Transgender and transsexualism are reaching the point of being reasonably understood and becoming more accepted within western culture. Nonetheless, there’s a lot I didn’t know or understand and still don’t fully understand about this topic. For example, I didn’t understand clearly the difference between being transgender and transsexual. Being two separate words, they must have two separate meanings, I thought. Transgender and transsexual are individuals who do not identify with the sex they are born into. But what’s the difference? This is where I began my basic research.
Transgender individuals feel a difference between their internal gender and the gender roles set by society. Those with identities that cross over move between or otherwise challenge the socially constructed border between the genders. An example of this could be a male who behaves more femininely or likes doing things, which are considered feminine within society: wearing make up or stockings perhaps. Transsexual individuals feel their assigned sex at birth is wrong and their correct sex in one that matches their internal feelings: the opposite to be precise. For example, a man who feels he should physically be a woman. One may go as far to realign their gender and their sex through medical intervention. Therefore, transgender relates to social conforms and gender roles whilst transsexual relates to the sex of an individual where their body conflicts with their psychological gender.
So far, it has become quite clear that gender and sex are very separate things, meaning a person’s sex is separate to a person’s gender. Gender meaning man and woman is socially constructed and sex meaning male or female is biologically defined. Sex is the physical body and function whilst gender is an element of identity and role within society. And as we live in what is thought as a male controlled society men and women have clearly defined roles. These differences between sex and gender are at the very core of the transsexual issue.
In the widely used psychiatric classification system DSM-III, transsexualism first appeared as a diagnosis in 1980. However, in the more recent version, DSM- IV, transsexualism as a term was abandoned and replaced with ‘Gender Identity Disorder’. This term was used for individuals who showed a strong and persistent cross- gender identification and a discomfort with their anatomical sex. They would feel a sense of incongruity in their gender role, attempted to rid their sex characteristics or feel they were born in the wrong body. In 1973, Fisk proposed the term, ‘Gender Dysphoria Syndrome’, which is for distress resulting from the conflict between gender and sex, encompassing transsexualism, transgender and other gender identity disorders. Transsexual is at the extreme end of the spectrum.
Once I had comes to terms with the basic terminology for my project, I wanted to find out more as to what can cause someone to become ‘trans’, how soon someone can experience conflicts between gender and sex as well as other psychological aspects and gender development. I felt this knowledge would help when meeting my subjects and in asking questions about their own experiences, which I’ve began to do recently. I also created a mind map to conjure ideas of what topics and issues I could explore.