Phil 327





(1)   Question One: Why would a male to female (MTF) trans woman have a lesbian relationship with a woman? Why go through all that bother if you’re just going to be with women in the end, anyway?


Answer: Sexual orientation is distinct from gender identity. The former concerns the object of sexual and affectional attraction. The latter concerns one’s sense of self (one’s self-identity). This may also concern one’s relationship to one’s own body (how it feels from the inside, whether it matches up with internal body-images) as well as how one is treated by other people and permitted to behave and express oneself in society.


(2)   Question Two: If a (non-trans) man found that he was attracted to a male-to-female (MTF) trans person, what is his sexual orientation?


Answer: There may be no answer. If we recognize that sometimes there is no fact of the matter whether a person is male or female, then it follows that there may be no fact of the matter whether the person is attracted to a man or a woman.


On the other hand, if the trans woman identifies as a woman, then perhaps we should respect her identity (and call the relationship straight). But what if the man identifies as ‘bi’? Should we respect his identity?


Tough question.


(3)   Question Three: Do all trans people have ‘The Surgery’?


Answer: This is a problematic question. It presupposes that there is such a thing as ‘The Surgery.’ By that expression, people generally mean SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery). And by this people mean GRS (Genital Reconstruction Surgery). But why should sex-change be equated with genital reconstruction? This is to adopt the ‘natural attitude’ according to which genitalia are the essential signs of sex/gender. The problem is that there are many surgeries. For female to male (FTM) trans people: top surgery (breast removal), hysterectomy, phalloplasty (GRS), metoidioplasty (clitoral extension), etc. For male to female trans people: breast augmentation, facial reconstruction, tracheal shave, vaginoplasty, labiaplasty, orchidectomy, etc. Different surgeries are important for different people. And some people don’t want surgery at all. Some trans women (mtfs who see themselves as women) do not want vaginoplasy, but may want breast augmentation. Some trans men do not want phalloplasty, etc.


Some trans people do not have surgery because they cannot afford it. Therefore, it is problematic to link the definitions of concepts (such as 'transsexual') to the notion of surgery. At any rate, this points to ways in which transsexuality (taken as involving medical intervention) intersects with the issue of class.


(4)   Question Four: What is the difference between ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual?


Answer: The term ‘transsexual’ was originally used in a medical context to indicate an individual who felt they were ‘trapped in the wrong body’. “Sex-Change Surgery” was seen as the solution to this medical condition. By contrast, the term ‘transgender’ was often used to indicate individuals who lived in the gender opposite to the one assigned to them at birth but who did not want to have surgery.


Now the term ‘transgender’ is used more generally to refer to anyone who breaks from traditional gender categories (transsexual, cross dresser, drag queen/king, some butch lesbians, etc.). ‘Transsexual’ is also now used in a way that is not necessarily medical. It can be used by people who wish to have surgery. It can be used by people who identify with the gender opposite to the one that was assigned to them at birth.


The term ‘transgender’ was used in the early nineties as part of the emerging ‘transgender movement’ which became part of the ‘LGBT’ movement. Characteristic of ‘transgender ideology’ is the view that the binary between men and women is dangerous and ought to be opposed. Trans people are represented as ‘in between’ or ‘beyond’ traditional gender categories. This movement involves opposing the medicalization of trans people (i.e. the view that there is a psychological condition known as Gender Identity Disorder), etc.


(5)   Question Five: How do trans people self-identify?


Answer: Variously. Some trans people see themselves as men and women. Some see themselves as in-between, both, or neither. Some see themselves as transgender but not transsexual. Some see themselves as both transgender and transsexual. Some don’t see themselves as either transgender or transsexual (they see themselves as men or women period). Some blend racial identifications with gender identifications. Some resist all identifications. The list goes on.