December 18, 2013

What does transgender really mean? On Wikipedia's misleading article.

The recent discussion on what a girlfag is or isn't has made me realize that there is a lot of confusion about the meaning of the word "transgender", and the main reason for this uncertainty is found in the current version of the relevant Wikipedia article.
Wikipedia is trying to amputate the transgender rainbow.
(Photo:  PinkSherbetPhotography)

The Wikipedia definition

The article starts out with the following sentence:

"Transgender is the state of one's gender identity (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one's assigned sex."

No wonder many of my crossdreamer and girlfag/guydyke friends do not want to call themselves transgender! If they feel at home in their own bodies and/or identify with their birth sex this definition will not describe their sense of self.

This definition reflects, however, in no way the common usage of the term "transgender". You can find traces of this fact in the rest of the Wikipedia text.

The article states, for instance:

"While people self-identify as transgender, the transgender identity umbrella includes sometimes-overlapping categories. These include transsexual; transvestite or cross-dresser; genderqueer; androgyne; and bigender."

The inclusion of crossdressers alone is enough to undermine the first definition given above, given that many crossdressers identify with their birth sex.

(Please note that other parts of the Wikipedia article allows for the inclusion of those who are transgender not because their gender idendity is at stake, but because they like to express themselves in way that are in violation of expected gender behavior. In other words: The text does not stop people who identify as their birth sex to call themselves transgender. Still, since the main parts is about gender identity, the text is not normally read this way.*)

So what does transgender really mean?


Julia Serano on transgender

In her book Whipping Girl, trans activist Julia Serano listss transsexuals, crossdressers, genderqueers, drag artists under the term. (p. 2) Her discussion is well worth reading:
Julia Serano

"While the word originally had a more narrow definition, since the 1990s it has been used primarily as an umbrella term to describe those who defy societal expectations and assumptions regarding femaleness and maleness; this includes people who are transsexual (those who live as members of the sex other than the one they were assigned at birth), intersex (those who are born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit the typical definitions of female or male), and genderqueer (those whose identity outside of the male/female binary), as well as those whose gender expression differs from their anatomical or perceived sex (including crossdressers, drag performers, masculine women, feminine men, and so on)." (p. 25)

Julia Serano adds that she sometimes also use the synonymous term "gender-variant":

"...to describe all people who are considered by others to deviate from societal norms of femaleness and maleness."

Julia Serano does not hide the fact that the term transgender may be problematic, and that some of those included under the umbrella may distance themselves from it (this particularly applies to intersex people), but this is how she understands its common usage.

And yes, she knows the transgender movement quite well.

Susan Stryker and Transgender History

Professor Susan Stryker discusses the term thoroughly in her book Transgender History, which covers the historical development of the transgender movement. Her description of the term does in no way limit it to people who feel that their gender identity does not match their assigned sex:
Susan Stryker

"Because 'transgender' is a word that has come into widespread use only in the past couple of decades, its meanings are still under construction. I use it this book to refer to people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, people who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain that gender. 

Some people move away from their birth-assigned gender because they feel strongly that they properly belong to another gender in which it would be better for them to live; others want to strike out towards some new location, some space not yet clearly defined or concretely occupied; still others simply feel the need to get away from the conventional expectations bound up with the gender that was initially put upon the. 

In any case, it is the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place -- rather than any particular destination or mode of transition -- that best characterizes the concept of 'transgender' that I want to develop here." (loc 50, her emphasis)

Cristan William's historical research

Transactivist Cristan Williams has done an enormous job tracking down the various usages of the term "transgender" throughout history.

Her own definition is the following:

"Anyone whose physical makeup, emotional, sexual and/or self-expression is in conflict with current cultural gender stereotypes."

Williams has documented that "transgender" was used as an umbrella term as early as in 1974, and that this became common usage during the 1990s.

Official definitions

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, WPATH, often uses the phrase "transsexual, transgender and gender nonconforming people" when presenting their area of responsibility. The definition given of transgender in their Standards of Care is taken from Bockting 1999:

"Adjective to describe a diverse group of individuals who cross or transcend culturally defined categories of gender. The gender identity of transgender people differs to varying degrees from the sex they were assigned at birth"

I guess some would argue that this definition requires some kind of alternative gender identity, but I am not convinced. In any case this association, who has the word "transgender" in its name, also covers other "nonconforming" people.

