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Trans sexualization; Trans medicalization

Commentary: Trans Progressive

Famed transsexual, Christine Jorgensen embraced the term transgender in an attempt to distance herself from the sexualization of her life. From Oct. 16, 1979 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press’ article Christine Recalls Life As Boy From The Bronx:

“If you understand trans-genders,” she says, (the word she prefers to transsexuals), “then you understand that gender doesn’t have to do with bed partners, it has to do with identity.”

December 18, 1985, she went further by telling the Regina Leader Post:

“I am a transgender because gender refers to who you are as a human.”

There is a divide among the population of transsexual, transgender and gender nonconforming people over what terminology should be used for trans people; and the divide speaks to why trans civil rights are a much more difficult thing to achieve than one would think it would be. We can’t seem to unite behind a community label in a struggle for ordinary equality.

The word trans people united behind in the 1990s and early 2000s was transgender. There’s even a Transgender Pride flag.

The term transgender, in the diversity model of the 1990s and 2000s, was cast as an umbrella term. Those who fell under the umbrella included transsexual people, crossdressers and genderqueer people. Many also included drag performers and intersex people under the umbrella.

However, the work for trans people’s civil rights has almost exclusively been for the benefit of transsexuals – those who live 24/7 as a member of the binary sex that isn’t usually associated with the genitalia they were born with. This is because visibly trans people are most often the focus of antitrans discrimination. And, lawsuits over trans employment discrimination in the past 20-years have all but once dealt with transsexual people being discriminated against.

The political decision of trans activists in the 1990s to unite behind the umbrella term transgender was related to why Christine Jorgensen preferred the term transgender: they perceived transgender as taking the “sex” out of “transsexual” – an effort to desexualize the sexualized perception of transsexual people.

Sexualized perceptions of trans women are persistent. Back in 2009, the Washington, D.C. Examiner reported:

“[C]ombined traffic from the top 10 adult sites and top 10 dating sites catering exclusively to trans-loving males has risen 350 percent. While some crossover invariably exists, heterosexual male visitors to these 20 Web sites now top 188 million annually. And this figure doesn’t include traffic counts from the additional 300+ transsexual sites already in existence or from new ones being created by mainstream giants like Hustler.”

There are a significant number of transsexual women, as well as women who no longer consider themselves transsexual, identifying themselves with terms such as “women of transsexual history” who don’t want to be associated with the term transgender. They see themselves as not being anything like crossdressers and drag queens, and they see evil in how many genderqueer and transgender identified people want to tear apart the gender binary. These transsexual women instead perceive themselves to be women with a medical condition that requires medical treatment, and that the focus should be on medically treating them. They embrace transsexual as a medicalizing term.

Rejection of the sexualization of transsexual people was what led in part to the embracing of the term transgender by trans women of past years. A re-embracing of the term transsexual by a number of trans women appears to be an embracing of the medicalization of trans people.

Somehow, I’d like to see a noncontroversial trans-related term that rejects both sexualization and medicalization of my peers and my life experience, and embraces my peers and me as whole beings. I’m not holding my breath.



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Posted by on May 10, 2012. Filed under Trans Progressive. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

18 Comments for “Trans sexualization; Trans medicalization”

  1. Christine Jorgensen was pretty much irrelevant to most of us who came out in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
    Many of us never enbraced the word transgender as it used to apply only to people who didn’t get SRS.
    We were transsexual and proud of how that term distinguished us from the drag queens.
    It meant we were taking steps to avoid the ghetto life centered on sex work and drag bars.
    My big idol was April Ashley and the transsexuals who came out circa 1960s not the author of the totally sexless/expurgated piece of fiction that came out in 1967.
    Transsexualism is about changing sex. It isn’t all that much about gender, transsexuals have all different sorts of gender presentation.
    I had a sex change operation because I wanted to be able to have vaginal sex.

  2. The fact that Christine Jorgensen might, or might not, have used the term “transgender” in 1979 has nothing to do with the fact that those of us who actually have changed our sex, and who actually are female, really want nothing to do with those who think that they can become women by simply saying “I am now a woman…”

  3. Yes, some do prefer the term “transgender” over “transsexual” because it does not include the word “sex” and they want to distance themselves from the perceived sexualization. However, that sexualization isn’t caused by the terminology… it is caused by the simple fact that men tend to sexualize women… and that’s something I don’t foresee ending anytime soon.

