What exactly is trans*ism?
Trans*ism is the practice of transgressing gender norms. It really goes much deeper than that, though. Most people who are transgendered or transsexual feel that they're somehow in the wrong body. Many FTMs, for instance, identify as men with a severe hormonal imbalance - that is, having way too much estrogen in their system, and not nearly enough testosterone. (This, by the way, is easily remedied by taking hormones by prescription.) Crossdressers, on the other hand, dress either for sexual arousal (this is known as fetishistic crossdressing), to express the more masculine or feminine side of themselves, or simply because they find those clothes more comfortable.
Now that I've thoroughly confused you, let me just add this. Probably the absolute simplest way to describe a transsexual, if not the rest of the trans* community, is to say that they are physically female and psychologically male, or physically male and psychologically female. Many trans* people don't fall under that designation, though. Most transsexuals and some Transgender people do, while most crossdressers and many Transgender don't.
Note: These definitions are quite rough and do not hold fast when one delves deeper into the world of gender identity, but they serve as a good starting point for those in unfamiliar territory here. Remember, there is no magical surgery that "makes" you a man or a woman. A lot of people have surgery but don't have GRS. FTMs in particular may have a number of surgeries without having GRS - chest reconstruction, hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), etc.
Important Note: Trans*ism is separate from sexuality. Sexuality (Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Pansexual, Omnisexual, or just plain Queer) is based on whom you are attracted to sexually. Trans*ism is based on your personal gender identity. An FTM who is attracted to women is usually considered straight, as is an MTF who is attracted to men, because the gender with which they identify is the opposite of those whom they are attracted to.
Also, the term "straight" refers to sexuality and not to gender. The fact that you are not Trans* does not make you straight, and vice versa. "Straight" means that if you identify as male, you are attracted to those who identify as female, or if you identify as female, you are attracted to those who identify as male. Those who identify as neither male nor female, as a mix of the two, or as something else altogether define for themselves what "straight" and "gay" are for them.
Gender identity, sex, sexual orientation ... I really don't get the difference here.
This is the fun part. Take out a piece of paper and turn it sideways, and make four parallel horizontal lines, one on top of the other. Leave some space in between them to write. Right under the top line, write Sex. Under the second line, write Gender Identity. Under the third line, write Gender Expression. Under the fourth line, write Sexual Orientation.
Find some coloured pencils or pens. To use myself as an example: My sex is female. Mark the "Female" end of the Sex line. My gender identity is Genderqueer Transboy. Mark the Gender Identity line about halfway between Genderqueer and Man/Boy. My gender expression is masculine, but not 100% so. Mark the Gender Expression line very near Masculine, but not all the way at the end. And my sexual orientation is pansexual, so mark the Sexual Orientation line right in the middle.
Now choose another colour and mark where you fall on each line.
Basically, the point here is that each of these things is completely independent of the others. Where you fall on any one line has no effect on where you will fall on any other line.
Have some other folks fill out your chart with different colours, and make a legend if you like to show what colour represents which person. The more people who put themselves on the chart - don't do it for them, they should have the right to identify themselves - the more you will understand how varied everyone's identity is, and how each of those four parts of one's identity really have no bearing on each other at all.
Is Trans like a shemale?
Okay. First of all, "shemale" is a REALLY offensive term used in porn. (More about that here.) Secondly, no. "Shemale" refers to someone with breasts and a penis, which is true of some Trans people, but not a majority. It also totally excludes FTMs, who (no matter what you hear or how it may seem) make up half of the Trans population. (MTFs are typically much easier to spot, and get WAY more press, because society tends to laugh at them, especially on talk shows and by degrading them in sitcoms, prime-time dramas, and mainstream film, as well as pornography. FTMs are much more threatening to masculinity and it's easier to ignore them than deal with them. They're seen as women who are aspiring to be men, which supports the whole notion of male superiority, whereas MTFs are seen as questioning the value of and discarding their male priviledge, and thus must be reduced to the status of "psycho" or "clown" or both, to avoid validating their standpoint.)
One more thing - people usually take "shemale" to mean someone with breasts and a FULLY FUNCTIONAL penis. MTFs who are taking oestrogen don't always have fully functional male genitalia, because the oestrogen can make it difficult to become and stay erect.
Are all Transgender people escorts?
No. The majority of us are not escorts, prostitutes, porn actors, or sex workers of any kind. Those of us who are sex workers are largely in that industry because no one else will hire them, and/or it's (unforunately) an easy way to make money if you can deal with being exploited and treated as an object rather than as a person. There are Trans people who are sex workers by choice and enjoy their work, but they're a minority. Trans people are no more likely to enjoy being a sex worker than non-Trans people are (and if you think most sex workers like their job, try actually talking to some).
So what causes transgenderism?
