sexual relationships figure in the construction of a transgendered person?
Sexual relationships or sexual preferences tend to be the elements that are usually accepted as defining factors in the sexual and social identity of an individual. This means that sexual relationships are often seen to be the determining factors that constitute the very psychological and social identity of the person. This view of sexuality presents a number of problems -- particularly with regard to the transgendered person. Firstly, as the following definitions of transgender will make clear, there are many variations and ambiguities to the term transgendered, which can be confusing. Secondly and more importantly, there is an ongoing debate which revolves around opposing views of what constitutes sexual identity. One point-of-view sees sexual relationships and identity as innate or "naturally" constituted. This view is opposed by the social construction theory which sees sexual identity as a "construction" engineered by society and various power groups within a culture. A third view sees sexual identity of the person as a combination of these two aspects and suggests that sexual identity is something far more complex than either physiological or sociological explanations can uncover.
As will be discussed in this paper -- The central theme that emerges from a study of transgender sexual relationships is that these sexual relationships are not a definite or "fixed" characteristic of the transdendered personality. This means that sexual relationships are varied and fluid within the transgender environment and they are therefore not a definitive way of understanding the meaning of the transgendered person. Therefore, in terms of this viewpoint, sexual relationships as such are not primarily helpful in understanding what constructs the transgender individual. This view and other perspectives will be discussed.
One of the central issues that come across in the research on this topic is that a major part of the problem in understanding transgender issues lies in the misguided attempt by many critics to formulate a concise and unambiguous understanding of the subject. What becomes evident and what the present study will hopefully show, is that a formal and unambiguous understanding of the transgender sexual relationships as a determinant of sexual identity is not only extremely difficult to achieve but that it is also not an adequate way of describing the transgender phenomenon and the transgender experience.
There is some debate, and even disagreement about the actual meaning and definition of the term transgender. According to the Wikipedia encyclopedia, "transgender is generally used as a catch-all umbrella term for a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups centered around the full or partial reversal of gender roles." (Wikipedia: Transgender) A clearer definition of the transdendered individual is: "Transgender people are a diverse group of individuals who cross or transcend culturally defined categories of gender" (Bockting, W.O. 1999). Therefore, in terms of the above definitions a transgendered person can include people who identify with the following categories of sexual identity and behavior. These include:
... male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals ... (those who desire or have had hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery), cross-dressers or transvestites, trans-genderists (those who live in the gender role associated with another sex without desiring sex reassignment surgery), bi-gender persons (those who identify as both man and woman), drag queens and kings and female and male impersonators
These designations do not include more modern terms such as gender blender, gender bender, gender outlaw, and gender-free. (ibid) For purposes of clarity in this study the following will be used as a working definition of the transgendered person.
... people who were assigned a gender, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.
3. Different views on the construction of sexual identity and relationships.
3.1 Theories of sexual identity
Identity and sexual relationships are in effect inextricably interrelated in many complex ways. However, this does not necessarily mean that there is a clear cut pattern of sexual behavior or relationships that fits easily and neatly in a determination of an individual's sexual identity. The understanding of sexual identity as a construction is much more complex than just assigning various types of sexual behavior or relationships. The complexity of gender identity and its connection to sexual relationships is underscored by the following quotation.
Gender identity is one of four distinct components of sexual identity, along with natal sex, social sex role, and sexual orientation. These four components can be combined in a multitude of ways, creating a spectrum of sexual identities and a myriad of associated expressions.
(Bockting, W.O. 1999)
A model of the components of sexual identity has been developed by Michael Shively and John DeCecco. (M. G. Shively and J. R DeCecco) This descriptive model expolicates the understanding of sexual identity by distinguishing four aspects: natal sex, gender identity, social sex role, and sexual orientation. Natal sex refers to the gender as it appears at birth by the external genitals. "If these genitalia are ambiguous, natal sex may be male and female, a form of intersex, or another sex in its own right." (ibid)
Gender identity on the other hand refers to the way a person feels about his or her given physical sexual gender. This aspect depends on the degree to which the person identifies with the natal aspects of gender. Transsexuals for instance do not experience a close correlation between natal and sexual identity. Even more complex is the social sex role that people experience. This can vary in different situations. "A person's overall social sex role can be masculine and/or feminine to varying degrees, and can manifest itself as masculine in one context and feminine in another. " (ibid) Finally, according to this model, we have sexual orientation, which refers to sexual relationships and attraction to others. There are numerous complicating aspects here, including issues such as fantasy and emotional attachment. For example, "one can be sexual with women only, fantasize about both women and men, and experience emotional attachment to a transgender person. " (ibid)
The above outline or model provides a brief view of the complexity of the issues involved in this interaction between of sexual identity and relationships.
One of the central questions that concern this study is whether a sexual relationship is one of the central determining factors in the construction of the transgendered person; and to what extent social and cultural factors form the main constituents of that construction. Another issue which complicates this question is whether the sexual relationships themselves are not to a large extent socially constructed.
The question of the construction of the transgendered person, in terms of their sexual relationships, implies a certain way of thinking about human sexuality and the way that it is defined. The term construction also implies that sexuality and sexual identity is an ideology that is not innate or determined solely by nature. The social construction of sexuality and sexual norms was questioned and interrogated by the philosopher Michael Foucault. His famous work, History of Sexuality, Volume (1978) opened up the area of sexual identity and the ideological aspect of sexual categories. Foucault's work was largely responsible for the " ... post-structural critique of sexual ideas and discourses ...." This resulted in the questioning of accepted norms and binaries about sexuality and sexual identity. "In subjecting the largely unexamined binaries of male/female and homo/hetero to analysis, theorists have gone beyond taxonomies of deviance to understand the cultural, historical, and textual sources of these idea systems; (Hostetler and Herdt 249) in essence Foucault and other modern theorists have argued that there is no basis to the innate theory of sexual differences but that sexual orientation is a completely historical and social construction. This view sees human sexuality as "plastic' and extremely variable and flexible. This is opposed to the view of sexuality as anthropologically and physiologically based.
Foucault's view of sexuality helps us to understand the relationship between sexual relationships between trans-gendered persons. For Foucault the nature of gender is something that is created by power structures. Gender and sex are something that is socially constructed. He is therefore not an essentialist and does not view sex and sexual behaviors in a fixed or normative sense. Essentialism is really the acceptance of relative truth promoted by the powers that be in a society. In terms of gender and sex, essentialism views certain roles and behaviors as being correct and valid and maintains a certain prescriptive coherence when it comes to gender issues.
One of the important terms used to describe the understanding of subjectivity that Foucault suggests, is the 'discursive' nature of gender and sex. The discursive nature of sex is contrary to the essentialist view " ... unlike essentialist theories of gender, like French Feminism, Foucault highlights that the subject is a 'discursive effect', that is, they are the product of many intersecting discourses of truth, power, knowledge and ethics." (Groenewald, D.) Therefore, sexuality and gender are dynamic elements which are only determined and…