WSTA01H3 Lecture Notes - Gender Binary, Cross-Dressing, Transsexual

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Published on 20 Apr 2013
Women's and Gender Studies
CHAPTER 8: Coming Out and Crossing Over: Identity Formation and Proclamation in a Transgender Community
much of the scientific focus on transgendered individuals has derived from an interest in understanding 'deviation' from the 'normal' and 'natural' two-sex system
transgenderism refers to 'the lives and experiences of diverse groups of people who live outside normative sex/gender relations'
persons who enact alternative gender presentations or who have internalized alternative gender identities are referred to as 'transgenderists'
while there are some similarities between the coming-out processes of transgenderists and gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, there are also salient differences
first, since around the end of the nineteenth century, homosexuality has been defined as an identity
as that identity and the communities and institutions built around it have become more visible, lesbians and gay men, and more recently bisexuals, have had
opportunities to find similar others
thus, feelings of 'difference' are more easily identified, labelled, and accepted than they were before homosexuality defined 'who' the person was
while gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals have challenged the medical definition of homosexuality as a mental illness, they have, for the most part, adhered to the
notion that sexuality is an important component in defining who the person is
most masculine-to-feminine transgenderists conform to traditional beliefs about sex and gender, whereas a minority attempt to step outside the gender binary by
defining themselves in non-gendered or multiple gendered ways
for example, within the transgender community, the declassification of transsexualism as a psychiatric diagnosis has been hotly debated, with those seeking to
challenge the medical definitions arguing that it should be removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and those still
seeking access to hormones and sex reassignment surgery (SRS) arguing that being diagnosed transsexual is the only way they may become the women they
truly are
in other words, they must 'confess' their transsexualism in ways that adhere to medical models in order to proceed from one sex to the other
similarly, most transsexuals adhere to beliefs that their desires to live as women were the result of biological 'mistakes' that left them as feminine persons in male
rather than choosing to live as feminine males, they opt to cross over to full-time womanhood
similarly, most cross-dressers look on their sartorial transitions as opportunities to express their feminine selves
they deem feminine behaviour in masculine attire to be highly inappropriate
while transgenderism is an issue of sex and gender, it does not entail aspects of sexual reorientation
thus, sexually active transgenderists must recognize, tolerate, and learn to accept an alternative gender identity; develop a repertoire of coping strategies to
manage public presentations of gender; and, in some cases, manage the actual transformation of permanent identity and anatomy
whether gender transformations are temporary or permanent, the sense that one really is the sex associated with the gender portrayed involves a reexamination of
sexual identity
for example, some anatomically male transsexuals and cross-dressers, in the process of establishing a feminine self, engage in sexual activity with other
anatomical male persons
while the observers may morphologically define the experience as homosexual or same sexed, the social women experiencing the interaction define it as
such activity is highly valued as a way of exploring femininity
for transgenderists, the discovery of a sexual identity, or a sense of who the individual is as a sexual person, frequently occurs within a sex/gender system
that does not address sexual issues among those whose sex and gender do not fit within the binary system
furthermore, those who do have SRS must sexually 'come out' to themselves and others by reexamining their sexual preferences and orientations
as gender and/or sex changes, the subjective arid social meanings of sexual interactions are also transformed
while gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals must come out sexually, their experiences are not confounded by alterations in gender and genital makeup
whereas lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are able to carefully control information dissemination, transgenderists must manage both their actual and virtual social
identities on three dimensions
lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals can selectively come out, whereas transgenderists, because of changes in gender or biological appearance, are often forced out
of the closet, creating awkward – or even dangerous – situations
transgenderists provide an opportunity to examine the private and public dimensions of achieving a new gender through interaction with others and the emergence
and management of alternative sex, gender, and sexual identities
Early Transgendered Experiences
gender constancy – a sense that a person's gender is a permanent aspect of self – is acquired between the ages of three and five years
for most children, clothing and other expressions of gender are signifiers of maleness or femaleness
in early childhood, cross-dressing and cross-gender behaviour appear to have been tolerated
however, as children advanced beyond the 'toddler' stage, they were pressured by adults and other children to recognize and adhere to traditional
conceptualizations of gender and conform to masculine stereotypes
pressures to conform to the gender binary were often based on homophobic assumptions about gender 'deviants'
after an initial period of confusion about sex and gender, most children recognized that cross-dressing and feminine behaviour were deviant and, therefore, they
tried to repress it and keep it secret
this suggests that as children begin to understand the binary gender system, they become ashamed of feminine or transgendered feelings, learn to hide their
behaviours, and become confused about who they are and how they fit into the world
Coming Out to One's Self
for many transgendered individuals, coming to terms with identity is driven by three factors: (1) events that inform them that to feel as they do is 'wrong' (2) finding
that there are names for their feelings, and (3) learning that there are others who have had similar experiences
the search for authenticity is a motivating factor in the desire to resolve identity
because of the centrality of community in the formation and legitimation of identity, the efforts of transgenderists to find and express a 'true self' are mitigated by
their contacts with the transgendered world, just as they are affected by the dominant culture
to 'confess' gender (or transgenderism), one must communicate in an established idiom or risk the desired authenticity
while new identities are emergent, they are created within the constraints of current understandings
furthermore, because of dominant beliefs that incongruity between assumed sex and presented gender is indicative of homosexuality, and that such is deviant, as
transgenderists mix or replaced masculinity with femininity on either a temporary or permanent basis, they frequently wonder what this implies about their sexuality
when individuals fail to adhere to the gender binary, they are often told they are wrong or bad, so they tend to initially think of themselves as sick or deviant
until they find similar others who have rejected stigma, self-blame and internalization of deviance are common
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