Can Transpeople Be Fundamentally Separated By Sex?

Subject: Can Transpeople Be Fundamentally Separated By Sex?
From: TheCallan (
Date: Wed 08 Apr 1998 - 15:30:55 BST

I have seen many people who, when discussing transgender or addressing
transgender issues, feel that the most important starting place is not
defining words, but creating categories, separations, divisions or groupings.

In the old days, when The Prince donminated trans-theory, the key separations
were het crossdresser versus transsexual (MTF was assumed) versus drag queen
(homosexual was assumed.) It seemed that every presentation started by
defining these categories, usually to define what people were "not."

For example, I still see lots of transpeople whose primary message is that
they are NOT homosexual, but I then am lead to wonder what they are. Should I
read them as birth assigned gender/sex (ie men) who are oriented towards
female bodies, or should I accept their self defined gender (ie woman) and
assume that they are heterosexual because they like men? When the clear lines
of gender are blurred, the clear lines of "opposite sex/gender" go away too.
For me, it's just much easier knowing someone's specific desire, rather than
their label. Tell me who you desire, not what label you aren't -- that makes
life eaiser

When we got enlightened, we started to see panels that included "one of each,"
individuals to represent groups -- a crossdresser, a transsexual, a
transvestite, a transgenderist, and so on.

Today, we tend to see these lines drawn on birth sex. Some transgender
organizations are even talking about using the model of having two co-chairs,
one transman and one transwomen, to create balance and equity.

I won't for a moment deny that we need to see ourselves, that having groups/
meetings /conferences that are designed to focus on specific interests are a
valuable part of growth. We do all come to transgender with different
histories, and in this heterosexist culture, those histories are very much
linked to birth sex/assigned gender.

How do we, however, see ourselves as transgender sex/gender linkages by
creating more separations based on birth sex? How does the firm entrenchment
of categories, separate tracks based on separation by birth sex help us
transcend the limits we feel oppress us, limits that are based on separation
by birth sex?

In my mind, transgender is fundamentally an individual pursuit, the chase of
an individual to build a new identity past limits where they create their own
mix of tame assimilation and unique personal expression. The notion that we
can easily be separated by groups seems backwards. For example, while I was
born male, if I had to choose a repersentative to speak for me, more
transpeople born female (transmen) come to mind than transwomen, because they
more clearly verbalize my own view of transgender and the challenges we face
in changing the culture. I don't like the notion that somehow, because of my
birth sex, I need to choose a representative whose birth genitals match mine
-- in fact, that's one of the things I am fighting against.

Les Feinberg talks about this whole notion of external identity definition,
people creating exclusionary walls based on criteria such as birth sex, and
comes to the point of demanding that we not be limited by our biology and
history, but rather in the choices we make towards others. Anytime we build a
wall of exclusion to create a safe space for people like us, we also create a
wall of exclusion that sets us apart from society, that people can use to
discriminate against us. Solving the problems of discrimination by
reinforcing the biological or cultural separations used to create that
discrimination seems to be a destructive strategy.

Most organizations in our community understand this issue, and while they
maintain a focus on specifc goals, they are not exclusionary -- anyone who has
a committment to the goals of the organization is welcome, regardless of birth
sex, for example. A few do not, feeling the need to deliberly exclude those
who don't meet sexual criteria.

But when I hear about major educational orginizations that claim to work for
all transgendered people talking about creating organizational separations
based on birth sex, and furthermore, when I question those separations I am
told to "Shut up and get out of your head!" by a leader of that organization,
I have to wonder about the fundamental messages we as transgendered people
want to send out to the world.

Some may say that the reality is a division by birth sex, that's just the way
this heterosexist culture is, and we have to learn to live with it. It
reminds me of a women's studies scholar at SUNYA who, when asked about taking
the sex designation off ID, like drivers liscences, said "Until there is no
more oppression against Females, I will not consent to having the F removed
from my documents." How, I wonder, can we stop people from using separations
by sex to oppress and limit people when we demand to maintain those
separations for our own comfort and political purposes?

We are empowered by language, terms, which describe who we are, our own lives,
no doubt. When those terms turn into labels that are used to classify and
separate, then we those same terms start to become barriers and boundaries
that imprison us. This is why many have meved away from quick classifications
with simple terms into more nuanced descriptions that leave our lives open
ended and fluid, as we have found ourselves to be.

To me, transgender is about claiming indvidual identity past assigned
boundaries. How can we speak for that goal while we also continue to demand
separation by assigned boundaries?