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

2. Diversity in society

As discussed in Part 1, the way human diversity plays out is affected by the societal setting in which it exists.

It is easy to see how a highly feminine male in prehistoric times could find himself being excluded from hunting and warfare and being given "women's work". The tribe would see him as a liability in classically masculine pursuits, needing to be carried by his peers. It would be fair to say that feminine males may well have tended to die prematurely on the hunt or during warfare due to their lesser competence in these endeavors.

In some tribal societies, notably those of the American Indians and Pacific Islanders, feminine males took on female roles. They assisted with child-minding, arts and crafts, and took on ceremonial duties. This indicates that so-called "primitive" societies, by observing human diversity within their midst over time, realized that it was to everyone's advantage to be flexible in how they utilized their "human resources".

By the same token, it would also be to the advantage of tribal societies to utilize the skills of any women within their ranks who had weak maternal instincts and a natural aptitude for active, typically-masculine pursuits.

Life in pre-"civilized" times was tenuous, often close to the edge of survival. Few people lived beyond 40 years of age. Tribal groups and small communities could scarcely afford the luxury of underutilizing any community member; they needed to make the best possible use of their people after expending so much time, energy and scarce resources towards their upbringing. It hardly made sense to let them flounder and die prematurely perfoming roles in which they were unsuitable. It was only logical for them to let them use their natural aptitudes to best advantage.

In modern society, by contrast, our affluence and technology virtually assures our survival, and it could be said that we fell we can afford to let some people, like gender-transgressors, fall by the wayside. That is, we complacently ignore the potentials of some of our human resources. It is ironic that our so-called advanced societies still struggle with what is a very basic fact - we are not all the same.

People have taken on opposite sex roles from pre-history right up to the present. It is not difficult to imagine the kinds of people today who would have taken on those ancient gender-bending roles had they been born a few thousand years earlier - transsexuals and gender-transgressive gays.

The effect of culture - taboos

Modern Western society (along with some older societies) adds an extra layer of complexity to the situation - probably mostly due to residual religious fundamentalism from Elizabethan times. As a result, much of our awareness (and efficient use of) human diversity has been lost in a sea of dogma; unbending "shoulds" and "oughts" often hinder our ability to simply accept "what is".

In societies dominated by Christianity, Judaism and Islam, crossing gender boundaries has generally been considered "sinful" and "unnatural", based on selective use of religious texts to justify discriminatory attitudes. For example, it is unclear to the author why we (thankfully) do not stone women to death for adultery today, even though the Bible exhorts us to do this.

This begs the question, how did those "conservative" attitudes come about in the first place?

Initially, hostility towards queer people was no doubt due to their lesser ability to breed prolifically than their "normal" peers. Certainly, in some tribal / traditional societies (such as Aborigines living in outback Australia in pre-settlement days) it was impossible for queer people to do anything but take on the standard heterosexual role as best they could.

Instinctually, this approach is based on the "populate or perish" principle. Its manifestation today now appears under the banner of "family values", but in essence it is the same thing.

Once the taboo was established, another layer of complexity was added to "queer phobia". A number of indigenous cultures condone same-sex relations in youth as preparation for opposite-sex relations in adulthood. More recently, the Greek Empire famously took this approach (and took it beyond youth as well). In modern times homosexual activity between individuals who identify as heterosexual is commonplace in single sex boarding schools, jails, and other arenas where opposite-sex opportunities are artificially limited.

The above indicates that people generally have a greater capacity to respond sexually to the attentions of either gender than they care to admit, but refuse to act on those feelings or desires to avoid stigmatization.

Sexuality and identity politics

In terms of sexual identity, modern people tend to polarize into two major camps - straights and gays. Visible bisexuals are but a very small sub-group. So the two main camps consist of those who fear the culturally-transmitted taboos and those who see themselves as outsiders, a least in a sexual sense.

Therefore our sexuality tends not to be (although it can be) not just what we do but who we are. That is, our sexuality becomes our identity, at least in part, and is not necessarily related to our true activities or desires.

This is the reason why so many gay people are as vehement in denying the possibility of bisexuality in themselves as heterosexuals. If we were truly honest, or if our sexual responses were scientifically measured, those with either an absolute sexual preference or no preference whatsoever would be the minority. Most of us would be found to be capable - in varying degrees, of course - of responding to the attentions of either sex.

As a result, there is a tendency for those with an especially deep fear of sexuality taboos (that is, phobic) to attack those who manifest what they fear within themselves to project their own self-loathing onto others.

