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Transgender is generally used as an overarching term for a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies along the gender continuum that are in opposition to or in divergence from the gender role (woman or man) commonly, but not always, assigned for life at birth.

The term transgendered has come to refer to a range of people who do not feel comfortable within their birth gender which is usually based on physical/genetic sex. It includes three main sub-categories: transvestites who periodically dress in the clothing of the opposite sex: transsexuals (sometimes known as people with gender dysphoria) who have or wish to have sexual reassignment treatment to become the opposite sex; and transgenderists who cross gender boundaries but who do not wish to have such treatment.

According to The Gender Trust, male to female transsexuality is estimated at about 1 in 10,000 of the UK population and female to male, about a quarter of this.

Gendersign

A transgender symbol, a combination of the male and female sign with a third, combined arm representing transgender people. Designed by Holly Boswell in North Carolina

Glogoclr100

A popular variant of Holly Boswell's symbol. Designed by Nancy Nangeroni. More info and source files: TG Symbol

Transgender Pride flag

Transgender Pride flag

A far greater range of human sexuality and gender identities exist than have been traditionally identified in Western culture. The only way to determine how many distinct classes exist, however, is to list them in terms of those classes which are mutually exclusive, partially exclusive, or inclusive, then crunch the numbers.

There are many options for those individuals who identify themselves as transgendered to alter their image. A transgendered individual may embody characteristics associated with a particular gender, identify elsewhere on the gender continuum, or exist outside of it as "other " or "third." A complete genital or sex reassignment can be made through hormone therapy, and for a more dramatic change surgery is a viable option.

Mutually exclusive categories

  1. Genetic sex: (XY, XX, XYY, XXY, etc.). This category is purely genetic. There exist also people with more than 3 sex chromosomes.
  2. Physical sex: 4 (male, female, combination, androgynous). This category reflects outward sexual appearance at birth, including the presence or absence of typified sex organs
  3. Sexual orientation: 4 (same sex, other sex, multiple sexes, neither sex). This category refers to the sex and/or gender of those one is physically or romantically attracted to.

Partially exclusive categories

  1. Outward appearance: 4 (same genetic sex, other genetic sex, mix of both sexes, androgynous). This is usually aligned with the way your parents dressed you as a child, but not always. A few parents, for whatever reason, dress their children in the clothing of the opposite sex, although this is far less common than it used to be. Furthermore, this category would include older children and adults who routinely engage in cross-dressing or transvestic behaviors.
  2. Desired sexual identity: 4 (same genetic sex, other genetic sex, mix of both sexes, androgynous). This is simply who people want to be. Most want to be the same sex as their genetic sex. A few want to be of the opposite sex. Far fewer are happy being a mix of both sexes (usually MTF who endeavor to look like a woman, but halt the transition before SRS, and retain their male genitalia). Still fewer desire to be neither sex, but instead would be perfectly happy with no penis or vagina - just human.

The definition for transgender person remains in flux, but the most accepted one currently is:

People who were assigned a gender, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.

Another one is: Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the gender one was assigned at birth.

Transgender people may or may not have had medical sex reassignment therapy, also called sex reassignment surgery, and may or may not have any interest in such a procedure. In other words, not all transgender people are necessarily transsexual.

When referring to the two basic directions of transgendered, the terms transman for female-to-male (abbreviated as FTM) transgender people and transwoman for male-to-female (abbreviated as MTF) transgender people are sometimes used. In the past it was generally assumed by some observers that there were considerably more transwomen than transmen. However, as more research is performed, it seems more likely that the actual ratio is close to 1:1. There are also, of course, people who identify as neither female-to-male nor male-to-female.

Transgender can include a number of sub-categories, which, among others, including transsexual, transvestite, consciously androgynous people, people who are genderqueer, people who live cross-gender, drag kings and drag queens, among many others. People who cross dress are not necessarily considered transgendered. Transvestic fetishists are also not necessarily included as transgender.

Many people also identify as plainly transgendered, an ambiguous not well defined term, although they may fit the definition of any of the previously mentioned categories as well.

