|Removing Transsexuality from the Transgender Umbrella|
|Opinion - Guest Columns|
|Wednesday, 18 April 2012 08:00|
A necessary action to improve the dialogue between Medical and Social Science ScholarsErie, PA, USA. In the fall of 2010 I began work on my Masters Thesis (which examined the life experiences of transsexual teenagers and young adults compared to the life experiences of other queer youth).
My research found disconnects between the use of the terms transsexual and transgender in the scholarly and academic literature vs my own understanding of the terms (based on a decade of living with a group that includes transsexual women in upstate New York). [N1]
My observation was that transsexual individuals were a separate group of people who believed that they had been born with the wrong biological sex. These women would undergo hormone replacement therapy, have their Adam’s apple shaved, have facial surgery to give them a more feminine appearance, and finally undergo sex reassignment surgery. After this process was complete the person would often no longer identify as a transsexual; instead they would identify with their new sex or say they were a “person of trans history”. [N2]
Transgender individuals that I had met more often identified as third gender or would say they were men who lived as women; however, they wanted access to women’s restrooms and locker rooms. While some would have breast augmentation or electrolysis to remove facial hair they would never consider becoming anatomic women because they still enjoyed being anatomic men.
My research was looking at specific problems experienced by young people transitioning between sexes: changing one’s name and birth certificate to reflect their new sex, and having their SSI information changed to match the new name and sex.
Frankly, I was shocked to find that in the social science literature transsexual individuals were put under the umbrella term of transgender, a term which also includes: cross dressers, transvestites, androgynous, third gender, and other non-gender conforming individuals. [N3]
When I examined the medical literature, such as the suggested revisions to the DSM-5, I found that the two groups were defined separately.
By denying separate identity to transsexual individuals and people of transsexual history, scholars and academics are in essence denying their specific psychopathology, medical and social service needs, ignoring the different types of prejudice and oppression they endure, and how they negotiate the world around them. I suggest in this article that
Many transgender activists support the use of transgender as an umbrella term for all gender non-conforming individuals. They claim it is easier for activists to organize around this term for people who do not fit into the categories of Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual. In this way their concerns and experiences can be recognized as unique in greater the LGB community. [N6] However, umbrella terms which include groups with vastly different needs and identities can be more limiting than separate terms because the larger group identity can mask or destroy the identity of the smaller group; this masking of identity can cause problems with public understanding of the smaller group.
Most transsexual women, and women of history, feel that the use of transgender as an umbrella term is detrimental to their quest for medical and social acknowledgement and equal protection. According to Cathryn Platine (well known activist, writer, and woman of history), in the early 1990’s the general population had accepted and was sympathetic to transsexual individuals who felt they were born in the wrong body. [N7]
Conservative figure Pat Robertson gave his approval of transsexual individuals seeking medical correction, saying on the 700 Club,
When transgender activists began claiming that surgical correction was not necessary
they moved public understanding out of a medical context to include what they called non-op transsexual(s), those individuals who only needed to change their social presentation and not correct their bodies. According to Platine,
So by re-writing in the public mind the definition of transsexual to include a range of other sexual and gender identities, transgender activists had actually reversed many of the gains and protections that transsexual activists had achieved. This wrongly moved transsexuality from being a medical condition to being considered part of a broad range of fetishistic behaviors that were typically denigrated in the mainstream.
I believe that to correct this misinformation which has entered into the public discourse, and in light of advances in the medical understanding of both groups, that the academic and scholarly understanding of transsexual and transgender identities needs to be brought in line with the medical definition and criteria outlined in the revised DSM-5.
By bringing the social science literature up to date with current medical knowledge scholars and researchers will be able to study and address each group based on the medical and societal context in which they exist. Only when both medical and social science researchers have the same language to define each group can new and more relevant research be done to address the medical and societal needs of both groups.
Notes[N1] Note: this term can be spelled as either transsexual or transexual. The author prefers to use the transsexual spelling.
[N2] This is a common way some post-operative transsexual individuals identify themselves; another term often used by post-operative women is a woman of history. After sex reassignment surgery they often no longer feel that they are transsexual because transition is finished and they are in their correct anatomical form.
[N3] Beth Rankin, Transexual vs. Transgender: Explaining the Intricacies, Fusion Magazine, Spring 2004. Aaccessed March 27, 2012.
[N4] American Psychiatric Association, P 01 Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents or Adults, DSM-5 Development, accessed March 28, 2012.
[N5] American Psychiatric Association, U 06 Transvestic Disorder, DSM-5 Development, accessed March 28, 2012.
[N6] Julia Serano, A Transsexual Versus Transgender Intervention, Whipping Girl, entry posted September 8, 2011, accessed March 27, 2012).
[N7] Cathryn Platine, email message to the author, March 29, 2012.
[N8] The Fatwa was issued by Ayatollah Khomeini during the 1979 Islamic revolution, authorizing sex change operations for "diagnosed transsexuals”. It is interesting to note that while homosexual relationships can carry a death sentence in Iran there are more sex change operations performed in Iran than any other country in the world except Thailand.
[N9] Pat Robertson, 700 Club, air date: October 5, 1999.
Bibliography (Citations Sourced From Notes)700 Club. Pat Robertson. Air date: October 5, 1999.
P 01 Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents or Adults. American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Proposed Revisions. Updated May 4, 2011; accessed March 28, 2012.
U 06 Transvestic Disorder. American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5 Proposed Revisions. Updated October 14, 2010; accessed March 28, 2012.
Email correspondence with the author. Rev. Cathryn Platine. March 29, 2012.
A Transsexual Versus Transgender Intervention. Julia Serano. Blog: Whipping Girl. September 8, 2011; accessed March 27, 2012.
Transexual vs. Transgender: Explaining the Intricacies. Beth Rankin. (Photos by Samara Peddle) Fusion Magazine. Spring 2004; accessed March 27, 2012. http://fusion.kent.edu/archives/spring04/trans/trans.html
SourceThis article is adapted and extended from earlier versions of Removing Transsexuality from the Transgender Umbrella: A necessary action to improve the dialogue between Medical and Social Science Scholars by Francesca Tronetti, including concurrent publication on the blog Riding the Second Wave.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 08:35|