Trans sexualization; Trans medicalizationTrans Progressive Thursday, May 10th, 2012
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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