Transsexual Analysis

Nature vs nurture: humans are diverse  |   Diversity in society  |   Woman in a man's body?  |   Trauma can shape us  |   Emasculation trauma

Trauma and sexuality  |   Perversion or lifestyle choice?  |   How to treat?  |   Superficiality  |   Problems and reversion  |   In summary


This analysis covers areas considered controversial in the trans-community, primarily human diversity and autogynephilia. While not an academic text as such, this analysis attempts to formulate some cohesive thoughts on these issues where coherent thought and jumping to sensationalist conclusions are rife. After all, reasoned analysis can be complicated and "unsexy".

While the focus is on male-to-female transsexuals (M2Fs) some of the material is applicable to F2Ms.

Possible causes of autogynephilic desires - and their immutability - are explored here, something that appears to be left curiously unexamined by even experienced doctors and academics. While it is more exciting to announce an unusual sexual orientation, it seems to be rather less enthralling for pundits to look behind the actions at the underlying psychodynamics.

In a nutshell, this analysis methodically examines the most likely cause of autogynephilic tendencies and, in doing so, makes it clear that such inclinations are often not the reason why transsexuals change their outward gender but is actually caused by transsexuals' innately cross-gender characteristics and the frisson between those traits and society's norms.

As a result of this realization, a redefinition of Ray Blanchard's hypotheses is proposed, marrying his concepts with other factors involved in transsexualism, demonstrating that transsexualism is not a issue that lends itself to simple black-and-white analysis; ergo, there are not just two types of transsexuals, and there is a good deal of overlap between groups that have been currently defined.

The menu above indicates of the issues explored and an overview and summary are provided in the In Summary page for those without the time or inclination to go into detail.

Why should anyone bother analyzing transsexualism?

It is easy to sympathize with those who argue that there is no good reason to analyze to causes and roots of transsexualism and that we should simply accept the phenomenon as exactly that, a phenomenon, or more colloquially. take the approach that "stuff happens".

However, there are now a number of forces aligning against transsexuals. Apart from the usual suspects - conservatives and rednecks - transsexuals now also must contend with attacks from anti-trans groups run by ex-transsexuals, a burgeoning religious fundamentalism movement, along with the continuing skepticism of radical feminists and non-empathetic gay men - all willing to attack transsexuals with fanatical zeal.

If transsexuals are to survive this seemingly never-ending assault upon their credibility it needs to be made clearer what transsexualism is and what it means. The fact is that, to many, the "woman trapped in a male body" is neither satisfactory nor credible; such a claim is unscientific and is only true for practical means and purposes, and even then only in some cases.

In the political sphere, candidates from both sides of the political fence are becoming increasingly conservative, reflecting an electorate fearful of change in a dynamic and globalized world. Some of the anti-trans lobby groups are red-hot in their beliefs and may yet find sympathetic ears in our conservative Governments.

Further, as if transsexuals didn't have enough to cope with, there is considerable infighting within their own ranks in regard to the different means of identifying different types of transsexuals. Aggressive internal conflict only plays into the hands of those who wish to undermine what are among the most (unfairly) downtrodden people in society.

All of the above means that the need to be more precise in clearly describing transsexualism becomes ever more essential if transsexuals are to experience anything approaching normal human rights.

Before ideas or hypotheses are announced or denounced, we need to revisit some basic facts - what we already know about cross-gendered human behavior.

1. Nature vs nurture: humans are diverse

Throughout history, and prehistory for that matter, there have been people who have taken on opposite sex roles in their societies /tribes / groups. Clearly a Bell Curve of sorts applies to the level of masculinity and femininity found within each gender. In this context we are talking about psychological and social aspects and androgynous characteristsics, not intersex conditions.

In the past, people with cross-gender leanings and identification were unable to access the kind of technology which helped create the concept of transsexualism as it is known today. In the absence of technology, such people changed their social role and conducted and presented themselves as the opposite sex. There is little doubt that had they been able to avail themselves of today's treatments they would have done so.

The existence of human diversity is the most compelling reason for cross-gender behavior and identification to be properly accepted by governments and the public at large. That is, transgender behavior is a natural human variation, and there is no valid reason for discriminating against "non normal" individuals simply because they are uncommon.

Whilst only affecting a small percentage of people, the fact that cross-genderedness is not common does not make it "unnatural", a frequent charge made against cross-gendered individuals (just as it was, and occasionally still is, made about homosexual people).

Not surprisingly, human beings are not the only species to engage in these behaviors, as graphically evidenced in Joan Roughgarden's Evolution's Rainbow : Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, which details varying gender roles (eg. a number of fish change sex during their lifetimes) and sexuality (eg. many mammals engage in homosexual relations). As with every other part of nature, humans are diverse.

In regard to human diversity, some females are extremely feminine - princess types - who tend to be hyper-sensitive, dependent and sedentary by nature. There are also some highly masculine women - warrior women if you like - who are athletic, independent and aggressive. Between those extremes are the vast majority of women, graduating from very feminine to very masculine in varying ways.

Not surprisingly, this principle applies equally to males - from the girly boys to gladiators, drag queens to footballers, with most men fitting somewhere inbetween.

