Trans Theory

Understanding transgender theory requires one to look into history to see how the image of transgendered people has come to be what it is today.  There have been many different groups and ideas that have influenced how people who are transgendered are viewed and/or treated within a society.


    There are several perspectives of transgender/transexualism:

            To begin with, transgendered (which can be used as a term to encompass all those who participate in forms of “gender identity transgression”) individuals were seen in only a few different ways until the 1990’s.         

    They were originally divided into two groups

Those who decided to live as another sexed identity were described as struggling with a mental problem

    Those individuals born intersexed were seen as being faced with a bodily/physical problem.


Eventually the definitions for each kind of gender transgression were created (transsexuals, transvestites, transgendered, drag, etc… the definitions can be found on our website), and the acknowledgement was part of what lead to the initial acceptance of these individuals. 

Queer Theory

            One perspective of transgendered people comes with those who have adopted the same thought process of Queer theorists.  Those who agree with this theory feel that there is no reason to make boundaries and rigid definitions around identity; are there really only two sexes? Why should a person choose to live as one gender or the other?  Are there more than two genders? The entire idea of identity is broken down and (in a Queer theorist’s deal world) reconstructed to allow people to live as whatever gender they like regardless of their biological/anatomical make up.  Furthermore, one’s identity does not lie in any sort of physical space, but becomes an individual thing that is rooted deeply within the individual, and is unique to their own personality.

            Similarly, Queer theorists believe that those who decide to become one gender or one sex are conforming to the “norms” of society and simply encourage (even if not purposefully) the further oppression and need to categorize.  However, there are many who believe that the decision to change one’s gender or even biological sex is not conforming so much as adapting or fixing a problem.  When Margaret O’Hartigan discusses her own sex change from male to female, she describes it as “maintaining and enhancing a gender continuity.”  That is, the sex change (or even non-surgical changes) is done to “correct” or adapt the body to match the gender that the individual identifies with.  Many transsexuals and many transgendered people as well agree with this idea and also concur that it was the same motivation that drove them to make their own changes.

Masculinity Perspective

            When studying the dynamics and history of Trans theory, the issue of masculinity and its power is another important part.  Many feminists believe that masculinity is the part of society that continues the oppression of women and marginalized individuals.  However, Pat Califia (interviewed in Chris Beasley’s book, Gender & Sexuality) discusses the issue at length and ultimately says that it is not masculinity that lies at the root of patriarchy and hierarchy but that again, identity is one of the pieces of an individual’s identity- since there are so many who live as “masculine” who are still not privileged like many men, the answer does not lie here.  She says instead that men and women “both have power,” and as such, the gender hierarchy is simply accepted.

Last Words

            It seems that throughout most of history, transgender people were only accepted by society when they could be placed into some sort of box (the fact that they were so different made it hard to classify them as one thing or another, leading to discrimination).  This is especially seen when looking closely at the law and medicine (particularly pertaining to the laws and rights of those who wish to make some sort of change to themselves, surgical or otherwise). But is it necessary? Should we make people feel they have to choose one gender or sex to live with and as?  Is it possible for a person to remain just the way they are, creating for themselves a new gender and/or sexual identity that may have not been adopted by others before?  Trans theory pushes us to ask questions about the parts of one’s identity, and how crucial they are.  There are so many sides to the issue of Trans theory, and ultimately, each person must decide what their personal beliefs are in order to evaluate where they stand. 




Text Box: Changing Bodies to Match Gender
Understanding the Transgender Lifestyle




 What is Transgender

Trans Theory

History of the Transgender Movement

Surgical and Other Options

 Transgender Laws and Rights

Transgender Health Issues

Dictionary of Terms

Helpful Resources

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