The title here is chosen for a reason.
It is not “What is Transgender?”. It is not “what is Transsexual”. It is not “who is Trans?”, although that will be talked about.
What is Trans*?
The first thing I am going to point out is that I don’t mean as a personal identity.
In this case, in this article, it does not matter what you identify as. You may identify as a fireplug for all that it matters to this article, and if something touches home here, then I’d like you to remember that I don’t care how you identify. Your personal identity extends no further than your skin – after that, it becomes a matter of description.
Your social affinity group, however, extends well beyond you, and your membership in such an affinity group is entirely your decision. Social affinity groups are what we think of as Political Identity, the sort used in discussions of identity politics. By their nature, social affinity groups are based on the most common elements of a bunch of people, not just a few, who share commonality – a social affinity group is a gestalt structure, that arises out of the shared commonality of the whole. If you don’t feel as if you are a part of a particular Affinity Group, then you are not.
In a manner that’s easier for many to get, your social affinity group, your political identity, is your clan. Clans often work together, as well, against a common enemy. The Queer Movement, or the LGBT, or whatever you want to call it, is a combined group of four clans, one of which is made up of people from all the other clans combined. But the letters – the Gay Men, the Lesbians, The Bisexuals, the Trans – they are all individual social affinity groups. And they are not as separate as we might like them to be.
All of which is important for me to note because I want it made very clear that while you may not identify as Trans, and you may not perceive yourself as such, you may very well be described as Trans, because I’m going to talk about what is Trans, in the hopes that maybe some folks will understand it.
Trans is not an abbreviation. It is not Latin or Greek. It is a term that has developed over the years, a neologism of sorts that tries rather hard to encompass a wide variety of people and persons who usually have very little in common. It’s the commonality that defines it, though, not the differences.
I’m going to point out that the Trans community is an amalgamation, a collection of very different social affinity groups – it’s like a much more complicated version of the LGB all unto itself.
And the one thing they all have in common is that they do not conform to societies expectations of how someone of their physiological sex assigned at birth is supposed to be in the culture they live in .
That’s what makes someone Trans. That is as simple as it gets.
People might wonder “where is gender in that?”. Well, what is Gender? Is it not the social expectations of behavior in the culture, which lead to the ways in which we identify someone else’s sex? I tend to think so — and although I’m not fond of her particular observations, Judith Butler did as well. Same place, different ways of getting there.
What makes someone a particular kind of trans is where it gets complicated, and where people tend to get confused, because we live in a culture that seeks to simplify things that are not simple, and in so doing, it overlooks the richness and wonder and beauty of the complex.
In order to handle that complexity, we have to get into a kind of definition of Transness, and if we are going to do that, then this is what we come up with:
Transness is the state of awareness or condition in society of someone who does not conform in a majority of aspects to the way their society or culture sees them as behaving and living in relation to their culture’s social construction of physiological sex, usually due to a variance between their physical sex and one or both of their social sex identity and/or internal sex identity.
It exists at the same level as awareness of self, and it is, itself, an awareness.
How complex is it? Let’s take a look real quick at just some of the different kinds of Trans folk there are out there. Some of these types don’t think of themselves as part of the Trans social affinity group, I will point out, but again, we are talking about description here, not their individual and personal identities.
Most folks are aware, of course, that Transsexuals are Trans*. They are, for good or bad, what people think of first and foremost when people talk about trans stuff — the one’s that “change their sex”. The ones that are “crazy” or that were “born into the wrong body”.
Transsexuals are only one small part of the whole, though. Indeed, by the best estimates of prevalence available today, transsexuals are, at best, about a fifth of the whole Trans group.
And within them we have a huge number of possibilities and philosophies and ideas and thoughts and they don’t get along very well. There are straight transsexuals and gay men transsexuals and lesbian transsexuals and bisexual transsexuals. And if you think it’s tough getting a date when you are a straight transsexual, try getting when when you are gay. Gay transsexuals, which, according to a metastudy done through the University of Minnesota that sampled over 1500 transsexuals, make up over a third of the total transsexual population, find that dating within the gay male population is about as fun and enjoyable as having a root canal without pain relief.