Here is the American Medical Student Association:

“Transgender” is an umbrella term used by people in a number of different groups, including but not limited to cross-dressers (those who wear clothing of the other sex some of the time) to genderqueer people (those who feel that they belong to either both genders or neither gender) and transsexuals (an older term for people who take hormones and have sex-reassignment surgery (SRS) in order to transition to a different sex."

See also  the US National Center for Trangender Equality, which explicitly includes crossdressers and gender nonconforming people.

On my side of the Atlantic, the UK National Health Service (NHS) gives the following definition:

"Trans and transgender are terms that are used to describe people who don’t conform to the traditional division of male and female.

Trans embraces many different types of people and lifestyles, including:

  • People who cross-dress (transvestite people). These people sometimes wear the clothing of the opposite sex, but don't want to live full-time as a member of the opposite sex.
  • People who feel that they're both male and female, or neither male nor female.
  • Drag queens, drag kings and other people who don’t appear conventionally masculine or feminine.
  • Transsexual people. These are people who have a strong and constant desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex. Many transsexual people have gender reassignment treatment to make their appearance more consistent with their preferred gender. This often involves hormone therapy and surgery."

When Genny Beemyn and Sue Rankin refers to transgender people in their survey of American transgender, they include transsexuals, crossdressers, drag king and drag queens, genderqueers, bigenders and androgynes.

Dictionaries

What about the major dictionaries?

Merriam-Webster can be interpreted both ways, as it defines transgender as

"of, relating to, or being a person (as a transsexual or transvestite) who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person's sex at birth."

But since it includes transvestites,and argues that it is enough to express (as opposed to "identify with") a different gender identity, it cannot be used to exclude non-transsexual gender variant people.

Oxford is equally inclusive:

"denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender."

Conclusion

The most common usage of the term "transgender" today is as an umbrella term that includes a wide variety of gender variant people. The term does not require that you identify with another sex or gender than the one you were assigned at birth.

As the Wikipedia article now stands, it defines "transgender" in a way that makes people believe it means the same as transsexual. Maybe this is why some of the separatist female to male "truscum" trans men I wrote about in my previous post, believe the term transgender is theirs and theirs alone. That is unfortunate.

Let us see if we can do something about that Wikipedia article.

*) Paragraph added December 20 2013.

References

"Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender-Nonconforming People, Version 7", International Journal of Transgenderism, 13:165–232, 2011

Susan Stryker: Transgender History, Seal Press 2008

Julia Serano: Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Seal Press 2007

Genny Beemyn  and Susan Rankin: The Lives of Transgender People, Columbia University Press, 2011

40 comments:

joannaS said...

After listening to my life story and personal situation, my gender therapist called me a gender variant person and I agree that this descriptor is what best describes what I am.

I do however agree that transgender should have a broader definition and apply to anyone who does not fully and exclusively identify with their birth gender.

IM said...

@joannaS: As on of the girlfag friends who had a problem with being called transgender - this was exactly my own definition of transgender (and it's in the end what the first sentence of the wiki-entry says): "transgender should have a broader definition and apply to anyone who does not fully and exclusively identify with their birth gender."

The discussion came up because I said that I as female assigned at birth identify fully as female, but nonetheless I'm a girlfag (so sex and gender = female, sexual orientation = partially male). And the question was: Can you as a FAAB identify fully as female AND be transgender? Or better: AM I automatically transgender when I'm a cisgendered girlfag? I say no. I don't identify as transgender, but cis (which is exclusive in my eyes)

Sam Z said...

Yeah i have the same thing.. i have been aware of what "transgender" means and i know what wikipedia said about it is false..

But like IM, I call myself a cis-male bcause my gender presentation and sense of self has always been male but what arouses me is mostly straight stuff but also AG / Crossdreaming. That doesn't change the way i see myself.. during sexual fantasies im not becoming myself or even another part of myself, im just getting off to a kink. But i fully see how people who are really transgender or TS can also be aroused imagining themselves as they are meant to be sexually.

