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Bolin.1993.Transcending and Transgender Ing

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Transcending and Transgendering: MaJe-to-Female Transsexuals, Dichotomy and Diversity Fluidity and discuntinuity are central to che reality in which we live. - Mary Catherine Baceson Introducción The berdache traditions documented globally have captured trie anthropoiogical imagination as testiniony to the cornplexity and diversity of gender, offering serious challenges to scientific paradigms that confíate sex and gender. This complexity is reiterated iu Euro-American gender variance among th
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  Transcending and Transgendering: MaJe-to-Female Transsexuals,Dichotomy and Diversity Fluidity and discuntinuity are central to che reality inwhich we live. - Mary Catherine Baceson Introducción The berdache traditions documented globally have captured trie anthropoiogical imagination as testiniony to the cornplexity and diversity of gender, offering serious challenges to scientific para-digms that confíate sex and gender. This complexity is reiterated iu Euro-American gender variance among those who have come to identify themselvcs as preoperative, postoperative and nonsur- gical transsexuals as well as male and femalc cross-dressers andtransvestites. These individuáis forrn a transgender community that is in theprocess of creating nol just a third genderbutthepossib¡!it)fof numeróosgenders and múltiple social identities. As such, they challenge the dominant American gender paradigm with its em- phasis on reproductíon and the biological sexual body as the sine qua nonof gender identity and role. As a political movement the tiansgender community views genderand sex systemsasrelativis-ric structures imposed by society and by the privileged controllers of individual bodies, the medical professions. The transgenderist ¡s disquieting to the established gender systcm and unsettles the boundaries of bipolar! ty and opposition in the gender scherna by suggesting a continuum of masculinity and femininity, renounc- ¡ng gender as aligned with genitals, body, social status and/or role.  Transgenderism reiterares what thecross-cultural record reveáis- the ¡ndependence ofgcnder traitsemhodied in a Western bio centricmode!ofsex. The purpose of this essay is ÉO contribute to the deconstnic- tion of the E uro-American gender paradigm by focusing on cul- tural change in gender-variant socialidentiticswith particular 1 attention to the male-to-female transsexual. Gender-variant iden- tities are analyzed as derivative yet transgressive of the wider gender schema. Ethnographic data from my research on male-to- female transsescual and male transvestite identities are provided as historical background to this undertaking as they sitúale the social construction of gender-variant identities ofapproximatelytenyears ago (data were collected from 1979 to 1981).' The questionof cultural change in the social construction of the male-to-femaletranssexual identity is examined on the basis ofinformation col- lected in 1992. Three sociocultural factors inlluencing this change are subsequently ¡dentified, followed by adiscussionof their implications for the Euro-American gender paradigm. Parameters añilMethods Several caveats are in order at the stirt. Because theethnographic effbrt is labor intensive, there iré limits placed on the parame-ters of research. 2 This essay concems oníy those individuáis born w¡th the appearance of male genitals who are assigncd and raisedas males but who are gender transposedto varying degrees. The research and consultingpopulation includes males who identify themselves as m af e-to-femaletranssexuals, cross-dressers (the term preferrcdby those in the transgender culture over transvestite)and thosewho label themselves transgenderists. Member ( nativc ) language usageis followed ín referríng to this community. 5 Although pbysiological females are índeed part of the trans-gendcred commiinity, this study does not include female gender variation. Unfortunately,this exclusión inacivertently contributes to the silence of female-to-male preoperative, postoperative and nonsurgical transsexwals, female transvestitesand masculine -appearing lesbians. In this regard, Jason Cromwell suggests that the invisibility of female-to-male transsexuais is directly related f i, e \Vestern gender paradigm, just as the visibility and privi- I - n o oí male-to-female postoperative transsexuals is dominant ã^clinical discourses. 4 Aswillbe discussed, this paradigm is abiocentric one emphasizing the physiological insignia of gender. My methodology is prirnarily qualitativc.The ethnographic scope of ^¡s research spans ten years and includes investiga- tion of male-to-female transscxuatism and transgenderism locally,reoionally andnationally. For two years Iimmersed myself in the daily Uves ot'male-to-femab transsexualsand to alesser degree those of male cross-drcssing consultante* In 1992, 1 interviewedtransgendered individuáis using formal and informal methods, including content analysis of an open-ended, in-depth question-naireas well as discourse analysis ofvarioustransgendered com-munity newsletters, brochures and other texts. 6 ín addition, I aitended and collected data at two national conferences for the transgendered community,the National Transgender Annual Meetings (a ííctive ñame) ajid a well-known and much-celebrated annual internationa! event, the Fantasía Fair. This approach al- lowed for an in-depth focus on diversity. Male-to-Female Transsexuats and MaleTransvestites:TíichotomizingÜiversity In 1982, 1 concluded the intensivo participant- observado n phase of myresearchin the Berdache Society,agrass-roots organization of male-to-female transsexuals and maie transvestites. My inquiryfollowed male-to-female transsexuals as they separated themselvesfrom thcir former male lives after they found the social identity of transsexual and began a process of transforma tion that includedhormonal treatment and psychotherapy, ¡deally culminating in sex-conversion sutgery. Their transió rmati o n had the character-istics of a rite of passage in which men became women; their becoming involved the transmutation of personal identity,.social identity and physiology. This approach suggested that transsexu- als did not begin their transition with fully crystallized femininepersonal identities, as ¡s widely reported in the medical litera-ture, but rather gradually acquired a feminine identity. Their transformationis summari/ed in Table 1.  