Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Transgender Umbrella

Orangeban asked: "What do you think about relations between transgender people who experience a disconnect between their gender and sex, and those who do not but crossdress/are drag queens? Do you feel there are hostilities between these groups?"

This question hits kind of close to home for me, because of my own personal experience of coming to understand myself. Originally, my only conceptualization of someone transgender was, essentially, a drag queen. I did not understand that transition was a thing that people do for themselves until I was eighteen, and it causes me to harbor some unhappyness with the lack of trans portrayal in the media. All I knew of was drag queens. If I knew of transsexualism earlier in life, could I have been treated earlier? The question will haunt me forever.

I should also specify: Typically, when I refer in this blog to someone who is 'transgender', I usually mean 'transsexual'. The reason for this is twofold: One, we don't change our sex, we change our gender (making the term transSEXual misleading) and two, it's not about sex(the action) either; which, the term, transsexual tends to make less educated people uneasy and immediately make them think its a fetish. For the remainder of this article, I'm going to use the terms with their 'typical' meanings (to keep everything distinct).

I'm of a pretty firm stance regarding this idea. People who are transsexual are, for all intents and purposes, their target gender. Their brain is wired that way, and as the brain controls personality, who you are as a person, this makes sense as the part which we trust to determine who a person is.

Given the above, you can have a female woman (Cissexual woman) or a male woman (Transsexual woman). In both cases, you're dealing with an individual who is, at the core of their being, a woman.

A crossdresser/transvestite, however, is not. They are happy with their current gender (if they had gender dysphoria, they would be trans, right?) and as such, are cisgender. So therein lies the difference. A transwoman is a woman. A crossdresser is a cisgender man (or woman) dressing as a woman (or man).

In some ways, there's harm caused by us being lumped together under the same umbrella. I'm all for people's right to express themselves however they see fit (drag shows, crossdressing, etc if that's the case) but the problem comes when lawmakers try to put transgender laws on the books, particularly regarding public accommodations such as bathrooms, changing rooms, etc.. Because these groups are under the same umbrella term (when we're really worlds apart) it creates a problem where cisgender men are able to gain access to women's spaces, if this legislation were to pass. The vagueness of the umbrella term is serving to set back transsexual rights and accommodations; and for no real purpose. Transsexuals are NOT like transvestites or crossdressers. At the core of who we are as transsexual women, we are women, and thus deserve access to these spaces. Because we're being kicked off of public protection bills on a regular basis because the term is so broad, it causes some hostility, for sure.

Another common thing I've heard (and often felt myself) is that it creates confusion among uneducated people (which transsexuals are often tasked with correcting, which gets tiresome).

Crossdressers may dress as they like on the weekends, but come Monday its wig off, suit on, and back to work as Joe Shmoe. Drag queens may do performances Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Come Monday, it's dress shirt, tie, and back to the office. But that's not what being Transsexual is. Many uninformed people's first reaction is "UGH, WHY CAN'T YOU JUST KEEP IT TO YOURSELF ON THE WEEKENDS LIKE [so and so]?!" And they miss the point that comparing a TV/CD to a TS is comparing apples to car tires.

I think that's actually where the divide comes. Transsexuals are distinctly different from all others under the transgender umbrella. That's what creates friction. I, as a transsexual woman, do NOT want to be lumped into any category of cis men, no matter what their preferences for dress, sexuality, etc are. We have different issues, different needs, and yet because we're tied to a group of people, people mind you very different from ourselves, we're being denied access to public accommodations.


(Anonymous posting is enabled - if you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave it in the comments section below!)


  1. Hmm, I'm not totally following you on this idea that we transsexuals change gender rather than sex. You yourself state that our gender is fixed in our minds, we may have a male body but our gender is female. So surely at no point do we change our gender.

    Unless you mean we are changing our gender presentation, which is a totally different thing but maddeningly has the same term attached to it.

    Apart from that, very interesting post, I find this is one of the more divisive issues in the trans community. Transsexual people like you who don't want us being lumped with transvestites, transvestites who don't want to be lumped with us, those who want us all just to get along, etc. etc.

    I'm not really sure of my opinion on the matter. I think I probably agree with you that transvestite people don't really fit in with transsexuals, though I'm concerned about what would happen to them without us. In the same way we are tied to the LGB community despite not quite fitting in, we're tied to them because they have no-one else to tie themselves to really.

    Tricky issue.

    And I'll be sure to post if I think of a question by the way.

  2. I word it weird, and I really ought to make a point of it in an actual article and not a comment, but
    Sex is immutable.
    Gender is immutable - though may be in conflict with sex
    Gender expression - often matches sex instead of gender. Often changed to match gender instead of sex.


  3. I think that transsexuals and cross-dressers have two things in common: they're both human beings, and both are subject to mistreatment because of their gender expression.

    On the topic of gender change, I found that to be confusing as well, because presumably a transsexual's gender has always been the same, only at some point they finally make their presentation (clothes and possibly body through surgery) match it. That's why I think sex change is a more accurate term than gender change. I'm curious as to what you mean then that sex is immutable. Do you mean chromosomes? (XY versus XX versus the other variations) Do you mean that even surgery doesn't change sex?

  4. Surgery doesn't change sex, no. Genetics and inborn things like that cannot be altered. A neovagina is not a vagina.

    Though the surgery can be useful for peace of mind, social role, and general well being, the physical aspect changes we make are imperfect facsimiles of the real thing.

    So no, sex cannot be changed. Sad but true :(

  5. What about gender queer people?