Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Gender identity and sexual identity

This theory attempts to address the dissonance and dysphoria felt in non-binary trans* people in particular. That’s where it’s coming from, but also from the idea that sex and gender aren’t the same, and that there are two types of dysphoria, sex dysphoria and gender dysphoria. Sex dysphoria would be dysphoria based on the sex you were assigned at birth, and gender dysphoria would be dysphoria based on the gender you identify with. For this theory I am going to use four primary terms, ‘assigned sex’, ‘identified sex’, ‘assigned gender’ and ‘identified gender’. They are all pretty self-explanatory. The assigned ones are ones that were given to the individual by people outside, and the identified ones are ones that people take from the inside.

This will also use language ‘transsexual’ and ‘cissexual’ to identify the presence or absence of sexual dysphoria, and ‘transgender’ and ‘cisgender’ to identify the presence or absence of gender dysphoria.

Typically, someone with sex dysphoria would wish to alter their sex or secondary sex characteristics, whether or not this alteration actually takes place, and someone with gender dysphoria would wish to alter their gendered presentation, perhaps change their name or change the gender they socially presented as. It is possible to have either or both forms of dysphoria present, and indeed in the standard transsexual person, they are.

It is worth noting here that gender identity is not synonymous with masculinity or femininity, they are entirely separate from this, and also that dysphoria is a spectrum and one can have more or less of either type of dysphoria, it’s not all or nothing.

I’m going to use a number of examples to illustrate this better:

LW is a trans man. His assigned sex at birth was female, and his assigned gender at birth was also female. He felt sexual identity dysphoria – a dysphoria with the physical sex of his body, and gender identity dysphoria, a dysphoria with the gender he had been raised as. He transitioned socially and medically and now lives as male.

SDQ identifies as FTMTF. It’s assigned sex at birth was female, and its assigned gender at birth was also female. It felt sexual identity dysphoria – a dysphoria with the physicality of its body, but felt less gender identity dysphoria, it was comfortable with the gender it had been assigned at birth. It transitioned to male, but felt that as a dysphoric experience because it lessened the ability to pass ‘socially’ as female. It has concurrent dysphoria with both its body as having been female assigned at birth and with its social gender when it is perceived as male.

GZI identifies as MtF. His assigned sex at birth was male, and his assigned gender at birth was also male. He felt sexual identity dysphoria but without concurrent gender identity dysphoria. He wished to transition medically to having a physically female body but without concurrent social transition – he wanted to continue to live as male. His transition was successful and he is happy.

ACN identifies as FtWtF (Ftwhat-the-fuck). His assigned sex at birth was female, and his assigned gender at birth was also female. He feels gender identity dysphoria without concurrent sexual identity dysphoria. He has transitioned socially to male – using a male name, and pronouns, and cultiviating a male appearance, but without wishing to change his body.

I will also use the popularised example of David Reimer. His assigned sex at birth was male but his assigned gender was female. Doctors also attempted to alter his assigned sex. Over time he realised that his gender identity was male, and learned that his assigned sex had also been male, and returned to living as male.

It is important to note that none of these are a binary, they are all spectrums. Gender identity and sexual identity are far far more than male and female.

In this way we can see that neither transsexual nor transgendered can really be used as an umbrella term for people that struggle with gender or sexual identity dysphoria, because the two phenomenoms can be quite separate.

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