  4. The problem with the umbrella politics is that it reduces all to an (=) equals standing.  Such as transsexual are “just like gay” in the eyes of Joe/Jane public, the term transvestite morphs into transgender and some of rhetoric I’m reading about transsexual separatism is atrocious.  I’m a strait heterosexual woman who doesn’t hyphenate her name, even though I have a history of medically changing my sex.   No one has a right to cross-examine my identity or throw me under an umbrella term or to barnacle my the legitimacy; my medical condition with a social construct like transgender.   I had a sex change to have a normal full life as a woman, which means enjoying vaginal sex as a woman.    

    I WANT to be sexual[ized by] with men, I want to be desired by THEM; I do the same to men.  

    Autumn get off the self-serving purity boat–its disengenous.

  5. There are several problems with the transgender label. First, it suggest that people are changing their gender, which is simply impossible because your gender is imprinted in your brain. Changing your sex is possible, and is what I am doing, which is why I prefer the term transsexual over transgender.

    But there is even a bigger problem with this label. Many people who embrace the transgender label are fighting against the gender binary, the division of the world in men and women. But the irony of the transgender label is that it introduces an even more restrictive binary, that between transgendered and cisgendered people. The gap between men and women can be crossed (sort of), but the one between transgendered and cisgendered people can’t. For me, this is the main reason to reject the transgender label. I am not that different from cisgendered people, I am very gender conforming, and definitely don’t want to be put in separate box for political reasons. Because let’s face it, transsexuality *is* a medical issue, it’s not a political identity.

    I also don’t have a problem with the term ‘sex’ in transsexual. There are huge differences between the male and female sexuality, and for me this played an important role in realizing that there is a mismatch between my brain and my body. This is also why I know that I need SRS, my sexuality is simply incompatible with my body. I believe this mismatch between your sexuality and your body is what defines transsexual people and separates them from people who don’t need SRS, which is one more reason why I think the term ‘transsexual’ is a good fit.

  6. Autumn, just what do you think it is those men who visit those porn sites are looking for? Chicks with d*cks. Not post transsexuals. Transsexualism IS a medical condition. What is it you are trying to do, here? Do you realize how offensive this article is to transsexuals who want and need to have a sex change? What you are doing is trying to delegitimize our need for surgery because you don’t want that surgery.

    • Sharon Van Nest

      Yes, Dana she knows it is offensive. That is the sole intention of such writing. No transgender can comprehend what it is to be a person born with trassexuality and therefore they must target that which they cannot understand. Remember we do the one thing they cannot do. We move on in life and do not have to be out in the face of others. Our motivation is not the same, our needs are not the same, our paths are deeply different. There is no real correlation exept in the minds of the transvestites aka transgenders.

  7. Miz Know It All

    Sigh… OK, see if you can follow along this time Autumn, or are you going to delete this too becase I poked holes in your argument!

    As the woman who coined the term you negatively refer to, “Woman of History.” I figured I might as well let you in on the why I created it! It’s because every time you and some other yo-yo stick a qualifier on the front of woman to describe us, it is in effect a negation of us as… are you with me, cause this is the tricky part… “just a woman!” You, just a woman as in breasts, vagina, denigrated by men, thought to not contain a brain and makes eighty some cents for ever dollar a man makes while doing twice the work and getting told what is what and how little she knows my penis owners! Yeah one of those! See! I knew you could do it!

    A trans-woman, both linguistically and from a conceptual stance is not and cannot ever be a woman! Simply because of the term woman is front loading by the modifier it means that she he they zir hir must, got it. MUST be something else other than a woman. Which despite your intense desire to make us thing otherwise, is exactly what you want it to mean!

    A Drag Queen is NOT a woman
    A Transvestite is NOT a woman
    A Transgender is NOT a woman
    A Non Op, is NOT a woman
    Even a Pre-Op is NOT a woman, (but with work she will be)

    Only a woman is a woman! Got it?

    Oh, and btw, that sexualization you so blithely refer to? It is the very reason we want nothing to do with all those others you list for whom this is a sexual/performative thing!

  8. Autumn,

    I’m not entirely sure how you can sidestep a certain degree of medicalization of the terms we use to identify ourselves.

    No matter how I look at it, a transsexual needs a certain level of medical intervention in order to achieve their goals. No doctor that is reasonably ethical is going to provide treatment for something that they can’t define and quantify – there are just way too many ethical and legal issues that they would have to face in the absence of meaningful language.

