Transsexuality is a hotbed of debate, with both the ethics and the very nature of the condition sparking controversy. It’s one thing for men and women to experiment with crossdressing, and it’s something completely different for them to fully commit to a life ‘undercover’ as a different sex altogether.
Discussions and debates surrounding the topic have been marked by ignorance and intolerance, with transgendered people alienated in much the same way as homosexuals are treated – or worse. This debate typically focuses on questions of definition; defining sex, defining gender and defining the very nature of a human being. After all, forging an identity for oneself is arguably the ultimate goal for any transsexual.
The term “trans” is an umbrella term used to refer to anyone who breaks away from social norms in the sexual and gender roles they adopt. Note that there is a distinction between “sex” and “gender” here, with these two concepts frequently used interchangeably but in fact being distinct from one another. “Sex” refers simply to one’s biological makeup as defined by genitals, body hair, breasts etc. whilst “gender” has to do with one’s behaviour i.e. whether one behaves in a masculine or feminine fashion. One has no choice in one’s sex, but one’s gender role can be self-determined, with men able to take submissive, typically female roles and women able to assume more dominant behaviour. That being said, one’s sex is typically reflected in one’s gender, with men and women assuming their familiar roles in society.
Transsexuals by contrast feel a disjunction between their sex and gender. They are inclined to adopt a certain role, but one which is completely in contrast with their biological makeup. It goes beyond a woman being tomboyish or a man being somewhat effeminate, transgendered people feel like they were born the wrong gender entirely. They long for their body to reflect the gender role they already, instinctively take on. Uncomfortable in their own skin, trans individuals seek to transform their bodies to better reflect their true nature, usually through a combination of cross-dressing, hormone therapy and surgery.
Whilst transsexuals are met with plenty of sheer, ignorant intolerance, the debates which this phenomenon have sparked contain several more academic arguments. The transformation process is often viewed as tampering with one’s “natural” or “god-given” form, with the very desire to transform oneself seen as a disorder rather than a necessary process for the person’s happiness.
There is also the question of how one is to determine whether they were born in the wrong body as it were. At what age does a person show signs of being transgender? Are the parents to decide, or the person themselves? Either way, the combination of institutional and societal pressures mean that many who feel they may wish to transform are too fearful to do so.
However, there is yet hope for a more liberal and tolerant movement. There are signs that we’re moving in a more tolerant direction for a brighter future: Essex’s Ofsted recently received high praise for their tolerance and encouragement of unconventional gender behaviour in children.
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