Because there’s a lot of bias there.
There are transsexuals who are very much a part of the binary — they are men or women. There are transsexuals who are not part of the binary — they don’t fit into one neat category. There are transsexuals who are never going to get the surgery down below, and there are those for whom it is the only thing that defines them as such.
Be careful when you ask some transsexuals who is and who isn’t a transsexual — as a post I made on the issue shows, there’s relatively little agreement there.
But what are the other kinds?
Back in July and August of this year, I had cause and reason to attempt a classification of such. A good classification takes into account more than just the target group, so here’s what I came up with based on some of the differences.
Cisfolk: Persons who conform to the social expectations of their culture to the sex they are assigned at birth. They generally do not change or seek to defy conventional social sex roles. This means they are, basically, the 90% of the population that isn’t one of the other groups.
Intersex folk: There are over 30,000 different types of IS items, each with only a small percentage themselves, but, in combination, make up about 2% of the total population. I should point out that some IS folk are assigned one sex, and then later change. This does, as a matter of description, make those who do so Trans*. There are three basic attitudes (plus lots of others) among IS folks: those who find their assigned sex is fine, those who want to choose their sex based on their choices, and those who want to stay in the middle somewhere.
Transsexual folk: Comprising at best 1% of the total population, transsexuals are not merely wanting to change their gender, but also their sex. Its not simply a want, either — its a driving need that comes about long before you notice you are “not like other little boys and girls“. They get as far as we can go in the times they are born into — 100 years ago, it was just lop everything off and do your best. Today, there are a lot of other things we can do — hormones, SRS, and, of course, just lopping everything off. They generally want to adhere to the conventions of social sex roles.
Agender Folks: non-gendered, gender neutral, agendered, and genderless. They generally do not want to adhere to the social sex role Binary and challenge conventions. There are, as one might garner, lots of differences here. The words come from the way these people identify and describe themselves. Generally speaking, they don’t have a fixed gender identity, and are most comfortable expressing themselves without any real concern.
Multigender Folks: between genders, intergendered, ambigender, pangender, genderfuck, gender queer, and third gendered. As can likely be surmised, they are a blending or multiplicity of gender expressions, because their sense of it is multiple. I will be blunt — I’m a binary based person, so this one and some of the others don’t really work for me, personally, and I don’t grok them — there’s very little understanding of the totality that they live with, no emotional resonance for me. But I know they get the same crap in this world that I get, and that’s enough for me.
Transgender folk: bigendered, gender fluid, cross-dresser, androgynes, transvestites, cross-dresser, and transgender. They generally comingle the binary into new forms that combine parts of both, and usually are pretty fixed.
Gender Variants: effeminate men, butch women, Drag Kings, Drag Queens, and anyone who doesn’t conform to the archetype of their culture for gender expression and behavior. This group is all the rest — and it includes pretty much anyone who goes against the grain: not heterosexual, this is you. Carry a man bag — this is you. Wear eyeliner cause you are totally goth as a guy — this is you. Wear your hair cropped as a woman — this is you. This is the fuzzy line, and it makes people uncomfortable.
You can argue that style changes — and you are right. That’s the nature of gender — its dependent on the culture you live in. Yet note that at least a third of all GLB adults were kids, and as kids, they demonstrated the same issues that define all the above types, and could have been readily classified as Trans as kids.
So now you have a better idea of what it means when people talk about the Trans community — who it is that is trans, who they are talking about.
You, personally, might not feel a connection to any of the above groups. And that’s ok. It’s also ok if you do feel a connection.
Can you be described as part of the above? Probably.
But, mostly, I hope you can now see that saying that all transgender people are this, or all transsexuals are that, is pretty much a lost cause, unless you say that they are all the sort that do not conform to societies expectations of how someone of their physiological sex assigned at birth is supposed to be in the culture they live in.
I’m not perfect, either — the last four groupings there have people that may pop up and explain things better than I did. I suggest you listen to them, and ask good questions.
Because that’s how I got what I have above.