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Introduction to transgenderism, transsexualism, & gender identity

Part 1:
Conflicting quotations. What exactly is gender?
What is a transgender person?

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The term "LGBT" is an acronym for "Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals,
transgender persons/transsexuals. Sometimes, additional letters
are added, like "Q" for Queer or questioning, "I" for Intersexual.

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Two conflicting quotations:

  • "As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity." Barack Obama, 2010-JUN-01. 1

  • "This is a man -- and by the way he is a man; he's not a woman -- who is one of the leaders in crusading for so-called 'civil rights' based on gender-confused behavior. ... Obama is supporting ENDA -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- with a transsexual provision, meaning that if that version of the bill gets through and Obama signs it, we will have businesses being forced to accommodate gender-confused individuals in the name of civil rights." Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, discussing the appointment of Amanda Simpson to a post in the Commerce Department. 2

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What exactly is gender? How is it defined?

Most people believe that they live in a binary world as far gender is concerned. They divide the human race into two fixed genders determined at birth and unchanged through life: either female or male. Men and women are viewed very differently; they are expected to behave differently; many people feel that males and females have specific roles to play in marriage, within families, at work, within a faith group, etc.

But what exactly is gender? It seems that gender is a more complex phenomenon than most people realize.

A person's gender can be defined in at least three ways; there may be more that three:

  1. One's physical or birth-identified gender: how we are classified as either male or female at birth because of the design of our primary and secondary sexual characteristics.

  2. One's genetic gender as defined by the sex chromosomes in every cell in one's body. Most people have either a XY or XX pair of chromosomes; XY for males and XX for female.

  3. One's gender identity: The gender that a person knows themselves to be. This is not defined by one's physical appearance. It is not determined by one's DNA. It is a function of one's brain structure. Researchers are just beginning to discover the specific areas of the brain that determine gender identity. 3

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What is a transgender person and how many are there?

For the vast majority of adults -- in excess of 99.9% -- their physical gender, genetic gender and gender identity are the same. They are referred to as being "cisgendered."

That is, most people are either:

bullet Males. Their cells contain both an X and Y sex chromosome; since early childhood, they have been mentally and emotionally certain that they are males; and they posses a penis, testicles, etc. or they are:
bullet Females. Their cells contain two X sex chromosomes, they are firmly aware that they are female, and they possess ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus, vagina, etc.

People are quite unable to change their gender identity, even if they wanted to. They know that they are of a particular gender. They also know that it is quite impossible to change.

However, in rare cases, a mismatch happens.

One type of mismatch happens when a newborn's external genitalia and/or internal sex organs match neither the standard female or male design. They are referred to as intersexual.

A second type of mismatch is called gender dysphoria in the medical, transgender, and liberal religious communities. Their perceived gender -- their gender identity as an adult -- does not match their birth-identified or genetic gender. Religious and social conservatives s often refer to this mismatch as "gender confusion." The latter term implies the common conservative Christian belief that individuals experiencing gender dysphoria can be cured through therapy. They just need to see a therapist and get straightened up.

Transgender persons will often describe themselves as having a unshakable feeling of being a woman trapped in a man's body, or vice versa. Sometimes, they use a phrase like having a "female soul in a male body" or "female brain in a male body," or vice-versa. Others describe themselves as being of neither or both genders. They can become profoundly depressed. Their suicide rate is enormous when compared to the general population. It appears that all attempts at therapy, counseling, and/or prayer have, in practice, had a zero success rate at resolving the internal conflict of any transgender person. There is a widely held belief among transgender people that no transgender individual has ever been "cured" and become cisgendered.

It is a story of two kinds of conflicts:
bullet An internal, personal, body/mind conflict between a transgender person's appearance and what they emotionally and mentally know their gender to be.
bullet Among transsexuals, medical researchers, social and religious conservatives, religious liberals, secularists, and others about:

bullet What determines a person's actual gender: their sex chromosomes in each cell, the appearance of their genitals, their own perception of their gender, or some combination of the three?

bullet The cause(s) of transsexuality.

bullet Whether transsexuality can be "cured."

bullet How transsexuals should be treated in society in terms of guaranteed job security, protection from physical abuse, protection from discrimination, etc.

