Transgender vs. Transsexual: not fighting for the pie

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #102, Summer 2003.

by loocefer

As the transgender community struggles even today to gain recognition and actual inclusion within mainstream lesbian, gay, bisexual politics, pre-operative and non-operative transgenderists and gender-variant individuals also strive to overcome the oppressive hierarchy within the transgender community. Such hierarchy is based on a tranny?s process of transitioning, and it assumes that all transgenderists and gender-variant people ultimately wish to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. Indeed, the assumption goes that most if not all transgenderists break the norms of their assigned
gender in order to become the opposite sex. While that assumption may accurately apply to transsexuals and many transgenderists, it doesn?t by any means hold for the entire
transgender community.
Pre-op and non-op trannys and gender-benders sometimes eventually arrive at the point of hormone-intake and SRS, but for most of us, it?s a difficult process--mentally, financially, and legally. Transitioning sometimes takes years and decades, not to mention that some of us wish to maintain gender fluidity. I mean to say that while the politics of transsexual rights and advocacy is imperative to the entire transgender community, it can essentially neglect and alienate a substantial percentage of the community that may not identify with policies, legislation, and political activism exclusively concerning post-op transsexuals.

Before I go on, I want to stress that just as people of color are not a subdivision of the greater human race, pre-op and non-op trannys and gender-benders are NOT merely a subdivision of the greater transgender community. Rather, we all exist in this pit of a world together; only our
differences make our realities more interesting and exciting, should we recognize and reflect on them.

Perhaps since Judith Butler?s Gender Trouble (1990), academicians of gender theory and queer/LGBT
politics have been heavily influenced by the idea of gender being an intricate combination of performances that can be carried out by anyone, though they have different social/cultural meanings when done by different people. In other words, the concept of gender as a performance as well as a social construct has been widely spread and accepted in the last decade. This ideology has led to an upsurge of desire to simply undermine the gender binary system that randomly prescribes specific gender behavior, appearance, speech-pattern, and future opportunities, based on one?s assigned sex at birth.

The argument often made to support the eradication of the gender bi-polarization is that once transgenderism is inserted into the equation of the heterosexist gender system, the equation simply doesn?t work. All transgenderists, regardless of their goal, transcend the rigid socially constructed gender norms by not conforming to them. Thus, while some transgenderists and many transsexuals work successfully and happily within the current gender system, there are drawbacks unnecessary to anyone, such as fear of hate crimes, random police harassment/bashing, and discrimination in areas of employment, housing, legal marriage, and child custody. If the movement to undermine the gender binary system should flourish, these difficulties would hopefully begin to disappear.

For many years, prominent trans activists like Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein have been speaking on behalf of freedom from all social constructs that limit human expressions. That being the goal of undermining the current gender system, it doesn?t invalidate the
efforts of trans activists who strive for the safety, protection, and overall advocacy for transsexuals. If nothing more, transsexuals and gender-benders occupy different manifestations of a similar perspective on
gender issues. In addition, once we get out of the theoretical debate of genders, trans activists of all sorts aim to improve the socio-economic status and conditions of all people.

And it is in this spirit that undermining the gender binary system correlates to the larger scope of socio-political activism in undermining racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, and ableism. As trans and gender-queer activists, we have a model of queer activism in ACT UP of the ?90s, which moved beyond iden-tity politics to the greater political arena. The essence of identity politics is that we as a people take back the cultural and social basis from which we operate, then apply the re-gained socio-political power to a multi-issue platform that addresses more than gender-specific politics.

On December 26, 2002, the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force announced "its opposition to the
possibly impending war against Iraq by announcing that it was joining the newly-founded ?Keep America Safe: Win Without War? coalition." Meanwhile, numerous other national GLBTI organizations choose to avoid involving themselves in the expanding tension on the war against Iraq, NLGTF?s courageous act is worthy of following. Nothing says more about the strength of a GLBTI community than its audacity in speaking out against the foreign policy of the government whose favor it tries to win. And nothing is more sensible than a social minority?s involvement in the national affairs of its country. Indeed, it is imperative to the prosperity of the trans movement to first believe in itself as a powerful social group, then to engage in politics.

loocefer is a student at UCSC;

loo can be contacted at