Transsexualism: Identity or process

March 13, 2011 at 4:58 am Leave a comment

When it comes to defining who we are, we each have to choose which tribes we belong to. I, for instance, identify as human, Canadian, South African, immigrant, queer, and trans. These are only a few labels that apply to me. Deciding which label is primary can be challenging and can have long-lasting repercussions.

Transgenderism is a term that gets bandied about to describe  many different takes on gender. Some to whom the label is applied, insist that they are neither man nor woman, or that they are a bit of both. Some identify as a third gender, separate from man or woman altogether. Transsexualism, on the other hand, is normally applied to a very specific kind of transgender person: someone who was born one gender (e.g. female) and chooses to live out their lives as another (e.g. male). Many transsexuals do not see their condition as a primary identity. Someone who has cancer, for instance, does not all of a sudden become a cancer sufferer first and human second. They are men and women with a serious medical condition. And, if they are lucky, their cancer can be successfully treated. If that happens they can move on from that identity. They become survivors of cancer.

Transsexualism can be seen in a similar light. It is a condition that carries with it many complications. It often requires medical intervention. But it does not trump the person’s humanity. To be transsexual does not automatically make you less than human, less worthy of respect or dignity, and it certainly does not deserve to be a life sentence of humiliation and lack of rights. Many transition successfully and leave behind the transsexual label as they integrate socially as the gender they perceive themselves to be. Perhaps that is healthy. However, those of us who are transsexual will always carry some reminder with us of our past life, be it photos or friends or legal documentation to remind us that our path was different from the majority’s. For some, this is problematic: they seek only to forget the past. For others, including me, I do not want to erase who I was because it forms a crucial piece of who I am today. How I came to be a man has shaped the kind of man I am.

I did not always identify as transsexual. My journey took me through many different diagnoses and labels and I continue to refine my understanding of who I am, who I want to be. There was a time I believed that maybe I was crazy. My father, a psychiatrist, labeled me as borderline personality – a mental illness that carries with it a stigma of its own. Sufferers also often struggle with issues of gender identity. I no longer believe the label to be accurate. Instead I see it as my family’s attempt to make sense of behaviour that they could not understand or accept. When I began hormone treatments, my family felt concerned that I was injecting drugs into my body to feel normal, and yet they had raised no such qualms about the many psychotropic drugs I had previously been taking for depression and anxiety, some of which my father himself had provided me.

All this to say that transsexualism is a condition that I will carry with me until the day I die. The label is not so much an identity as an experience that has helped shape the person I am. Who I am is a human being, a believer in the rights of everyone to be treated with dignity and respect. For that reason I do not shy away from the label. It is a badge of honour I carry with me — a reminder of the suffering I went through to be where (and what) I am today.

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Entry filed under: Gender, Transgender. Tags: , .

Finding your path One person’s success

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