This projection is most likely a major factor behind avid homophobia, with a study conducted at the University of Georgia showing that a far higher percentage of the males who declared themselves homophobic displayed measurable arousal when viewing homo erotica than non-homophobic males. While those who conducted the test did not claim it to be conclusive proof, the results are not only compelling, but they also conform to intuitive and anecdotal observation.

Commonsense would indicate that those who are strongly heterosexually-inclined will "prove" their normality by simply acting out on their desires -enjoying opposite sex relations - and will have little or no interest in the activities of those who transgress sexuality norms. By contrast, people who are insecure in their sexuality are more likely to have a strong interest in attacking queer people so as to shore up their heterosexual credibility.

This vague awareness of our innate bisexuality is also most likely at the core of the homophobic fear that "our children may be corrupted" if they were to be provided with sexual diversity concepts in sex education classes. The fact is that children (or adults for that matter) are only likely to be drawn to things which they find attractive. If our sexuality is so clear-cut, why would raising awareness of sexual and gender diversity in sex education classes considered to be so threatening?

Homosexuality is discussed in this context, not because transsexuality and homosexuality are the same (although they are related in some ways), but to illustrate how "queerness" per se can be influenced by cultural taboos, causing some people to shape themselves in ways contrary to their own natures for the sake of an outwardly peaceful life.

There is little doubt that fear of stigma - with associated denial - causes many individuals to come out as gay or transsexual later in life. Stigma fear also explains why so many M2F transsexuals who had formerly identified as heterosexual form relationships with men during and after transition.

Gender identity

John Money, a psychologist at the John Hopkins Medical Center, attempted to prove that gender identity was simply a matter of upbringing. However, his attempt to prove this hypthesis on a male infant (of the infamous John/Joan) case, whose penis had been damaged by a botched circumscision proved disastrous. During his teens the boy was extremely disturbed and reverted to the male role - the role which aligned with his gender identity. On the surface this boy's experience was analogous to those of transsexuals.

Of course, this case (and those of other infants who have been reassigned) was an extreme one, since the boy had a mostly male physiology to contend with as well as a male psychology. But what is gender identity?

Generally speaking, gender identity is simply a psychological response to a person's physicality and psychology. It is the sense of identifying with those with similar characteristics and seeing those of the opposite sex as "other".

With transsexuals, the matter is less simple because they find that they share certain characteristics with either gender. For example, M2Fs will share a penis and upbringing with other boys, and often some interests, but will find that they share some physical characteristics such as petiteness, prettiness and softness (and later, sexuality in many cases) with girls, perhaps along with some interests and preferred communication style. This can lead to feelings of "otherness" with almost everyone else.

In addition, denial and internalized homophobia can also play a part in this dynamic, resulting in them spending some time experimenting with roles before deciding for certain on their gender identification.

Patriarchy and the devaluation of femininity

History is littered with examples of innocent people being executed, beaten, incarcerated, exiled and ostracized, their only "crime" being their intrinsic difference to the norm. The burning of witches is perhaps the best-known example of this persecution.

Sadly, gender transgressors have often paid for their natural variation from the norm with their lives. Highly masculine women have long been forced to suppress their natures or to masquerade as men, for example, Hatshepsut, an ancient Egyptian queen needed to dress as a man and wear a false beard in order to establish her right to rule. Others probably ended up as outcasts and criminals, or living in subterfuge.

Feminine males too were considered to be freaks and cast from the mainstream, often falling into prostitution to survive. Early death was a common fate for gender transgressors. In parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa the official persecution, and even execution, of queer people continues unabated.

Even in modern Western society this abuse still occurs, albeit more subtly. The continued dominance of patriarchy in contemporary gender politics means that feminine traits are still widely considered to be inferior to masculine attributes. Teachers' and nurses' wage scales (and those of other caring professions) and the huge disparity between the sexes in politics and boardrooms are clear indications that we remain patriarchal in thought and deed to this day in modern western society.

The women's liberation movement cannot be seen as having succeeded in achieving true equality until there are as many female senior figures as there are males. In such an egalitarian environment, the human lessons learnt in child-bearing and rearing would be seen as sufficient life lessons to offsett the time lost from work while concentrating on parenting. Needless to say, such a non-materialistic age appears so far off that it sounds like a pipe dream.

This devaluation of, and hostility towards, "the feminine" is clearly a major factor in the continued violence perpetrated against both women and gay men, especially those who are effeminate.

It also means that women who are masculine by nature - while still experiencing marginalization and devaluation - tend to fare a little better in regard to societal attitudes than do feminine males.

This dynamic plays out most dramatically in our schools, where feminine males are often abused fearfully. Common sense suggests that this is the reason why there are more male-to-female sex changes than female-to-male.

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