Conflicting quotations. What exactly is gender? What defines a transgender person?

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Additional information on transgender
individuals, transsexuals, & gender identity

Part 1:
Conflicting quotations.
What exactly is gender?
What defines a transgender person?

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The term "LGBT" is an acronym for "Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals,
transgender persons/transsexuals. Sometimes, additional letters
are added, like "Q" for Queer or questioning, "I" for Intersexual.

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Two conflicting quotations:

  • "As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity." From a speech by President Barack Obama, 2010-JUN-01. 1

  • "This is a man -- and by the way he is a man; he's not a woman -- who is one of the leaders in crusading for so-called 'civil rights' based on gender-confused behavior. ... Obama is supporting ENDA -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- with a transsexual provision, meaning that if that version of the bill gets through and Obama signs it, we will have businesses being forced to accommodate gender-confused individuals in the name of civil rights." Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, discussing the appointment of Amanda Simpson to a post in the Commerce Department. 2 His group has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-gay hate group. 6

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What exactly is gender? How is it defined?

Most people believe that they live in a gender binary world. That is, every human has one of two possible genders. They are either female or male. Many believe that gender is determined at birth after an inspection of the newborn's body and remains unchanged through life.

The two genders, men and women, are viewed very differently; they are expected to behave differently; many people feel that males and females have specific roles to play in marriage, within families, at work, within a faith group, etc.

But what exactly is gender? It seems that gender is a more complex phenomenon than most people realize.

A person's gender can be defined in at least three ways; there may be more:

  1. One's physical or birth-identified gender: how physicians classify newborns as either male or female, based on the design of their genital structures.

  2. One's genetic or biological gender as defined by the sex chromosomes in every cell in one's body. The vast majority of humans have either a XY or XX pair of chromosomes; XY for males and XX for female.

  3. One's gender identity: The gender that a person knows themselves to be. This is not defined by one's physical appearance. It is not determined by one's DNA. It is a function of one's brain structure. Researchers are making major progress in studying specific structures at the center of people's brain that determine gender identity. These structures come in male and female types; they differ in size and neuron density between the genders. 3 Transgender females are typically assigned a male gender at birth and have female brain structures -- and vice-versa.

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What is a transgender person and how many are there?

For the vast majority of adults -- about 99.4% -- their physical gender, genetic gender and gender identity are the same. They are referred to as being "cisgender."

That is, almost everyone is either:

  • Male. The DNA in their cells contain one -- or very rarely more than one -- Y sex chromosome. Since early childhood, they have been mentally and emotionally certain that they are males. They posses a penis, testicles, etc., and male internal brain structures.

OR they are:

  • Female. Their DNA don't contain a Y sex chromosomes. They are firmly aware that they are female, and they possess ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus, vagina, etc. They posses a vagina, etc., and female internal brain structures.

People are quite unable to change their gender identity, even if they wanted to. They know that they are of a particular gender. They also know that it is quite impossible for themselves to change.

However, in rare cases, a mismatch happens.

  • One type of mismatch happens when a newborn's external genitalia and/or internal sex organs match neither the standard female or male design. They typically have parts of both genders. They are referred to as intersexual. For about one in approximately every 1,500 newborns, specialist medical personnel have to be called in to determine a newborn's sex. This is sometimes established by testing the newborn's DNA.

  • A second type of mismatch causes what the medical, transgender, and liberal religious communities call "gender incongruence:" The person's stated gender identity as an adult does not match their birth-identified and/or their genetic gender. This generally causes them very high levels of anxiety, depression, and concern, called gender dysphoria. Religious and social conservatives often refer to this mismatch as "gender confusion." The latter term implies that individuals experiencing gender incongruence can be cured through therapy and/or prayer. They just need to see a therapist or pastor and get straightened up.

  • Gender incongruence among young children often disappears early in life.

They often describe themselves as having a unshakable feeling of being a woman trapped in a man's body, or vice versa. Sometimes, they use a phrase like having a "female soul in a male body" or "female brain in a male body," or vice-versa. Others describe themselves as being of neither gender. Some identify as being of both genders -- sometimes alternating.

The Gender dysphoria can cause them to become profoundly depressed. Their attempted suicide rate is over 40% -- enormous when compared to the general population. It appears that all attempts at therapy, counseling, and/or prayer have, in practice, had a zero success rate at resolving the internal conflict of any transgender person. There is a widely held belief among transgender people that no transgender adult has ever been "cured" and become cisgender.

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Conflicts in society about how to understand of the transgender/transsexual condition:

Conflicts exist about transgender individuals and transsexuals among medical researchers, social and religious conservatives, religious liberals, secularists, and others about:

  • What determines a person's actual gender: their sex chromosomes in each cell, the appearance of their genitals, gender-specific structures in the center of their brains, their own perception of their gender, or some combination of the three?

  • The cause(s) of transsexuals feeling as they do.

  • Whether transsexual persons can be "cured."