But i noticed you wrote about the term "gender variant".. as im not 100% a typical male i could call myself that.. not every man is into motors or body-building..

bonzeblayk said...

*sigh*

Folks, Wikipedia is in bad shape all around, and getting worse; the only safe assumption to make when reading a Wikipedia article on any subject that may be even slightly controversial is that it is going to be crap. I have no idea how this definition of "transgender," as being basically the same thing as "transsexual," wedged its way into that article despite the prevalent usage as "anybody with gender variant behaviors or identity," and frankly… I don't want to know!

Why?

Back in April, the ultimate grievance committee on Wikipedia - Arbcomm - decided 1) to ban editor "Jokestress" (the estimable Andrea James) from editing on trans* topics and 2) to permit any Wikipedian with admin privileges to subject to censure or outright ban ANYBODY editing on ANY topic vaguely related to trans* if they decide they have "transgressed" (lol) the extremely vague "Wikipedia standards of conduct for editors."

The trans* article space was bad already, but I cannot forsee anything improving on Wikipedia as long as the anons running the store (Arbcomm) are as spectacularly clueless as they have been.

See my recusal from editing on trans* topics in my Wikipedia Editor page following that decision. In the course of this and previous controversies in which the presumed "conformity of trans persons editing Wikipedia to the Standard Trans Narrative and Trans Party Line" came up, I regularly threw them red meat in the form of my personal objections accompanied by documentary evidence in the form of my spectacularly (non) conformist karaoke vids… to no point: they were incapable of figuring out that there I was, a living, breathing, editing counterexample to the nightmare entity of the TransConspirator that so obsessed them?

No, I was The Enemy!… supposedly, we were all members of an editing clique dead-set on misrepresenting Real Science! about trans-whatever! on Wikipedia? ???

Why this is, I don't know, although a lot of the blame falls on the lame "History of the Controversy over The Man Who Would Be Queen" that Alice Dreger formulated for her buddies in the CAMH clique (I refuse to link it here: it's a hunk'o'junk!)

I learned a lot from interacting with other editors on Wikipedia, including people with whom I disagree on a lot of things (like Andrea?), but Wikipedia, like most spaces dominated by men, is more of a combat zone than an encyclopedia.

thanks,
sincerely
- bonze anne blayk

PS: Yes, I have had the signal privilege of being reproved for my insouciant vacuité - repeatedly! - by none other than that illustrious sage of trans*, Dr. James Cantor! Such a thrill! "For -this-, I edit Wikipedia?"

eyeroll

Reaity Check said...
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joannaS said...

Gender variant seems to be the term mostly being used by the gender clinics and therapists these days. I happen to like it because as a cis male I am comfortable with who I am but this other aspect of my personality which identifies with wanting to emulate a female is a large chunk of who I am.

Transgender should not mean that one wants to live or dress like a member of the opposite sex at all times.

In the end labels are labels anyway and I am not too concerned with that.

Reaity Check said...
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Jack Molay said...

Thank you Bonze. This is most helpful. Could you by any chance send me your email address ( to jack.molay@gmail.com ).

I have also checked the Norwegian Wikipedia, where the entries are even more confusing. The definition given under transkjønnet (=transgender) is clearly limiting the term to transsexuals (for which the Norwegian term is "transseksuell"). On the other hand, there is an article on "transperson", which is presenting an umbrella approach to transgender.

God knows what new readers will make of this.

Jack Molay said...

@JoannaS

"In the end labels are labels anyway and I am not too concerned with that."

I am actually quite concerned about labels. They are used and misused for political means, and are therefore instruments of power. This constant need to exclude those we do not like or understand is doing a lot of harm.

joannaS said...

@Jack

I do understand why you are concerned but labels will only do as much damage to you as you let them.

So many people in this world are labelled as something and to the extent that you will let that permeate your being you can have that handicap your development as a human being.

It wasn't until I began to not worry about how to label myself that I began to truly live as the person I was meant to live as.

