Principles of Sociology/Transsexuality

Information drawn exclusively from How Sex Changed by Joanne Meyerowitz

Individuals with ambiguous sex/gender/sexuality identities have always been present in human societies – they are a genetically assured occurrence and thus we must strive to create at least semi-normalized roles for them. Also, many cultures are not as uncomfortable with sexual/gender ambiguity as Americans are today. There are many examples from the historical/ anthropological record of different cultures tolerating and embracing these people as specially endowed by the creator with specific roles to play in society. But how do we determine today who is male, who is female, and why do we care? Can humans actually change or alter sex, and if so, does this mean that ideas about sex may be much less self-evident than we conventionally treat it.

The Latin etymology (root) of the prefix “ trans ” (as to clarify meanings and not confuse ourselves) exemplifies ideas such as across, beyond, through, so as to change or transfer material or meanings...

Some early attempts to sort out ideas of sex/gender used these organizational schemes, which may be helpful:

Primary features – genitals and internal reproductive organs

Secondary features – breasts, body hair, and other physical changes occurring after puberty

Tertiary features – sexual drives and desires towards one particular sex, or both

Quaternary features – socially gendered behaviors – preferences, mannerisms, cloths, occupation

Why should we care about the tiny segment of the population that is considered transsexual/transgendered?

• Extrapolated medical statistics suggest that the total number of people with ambiguous genitalia is comparable to the number of Jews worldwide or about 12 million

• Transgenderism is at the cutting edge of the debate on the meaning of sex, sexuality, and gender – some political/cultural/social cornerstones of our society based on traditionally static behavior

• Is sex/gender/sexuality more a biological given of male vs. female or always involving some mix of the two?

• It isn't just about the hundreds of thousands “out” transsexuals in America today, but exactly what their plight, their attempts re-negotiate sex/gender, and society's responses can teach us… (nature/nurture debate)

• Social and biological researchers are so interested in transsexuals for much the same reasons that they are similarly interested in twin studies (mirror twins especially) – they are rare and get at base human processes

• To understand the “normal” processes of human sex/gender/sexuality development and differentiation, they look for a gross deviation from the norm and attempt to relate it back to answering the core questions

• Transsexuals necessarily deliberate management of gender illuminates processes in “normally” gendered acts

• The term transgender Includes transvestite (cross-dressers), intersexed persons (hermaphrodites), transsexuals, drag queens, “gender benders”, and often butch lesbians and effeminate gay men as well

• These people have serious problems negotiating social life where there sexual and gendered identity does not fall into a very narrowly defined set of characteristics (often still binary)

• Thus, they are at risk for a multitude of personal problems over the life course due to anomie (normlessness)

• They may have trouble being accepted in their family, in interpersonal relationships, in schools, in intimate relationships, and are often discriminated against in professional occupations and legal appeals for civil rights

• Their health is also more precarious due to higher rates of STDs, AIDS, violence, and illicit drug use

Historical Ideas and Trends regarding Transsexuality

• Unlike much of today's medical advances, patients with a “ fierce and demanding drive” to alter their biological sex (“I feel like I've been trapped in a man's/woman's body my whole life), not doctors or pharmaceutical R&D, were the driving force behind the demand for sex-change technologies

• Transsexuals who wanted sex change but didn't have enough money or didn't live in a time when such medical procedures were performed often turned in desperation to “quacks” or did it themselves (at home!)

• Transsexuals suffered great abuse at the hands of disgusted police officers, judges, and psychologists

• The first highly publicized cases in America popped up in the 1950s, but were almost all male-to-female

• There was an WWII GI from the Bronx , NYC named Christine Jorgensen who traveled to Copenhagen , Denmark in 1952 for two major surgeries to alter her genitals and have massive estrogen therapy

• “He” came home as a conventionally beautiful “blonde bombshell” whose newfound celebrity got her an regular act at a flashy Manhattan nightclub for the a decade plus, then later autobiography and movie deals

• The idea that biological sex cannot be wholly constituted by chromosomes, hormones, and genitalia about sex has been increasingly redefined more as a matter of personal choice, psychological disposition

• Quite a few nations including politically moderate England and Australia have allowed transsexuals to change their biological sex on their birth certificates and thus given greater leeway with civil rights

• However, transsexuals are often seen as the greatest subversionist threat to the traditional the gender order

• In fact, there continue to be serious disagreements between transsexuals and the gay community at large and various feminist organizations who sometimes think their agendas might not be mutually beneficial

• Change will be hard to come by, keep in mind that we still cannot talk about someone in the English language without using appropriate gender pronouns (he, she, her, his) and/or great semantic discomfort

Statistics point to disproportionately more male-to-female (MTF) than female-to-male (FTM) sex changes, why?

• This would seem to be especially counterintuitive - why would men want to become part of what is socially considered the weaker sex? No reproductive potential, lower pay, more risk of violence from men, etc.

• An “embryonic hypothesis” = female is the base sex for early human embryo development – for babies to become fully male, there must be a additionally significant dose of testosterone involved later in development - if the dose is only marginally large enough, there may always be the tendency to revert to base female

• Older sexologists believed that since male homosexuality seems more common that female homosexuality, extremely effeminate homosexual males' desire for “real” (i.e., heterosexual) men manifests into a desire to become a “quasi-real” woman. To them, “I've been trapped in a man's body my whole life” is just a story.

• Men are socially more powerful and thus have the power (and masculine drive for control) to actually get up the “courage” (pun = balls) and the money (and possibly job stability) required for the surgery

• Men also have been known to be more exhibitionist and also use their sex change as a way to parlay themselves into deviant theatrical/talent show drag queen venues

• Also, MTF transsexuals have received far more publicity in the popular press in the last 50 years than their FTM counterparts, so perhaps this increased visibility has led to more male viewer with similar inclinations taking the plunge into transsexual behaviors

Last modified on 16 December 2006, at 09:21