and/orself-coiicept rale, secretly 2 Trinssexual Dressingaswoman Male, but femi- Separador! andsubidentity as dual role occu- hormonal liminality, inpublic^elf- as vvoman, trans- pancy, anticipating reassignmenc, transición, sexual subidentity full-time status as ¡ncreasing liminality, nutPdmary identityFull-timestatusas Increasing The Berdache Socicty and thenetworks il spawned played a critical role in the creación of atranssexual¡dentity among itsmembers. This was in partenhancedby theapproximatelytwenty-five self-identified heterosexual male transvestitcs (the term they used at the time to describe themselves) whose participation inthe Berdache Society contributcd to its identity-brokering func- tions byproviding an identity counterpoint. 7 At thetimeof rny fieldwork, there were only threegender options (social identi-ties) ivailable for physical males who cross-dressed among the group Iworkedwith: the surgicaüyoriented male-to-female trans- sexual, the male transvestite and the gay female impersonator/ cross-dresser. Transsexuals distinguished themselves from gayfemale imper- sonators andmale trans ves ti tes. Gay female impersonators repre-sented one kind of inside-ouLside dichotomy; (he male is inside, beneaththe outside sartorial systcm of female. The ¡nner or real self is male and the social self is an ¡Ilusión of presentaron. 8 Trans-sexuals viewed themselves as the only authentic participants in die inside-outside dilemma, perceiving gay female impersonators as engaged in parody and play, camping it up with gender iden- tity and role. 9 Transsexuals established a party linc that polarizedmale-to-femaletranssexuals añil gayfemale impersonators. In con- illusion or animpersonationbutratherin a true expression of a feminine gender identity, By extensión, male-to-female transsex- uals regarded themselves as heterosexual if eroticallyattractcd to males, lesbían if attracted to women and bisexual if attracted to both. According to my informants, gay men did not understandtht;critical difference between gay fernale impersonators andmale-to-femaletranssexuals.Because gay cross-dressers were eliminated irom the BerdacheSociety,male-to-female transsexualismand male transvestism emerged astwo discrete social identity options withclearly definedattributes, associated life-styles and coping strategies.Male-to-female transsexuals defined themselves by a bottom-line criterion of desire for hormonal reassígnment and surgery, privi- ¡eging their statuswithin the Berdache Society. If one Was not  absolutely committeil to having me surgery, trien one was de. facto a transvestite. Transvestios were delineatcd as heterosexual jrien (men attractedto women) who had the urgetocross-dress butwere not really womcn- If tliese individuáis had a Feminine iden-tity, the reasoning went, thcy would be pursuing surgery - withno apologies.Whilemale-to-female transsexuals regarded these identitíes as qualitatively discreto, rnany transvestitcs did not agree. Por thernit was adistinctionüf degree rather than kind. However, the trans- sexual dichotomkation carne to domínate the Berdache Society in various subtle yet clearly visible ways. Newcorners were pr e - sented withonlytwomutually exclusive possibilities for experi- encingcross-dressing. Tf one were transsexual, then pursuit ofbodily reassignment becameamarkof authenticity tomale-to- femaletranssexuals. Identifying someone as TS, member argot for a maie-to-female trarissexual, or TV, member argot for amale tranavestite, provided members witha script for relating toone another: what topics would be of interest, how they couldbe helpful, what common ground existedfor associating outsidethegroupnieetings and so on. Members of the Berdache Societywere more comfortable interacting with others who clearly iden- tified themselvcs as either TV or TS. Neophytes were made awareof this expectación and learned that it facilitated their incorpo- Discourses of Destiny: Constructions of the Transsexual ídentity The previous discussion has focused on the social organizatíon ofgender-variant identities among a group of transsexuals andtrans vestí tes. In this section, I take theposition thatthe social constructionofthcse gender-variant identities reproduces the Euro-American gender paradigm. Furthermore, the biológica! bias of this paradigm his framed the emergence of the transsexual identity both as a clinical entity and as a member-constructed and member-experienced identity. Because genderis conflated withbiological sex, it is no surprise that the transsexual identity has emerged as a medicalized one. This may be understood as part of more eeneralized trend in which bodies, physiological sex andJeproduction have been co-opted by the clinical sectors.¡° In this ente* 1 » Iemphasiíethe medí  calzationof the transsexual iden- tiry as a social -histórica!discourse reifying gender as biological.members of the Berdache Society. While I reproducesthebiologizedandmedicaliz it is also resistan!. This rebellíon against in the cultural shaping o f gender-variant:henative construction ; the dominan! gender it of the social changesidentities presented in Medicalization and Social Reproduction The late 1960s spawned an era that may be characterized as the flourishing of the physiologically altered preoperative and post- surgical transsexual. During the 1970s and early I980s more than forty North American gender clinics, many affiliated with medi- cal schools and universities, were offering programs leading to sur- gical reassignments. Male-to-female transsexual i sm was given form by suchgrowingmedicalization. From itsinception,the transsexual identity sustained the Western paradigm that the sexes are oppositional and differences in behavior, temperament, character, emotionsand sexual orienta-tíon are constituted in biological polarity. This opposition is rep- resented by the genitals, the syrnbols of reproductive differences and the primary basis for assigning biological sex. Gender attri-bution is, for themost part, genital attribution, write Suzanne J, Kessler andWendy McKenna.'z However, despite the power of genitals in assigning sex, late-twentieth-century medicine has pro-duced increasingly sophisricated methods for determining biologi- cal sex and identifying invisible physiological components such as ch romos ornes, hormones, interna! gonadsandreproductivestructures. It is ironic that, the more scientific and complex thedeterminants of biological sex become, the lessthey can be relied on to indícate gender. The androgen insensitivity syndrome in women ¡Ilústrales the preeminence of genitals in assigning and
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