The Doctor is a character who, for literally thousands of years, and a neat baker’s dozen of faces, was a man. He would gallivant about space, he would fall in love with women, and he would go by pronouns he/him. He is now a she.
There was a whole season of Doctor Who dedicated to finding the answer to the question, the last question — Doctor Who? A question that led to a finale where the Doctor dogmatically fought, at great personal cost and putting those around him at even greater risk, against answering it.
The Doctor waged a war against speaking his own deadname.
Against anyone ever even learning it.
Do we ignore the trans narrative intrinsic to the Doctor’s latest regeneration because there is something about regeneration – about the very idea of complete cellular renewal – that lends itself to a cisnormative reading?
The Doctor, an alien, was a cis man, and is now a cis woman.
Is it that they are objectively alien that allows viewers to take this reading?
The trans reading of The Doctor is not really subtle. It should be inevitable. But there is something about the nature of it, the mechanics of regeneration and the abstraction of her inhumanity, that allows cis readers to actively ignore it.
Which is great because it frees us from some toxic trans misogyny in all the different internet comments sections, leaving us free to combat just the regular old cis misogyny instead, but, it’s still something that begs the question.
When I was still in my egg, I remember being intensely envious of the Doctor. A complete change like that, there’s a certain undeniable attraction. But even I, at that time, failed to read her as trans. She just went from one cis thing to another cis thing.
Is it transphobia? Despite all the pretty words, do we still see trans people as false? Do we still see their gender as necessarily more performative than cis gender? Do cis people see us little more than charlatans making play? Do we see ourselves as little more than that?
Should we not embrace the Doctor, then, as our kin? Should we not claim her as another sister in our extended trans family, to normalise our experience and to combat transphobia? — both our own internalised and that projected onto us.
I wonder how the Doctor sees herself. Does the luxury of regeneration simplify it? She was a man, now she is a woman. The transition is arbitrary because it is concrete. Her body is entirely new, and down to its very DNA the body of a woman.
Trans people will always combat that reading of gender, the failure to dissociate it from sex, and the transphobia it prescribes. Does the Doctor’s immunity to that class of hate deny her solidarity with our pain? Should the the totality of the fictional process of regeneration exclude her from communion with the trans experience?
Would she even want it?
I see her as trans. Her transition being the make of a science fiction machine seems, to me, irrelevant. What is HRT, what is SRS, but fantasies of science fiction made reality? The mechanics are irrelevant: she lived as a man and now lives as a woman. Objectively, she, and any Time Lord, can always be either or neither or both. Gender is random, at the beginning of their lives and throughout them.
But it does give me wonder.
If we had such a device as regeneration, if we could completely change ourselves at every cellular level, and make a transition as resolute and absolute as a Time Lord can, what would come of transphobia? Would it die?
Or would it become incensed? A rabid feral thing backed into a corner, fighting against science in the name of a moral God that very probably wouldn’t condone such hate.
I don’t rightly know,
but i do wonder.