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Transgender: The Issues (Presentation at Outgiving Conference) (1999)

Transgender: The Issues (Presentation at Outgiving Conference) (1999)

©1999, 2013 by Jessica Xavier and Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1999, 8 May). Transgender: The issues. Presentation at Outgiving 1999, Aspen, CO, 7-9 May, 1999.






Outgiving is an annual conference for large donors to LGBT causes. I appeared because Jessica Xavier, who had been invited to attend, was unable to go. I don’t remember how much we collaborated on the presentation, but I suspect many of the ideas are hers.

I love Aspen and was thrilled to be able to spend a couple of days there.

The following was taken from slides or overheads I showed the audience. I was interested in educating them quickly and broadly about transgender issues and in explaining why our issues are their issues.


Transgender: The Issues

By Dallas Denny


Major Points

  1. Transgender is not a new phenomenon.
  2. Transgender theory and terminology has been based on a flawed medical model which presumes gender variability is pathological.
  3. Gender identity/expression and sexual orientation are not separate and distinct.
  4. New models are not yet fully in place.


1. Transgender is not a new phenomenon

  •  Paleolontological record rarely preserves evidence of same-sex attraction.
  •  In many prehistoric burials in which skeletons appear to be of one sex, grave goods are typical of the other sex.
  •  Transgender roles survive in societies on six continents.

SOURCE: Taylor,T. (1996). The prehistory of sex: Four million years of human sexual culture. New York: Bantam Books.

But why
Are they waiting? Isn’t it now high
time for them to try
The Phrygian fashion to make
the job complete…
Take a knife and lop off that
superfluous piece of meat?

(Juvenal, translated by Creekmore, 1963)

SOURCE: R. Green. (1998). Mythological, historical, and cross-cultural aspects of transsexualism. In D. Denny (Ed.), Current concepts in transgender identity, pp. 3-14. New York: Garland Publishers.

Pagan crossdressing rituals survive today in the ecclesiastical robes of the Catholic and other Christian churches.

SOURCE: Torjesen, K.J. (1996). Martyrs, ascetics, and gnostics: Cross-dressing early Christianity. In S.P. Ramet (Ed.), Gender reversals and gender cultures: Anthropological and historical perspectives, pp. 79-91. New York: Routledge.

There are accounts of more than 150 female soldiers passing as male in the U.S. Civil War.

SOURCE: Lowry, T.P. (1994). The story the soldiers wouldn’t tell: Sex in the Civil War. Stackpole Books.

2. Transgender theory and terminology has been based on a flawed medical model which presumes gender variability is pathological.

Old Terms: Heterosexual Crossdresser; Transsexual, Drag Queen, Female Impersonator
New Term: Transgender

  • Until recently, medical model kept transgendered people out of communication with one another.
  • Once transgendered people began to talk to one another, they discovered old models did not adequately describe them.
  • Feminist and other criticisms of transsexualism are based on obsolete medical model.


3. Gender identity/expression and sexual orientation are not separate and distinct.

  • Derogatory names for gay men and women are often based upon gender variance: Pansy, Sissy, Poofter, Dyke.
  • Until mid-century, the “model” lesbian was masculine in appearance and behavior, the “model” male homosexual was effeminate.
  •  Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness typifies this type of “mannish” lesbian.
  • The Well of Loneliness can today be considered a transgender novel.


SOURCE: Devor, H. (1997). More than manly women: How female-to-male transsexuals reject lesbian identities. In B. Bullough, V.Bullough, & J. Elias (Eds.), Gender blending, pp. 87-102.Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press.

  • Today, in the West, new models of gay masculinity and lesbian femininity have arisen. Nonetheless:
  • Most lesbians who are masculine in appearance and behavior do not identify as transgendered.
  • Most gay men who are feminine in appearance and behavior do not identify as transgendered.

Most non-Western cultures consider only those who are visibly gender-different to be gay or lesbian.

SOURCE: Kulick, D. (1998). Travesti: Sex, gender and culture among Brazilian transgendered prostitutes. Chicago: The University of Illinois Press.


  • Hardly anyone fits comfortably into rigid binary gender roles.
  • Gay men and lesbians are particularly likely to vary from these roles.
  • Laws and regulations which protect gay men and lesbians on the basic of their sexual orientation but not their gender identity leave them vulnerable to discrimination.
  • Protection on the basis of gender identity is essential to ensure nondiscrimination.
  • Many transgendered people self-identify as gay or lesbian.
  • Individuals with cross-gender expression are often publicly perceived to be gay or lesbian, even if they do not so identify.
  •  Individuals who are bashed or killed are often selected because they are visibly gender-variant; their assailants may make presumptions about who they sleep with, but they are responding to their behavior and appearance.
  •  Regardless of their sexual orientation, gender-variant people are at increased risk for assault, harassment, and discrimination.


4. New Models Are Not Yet Fully in Place

Transgender Model:

  • Moves beyond the binary
  • Does not pathologize
  • Provides a “big tent”
  • Transgender model does away with artificial distinctions between transgendered and gay and lesbian people.
  • Both gay and lesbian and transgendered people transgress gender norms:

1 In regard to sexual orientation.
2 In regard to dress and behavior.

  • Or both.
  • Those who transgress binary gender norms: Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, crossdressers, transsexuals, intersexuals.


Transgender Community

  • Shares the issues of the gay and lesbian community
  • In many ways 20 years behind G&L community
  • Is smaller, and has problems with growth
  • large percentage in closet
  • invisibility
  • many gender transgressive individuals do not and probably never will identify as transgendered
  • Lack of professional leadership
  • Funding difficulties


 Critical Needs of Transgender Community

  • Outreach and Education
  • Information and Referrals
  • Political Action and Advocacy
  • History and Theory
  • Professionalism
  • Liaison with Other Minority Communities


Organization soon to form: Gender Education & Advocacy