Saturday, May 13, 2006

Can We Box Gender?

In a Yahoo group dealing with transgender issues, a member who identified herself as transsexual indicated that putting on women’s clothing does not make one a t-girl, a transsexual, or a tyranny. She noted an increasing number of "cross dressers" claiming to be “transsexual” but states that the term “transsexual” should be limited to someone who is "transitioning from one anatomical sex to another"? She went on to note her difficulty in grasping the concept of a 6'3", 220 pound man in his wife's stockings while she is out of town calling himself a t-girl. She further indicated that she has lived and worked as a female and been on HRT for several years.

She indicates that there are two basic gender variations: a transsexual who identifies with the opposite anatomical sex, and honestly believes she was born to the incorrect gender and has taken steps to physically change to the correct gender and a cross dresser/transvestite who basically enjoys the clothing and feeling of the opposite anatomical sex, but does not wish to become that gender on a permanent basis. She did offer that there are varying degrees of each of these categories. She indicates that transsexuals are transgendered and cross dressers are not as they have not taken the steps to look like or become female in a physical sense.

Although my understanding is that the term “transgendered” is an umbrella term encompassing many of the gender variant categories, I told her that I think she makes a number of good points on this issue. I agree that in terms of categories, what she says fits perfectly with what my understanding is of these terms (with the exception of the term “transgendered” that I noted above). I provided her with some thoughts to ponder:

1. If a 6'3", 220 pound biological male perceives the self to be a woman trapped in the body of a male and plans at some point in time (if the details can be worked out so that the benefits outweigh the costs) to make physical changes to become physically female, what do you call this person?

2. If a petite and feminine appearing biological male, identifies as a male, is a stage performer, and made changes to become physically female only to further his career as a female illusionist, what do you call that person?

I am offering these two extremes to make the point that it is not only behavior that defines us but also our thinking and intentions that help us to self-define. It is my humble opinion that the concept of gender is multifaceted with each facet on its own continuum. Some of us just don't fit well into boxes.

Lotsa Hugs.



Amara said...

Hi Felicia honey,

This is a long runny arguement and one that still does seem to need to be addressed on occasion.
I agree with you insightful points. I think I see what she was trying to say, but your point about transsexuality being an internal world is correct.
If I was born this way (and I know I was) I still spent most of my life living as something else. So even at my most masculine, I was still a transsexual at my core, I was just not manifesting that reality.
So, the clothe make a women not.
Thanks for bringing up this truest of points, only we as individuals can ultimately label who we are.

Lauren Thomas said...


Now you have my attention, let me share my thoughts on the subject. First of all I am beginning to question just who is Transgender. Looking at a common definition of Transgender as being, “A person who identifies with both genders.” From my experience talking to Transsexuals, most seem not to identify with the male gender and as it is commonly stated, “Feel they are females trapped in a male body.” So, if Transsexuals don’t fit this definition then what group is left that does? Crossdressers who for the most part make up the majority of the TG community seem to be the only group that actually fit the common definition Transgender.

T-Girls, the Internet/Club shorten name for TG, which is the shorten version Transgender. So, a 6’3”, 220 pound man that dresses in his wife’s stockings while she is out of town at the least has a lingerie fetish, or since he refers to himself as being a T-Girl is probably a CD and therefore does qualify as a T-Girl. Personal note, in my experience I cannot recall ever hearing a Transsexual refer to themselves as being a T-Girl, and personally speaking as a CD I find the term T-Girl to be degrading, and when referring to myself prefer CD or TG.

As for who should be called Transsexual, well that is a matter of opinion. About six years ago I began meeting a lot of girls at a local club and was surprised by the number that claimed to be TS. My first thought was 6’ 3”, 200 pounds, you could never pass. Now that was tunnel vision on my part as I have come to understand that being Transsexual is not about size or appearance, but more about how your brain is wired. Anyway, I was skeptical of these claims, and for the most part I just assumed that these people liked using the term TS rather than just admitting that they were CD. Since that time at least one actually began transitioning and seemed to be doing well, however because they couldn’t pass as a female, began to reverse the process and now lives as a CD. On the other hand two CD’s I know have transitioned, and now live full-time, while a third has just begun their transition. So as far as what group you identify with I would say that it is totally up to the individual to say, because in the end they are really the only person that knows where they intend to go on this journey. This seems to fit your thoughts that our behavior, thinking, and intentions help to define who we are.

