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Transsexualism at Sixty, Part I (2013)

Transsexualism at Sixty, Part I (2013)

©2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (2013, 4 February.). Transsexualism at Sixty: Part I. TG Forum.

My January column for TG Forum reprinted my 1993 Chrysalis article, Transsexualism at Forty.




Transsexualism at Sixty

Part I

By Dallas Denny


Twenty years ago I took a look at transsexualism on its fortieth birthday, as arbitrarily determined by Christine Jorgensen’s return from Denmark. News of her sex reassignment resulted in international headlines in December, 1952, knocking news of the first hydrogen bomb test from the front page of the New York Times. Take that, all you one-name celebrities!

Last month’s column was a reprint of my original Chrysalis article. This month I take a look at the first three of my twelve observations from the original paper to see whether they hold up two decades later.

Observation 1: Transsexualism is a Religious Experience

Twenty years ago I was less enlightened about the distinction between spirituality and religion. Today I would re-title this observation Transsexualism is a Spiritual Experience.

I wrote:

 Transsexualism is a burden, but in overcoming that burden, there can be great spiritual growth. Despite the pain their gender conflict causes in their lives, transsexual persons will tell you they feel a power, a specialness, because of the way they are, and most will tell you they would not change, even if they could.

That holds true. Changing one’s gender is a profound experience and awakens all sorts of inner feelingsjust ask any transsexual. When one lets go of fright and self-loathing, it can be and often results in a profound spiritual experience.

For many years I wished I wasn’t transsexual, but now, on the other side of the wormhole, I’m glad I was born this way. My transsexualism caused no end of anguish and doubt, and for many years, but it transformed me in more than a physical way. I wouldn’t mentally, emotionally, or spiritually be the person I am today had I been born nontranssexual. I’m not quite sure just who I would otherwise have been, but I suspect I’d be less wise, less kind, and less accomplished. So yay for my transsexualism! It was ultimate good for me and good to me, and I’m sure I’m not the only transsexual who feels that way.

Observation 2: Transsexualism Gives Western Culture a Mental Template for a Third Gender

I wrote:

In many tribal and Eastern cultures, there were and are institutionalized roles for transgendered people. For instance, many American Indian tribes had berdache, genetic males who functioned as women in the tribe. Some societies had three genders, and some more than three. Those who did not fit into traditional male and female roles had a choice of (or were sometimes assigned to) one of the other genders.

With the possible exception of the castrati of medieval Europe, such social roles have been lacking in Western society. It was Christine Jorgensen, stepping off that airplane and into history, who provided the template we now know as transsexualism. Her case catapulted the idea of sex change into Western consciousness. Transsexual people now had a name for themselves, as well as a process (sex change), and began to come forward, galvanizing the medical and psychological communities into action and forming a new category of human beings who would increasingly demand place.

As much as some transsexuals hate it, Christine Jorgensen’s sex reassignment made just about everyone on the planet look at gender in a new way. The category transsexual was born, and, like it or not, it has evolved as an alternative to the male-female gender binary. However much we might wish for others to consider us unambiguously the member of our new genders, most don’t, and they reveal this in lots of waysnot the least of which is the unintentional and sometimes intentional use of the wrong pronouns. Twenty years has done nothing to change this.

On the other hand, when I wrote Transsexualism at Forty, the term transgender had not come into common usage. Today, of course, the term is ubiquitousand certainly this umbrella term, which includes all people with gender identities or behavior that vary from the male and female norm more perfectly illustrates my point of twenty years ago. While transsexualism does indeed, in the minds of most people, constitute a not-quite-male, not-quite-female identity, today the many other transgender identities better illustrate my point.

Observation 3: Transsexualism Is Evolving into an Established Social Role in Western Society

I wrote:

Transsexualism has become integrated into Western thought and society, and there is every indication that it is here to stay. It has become a commonly accepted diagnostic category and condition of human existence.

When I wrote Transsexualism at Forty, the category transgender had not yet come into widespread use; in fact, in the community’s many newsletters, I and others were in hot discussion abut terminology. By 1993 consensus had emerged. The speed with which it became established was astounding.

With its myriad of identities and ways of constructing and deconstructing gender, the term transgender quickly supplanted transsexualism as an identity term for gender-variant people off all kinds (including transsexuals) and soon supplanted transsexualism as the template for a third gender. This has led to increased understanding and acceptance of all transgressively gendered people, but today many and perhaps most people don’t understand the distinction between transgendered and transsexual people. This has resulted in a crisis for the category transsexual; many people, including quite a few transsexuals, use the terms interchangeably, or use transgender exclusivelyand many people who twenty years ago would have described themselves as transsexual now call themselves transgendered or transgenders.

While many people (including myself) consider transgender an umbrella term that covers all gender-variant peoples, transsexualism is limited to those who change their bodies and social roles, or wish to. We transsexuals are thrown into the mixing pot, our identities confabulated with those who don’t wish to change their sex, and the very term that differentiates us has more or less vanished.

This is a reason for the existence of transsexual separatists, who don’t consider themselves transgendered, and who feel (with some justification) they’ve been co-opted by the larger mass of crossdressers, drag queens and kings, gender queers, questioners, and androgynes.

I consider myself transgendered (i.e., transgressively gendered), but my primary identity is transsexual. I am a transsexual woman, a woman of transsexual experience, and there are characteristics that separate me from nontranssexual transgendered people. My experiences have been different from those who have not changed their sex, and I have medical and social needs nontranssexual transgendered people don’t have. I’m dependent upon female hormones (in small doses, since I’m post-op), and I require medical supervision because I take them. I require follow-up for my vaginoplasty (occasional exams). I have concerns about medical insurance. Moreover, I have only one social identity, that of a female; I can’t retreat into my birth role when under duress or threat (not that I would ever want to). My transsexualism isn’t intermittent or subject to capricious changes of identity or mind. I am who I am and will be until I die. I don’t play with gender, don’t experiment with it (although I admire those who do).

I’m thrilled the term transgender has become common (and I was one of the many transsexuals who helped to bring that about), but I regret the cost has been the near-loss of the term that best describes me.

In conclusion, transsexuals still provide an alternative for the gender binary, but now as part of a larger community. Transsexuals are indeed here to stay, but transsexualism just might not be.

Next month: Part II