Monday, November 02, 2009

The problem of transgendered identity

I wrote most of the following article back in April 2005. I intended to post it soon after I posted the article titled Coming to a restroom near you.

I never posted it because I had wanted to reference an article--or series of articles--I had read at least a year before.

In April of 2005, I couldn't locate the article(s), so I wrote to some people I thought might know about the author so I could locate what I was looking for. I never received an answer that I could follow up on. And I soon forgot that I had ever even begun the article below.

So you have some idea of what I had read back in 2004, let me quote what I wrote to my hoped-for source:
Last year, when I first came across the subject of transsexuality, I read at least one (and, I think, it was probably several) article(s) by a guy--I believe he was Polynesian or, at least, Pacific Islander--who was born with some chromosomal variant that left him in a very seriously vulnerable position, indeed. What I appreciated about his story (especially for the [Christian] audience I am trying to address) was, as I recall, his religious/faith perspective [he was Christian] and his emotionally open communication. One line, in particular (though I don’t recall the specific words he used) struck me with special force. He said something about feeling as if the world around him said that, because he was neither male nor female, he, more or less, didn’t have a right to live.
It was as if his very existence was an obscenity, an offense against God, a mistake.

Those "messages"--whether spoken or not, whether imagined or real--permeated his psyche. He didn't want to be what he was. But he was born that way.

So what could he do?

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female (not "intersexed" or "transsexual" or "transgendered") created he them." --Genesis 1:27

The issue of transgenderism came up again for me just yesterday. As I was working on a post I intend to make about what occurred yesterday, I found this article and realized I want it as part of the "public record" in anticipation of what I hope to publish later this evening or tomorrow.

So . . .

Written in April 2005

In preparing Coming to a restroom near you, I found the following article about Pauline Park: "Parking rights: Pauline Park is fighting for transgender rights," from the New York Blade.

I've always been a bit of a softie when it comes to people who are "different" and who are rejected by "normal" members of society. That may be, partially, because I grew up asthmatic and was, therefore, unable at the beginning of 5th grade even to throw a basketball as high as a hoop. I expect you can imagine: I was not well-accepted by the majority of more "normal" boys in school.

But for whatever reason I may empathize, I think we need to recognize that,
  1. Though there are those, like Pauline Park, who really and truly do feel more at home "identifying" as women, though they are "trapped," as it were, in male bodies,

  2. There are others--heterosexual men--who dress in women's clothing for the s*xual thrill it provides.
One could wish that all derision, all discrimination, all humiliation could be done away with. But I wonder: How can benevolent members of society protect themselves and others from those who are truly sociopathic?

I grieve for Park. As the Blade article recounts Park's story,
“When I was a young child, I use[d] to have constant dreams, always with the same premise,” she says laughing. “I was alone at night in a big department store in the women’s section. And I got to try on all the clothing that I wanted to.” . . . An adopted son of Christian fundamentalists in Milwaukee, she hid from the world behind stacks of books in libraries
. . . and lived a life of "quiet desperation."

It was in the early 1950s that transsexualism first made headlines in the United States when the press discovered that George Jorgensen, Jr., a 98-pound ex-GI, had undergone surgeries in order to become Christine Jorgensen. Since Jorgensen's time, transsexualism has become relatively commonplace. And those who undergo the surgery and the hormones are at least minimally accepted by a fair portion of the population.

Pauline Park, however, has no interest in undergoing surgery or taking hormones. So as the Blade article puts it, Park "inhabits" a male body but "embraces" a female identity.

This creates some interesting problems for many people.
Side Note

While I'm on the topic of difficulties, let me address one I face right now as a writer.

I am not used to dealing with people like Park. Park wants to be known as a woman. But is it appropriate for me to refer to a person like Park--someone who has a fully male body--as a "she"?

That's how Park wants to be referred to. That's how the Blade article refers to . . . her.

Now that I have confronted the issue, let me say that Park has had years and years to work these matters through in . . . her . . . mind. I have not. But for the sake of consistency in language throughout the remainder of this article, I have decided to refer to people by their self-identified gender classifications, without ellipses or other indications of the personal discomfort and internal hesitation that I feel.

But now let us return to some of the broader issues. . . .
First, I would like to address the issue of sexuality v. gender.

Many months ago, when I was working on my 20th Century World History study, I felt I needed to look into the case of George/Christine Jorgensen. As a result, I discovered some things of which I had been only the least bit conscious before.