This is standard diversity, and it can be found in all aspects of nature aside from gender and sexuality - from the height and weight of animals and plants to the weather. Our school marks, IQs, our earnings, our musicality, intelligence and even levels of compassion in some way can fall into a Bell - or some equivalent - curve.

In short, in any area of life you will find a small number of extremes at either end with the majority occupying the middle ground.

Biological factors and culture

What causes gender diversity within a particular sex? What exactly is "female" about M2Fs and what is "male" about F2Ms?

Studies have shown that there are elements of intersex conditions - such as Klinefelter Syndrome (XXY males) and Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS) - in only a tiny minority of transsexual cases. There has been some research into transsexuals' levels of HY antigens but at this stage it is inconclusive and is not considered relevant in the majority of cases.

One obvious factor is genetics. Genetics clearly plays a role, even though there is no evidence that transsexualism per se is passed on genetically (bearing in mind that a "transsexual gene" would be expected to be an evolutionary dead end).

To explain genetic factors further, a male who is 190cms tall with a broad skeletal structure, with thick beard growth and body hair, and strongly masculine facial features will logically be less likely to seek a sex change than a person of similar mentality but who is under 175cms tall, slender, relatively hairless, and possesses a "pretty" face. Some people are so lacking in the expected characteristics of their sex that life can be very difficult for them in a society with simplistic notions of sex and gender.

Brain sex is another important issue. One (limited) study of transsexuals showed that a nucleus in the hypothalamus of transwomen was identical to that of genetic women, and differing from those of both gay and straight men. However, because of the limited number of subjects - mainly because such experiments can only be performed post-mortem - the results cannot be deemed conclusive. In addition, it is not known whether the brain structure actually caused the transsexualism or is a result of it.

Nonetheless, this result tentatively suggests that post-operative transsexuals may have a greater claim to legitimacy in their quest for recognition as women than some protagonists may claim.

Pre-natal hormonal conditions

Another area that has been studied is the action of hormonal conditions within the womb on a developing foetus. There is obviously a range of possible hormonal conditions that can occur in-utero, from a high level of hormones matching the foetus' chromosomes to high levels of opposing hormonal conditions.

These conditions not only may vary from gestation to gestation, but they may also fluctuate during a single gestation. To further complicate issues, the way hormonal variations affect a developing foetus depend on when they occur during a gestation, and to what extent they are experienced (ie. how receptive a fetus is to the hormones it encounters).

Especially important in this context is the first half of the first trimester, when the foetus' brain is undergoing pivotal developments. A high level of estrogen during this period can result in an XY foetus' brain remaining mostly in the female state, bearing in mind that all XY fetuses start as female and are shaped into the male form by the action of hormones in-utero.

In this context experiments where pregnant laboratory rats were given estrogen during the period where their fetuses' brains were developing are enlightening. The male rats born from these hormonally-altered pregnancies assumed the female mating position when placed with normal male rats. That is, their brains were "wired female", at least in regard to their sexuality.

Barring interventions in a laboratory, factors such as stress, diet and drugs can make a profound difference to in-utero hormonal states.

This begs the question, why would high-level stress create such an effect? Could there be an evolutionary advantage in a stressed mother bearing "sissies"? In the wild, the main causes of stress-related problems would most likely be conflict and famine. Perhaps less combative male offspring with reduced inclination to breed could be an advantage in times or war and famine?

Of course, this idea is just speculation, although it may yet prove an interesting line of inquiry for scientists at some stage.

Nature and nurture

Whatever, it is fair to assume that there can be biological factors at play behind people's cross-gender inclinations. However, it is the interplay between the biological and social that decides how a cross-gendered (as opposed to intersexed) person deals with his or her situation.

Culture clearly must play a role. If a naturally cross-gendered person lived with his or her family on a desert island, it is hard to imagine that s/he would seek to change his/her gender role or body. Transsexualism, along with gender roles in general, is necessarily contextual.

Cultural influence, however, does not necessarily render transsexualism invalid. After all, if any of us lived in isolation from society on a desert island our interest in art, relationships, politics, career, hobbies and our gender role, amongst other things - areas that most of us consider paramount to our fulfillment - would be markedly altered. What would modern people who harbour passions for modern art, jazz, movies, knitting, the law, interior design, cars, human rights, computers or religion be interested in if they lived on a remote desert island?

The point here is that, as social animals, virtually every activity humans undertaken is contextual in relation to the social group.

Social aspects of transsexualism will be discussed in greater detail later in this analysis. As mentioned earlier, the challenge for transsexuals is to explain their situations to others in a more credible manner, that is, in a manner which can help lawmakers and other power-brokers better understand that they are as deserving of full human rights as anyone else.

General acceptance and credibility is more likely to become more widespread if some of the confusion and incongruity is drawn from the issue.

For instance, many people cannot understand why some masculine males - both physically and mentally - undergo gender reassignment, yet some highly feminine males happily retain an identity as gay (and sometimes heterosexual) men.

Until the conundrums such as these are better explained than has been the case so far, the validity of transsexualism will continue to be questioned by those with an instinctive phobic reaction to it.

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