The extent to which intersex people (those with genitalia or other physical sexual characteristics that are not strictly either male or female) are included in the transgender category is often debated. Not all intersex people have a problem with the gender role they were assigned at birth, nor do all intersex people have any problems with gender identity. Those who have, though, are sometimes included in transgender.

Cisgender is a term used by some transgender people to indicate the opposite of transgender.

The terms "gender dysphoria" and "gender identity disorder" are used in the psychiatric and medical community to explain these tendencies as a psychological condition and the reaction to its social consequences. Strictly speaking, gender dysphoria and gender identity disorder are considered to be mental illnesses, as recorded in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the standard for mental healthcare professionals. There is, however, debate as to whether these things should actually be considered mental illness; many would no doubt reject that idea (although some concede that the mental illness designation can be helpful in terms of helping the transgender person obtain relevant medical and/or psychological services). Conversely, some have actually argued in favor of the idea of "gender giftedness."

Unfortunately, many mental healthcare providers know little about transgender life, and persons seeking help from these professionals often end up educating the professional rather than receiving help. Among those therapists who profess to know about transgender issues, many believe that transitioning from one sex to another — the standard transsexual model — is the best or only solution. This usually works well for those who are transsexual, but often far less well for those cross-gender people who do not identify as plainly male or female.

Other definitions

The term transgender was coined in the 1970s by Virginia Prince in the USA, as a contrast with the term "transsexual," to refer to someone who does not desire surgical intervention to "change sex," and/or who considers that they fall "between" genders, not identifying strictly to one gender or the other, identifying themselves as neither fully male, nor fully female.

Transgenderists and non-operative transsexuals

Often in older writings (pre ~1990s), but rarely today, the term transgender is used to refer to these "non-op transsexuals" or "non-op transpeople" — transpeople who live as the gender opposite to their birth gender and, though sexual reassignment surgery is possible, have chosen not to undergo it; sometimes they also choose not to have other medical gender reassignment therapy. However, sometimes, for example in the Netherlands (but not in the rest of Europe), the term transgender is still in use for this particular group instead of being used as such an umbrella term.

This group is also sometimes known as "transgenderists" or "non-op transsexuals". Many point out that the term "non-op transsexual", however, is inaccurate, in that it seems to be an oxymoron, as it refers to people who transition socially and physically to their desired gender role, yet retain their original genitals. Further confusing the term is that various motivations, ranging from dissatisfaction with medical options available (particularly among FTM transsexuals), to the perception that one's genitals have little bearing upon identity.

Unfortunately, there are not yet broadly agreed-upon terms to accurately define the various groups of non-op transsexuals even within the larger transgender community.

Transgender as "in between"

Transgender is less frequently used to specifically refer to people whose gender identity or appearance is in an "in-between" state, rather than as an umbrella term.

A newer related term is genderqueer, which refers to the mixing of qualities traditionally associated with male and female, and can also refer to the in-between sense sometimes associated with transgenderism. Most people who self-identify as genderqueer would use "transgender" solely as an umbrella term.

Transsexual

Main article: Transsexual

Transsexual people are people who desire to have, or have achieved, a different physical sex from their actual physical sex. One typical (though oversimplified) explanation is of a "woman trapped in a man's body" or vice versa; many transsexual women state that they were in fact always of the female gender, despite physically being male, and believing that they are female, wish to change their bodies to match; transmen, naturally, feel exactly the opposite.

The process of physical transition for transsexuals usually includes hormone replacement therapy and may include sexual reassignment surgery (a.k.a. gender reassignment surgery). For transwomen, electrolysis for hair removal is often required, while many transmen have breast-reduction surgery as early as possible, whether accompanied by genital surgery or not.

Some spell the term transexual with one s in order to reduce the association of their identity with psychiatry and medicine.

There are some scientific studies suggesting physical causes of transsexuality; see the main transsexual article for further discussion of that.