I am not condoning the use of derogatory terms to label people as much as saying that since you cannot control much of what goes on in society you should get the right message out but at the same time not allow the power of the negative energy consume you.

Its the only way to free yourself as a person.

I stopped worrying about people who don't know me and concentrate on those I care about and as a result love myself and others more in the process. There's no substitute for the kind of power. All my anger is gone.

joannaS said...

@IM

"): "transgender should have a broader definition and apply to anyone who does not fully and exclusively identify with their birth gender."

Yes exactly I am on board with that!

Jonathan said...

Julia Serano's definition...

"an umbrella term to describe those who defy societal expectations and assumptions regarding femaleness and maleness"

...works for me.

Jack Molay said...

There have been some seriously depressing comments to this post over at reddit. You can read them here.

Here is my response:

"There are some fundamental problems in some of the comments made to my blog post. Let me address the most important ones:

1. Some of you (hello SmoothGirl!) confuse the word transgender with the word transsexual. The post is about the word transgender. We do not need two words for transsexual.

2. You miss the point that the common usage of the word transgender, since the early 1990s, has not been as a synonym for transsexual. It has been used as an umbrella term for all gender variant people.

The reference to Cristan William's research should provide you with all the identification you need. So what makes you think you have the right to monopolize the term now?

Some of the comments here make me believe the main cause is the fear of embarrassment. ("The Transgender community is sick and tired of having their image and reputation compared to/destroyed by the notion of an incorrect Meaning of being Transgender")

Seriously? Are you embarrassed by being in the same movement as me, a gender dysphoric crossdreamer? Do you have any idea of how offensive that is?

Jack Molay said...

reddit comment continued:

3. I see that some believe that it is easy to draw the border between transsexual and non-transsexual transgender, or for that matter between gay and transsexual.

Please remember: A majority of transsexual women have, up til now, been crossdressers. Some androphilic drag queens transition. Butches become trans men. Girlfags become trans men. Some experiment with terms like gender queer and androgynous before transitioning.

All of them have been their target sex all along, but it took time for them to fight their way through all the shame, guilt and harassment and come to accept this.

Are you seriously proposing to exclude them from the transgender community? If you do that, you will -- whether you intend to or not --contribute to the invalidation not only of other types of gender variant people, but also of transsexuals.

"Society doesn't call ciswomen who dress up like cowboys or in men's clothes 'Transgender, they usually get called dykes or lesbians or something like this." Yes, we do. If this is their way of expression their inner selves, they are indeed transgender. There is a reason for them dressing up as men, and it is not because they are lesbian, believe me. Most lesbians do not dress up as men.

This endless game of exclusion leaves no room for the personal journey. What I have found is that all transgender people, transsexual or not transsexual, need affirmation, support, help and sympathy. You do not pull up the ladder when you have reached your destination."

joannaS said...

It will be very hard to get full consensus on what transgender signifies because everyone has their own take on what that means.

There are people who crossdream, crossdress, live part time, partially transition or fully transition. These people either partially or fully do not subscribe to the expectations assigned to their birth sex.

While I am in favour of having all of these people be called transgender, the term has been reserved for those who publically live as the other gender (whether they physically transition or not).

Some of us are not "out" to everyone and have no need to do so because our struggle remains mostly internal.

So while I would like to think that one day my desire to wear a dress to work would be respected and not seen as aberrant, I am not holding my breath for that to happen and have found my own way to cope.

People who are not like me will never understand what it is like. I have come to accept this and consequently don't concern myself with the labels so much.

My attitude is live and let live and if a person is brave enough to transition on the job or wear a dress out in public I leave them alone and laud their courage for being who they are. People have come up to me and told me I was inspiring them and I thanked them but told them I was just being myself.

We need to be who we are as human beings and that essence should be ideally be respected as long as no harm is being done to others. But society won't be changed overnight and prejudices fall very slowly by the wayside.

I do take solace in the fact that in my own lifetime, the progress has been nothing short of startling.

joannaS said...

I do also like Julia Serano's definition by the way...

Sam Z said...

