor Who and Trans Identity

ten regeneration doctor who

I wasn’t always a fan of Doctor Who. It was always kind of this weird, nebulous show that existed on the periphery of my attention, something I’d considered far beyond my realm of comprehension. Imagine my surprise, then, when a good friend of mine sat me down and told me to watch it because this show was well worth my attention, and that I’d likely find something resonant within its episodes. After the first few Ninth Doctor episodes (come on, the Autons are just weird, and probably not the best introduction to Doctor Who), I found myself hooked.

As the season progressed, I was informed to not get too attached to any one incarnation of the Doctor, that change and “regeneration” were a normal part of the show. I imagined something like how James Bond “changes” every couple of movies, but the character remains the same. “You’re half right,” people would say to me, a pitying look on their faces. Before long, I found myself saying goodbye to Eccleston, a charming enough Doctor, and hello to Tennant, someone who’s a bit of an icon within the Doctor Who fandom.

Towards the end of “The Christmas Invasion,” one of Tennant’s first full episodes as the Doctor, he’s interrogated by the Sycorax Leader, who asks, “Who exactly are you?” I grinned, expecting some kind of witty one-liner comeback, but found myself surprised by what Ten answered. He said, “I don’t know! See, that’s the thing. I’m the Doctor, but beyond that, I.. I just don’t know. I literally do not know who I am. It’s all untested. Am I funny? Am I sarcastic? Sexy? Right old misery? Life and soul? Right-handed? Left-handed? A gambler? A fighter? A coward? A traitor or a liar? A nervous wreck? I mean, judging by the evidence, I’ve certainly got a gob.”

Suddenly, in that moment, Doctor Who became more than just a television show to me. In that moment, Doctor Who became (in some weird way) a reflection of my own struggles with my trans identity. When I started watching the show, I was a year or two into hormone replacement therapy; I was taking pills to reduce the amount of testosterone in my body and raise the amount of estrogen. As anybody who’s in the midst of puberty can tell you, it’s a really messed up time. I wasn’t sure what (if anything) about me would change through this whole process. I knew that I was still the same person at heart, but I understood that some aspects of my personality may change—behold, the power of hormones. But what the Doctor was saying in that moment resonated with something deep, deep inside me. It lent a voice to those unpronounceable feelings of fear, worry, and even hope about the future.

It wasn’t just this moment that spoke to me as a trans person, either. The Weeping Angels remind me of those people and those things that do their damnedest to send you hurtling back into the past, back into an identity that never really was yours. Cybermen remind me of a time in my life where I believed not having emotions at all would just be easier, that way I wouldn’t have to deal with the depression that came with not transitioning at the time. The list goes on, but always, I find myself going back to the example of regeneration and how the Doctor approached the concept.

Cut to: the end of Matt Smith’s run as Eleven. Up until that point, I had been dead set on trying to forget about who I’d been in the past. Just as Eleven tried to be a kid again, tried to be playful so that he didn’t have to think about his War Doctor past, I did the same. I had gone through some really dark, trying times, and the last thing I wanted was to be reminded of those awful moments in my past. But I found that the more I rejected these memories, the more I tried to run and drown them out with anything I could get my hands on, the louder they became.

So as Eleven (who is my favorite Doctor, I’ll fight you on this) was just about to regenerate, he delivered an absolutely devastating monologue about stories and change. “We all change,” he says. “When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”

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This idea of separate selves, these different people we’ve all been, hit me like a the proverbial ton of bricks. The things you’ve done, the people you used to be, while they may not have been the best people, they were still important. Just as it’s okay to change who you are, it’s okay to love and accept who you used to be. They did, after all, get me to where I am today, didn’t they? It’s not right for me to keep running from the people I used to be. I had to turn to them, face them, and embrace them as crucial parts of who I am now. More than that, I have to love them because despite the awful things they’d done to themselves, they are still me, and I am still them.

Which brings us to Twelve. Capaldi’s run as the Doctor has been one that’s equally as resonant to me as Smith’s, Tennant’s, or Eccleston’s. Just as Riley Silverman explained over on Pajiba, Twelve’s plea to Clara in “Deep Breath” echoed a feeling I’ve held deep inside my chest for as long as I can remember. “You can’t see me, can you,” he asked. “You… you look at me and you can’t see me. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here. Standing in front of you. Please, just… Just see me.”

Most days are a struggle just to be seen as the woman I am. I’ve long since lost track of the amount of times I’ve been misgendered. It’s enough to make me feel invisible sometimes. Even though I’m standing right in front of someone, all but shouting “I’m a fucking woman, you asshole,” I’m still seen as something I’m not. “Please,” comes my silent plea to the woman sitting across from me on the subway. “Please,” comes my silent plea to the man at the end of the bar who can’t stop openly gawking at me. “Please,” comes my silent plea to my friends who still seem to slip up my pronouns despite how long we’ve known each other. “Please,” comes my silent plea to the people I love and want to love me back for who I am. “Just see me. Just see me for me, please.”

doctor who just see me

Doctor Who occupies a very special place in my heart. Though I’ve had my own struggles with being a fan, I still find myself returning to this kooky sci-fi show, excited to discover brand new things that resonate with me on ever deepening levels. You see, that’s the thing about Doctor Who: it’s more than just a show. In more than just a few ways, it’s you, it’s me… it’s us. Like I said: I wasn’t always a fan of the show. But thanks to it, I’ve found a way to be a fan of myself.

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Jessica Lachenal is a writer who doesn’t talk about herself a lot, so she isn’t quite sure how biographical info panels should work. But here we go anyway. She's the Weekend Editor for The Mary Sue, a Contributing Writer for The Bold Italic (thebolditalic.com), and a Staff Writer for Spinning Platters (spinningplatters.com). She's also been featured in Model View Culture and Frontiers LA magazine, and on Autostraddle. She hopes this has been as awkward for you as it has been for her.