Terminology and concepts, compared to transgender

Transgender is often used as a euphemistic synonym for transsexual people by some. One set of reasoning for this is that it removes the conceptual image "sex" in "transsexual" that implies transsexuality is sexually motivated, which it is not. This usage is problematic because it can cause transgender people who do not identify as transsexual to be confused with them. It also seems to remove the issue of social presentation (gender, in its social sense) from the question, even though gender role and presentation is an important part of the equation.

Furthermore, many transsexuals reject the term "transgender" as an identification for themselves, either as a synonym or as an umbrella term. They advance a number of arguments for this. One argument is that the use of the umbrella term inaccurately subsumes them and causes their identity, history, and existence to be marginalized. Another is that they perceive the term to be the breaking down of gender barriers, whereas transsexual people themselves usually identify as men or as women — just not as they were assigned at birth. A third occasionally mentioned is that they did not change gender at any point — they have always had their gender (identity), and the difficulty is their sex (anatomy), which they desire to change. However, others point out that transsexual people do change their gender role at some point, and that most non-transsexual transgender people always had their gender identity, too.

A more problematic dispute with the use of the term "transsexual" is that it refers to processes of chemical and/or anatomical modification that do not actually render an individual reproductively viable after transition processes, nor change sex chromosomes. Particularly, criticism of transsexual women by some feminists includes the contention that their transition is cosmetic rather than fundamental, and they are thus not "really" changing their sex at all (thus the use of transgender). These critics claim that the presumption of reproductive viability is what distinguishes "women" from "men". This argument is used to discount the rights of identification and association with other women that transsexual women might claim. However, many arguments that link whether someone is a "woman" or a "man" based on reproductive capability, or chromosomes, fall apart when considering non-transsexual people who are infertile or non-transsexual men or women who have a chromosomal configuration different from other men and women in the general population. There are also women born female with Androgen Insensitivity Symdrome (AIS), who are born physiologically female, but whose sex chromosomes are XY. An analogous condition exists where an XX fetus is exposed to testosterone in utero, develop male genitalia, despite having their chromosomal characteristics.

Probably many of these problems are associated with the history of the term "transgender" and its other definitions; see above.

To respect the identity of those transsexual people who do not identify as transgender, the constructions trans, trans*, or transgender and transsexual sometimes are used to describe all transpeople.

Further, many people who this article would define as transgender reject the term altogether, along with other related terms (transsexual, crossgender, etc.). This is most commonly seen with people who have changed sex but who do not define themselves as transsexual. A common statement is that a transsexual is someone who is undergoing a change from one sex to another; someone who has already done so is simply a "man" or a "woman". This brings up issues of the extent to which someone who is not a part of a group may define it, also seen in the case of, for example, "men who have sex with men" (MSMs), who do not see themselves as homosexual but could still be defined as such.

Alternative dressing

Drag involves wearing highly exaggerated and outrageous costumes or imitating movie and music stars of the opposite sex (e.g. Rupaul). It is a form of performing art practiced by drag queens and drag kings. Drag is often found in a gay or lesbian context. The term "drag king" can also apply to people from the female-to-male side of the transgender spectrum who do not see themselves as exclusively male identified, therefore covering a much wider ground than a "drag queen".

Transvestic fetishism is a term used in the medical community to refer to one who has a fetish for wearing the clothing of the opposite gender. This is considered a derogatory term by some, as it implies a hierarchy of value in which the sexual element of transgender behavior is of low social value. Many reject the term "transvestite" for this reason, preferring cross-dresser instead. It is often difficult to distinguish between fetishism that happens to have female clothing as an object and transgender behaviour that includes sexual play. Transvestic fetishism should by no means to be considered equivalent to cross-dressing. Cross-dressing is a non-transgender behavior in which a person of one biological sex chooses to wear some articles of clothing normally worn by members of the other sex. There is no desire to appear as, much less become, a member of the opposite sex, thus there are no transgender issues. This is consistent with the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria, and cross-dressing has not been synonymous with "transvestism" for many years. (This last may be true among physicians, but millions of crossdressers see the term "transvestite" as equivalent to "crossdresser," although many prefer the latter.)