As for your thoughts to ponder well again this is my opinion but, it would seem to me that anyone regardless of their physical appearance who feels they are female and would take such steps to become a female then I would say they are Transsexual, and God Bless them. As for your second thought unless that person has stated otherwise, I would suspect that they are just what they claim to be, a female illusionist doing what they feel is necessary to enhance their career. This may seem to be a little extreme, but this is also show business and image does make a difference I would think.

I am totally in agreement with your last statement, “Some of us just don’t fit well into boxes.” As of late I have seriously been considering making some changes to my appearance, which have lead my close friends to comment that I sound like I’m a non-op TS. My response is to give them a smile and say whatever!

With Love and Respect,


Shari Williams said...

I am not so sure we need lables. Labels are generally devised by folks looking to "lump" people into a catgorey to ease their "understand" or "classification" of said individuals. Labels are also often self generated so one feels they belong to a certin group or classification. One thing we all agree on (I hope) is that our feeling and expereinces are as individual as we are. That being said, I am not sure we can take something so personal and individual and "box" it. Why don't we start with being ourselves and weork from there? Just an idea. Great topic BTW

Michele Angelique said...

RE: Can We Box Gender?

Hi Felicia,

Thanks for this interesting post! Labels are useful descriptors, however all too often they are used to "box" people in, thus "excluding" everyone else. When the debate is whether someone "qualifies" to make use of a label, generally it is coupled with personal judgement about whether that person is worthy enough, righteous enough, or in this case, female enough. I maintain the principle that I am in no position to judge other peoples' inner workings. If someone adopts a label for themself, who am I to say their self-assessment is not valid? In other words, if someone self-determines to be transgendered, it's not my business to "qualify" whether they are CD, TV, TS, male, female, red, green, or blue. I accept them at face value, in the manner in which they present. In the two examples you provided, asking who is entitled to be called "transgender", a butch TS woman or a femme gay male drag performer, my answer would be... ask them?

From my understanding, "transgender" is a descriptive term which could apply to anyone whose inner gender identity does not correspond to their physical biology. Altering ones' body is not manditory. Some people are happily transgendered on the inside, never even feeling the need to crossdress. Others may alter their bodies for cosmetic or other reasons, without ever feeling transgendered. Most transgender people are somewhere in-between these two extremes.

You note that the TS woman you were speaking to said "only TS's are transgendered". Ironically, I have heard the exact opposite from TS women... ie: "I'm not transgendered I have a physical birth defect". I think people who ardently debate the justified application of the label, are really just searching for their own place in the grand sceme of things... they dearly want a nice little cozy box to "fit into". Don't let their needs reflect on your own self-concept. If you believe yourself to be transgendered, then you are, period. You are what you believe, and that is your birthright.

The idea I appreciate far more, is as Shari suggested... "why don't we start with being ourselves and work from there?"

Lots of love sisters,

Stephanie Yates said...

While I agree that in individual relationships, labels become negative very quickly; simply punting on the terminology issue isn't an option. Language is powerfully symbolic--everyone knows a whole list of words that can start a fight in an instant--and if we don't participate in defining ourselves then others will do it for us. Transgendered began as a clinical term to describe individuals who were between transvestites (the term in use then for those who crossdressed occasionally) and transsexuals. Transgendered meant someone who was more or less full time but not pursuing sexual reassignment surgery. I fully expect transgendered to become a muddled term in popular usage due to the movie "Transamerica" (more discussed than viewed) and will mean pre-op transsexual to many.
I think it is essential that we debate, even if we do not resolve, an issue as basic as what words we use to communicate our identity to others. Saying "I'm just me" is great for a friend, but as a group it means forfeiting the right to determine your own identity to everyone else. As for me, I vote for ambigendered or ambigendrous to describe those of us (no matter how we look when we do it) who willingly move from one gender to the other with some degree of dexterity. I'm open for other suggestions, but I'd rather not be called pervert or some of the other epithets for which popular culture might readily opt.

Alexis Rene said...

I feel the dominating key to all of what this topic conveys is defining acceptance within on a personal level and abound as the public views us, Including our own little community...

Isn't acceptance of who we are individually more important than how others label us?