So let me begin with the matter of which I had been aware.

There was a furor over one of the female competitors at the 1968 Olympics. I remember this because I was in junior high school, in 8th grade. And we discussed her case in our social studies class. It seemed so odd to us: a woman who wasn't quite exactly a woman. She had the general anatomy of a woman. Though, as I recall, she was described as having a very different muscle-to-fat ratio than most of the other contestants . . . because, unlike 99-point-some-odd percent of women, she had an extra Y chromosome. Most women are XX; men are XY; she was XXY. "Should she be permitted to compete against XX women?" [November 2009 addendum: Of course, this same issue has come up in just the last couple of months as the South African runner Caster Semenya of South Africa has been found to have both male and female characteristics--having external genital expressions of a woman, but lacking ovaries and benefiting (for sports purposes, anyway!) from the presence of internal testes which produce way more testosterone in her body than in any "normal" female.]

This article became of particular interest to me because, as a number of my classmates and I observed, our social studies teacher herself, Miss Drumond (name changed), seemed to have the exact same kind of sinewy, muscular body that the Olympic contestant had. "Might Miss Drumond be XXY?" several of us whispered among ourselves.

But now, as I began my study of George/Christine Jorgensen, I discovered there are other rare genetic combinations and some that maybe aren’t quite as rare as most of us imagine.

Jamison Green, an FTM (female-to-male) transsexual, in the opening pages of his book, Becoming a Visible Man, tells how he often begins a presentation on transsexuality and transgender:
Did you know that 1 in 20,000 men have two X-chromosomes, rather than one X- and one Y-chromosome? They don’t find this out until their female partner can’t get pregnant and doctors eliminate her infertility as the reason. . . . One in 20,000 men is a 46-chromosome, XX male; ten percent of those have no Y-chromosome material. . . . That statistic is from Chapter 41 in the 13th edition of Smith’s General Urology, a standard urology textbook. And what does that tell us about the Y-chromosome? Not that you need a Y to be male, but that you may need a Y to make viable sperm. Maybe! Because there are two species of small rodent-type mammals, called mole voles, in which there is no Y chromosome, yet they are still reproducing both males and females, still procreating just as other mammals [Graves, 2001]. So if you can be a man with two X-chromosomes, and at least 1 in 20,000 men is, what makes you a man? . . . (p. 2)
Besides genetic differences, some studies seem to indicate that there are other biological bases for what practitioners call the transsexuals' "gender dysphoria." Lynn Conway (a MTF transsexual), on her website, references a study published in the May 2000 The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus" by Frank P. M. Kruijver, Jiang-Ning Zhou, Chris W. Pool, Michel A. Hofman, Louis J. G. Gooren, and Dick F. Swaab:
Transsexuals experience themselves as being of the opposite sex, despite having the biological characteristics of one sex. A crucial question resulting from a previous brain study in male-to-female transsexuals was whether the reported difference according to gender identity in the central part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) was based on a neuronal difference in the BSTc itself. . . . Therefore, we determined in 42 subjects the number of somatostatin-expressing neurons in the BSTc in relation to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and past or present hormonal status. Regardless of sexual orientation, men had almost twice as many somatostatin neurons as women (P < 0.006). The number of neurons in the BSTc of male-to-female transsexuals was similar to that of the females (P =3D 0.83). In contrast, the neuron number of a female-to-male transsexual was found to be in the male range. Hormone treatment or sex hormone level variations in adulthood did not seem to have influenced BSTc neuron numbers. The present findings . . . clearly support the paradigm that in transsexuals sexual differentiation of the brain and genitals may go into opposite directions and point to a neurobiological basis of gender identity disorder.
--End of material written in April 2005--
--Beginning of Material written in November 2009--

As a matter of education, I would like to present some of the best information I've found on the matter of hermaphroditism or intersexuality.

The AboutKidsHealth website "article" (actually, an entire series of mildly animated graphic web pages) about children's sexual development provides excellent information about how sexual differentiation can "go wrong." Very matter-of-fact and scientific, but written not only for professional, but lay consumption as well.

For deeper information, however, you may want to study the Consortium on the Management of Disorders of Sex Development's Handbook for Parents.

Then there is the Clinical Guidelines for Management of Disorders of Sex Development in Childhood, a book described by its publishers as meant for professional service providers, "but may be of interest to patients and families as well. You may want to share this book with your doctors."

Then there is the Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Or the undergraduate-level Teaching Packet on Intersex Issues.

--More later

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