  • How transsexual persons should be treated in society in terms of guaranteed job security, protection from physical abuse, protection from discrimination, access to gendered public washrooms, etc.

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Terminology:

Both the term "transgender" and "transsexual" have multiple definitions, However, the term

  • "Transgender" is often used as the more inclusive term to refer to all individuals who experience a mismatch between their birth-identified sex and their current gender identity. This often causes gender dysphoria -- feelings of extreme anxiety, depression over the mismatch.

  • "Transsexual" is often used as a more specific term to refer to those transgender individuals who live as a member of their identified gender 24/7. Sometimes they undergo hormone therapy and perhaps "gender reassignment surgery" (GRS), now generally referred to as "gender confirmation surgery". These medications and procedures change their appearance so that they much more closely resemble the gender that they know themselves to be. Success rates of this path are very high, as long as proper treatment protocols are followed.

Jennifer Reitz of www.transsexual.org comments that gender dysphoria:

"... occurs in humans and in other animals, such as apes, monkeys, dogs, cats, rats, and mice, among those studied." 4

Unfortunately, much of the public is not well informed about gender identity and gender dysphoria. Many people tend to fear and reject those that they do not understand. When human sexuality is involved, rejection and animus motivate many people to actively discriminate against minorities.

Are transgender persons and transsexuals of a different gender than male or female?:

Until 2014-FEB, Facebook gave its members the choice of registering only as male or female. On FEB-13, it added about 50 additional options, like: transgender, transsexual, gender fluid, etc.

Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for Focus on the Family -- a prominent fundamentalist Christian para church group -- responded to the change, saying:

"... here is the bottom line: It's impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves -- male and female. Those petitioning for the change [on Facebook] insist that there are an infinite number of genders, but just saying it doesn't make it so. That said, we have a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex." 5

These thoughts are shared by many other religious and political conservative individuals and groups. Conservatives frequently believe that males and females have specific roles to play within the family, at work, in faith groups, in governments, etc. For a person to be identified as female at birth, and to transition to a male identity later in life -- perhaps to also undergo gender reassignment surgery (GRS) and hormone therapy to make their body more congruent with their gender identity --radically challenges the concept of gender held by many conservatives; some feel threatened by such transitions. They often base their beliefs on references in the book of Genesis in the Bible in which God is said to have created men and women as separate sexes who are expected to marry.

Some commentators would probably argue that there are two errors in Johnson's statement:

  1. Facebook is not giving members an "infinite number" of choices. They consulted with their Network of Support -- a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations -- to offer an extensive list of gender identities that many people have used to describe themselves. They came up with 50 or 56 (sources differ), not an infinite number.

  2. Only two genders exist: female and male. Facebook's 50 or so options do not define new genders; they define new gender identities. Johnston seems to be confused about the difference:
    • In his second sentence, he talks about transgender persons creating "an infinite number of genders."

    • In his third sentence, he talks about transgender persons having a biological sex, but identifying themselves as being of "the opposite sex." That implies that there are two genders, Some were identified as female at birth but now identify themselves as male; others were identified as male at birth but now identify themselves as female.

Consider some of the 50 or so options that Facebook allows for individuals to describe their gender identity:

  • "Female to Male, or FTM:" A person who has transitioned or is in the process of transitioning from male to female. Only two genders are involved.

  • "Gender Fluid:" A person whose gender identity freely moves between/among genders over time. For most, only two genders are involved.

  • Male to Female, or MTF: A person who has transitioned or is in the process of transitioning from female to male. Only two genders are involved.

  • Non-binary: A person who identifies their gender identity as different from male and female. They may feel that they are both, neither, or a mixture of male and female. Again, they define themselves in terms of two genders.

  • Transmasculine: A person who was assigned a female identity at birth but who now identifies more male than female. Only two genders are involved.

  • etc.

In general, transgender persons and transsexuals do not create a new gender or genders. The vast majority identify their gender identity in terms of one of the two existing genders: male and female. Some identify as male, some as female, some as being neither gender, some as being of an intermediate gender, some as both genders and changing from time to time.

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Barack Obama, "A Proclamation..." White House, 2009-JUN-01, at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/
  2. Charlie Butts and Jody Brown, "Obama appoints transgender LGBT activist," OneNewsNow.com. 2010-JAN-07, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  3. Jessica Hamzelou, "Transsexual differences caught on brain scan," New Scientist, 2011-JAN, at: http://www.newscientist.com/
  4. Jennifer Reitz, "What transsexuality is," at: http://transsexual.org/
  5. Martha Mendoza, "New Gender Options for Facebook Users," ABC News, 2014-FEB-13, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  6. Evelyn Schlatter, "18 Anti-Gay Groups and Their Propaganda," Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010 Winter edition of their Intelligence Report, at: http://www.splcenter.org/

A movie:

bullet Tom Murray produced and directed a video concerning transsexuality. It is titled: "Almost Myself: Reflections on mending and transcending gender." See: http://www.almostmyself.com/

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Copyright 2007 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2007-JUN-08
Latest update and review: 2018-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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