jasonbwatson

July 23, 2014

Word Games

The TIME article by Katy Steinmetz provides an overview of the history of the transgender issue in the United States. “Modern America’s journey” with this issue, she writes, “begins after World War II with a woman named Christine Jorgensen.” Christine Jorgensen was born George, and after completing service as a soldier and being honorably discharged George sailed for Denmark with the plan of finding a surgeon who would transform George into Christine. The story became news, and Jorgensen wrote a letter that was published by the New York Daily News after it ran a story under the headline EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY. In the letter Jorgensen asserted, “Nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected.”

That statement contains a clear allusion to the fact that there is a denial among many in the transgender movement, and its supporters, that humans are created by God. It was “nature,” Jorgensen said, that made the mistake. When nature makes a mistake man is entitled to correct it, the reasoning goes. Interestingly, one of the arguments most often used by homosexuals and activists who support the homosexual rights movement is that homosexual individuals were “born that way” and that human laws preventing homosexual marriage or beliefs that homosexual behavior is immoral are contradicting nature (or even, some would say, the way God made them). Now transgender individuals are suggesting that they way they were born–in other words, their gender at birth–was a mistake that they need to fix. So we have one group of people arguing that they should have special rights because they were born “that way” and another group arguing that they should have special rights because the way they were born was wrong.

This is not the only instance of transgender individuals wanting to have it both ways. In 1980, seven years after the DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder, transsexualism was added. That was later given the label of gender identity disorder and then, in 2013, renamed yet again to gender dysphoria. The president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (yes, there is such an organization) celebrated the change, saying, “‘Gender identity disorder’ [implied] that your identity was wrong, that you are wrong.” Yet, according to Steinmetz, some were not in favor of removing the disorder label because without it it will likely be harder for individuals to access treatment such as hormone therapy without having to pay the entire cost themselves. After all, if it is not a disorder, it is an elective procedure.

Despite the change in the DSM, there is going to be increasing pressure for insurance companies and even government insurance to pay for sex change operations and hormone therapy. At the end of May a board within the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that sex change surgeries will be covered by Medicare. This decision came after Denee Mallon, age 74, filed a law suit to have Medicare pay for an operation changing him from male to female. Once such procedures are considered covered by Medicare it is only a matter of time before the government will also push for insurance companies to cover them, as well.

If you are not yet confused or disgusted, it gets more complicated. According to the TIME article, it is necessary, in order to really understand this issue, to see “sex and gender as two separate concepts–sex is biological, determined by a baby’s birth anatomy; gender is cultural, a set of behaviors learned through human interaction.” Oh really? That is nothing more than another attempt at redefining terms. Dictionary.com provides, as the second definition of gender, one word: sex. (The first definition refers to the various genders of nouns in many languages). If you look at Merriam-Webster.com the definition of gender is “the state of being male or female.” If you read on to the full definition of gender you find that the first definition is, again, concerned with grammar. The second definition? Again, one word: sex.

Even if we wanted to grant the notion that sex and gender are two different things, it gets even more complicated. Steinmetz goes on to write, “Sexual preferences, meanwhile, are a separate matter altogether. There is no concrete correlation between a person’s gender identity and sexual interests; a heterosexual woman, for instance, might start living as a man and still be attracted to men. One oft-cited explanation is that sexual orientation determines who you want to go to bed with and gender identity determines who you want to go to bed as.” So, just to make sure you’re keeping up, that would mean–in the scenario presented by Steinmetz–that a person born as a woman could become a transgender man and then engage in homosexual sex with a man.

Since that is so confusing, Steinmetz goes on to explain that “some trans people reject all labels, seeing gender as a spectrum rather than a two-option multiple-choice question. The word transgender, which came into wider use in the 1990s after public health officials adopted it, is often used as an umbrella term for all rejections of the norm, from cross-dressers who are generally happy in their assigned gender to transsexuals like Jorgensen.” The idea of the gender spectrum is already gaining acceptance; in February Facebook changed its male and female options for gender to include more than fifty choices. The day before Valentine’s Day ABC News reported that Facebook would not be releasing a comprehensive list of options but that ABC had identified fifty-eight options. Among the options are ten varieties of “cis.” What in the world is that? Apparently, cisgender or cissexual, which are often abbreviated as simply cis, is defined by sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook as a label for “individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.” According to Wikipedia this is to be a complement to transgender. So I suppose (assuming I understand this definition correctly) I could now identify myself as cis if I am not satisfied with just simply being male. After all, male apparently no longer tells you that I was born male, identify as male and have a male body. So how does Facebook come up with ten varieties of cis? I could choose to identify myself as cis, cis male, cis man, cisgender male or cisgender man.

Other Facebook options include gender fluid, gender nonconforming and gender variant, as well as two-spirit. I am not even going to get into what some of those mean. Just in case you cannot find your chosen gender identity in the fifty-plus options ABC identified, though, there is also the option of “other.”

As I said yesterday, this entire situation just gets messier and messier the more you try to make sense of it. And so far I’m just talking about terminology! Just wait until next time when I begin exploring what the implications of this are when actually put into day to day living.

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