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.
several perspectives of transgender/transexualism:
who see transgender people as conforming to gender identity
expectations, giving into a societal pressure that will only oppress
transgender people as denying the very idea of sex or gender as an
identity and breaking down those “requirements” for someone to place
themselves within a certain category.
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.
originally divided into two groups
Those who decided to live as
another sexed identity were described as struggling with a mental problem
individuals born intersexed were seen as being faced with a bodily/physical
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
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.
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.
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
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.