There are a number of theories regarding what makes us trans, and despite scientific research there's no concrete evidence so far. (Bear in mind that this theory doesn't take intersexed people into account - this is only regarding fetuses whose chromosomes are XX or XY, although this situation may - and probably does - occur with some intersexed fetuses as well.) Remember, XX is the genotype for female and XY is the genotype for male. "Phenotype" refers to physical anatomy, whereas "genotype" refers to chromosomes and genetics.
From what I know, the most supported argument so far is that transsexualism occurs in utero, usually between 8-10 weeks after conception.
All fetuses, between 8-10 weeks, receive "hormonal showers" at this crucial developmental period. Usually, these hormonal showers lead to the formation of the testes and ovaries in XY and XX individuals respectively. Due to factors unknown, usually attributed to stress in the mother, certain medications or just unusual circumstances, the "dose" and/or timing of these showers can sometimes be a little off-target. XY fetuses receiving too little androgens, yet while still having the XY genotype are thought to most probably eventuate as gay. If the hormonal shower is even more different or ill-timed - i.e., even less androgens are released or the timing is further off, the result will most probably be a transsexual - i.e., phenotypically and genotypically male with testes etc, yet, due to not being showered with enough androgens at the right time, the brain hasn't sufficiently masculinised and remains feminised (feminine is the base "template" for all organisms).
In FTMs' case, it's thought that the development of the ovaries occurred ill-timed when in relation to the hormonal shower - i.e., when the hormonal shower occurred, the ovaries weren't yet developed enough to produce the estrogen that would balance out the androgen shower ... hence, phenotypically and genotypically female, but with masculined brain due to the androgen shower.
Like in the case with homosexual men, this fluctuation in hormonal shower timing, when occurring in XX individuals but to a lesser extent, is thought to be the cause of lesbianism.
I've heard the term "gender dysphoria" ... what the hell is that?
Nancy Nangeroni, of GenderTalk and formerly of IFGE, said once that gender dysphoria is a healthy disrespect for the cultural gender norm. I think that is the bomb shit.
"Dysphoria," according to the dictionary, means "a state of feeling unwell or unhappy" (it comes from the Greek dysphoros hard to bear, from dys- + pherein to bear). So "gender dysphoria" is basically a profound discomfort or unhappiness with your assigned gender. Sounds good to me.
Then there's the clinical definition. Gender dysphoria is often used as another term for "Gender Identity Disorder," or GID, which is listed in the DSM-IV. (Diagnostic and Statistiscal Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, fourth edition - the HUGE-ass book used to diagnose mental disorders. Your local library may have a copy.) It's diagnosed by the following criteria:
Certainly plenty of this stuff applies to me, and to a lot of Trans folks. But come on. This isn't a mental disorder. People have been trying to cure us psychologically for decades and probably centuries, with a variety of different kinds of drugs, shock treatment, forced gender conformity, isolation, intensive therapy, and a number of other methods. There is no documented case of anyone who we today would consider a transsexual actually being cured. I've heard that the DSM-V is currently being written and may actually not have GID in it, which would be a HUGE step forward.
It should be noted, also, that the DSM-III didn't have GID in it but did have homosexuality in it. Due to the fact that homosexuality and gender-nonconformity are so often seen as being almost synonymous, it is not at ALL farfetched to suggest (and this is not something I came up with, but I completely agree with it) that GID was put in as a replacement for homosexuality and an underhanded way to continue diagnosing homosexuality as a mental disorder.
If Trans people hate their bodies so much, how do they have sex?
Very well, thank you.
There are as many ways to achieve erotic pleasure as there are people on this Earth. People who are very uncomfortable with a certain part of their bodies will often simply ignore that part of their body during sex, as they do the rest of the time. Communication, of course, is key - if you don't want something touched, say so. Any decent partner will be 100% respectful and will do everything s/he can to make sure that it's a good experience for both of you.
If it helps you, you can liken it to the situation an amputee might face. If someone has had to have their arm amputated at the elbow and is really uncomfortable with that part of their body, particularly in an erotic sense, that doesn't mean they can't have good sex. It just makes for an obstacle. But if the person and hir partner work around it, there's no reason it should be a major issue.
For some people, certain parts of their body ARE a major issue no matter what they do. That's when people can become impatient for surgery and/or hormones to alter their bodies so they feel more comfortable. While waiting for these changes to take place, some people simply abstain from sex, and others try different methods to make sex pleasurable despite the issues they have with whatever body parts they have issues with. (It's not as simple as saying that genitals are the problem or that the whole body is the problem. The term "man trapped in a woman's body" or "woman trapped in a man's body" is really a misnomer. Most Trans people don't really want a new body - they just want some parts of their own body altered a bit.)