We must get past this on some levels noted above if the dream of being in the public landscape of things is to become reality in a positive light...

There are many in the transgender community who have been at this for years and do not know how to correlate their label to anything other than for simplisticity sake are making amends or seeking their own happiness.

Conversely it is the public at large that I would like to gain an understanding of trans-any-label to allow a safer passage and provide means for a pavement of sorts to become real and not just a dream anymore. Would we worry about proper labels & definition(s) if we were truly free to run about in the mainstream?

Love and Regards, Alexis

Felicia Conti said...

Dear Sisters,

I appreciate all of your valuable contributions and insights into this topic. I will respond to each of you individually as follows.

Dear Sumana,

I like the way you draw the connection between a person’s core and the reality for that person and the label that she is ultimately responsible for assigning herself.

Dear Lauren,

Your post really made me think….. “Is there a difference between a person who identifies as transgendered and one who identifies as bigendered or are they one and the same?” By definition, transgenderism involves a partial or full reversal of gender while a bigenderism involves existence in both genders. So “trans” involves change while “bi” implies duality.

To me it would seem that a person could be both transgendered and bigendered during those portions of life where these two processes intersect. And they may stay there or near there for most of their lives. Additionally, those living in a “bull’s-eye bigendered” space would be right in the middle of a continuum of those two processes (i.e., transgenderism and bigenderism). It would further seem that a person could continue to be transgendered but cease to be bigendered if that person went all the way and changed gender (either on a physical and/or psychological basis). This person would still be changed (i.e., trans) but not bi as she would no longer have a dual identity and/or physicality.

Further, it is my belief that cross-dressers are transgendered as you pointed out and could be in one of the following situations: 1) male to female or female to male transgendered, 2) bigendered transgendered, or 3) just plain male or female if their dressing is not a reflection of their a change in either their identity or physicality.

So we have three situations:
1. Cross-dressers who are transgendered,
2. People who started out as cross-dressers who are now transsexual, and
3. Cross-dressers who maintain their birth gender identities.

Thanks for providing the impetus for allowing me to express my ideas.

Dear Shari,

I agree that labels provide very thin descriptions of individuals and are often devoid of the substance that makes us all human. I think the primary value of a label is that it can be a shortcut way to communicate a complex set of ideas but always requires the fine tuning and explanations that a formula cannot possibly possess.

Dear Michele,

Thank you for your thoughtful post. I agree that using a label as a weapon to judge others is a nasty byproduct of labeling. I also agree that we get into real trouble when we judge a book by its cover as the cover often deceives us into making assumptions about a person that are just not valid. I think your description of transgenderism is a good one and I agree that it makes sense that we all self-identify rather than have others impose labels on us. And finally, I agree that putting a label on oneself can be like putting a nice little bow on a package that really makes it look nice but depending on what’s inside the package, may be covering something not so nice.

Dear Stephanie,

What your writing stimulated in me is the notion that some labels can be helpful if they help us to form bonds with those who society gives similar labels to and we use that bonding to fight the oppression that some of society is dishing out. In other words, if a group of rednecks in a pick-up truck were to were to drive by a group of the lovely women of GenderEvolve and someone were to tell them that some of us were not the women that we appeared to be - I am assuming they could not tell this just by looking either because they are too stupid or we are too convincing – LOL -, one of them might label us as “fricken queers”. So, what I say is OK, “fricken queers unite!!!”

Dear Alexis,

You make an incredible point that acceptance rather than labeling is much more helpful and beneficial to all of us in the long run.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts on this intriguing subject!

Lotsa Love.

Felicia Conti

Stephanie Yates said...

I too desire acceptance, it is a human universal. But how to achieve that? It seems that the essential first step in that process towards the ultimate goal of acceptance is to be able to explain to an person who, by definition does not understand and lacks empathy, the answer to their basic question "What are you?" We don't need mere labels, but we do need to define useful terms that encompass who we are and can evoke some degree of understanding from others. I don't pretend to have that terminology but I think it involves more than just a plea--or demand--that others "accept" us. If that's all we needed, TGs would have been accepted long ago and our little group wouldn't need to exist.
And I think what we're doing--debating politely and sharing ideas and perspectives--is exactly how we should go about our task. Thanks for letting me join in.