@Jack and others

I think all people are gender variant in some ways, a majority at least. So i think the difference between gender variant and transgender should be "a self-identified man or woman who doesn't live up to a societal standard of masculinity or feminity", while transgender could be "an umbrella term referring to a personal balance of the sense of gender identity / sex identity"

Reaity Check said...
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joannaS said...

For me its not about advocating tolerance for political ends either. The recognition that this a condition that people are born with is enough for me and I think we are already there. After all its not like this is contagious.

I for one am very glad neither of my children is afflicted with this abnormality.

However I have been satisfied with the fact that my partner, children, mother, children and siblings have become more educated on the subject and love me just the same and I have learnt a lesson in trust that I should have learnt when I was much much younger.

joannaS said...

Sam Z

Also an interesting way of looking at it!

Reaity Check said...
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joannaS said...

another important facet to accepting and recognizing gender diversity is for avoiding unnecessary transitions for those people who fall into a middle ground.

Iran is an example of a country where homosexuality is so abhorrent that some homosexuals undergo GRS just to able to be with men even if they are not dysphoric. The reason is that a transition is seen as much less objectionable.

I would hate to see a world where diversity was removed in favour of this type of scenario.

Now that the western world is slowly becoming more educated and tolerant of gender diversity and identity we will hopefully see less and less people necessarily feel they must transition in order to comply with some societal norm.

To thy own self be true.

joannaS said...

Someone who discovers the dangers of bigotry...

http://www.transadvocate.com/birth-of-a-transsexual-separatist.htm

Kathryn Dumke said...

I want to throw my two cents worth in here. Like all words, Transgender may have a constructed meaning that has grown out of societal, political or social expectations associated with usage. See the comment by Julia Serano. They also have a simple plain meaning, descriptive, based on the elements of the compound of which for instance trans-gender is made of. This is not descriptive of who I am, and many others feel the same way.

It is the reason why specifically correct people if they address me or introduce me as transgender. I never transcended my gender, but I have transcended my birth sex. Since it is complete I refer to myself if the occasion arises as a woman with a transsexual medical history.

Because of who I am I do not at all considering myself as a person, who [is described as a person] "who are considered by others to deviate from societal norms of femaleness and maleness."

My history is not as a result of societal norms but as a result of a birth defect. This is in my view an improtant distinction between gender variant and transsexual persons.

Kathryn Dumke said...

And I apologize for the typos...

Jack Molay said...

@kathryn

*I never transcended my gender, but I have transcended my birth sex. '

Realizing that many psychiatrist and biologists now used gender as a term for the combined effects of biology and culture on identity development, I still find that what you say here makes sense to me.

This is why I am so bewildered by the ftm truscum separatists who want to monopolize the word transgender. They always stress that this is about sex dysphoria, as opposed to gender dysphoria, so why do they want to 'appropriate' transgender?

Kathryn Dumke said...

There is so much nonsense in the identity and definition debate. What most people fail to realize is that precise descriptions will lead to much better health care and acceptance.

JS said...

"From the sidelines I saw the HBS paradigm gain momentum, then the Tee-Gees saw the threat it was to them and they colonized it and destroyed its credibility. Some even bragged about their accomplishment....just like all the racist terms that are used to marginalize people of other races.

~NYF December 21, 2013 at 12:48PM

Reaity Check said...
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joannaS said...

Jack I just wanted to warn you that I do not use the alias JS..

That's someone else I suspect of using it.

joannaS said...

@Kathryn

"My history is not as a result of societal norms but as a result of a birth defect. This is in my view an improtant distinction between gender variant and transsexual persons"

With the kindest respect the jury is still out on the birth defect issue since we have no conclusive evidence of such a thing and how it impacts people with gender dysphoria.

As I have said here before, transition is not a true litmus test for legitimacy in transsexualism because there are people who have transitioned and now regret having done so.

The key question is more like: what is it that obliges people to question their birth sex in any way shape or form?

regardless of whether you transition or not there are many of us who question our birth sex and always have. The difference in a transsexual is that they resolve the questioning by doing something about it.

it would not be logical to assume that people with milder forms of dysphoria (who you might want to term transgender I don't care) are completely separated phenomena. Harry Benjamin knew and understood this when he wrote his book.