There is no universally accepted terminology. However, the term "transgender" is often used to refer to individuals who experience Gender Identity Disorder (a.k.a. GID, Gender Dysphoria, Disorder of Sexual Differentiation, or DSD). The term "transsexual" is often used to refer to transgender individuals who live as a member of their identified gender. Sometimes they undergo hormone therapy and perhaps gender reassignment surgery (GRS). These medications and procedures change their appearance so that they much more closely resemble the gender that they know themselves to be. Success rates of this path are very high, as long as proper treatment protocols are followed.

Jennifer Reitz of www.transsexual.org comments that gender dysphoria:

"... occurs in humans and in other animals, such as apes, monkeys, dogs, cats, rats, and mice, among those studied." 4

Unfortunately, much of the public is not well informed about gender identity and gender dysphoria. Many people tend to fear and reject those that they do not understand. When human sexuality is involved, rejection and animus motivate many people to actively discriminate against minorities.

Are transgender persons and transsexuals of a different gender than male or female?:

Until 2014-FEB, Facebook gave its members the choice of registering only as male or female. On FEB-13, it added about 50 additional options, like transgender, transsexual, gender fluid, etc. Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for Focus on the Family -- a fundamentalist Christian parachurch group, -- said:

"... here is the bottom line: It's impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves -- male and female. Those petitioning for the change [on Facebook] insist that there are an infinite number of genders, but just saying it doesn't make it so. That said, we have a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex." 5

Some commentators would probably argue that there are two errors in this statement:

  1. Facebook is not giving members an "infinite number" of choices. They consulted with their Network of Support -- a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations -- to offer an extensive list of gender identities that many people have used to describe themselves. They came up with 50 or 56 (sources differ), not an infinite number.

  2. The 50 or so options do not define new genders; they define new gender identities. Johnston seems to be confused about the difference:
    • In his second sentence, he talks about transgender persons creating "an infinite number of genders."

    • In his third sentence, he talks about transgender persons having a biological sex, but identifying themselves as being of "the opposite sex." That implies that there are two genders, Some were identified as female at birth but now identify themselves as male; others were identified as male at birth but now identify themselves as female.

Consider some of the 50 or so options that Facebook allows:

  • "Female to Male, or FTM:" A person who has transitioned or is transitioning from male to female. Only two genders are involved.

  • "Gender Fluid:" A person whose gender identity freely moves between/among genders. For most, only two genders are involved.

  • Male to Female, or MTF: A person who has transitioned or is transitioning from female to male. Only two genders are involved.

  • Non-binary: A person who identifies their gender identity as different from male and female. They may feel that they are both, neither, or a mixture of male and female. Again, they define themselves in terms of two genders.

  • Transmasculine: A person who was assigned a female identity at birth but who now identifies more male than female. Only two genders are involved.

  • etc.

In general, transgender persons and transsexuals do not create a new gender or genders. Rather most identify their gender identity in terms of two existing genders: male and female.

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Barack Obama, "A Proclamation..." White House, 2009-JUN-01, at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/
  2. Charlie Butts and Jody Brown, "Obama appoints transgender LGBT activist," OneNewsNow.com. 2010-JAN-07, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  3. Jessica Hamzelou, "Transsexual differences caught on brain scan," New Scientist, 2011-JAN, at: http://www.newscientist.com/
  4. Jennifer Reitz, "What transsexuality is," at: http://transsexual.org/
  5. Martha Mendoza, "New Gender Options for Facebook Users," ABC News, 2014-FEB-13, at: http://abcnews.go.com/

A movie:

bullet Tom Murray produced and directed a video concerning transsexuality. It is titled: "Almost Myself: Reflections on mending and transcending gender." See: http://www.almostmyself.com/

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Copyright © 2007 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-JUN-08
Latest update and review: 2014-FEB-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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