Why don't FTMs just be butch lesbians? Why don't MTFs just be femmy gay men?
Well, first of all, you're confusing sex and gender with sexual orientation. Plenty of FTMs aren't attracted to women, and plenty of MTFs aren't attracted to men.
Secondly, Trans people aren't just frustrated homosexuals. Gay people would no more welcome sex reassignment than they would welcome a frontal lobotomy. They're fine with their bodies, by and large, and just happen to be gay. Trans people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are NOT fine with their bodies, or at least with the heaps and heaps of gender norms that re enforced upon them as a result of their bodies. Their gender identity (their internal sense of self) and/or gender expression (clothes, mannerisms, makeup or lack thereof, hairstyle, etc.) is significantly outside the norm, to a degree that doesn't really fall within even the norm for feminine gay men or masculine gay women.
Thirdly, not all FTMs are terribly masculine and not all MTFs are terribly feminine. That's another common misconception. Trans people aren't all striving to be nice, normal, heterosexual, pretend-you're-not-Trans people with 2.3 children and a white picket fence. There are FTM drag queens and MTF butch lesbians, for the same reason that FTMs aren't butch lesbians and MTFs aren't femme gay men or drag queens - butch lesbians are women, and femme gay men and drag queens are men. It just goes to show all the more that gender really is infinite, and WAY more complicated than we have language for. But we're doing our best.
Is it okay to ask a Trans person questions about it?
Depends on the person. In general, if you want to ask a personal question, first ask if it's okay to do so. Personal questions include anything to do with one's sex life, anatomy (not just genitalia), and relationship status - past, present or future. Be warned that some people may even consider questions like "are you on hormones?" personal. When in doubt, ask if you may ask them a personal question before going ahead. Respect people's boundaries.
I heard once a good general rule regarding this, which is as follows: If you wouldn't ask a non-Trans male his penis size, don't ask a Trans person about hir anatomy. In other words, if the person were not Trans and you wouldn't feel comfortable asking, there's no reason for you to feel more comfortable or more entitled to know just because the person is Trans. (This goes for more than just anatomy, of course.)
What the hell is "hir?"
It's a gender-neutral pronoun, pronounced "here." Others include s/he and sie (both pronounced "see"), and ze or zie (pronounced "zee"). All four of these replace "he" and "she," while hir or zir (rhymes with "here") replaces "him" and "her." A lot of people who don't feel comfortable using either masculine or feminine pronouns use these, and ask others to do the same for them. It's respectful (this really should go without saying) to do as they ask, even though it feels weird at first.
A lot of people who aren't comfortable with either masculine or feminine pronouns, but who also don't really like any of the gender-neutral pronouns, just alternate the masculine and feminine as they see fit, and tell people to use whichever they want. This can be a lot of fun. :-) Again, it's all about each person's own comfort level and what they want to be called. And it's important to always respect other people's personal identities over your comfort level with a new word - it's far more important to honour someone's identity than it is to worry about the fact that you feel a little funny. Especially since that goes away after a while, and people's identities usually don't.
Remember, a lot of Trans people are perfectly comfortable using either masculine or feminine pronouns. When in doubt, though, use gender-neutral ones. (This also totally applies to when you're speaking about a generic person whose gender doesn't matter, i.e., "when a person goes shopping, s/he often brings a shopping list." We tend to use "they" for that purpose, which is bad grammar, and which more people are trying to get away from these days.)
Do Trans people have the best of both worlds, or are they the best of both worlds?
I think "best of both worlds" is a fun little catchphrase that some of us use, probably stolen from sketchy guys who jerk off to fantasies of "shemales" who have tits like a woman and will bang them like a man; I joke about it sometimes but I don't really consider myself to be the best of both worlds, because I don't think there are two worlds. That's just propaganda. And I'm just me, and I'm one complete person, not some weird hybrid. Some people do consider themselves to be the "best of both worlds," and that's their prerogative, but it's not something you should assume. Let a Trans person tell you first that ze thinks of hirself that way; if you just come up with it on your own, you're liable to offend hir.
I want to date a Trans person. Can you help?
Start off by reading How to Get Your Hands on a Transman (also available at http://www.otherbear.com/handson.html) and/or The Transwoman's Boudoir, and How to Get Into It, both by Intersex/Trans activist Raven Kaldera.
What does it feel like to be transsexual?
What an interesting question. Here is some info on just that.
Remember, everyone's experience and perspective on this is different. Don't make sweeping judgments.
What it feels like to be Male-to-Female (MTF) Transsexual
What it feels like to be Female-to-Male (FTM) Transsexual
It's Different - a poem I wrote about my own gender identity.
Click here for answers to a lot more questions that Trans people get asked ALL the time. The language on this site is specific to FTMs (female-to-male).
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