So while I completely respect and understand your choice of action using the birth defect argument is unproven and has been used by some to marginalize transgender people who choose for whatever myriad of reasons not to transition.

KM said...

Joanna, I would disagree with you. The fact that the experience and it's medical history of being born with a defect is not within your experience and the medical research into these issues which supports the experience is not within your grasp does not mean that it does not exist.

Transition is not a litmus test for anything. It would be bizarre to even think so. It is also not a diagnostic criteria. This is where the general opinion is just that, an opinion. It is neither based in fact nor is such a view supported by science or medicine. If properly diagnosed transitioning is one of the therapeutic approaches to resolving the brain/body sex defect.

However, this does not mean that anyone can go and transition. If correctly diagnosed at the outset it will resolve the issue if not it will create huge conflicts for the persons trying to come to terms with what they have done. That is what happens when people de-transition. It was the wrong therapeutic approach to whatever their issues were.

I disagree with you that gender variance and transsexualism are degrees of the same condition. Medically and therapeutically you cannot resolve gender variance by either transition or surgery. You need social acceptance. It is a conflict between the individual and society over the deviance of the individual from gender norms. Gender dysphoria is the symptom. Because of social pressures an identity conflict exists.

Transsexualism manifest itself in depression over being born with a physical defect. That is one of it's symptoms. By and large transsexuals do not have an identity conflict.

Reaity Check said...
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joannaS said...

KM

I understand what you are saying but its not that its not within my grasp but rather that there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the claim of a birth defect.

Harry benjamin after studying over 2000 patients over his lifetime never promoted the notion that his type V and VI patients were suffering from a different condition. He graded his patients into classifications of gender discomfort (if you will) with their birth sex. So while it may be convenient for some to separate these groups as distinct phenomena, there is no basis in any of the serious research that supports this claim.

As always I invite people to supply links to studies which prove otherwise.

Reaity Check said...
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Kathryn Dumke said...

Mitchell, I really have some trouble understanding what you are trying to say, sorry. It strikes me as interesting though, that the denial of a medical condition makes this all simply identity politics.

" I find this to be the most naive, and vulgar of essentialism -- and it is thus no mystery to me that more subtle, and careful people are more concerned with social acceptance"

Interesting elevation of those dependent on the approval of their social environment, don't your think? You are making a value judgement.

..."than attempting to meet a preconceived essentialist notion of sex/gender through cosmetics and wardrobe,..."

This would be about as far removed from the concerns of transsexuals as you can get unless of course you consider their bodies a wardrobe or their appearance cosmetics. Again, interestingly you reduce sex to a social and political notion without considering the simple biology of it.

"....and think they have thus arrived at the indisputable fact of womanhood, or malehood,..."

Human biological differentiation, quite observable and reproducible is quite indisputable. If incongruences occur, such as in transsexuals, that can be repaired then treatment options are available which are not the result of existentialist notions of gender/sex.

“... and if anyone disagrees they are just mistaken, and can be dismissed. “

Who is dismissive of those who would agree with you. I consider gender variance a very serious condition that needs to be addressed both socially but also medically. Since it is not transsexualism it requires a completely different therapeutic approach to deal with gender variance issues. By annexing transsexualism as an explanation, or using this weird notion that we are all the same you obscure the view of the actual phenomena.

Describing the phenomena is what Benjamin did in his book, Joanne. The distinctions pointed out by reality check are clear and valid distinctions he drew from the observable phenomena. Your view, that there is no scientific evidence would eliminate the entire book by Benjamin because it is essentially based on subjective evidence of persons afflicted by the conditions of transvestism, gender variance (pseudo transsexuals) and transsexuals (true or genuine transsexuals).

In addition you discount the subjective evidence of all those that experience this condition and bring it to resolution by obtaining treatment including surgery or by ending it all. This is clearly not your path. In doing so, however you tend to politicize a debate which is essentially a debate around appropriate health care solution for different conditions. The larger debate about personal expression is a societal one and it will never be solved by annexing transsexualism as a form of justification defence.