    There is a huge range of diversity among transsexuals, and not all require surgical intervention. But even hormones need to be monitored carefully for side effects and so on, so it seems to me that there will always be a degree of medical adoption of whatever language the transsexual community adopts to describe itself.

    While I can appreciate the desire for ‘just give me the hormones/surgery/whatever’, there are legitimate considerations that any treatment provider is obliged to give thought to.

    Yes, an adult has every right to make the decision to transition. Similarly, every doctor that person interacts with has to make a similar decision around whether or not to provide treatment.

    Quite frankly, I don’t feel like putting more ammunition in the hands of those who oppose our very existence by making it easier for people like Walt Heyer to fsck up their lives by attempting to transition when they aren’t even candidates for it.

    If that means I have to live with a structure that involves some medicalization, so be it.

  9. My condition *was* medical. It wasn’t “medicalized.” I was born with a condition that required medical treatment. I got that treatment. It worked very, very well!

    If your own experience is that your condition is not a medical one, great. That’s your experience. It’s not mine. Don’t try to impose your experience on me.

  10. Phillip Bianco

    I wish the Transgender movement and activisim the best of success. I can identify during my youth when I was a young artist I explored Modleing,so, I saw it all as an art form,so, I do understand through actual experience. Visit me at my Facebook at phillipjosephbianco,take care,bye,phillip.

  11. I am a transgender woman who came out in 2005 at age fifty-six. I never knew I was trans until I received some counseling when I was questioning. All my life I felt that I was different. It was quite a relief and liberating when I did come out. I don’t have the desire to have GRS but I haven’t closed the door either. Things could change.

  12. PainfulReality

    Again! A totally ignorant, self-declared psycho/socially impaired f**kwit is ‘mansplaing’ to us girls how it is. What unmitigated arrogance, yet sadly typical of a weak inadeqequate man attempting to bully women.

  13. Transgender. Pre-ops are women. Woman is a gender. I don’t want to be transgendered, but I’m never going to be using the word transsexual in the workplace- or anywhere else. Why? Because work doesn’t need to talk about my sex, at all, ever. When I am far enough along that I need to change restrooms, and be official, we will talk about my gender- my outward presentation. They do not ever need to know what organs I have, to have this discussion.

    Genderqueer is another option, and important, but to me more of an issue that should sort out as the binary becomes permeable. Once it’s accepted that gender is not dictated by birth, it can become an expression issue.

    What I’ve got in my pants is my own damn business. I should have a choice about whether I can wear pants or a dress to work.

    • “Genderqueer is another option, and important, but to me more of an issue that should sort out as the binary becomes permeable. Once it’s accepted that gender is not dictated by birth, it can become an expression issue.

      What I’ve got in my pants is my own damn business. I should have a choice about whether I can wear pants or a dress to work.”

      In other words, you want to be a man who wants to play dress up without repercussions by your employer. Fine. But do not dare to do like Sandeen and the other f*ckwits who insist on being little more than men in a dress who want to tell women what they are or to insist on access to our private or protected spaces.

      And to think that the tee-gee crowds wonder why we don’t want them latched on to the GLB coat-tails and why we want to have spaces of our own…

  14. what can i say?

    i had sex change surgery, because i had the wrong sex organs. its all about having the right body, and having sex the right way round. i get a massive kick from watching myself be penetrated, because its such a relief to be having he right kind of sex after years of doing it wrong.

    if sex was irrelevant – then i’d not have needed surgery. i could have worn a frock, played at being a woman and had sex like a guy, no worries. Just like most of the other TG folk out there. i could have had hormones, maybe, if i was into looking femme, or just worn girly clothes, enjoyed the sexual thrill of nylons againat my skin and enjoyed sex as a guy.

    thing is, sex IS relevant. its pretty much what it is all about. why have surgery to remove male sex organs and construct a partly functional vagina if it is not the central issue? Maybe its only something that someone who is truly born transsexual can understand, and maybe that is why the TG folk seem incapable of understanding us?

    maybe TG folk should STFU and stop telling TS folk what they are?

    Transsexualism is a medial issue, and requires surgery, and is about SEX. deal.

  15. PainfulReality

    Ri i i i i i i g t, Sisu. You are any sex/gender you say you are and the rest of us had better damn well respect that! Or…. we are all bigoted, transphobic haters!

    Don’t y’all get tired of that same ol’ tranny BS?

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