Other

"Transgender" is also used to describe behaviour or feelings that cannot be categorized into these older sub-categories, for example, people living in a gender role that is different from the one they were assigned at birth, but who do not wish to undergo any or all of the available medical options, or people who do not wish to identify themselves as "transsexuals", "men" or "women", and consider that they fall between genders, or transcend gender.

Some people who present as female, but with male genitalia may have been born intersexual but may also be transsexual or transgender, who do transition (taking estrogens and/or other methods) to achieve some desired secondary sex characteristics, but not sexual reassignment surgery. Sometimes these individuals are referred to as ladyboy or shemale (compare there), but these terms are considered derogatory by many, including most transgender or transsexual people not working in the sex industry.

Other issues

(Trans-)gender identity is different from, though related to, sexual orientation. Sexual orientations among transgender people vary just as much as they do among cisgender people. Although few studies have been done, transgender groups almost always report that their members are more likely to be attracted to those with the same gender identity, compared to the population as a whole; that is, transwomen are more likely to be attracted to other women, and transmen are more likely to be attracted to other men. Many transgender people who are attracted to others of the same gender will identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Note that in the professional literature, "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are very often used respective to clients' birth sex, instead of their desired sex. Transgender people may feel misunderstood by caregivers because of this practice; it is also quite confusing when a relationship that is considered gay or lesbian by both partners is labeled heterosexual, or a relationship that consists, as far as the partners are concerned, of a man and a women is labeled homosexual. The existence of transgender people and their sexual relationships points to certain inadequacies of language.

Many Western societies today have some sort of procedure whereby an individual can change their name, sometimes also their legal gender, to reflect their gender identity; see Legal aspects of transsexualism. Medical procedures for transgender people are also available in most Western and many non-Western countries. However, because gender roles are an important part of many cultures, those engaged in strong challenges to the prevalence of these roles, such as many transgender people, often have to face considerable prejudice.

Some have mistakenly claimed that for being transgendered, that is merely "a choice and a lifestyle" (in the words of U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas). It is not, although some expressions of being transgendered, such as participation in drag shows, might be argued to be part of one's lifestyle. But the fact of being transgendered can hardly be considered a "lifestyle" per se and, as this article shows, to shrug off the entire category as a mere "choice" arguably seems inadequate and shallow, if not downright wrong.

Transgender in non-Western cultures

This article describes primarily Western modes of transgenderism. Many other cultures have or have had similar phenomena:

  • The so-called berdache in many Native American groups is recognized as a separate gender, a woman-living-man, not as a man who wants to be a woman. The term "berdache" is a misnomer, however, as no Native American group actually used the term; different ethnic groups had different names for the role, such as the winkte. The husband of such a person is not viewed as being gender-different themself, but as a normal male. In some societies there is a corresponding gender for man-living-women (amazons).
  • In Thai culture, there is the kathoey, who is very similar to the English defintion of transgender, but is sometimes broader, including effeminate gay males more so than "transgender" does.
  • South Asian cultures have hijra, who can be born intersex, or (more commonly), are assigned a male sex at birth and later choose to live as a third sex, surgically removing their male genitals and wearing women's clothes. See, as an example, the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka (PUCL-K). (2003). Human Rights Violations against the Transgender Community: A Study of Kothi and Hijra Sex Workers in Bangalore, India. [1]
  • Chinese cultures have a wide variety of transgender modes of existence. See transgender in China.
  • In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini instituted state procedures to help pay for sex-change operations in those who identified as transgender. See Transsexuality in Iran.
  • Mukhannathun are gender-variant (typically male-to-female) persons of the Islamic faith who are "accepted within the boundaries of Makkah and Madinah (Islam)".
  • Muxe are a third gender (physically male) in Zapotec culture.
  • The ancient Galli were castrated followers of the Phrygian goddess Cybele, which can be regarded as transgendered in today's terms.

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts

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