Understanding; Part I
Here we go. Come in, take a seat. The lecture is just about to begin.
(this post is about twice as long as the normal post here. i beg your indulgence and will try to avoid making a habit of it!)
As I alluded to last week, I’m going to attempt to make this series an “entry level” discussion. For many of you, particularly veterans of this blog, much of this is “old news” but I ask you to be patient with me. Somewhere out there, right now, someone is searching the internet for information. They just found out about their husband, their boyfriend, their brother, their son – and everything they know about being trans they learned watching Jerry Springer. Someone is looking for help with these feelings they do not understand and have been made to believe they should be ashamed and embarrassed. Maybe they are 15…or 50. Maybe they are 35, or 21. Sure, there are tons of really good in depth sites out there, some more technical and complex than others. But maybe they ended up here, and they just want something on their level.
This is for them. In the mean time, maybe you have a hard time explaining to your wife, your sister, your mom, just what’s going on with you. Maybe you can’t find the right words. This is for you, too.
Two caveats before I begin:
First, this is a site which is primarily focused on crossdressing. In that sense this will be both a bit off topic, in that I intend to discuss all aspects of transgenderism, and also slightly biased in that I will say more about crossdressers than I normally would in this sort of discussion.
Second, and particularly in light of the foregoing, I will use terms and pronouns which are in the context of the male-to-female aspect of being trans. This is not to minimize or dismiss the reality of female-to-male trans persons, but it stands to reason that that phenomena which we call “crossdressing” is almost exclusively a M2F issue, and as such that’s the audience this discussion is likely to find. You should read each of those references as including the unspoken addendum “or vice versa” as the F2M is just as valid a state of being as M2F.
With that said – let’s dig in. The term “transgender” is pretty much everywhere in the news lately. In the last year, several important legal and policy precedents have been set which are exciting for those of us who are trans. Sadly, while our “profile” has been elevated in the public consciousness, accurate information has been much harder to find. Indeed, even in the most sympathetic of reporting and commentary, there’s often a basic flaw which undermines the clearest understanding of being trans in the minds of those who are uninitiated.
Properly understood, “transgender” is simply a broad descriptive term which covers pretty much any state of being, or behavior, or both, which does not conform to the commonly accepted gender norms in a given culture. It is a very broad term and is, thus, quite imprecise when being used to discuss any specific issue. In fact, it is so awkward that there’s considerable controversy even among trans people themselves as to how these terms are best applied. I do not propose to get lost in that particular patch of weeds on this site though, or in the context of trying to provide a simple overview.
Under the transgender umbrella are both those who have a physiological condition present from birth that is atypical of the “normal” (statistically speaking) sex characteristics of the human body, as well as those people who, for whatever reason, choose to behave, all the time, or part time, in away which does not conform to “gender norms.” While there is, as I said, some debate within the trans community about the terminology, I’ll attempt to provide an easy to grasp framework that the newcomer can “wrap their head around” and caution you that you might well find some trans related sites which do not use the terms in just this way.
Broadly speaking, those with a physiological condition are called “intersex” (that which used to be called “hermaphrodite”). It had long been understood that being intersex was a separate thing from being transsexual, but more and more we are coming to understand the specific physiological basis for being transsexual and, in my view, the most logical understanding now is to consider being transsexual a subset of being intersex.
Intersex, then, is a person with some physical characteristics typically associated with females, and some typically associated with males. This may affect genitalia, or chromosomes, or hormone production and process, or any other sex-specific physical characteristic. We now know that the human brain is, in fact, sex specific, and so logically it is also subject to the intersex phenomena. I try to avoid the use of the term “birth defect” as it has a pejorative sense, but since it is commonly used and understood – these conditions are “birth defects” like any number of other conditions, they have no choice component, nor any moral component. An intersex person is intersex in the same sense that you are, for instance, blue eyed. Or in the sense that one is autistic. Their only question is not whether or not to BE intersex, but what they will do about it when it is discovered that they are.
The problem we face is that if one is intersex in away which a person can visibly identify, say they have both ovaries and a penis, or they have XXY chromosomes, then the public is wildly accepting and supportive of their necessary decisions. On the other hand, if the condition is not so visually easy, because it is the brain itself that is “misgendered” (i.e. that person which is commonly called a transsexual – one who seeks to change the sexual makeup of their body to align with their perception of self) then most people simply don’t understand and insist that it’s simply a “lifestyle choice.” It is important, in my view, for the non-trans person to understand the distinction between those who wish to transition to the “other gender” full time, and those who do not but still are gender non-conforming. And that will be my subject next time.
During this series, I encourage anyone who has a question to speak up and at the end, if there are any, I’ll do a post answering any points I was unclear on or failed to address.
Photo by: uniinnsbruck