On postscript to Mitchell, no notions of sex/gender is as much a political statement as insisting that you are a man/woman. The notion is just a different one with one exception, there is a biological difference between the male and female body and its parts. Who is dismissive?

Kathryn Dumke said...
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Jack Molay said...

I think we far too often mix different levels of analysis when trying to understand the various transgender conditions and expressions. And yes, Mitchell, is right when he says that this is mostly done for political purposes.

The traditional gender divide has a tremendous disciplining force in our societies, and this force constantly drives transgender people to seek out one of two positions:

(1) I am my birht sex and my dreams about being the other sex is "only" [insert explanation here]

(2) I am my target sex and my dreams about being the other sex is nothing but a reflection of this.

The worst case scenario for both groups seems to be to be lost in the twilight zone, where you find no affirmation for being a "real man" or a "real woman".

Both views therefore forces the supporters to invalidate anyone who feels that they are neither men nor women or both.

Both views also forces the supporters to invalidate those that are on what I call a transgender journey: i.e. they are on a road of self-discovery, where they gradually reinterpret who they are.

A majority of male to female transsexuals have once identified as crossdressers (transvestites) (although the youngest generation has abandoned the term crossdresser and is now embracing therms like trans, trans*, transgender and gender queer instead).

A majority of female to male trans men have started out identifying as lesbian, butch or girlfags.

What this tells me is that it is impossible to to turn concepts like transgender and transsexual as "things out there" (reification).

These are concepts we use to graps a reality that is fuzzy, blurred, continuous, the end result of a mash-up of an insane number of variables, biological, psychological and cultural, none of which can be used to set up firm and impenetrable border fences between the categories.

Harry Benjamin knew this, which is why he wrote one book covering both "transvestites" and "transsexuals", and not two book covering two completely different conditions.

Here is a quote from Benjamin:

"A sharp differentiation between a fetishistic and a latent transsexual inception of transvestism is not always possible. The fetishistic can gradually develop into the (basically) transsexual variety, as case histories have repeatedly shown me. The former, however, may well contain elements of the latter from the very beginning. Otherwise the initial morbid interest in one or several articles of female wardrobe would hardly have evolved into the desire for total 'dressing.' The basic transsexualism may therefore explain an occasional and, seemingly, progressive nature of transvestism."

(See my post on what Benjamin really meant. for more info on Benjamin's position.)

But this does not mean that Kathryn is wrong when she says that transsexuality is caused by a mismatch between an inner sex identity and the body you are born with. That may perfectly well be the case for many.

For others this mismatch might be less severe. And for others again, this mismatch might have been suprressed in a desperate attempt to conform.

We need a language and theories that can embrace this transgender diversity.

joannaS said...

Benjamin:

""A sharp differentiation between a fetishistic and a latent transsexual inception of transvestism is not always possible. The fetishistic can gradually develop into the (basically) transsexual variety, as case histories have repeatedly shown me. The former, however, may well contain elements of the latter from the very beginning. Otherwise the initial morbid interest in one or several articles of female wardrobe would hardly have evolved into the desire for total 'dressing.' The basic transsexualism may therefore explain an occasional and, seemingly, progressive nature of transvestism."

This is a pivotally important quote from Harry Benjamin which illustrates why there is a scaled nature to dysphoria such that one cannot delineate clearly between so called "true transsexuals" and other so called transgender people.

In his extensive research he often found patients that were not clearly comfortable with making the full transition and were on the fence or otherwise progressed eventually as they aged.

He is saying here that the transvestism would not be there if there were not some underlying cause imposing its demands on the individual. This is why we see that most if not all true transvestites (or type IIIs) cannot be cured.

So its not always clear where transvestism ends and where transsexualism begins and in many cases the feelings deepen over time and develop into a need for transition.

This is what led Benjamin to develop his dysphoria scale and why he was able to classify a type IV as essentially a non transitioning transsexual.

To this day no one has had the extensive patient history that Benjamin had over his lifetime and no one has equalled his unflinching impartiality and non politicization of this issue.

Jack Molay said...

Update: Since this blog post was written the Wikipeida article has been edited.

The new version of the article is based on the umbrella interpretation of the term transgender.

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