Final Project (M104MC)

Transgender Research

So finally my research about my documentary is finished. It was a long, but very interesting and informative process. I am glad that I took a little bit more time for the research, because I think it’s better to now about certain topic in order to achieve it.

In order for me to start film my documentary about the transgender person named Sami I need to make a deep research about my subject. Understanding the gender identities could be difficult sometimes. Often gender identity is confused with sexual orientation, but there are two completely different things. A lot of people usually make assumption about someone’s gender identity based on how they look. Actually the gender identification refers to internal self-identification while sexual orientation refers to physical attraction to other people.

According to the traditional thinking the idea that there are only two genders men and women is natural, but this is wrong. Membership in a men or women category is not a choice it is natural and automatic assignment (Garfinkel 1967).

The presumption that two genders correspond to two sexes is wrong, because there are more than two sexes and more than two genders.

Issues involving the strictly binary view of the body were unconsidered until transgender and intersex individuals defied theoretical perspectives and challenged the supposed equalization of genitals, gender and sex (Davidson, 2002).

Although I am familiar with the subject through friends it’s not enough. I need to explore the subject and in order to do that I need to go back at the very beginning. So according to biological facts bodies are sexted to the size of the gametes (sperm and eggs) of the species. Sperm are small and eggs are large. But when we have a look at some plants and animals we can see that there are some species in the animal kingdom that can be male and female at the same time or different time in their life span. Gody fish for example crisscross their sex because of a reproduction.

According to Meyerowiz in the late 19th century when scientists first identified sex hormones, they shifted from defining gender according to physical features and chromosomes, rather than the origin of sexual development, because it’s easier for them. They labelled these hormones male or female.

During the sixteenth week of gestation the human fetus reaches a sexual crossroad. And at that point the presence, absence or quantity of hormones or interfering drugs or chemicals ingested by the pregnant can all influence the part of the brain that governs gender identity.  But because it is chemicals itself that influences brain cells to take on a male or female neural network at this stage of fetal development a gender identification after birth is not common.

Moir and Jessel argued that brains influenced by testosterone are larger and have denser concentrations of neurons in some areas. According to Crenson males have more gray matter in the brain’s parietal and cerebral cortices, which handle computation, while females have more white matter which specialize in connecting brain cells with each other.

The hypothalamus as the endocrine center of the brain regulates the cyclical release of hormones later in life, thereby affecting secondary sex characteristics such as body hair and breast development.

There is a hormone intensity in the first few months after birth and later in puberty that suggests the development of gender identity. Mostly the result of prenatal hormone representation continues under the influence of the body’s hormonal environment in combination with the culture’s gender socialization.

According to Devor “Chemical pathways in the body often convert one sex hormone to another before the hormone is actually used by the body. The situation is even more complicated due to the fact that the action of sex hormones in combination can either be inhibitory or enhancing. (1989)

Some chemicals that affects gender identity may enter the body from external sources like synthetic estrogen. They can change the way the endocrine system works. Basically it mimics what hormones do by blocking or triggering natural hormones. Mimics fasten with molecules and produce etrogen-like effects on the development of the brain, male and female organs and breasts causing variety of disorders which can include feminization of males, infertility and early breast development. (Endocrine Society 2002)

Other chemicals that can affect hormonal development is the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) which was used in the period from 1945 to 1979 to protect U.S. troops from diseases carried by insects.

According to the research in recent years phthalates chemical compounds used in cosmetics, plastics, medicine and others found in mothers in the end of their pregnancies have been linked to less masculine baby boys.

Bodies must conform to societal ideas of what males and females should look like. Doctors are the ones who decide the gender of a new born baby by “fix” their genitals and surgically creating a gender for them. But according to Kesser they don’t see it that way. They believe they are “uncovering” something that was always there. They feel they can find the true gender that is there, but isn’t appear yet. It is so easy for doctors to decide someone else’s gender, but they don’t think about what will happen with that baby when it grow up. To doctors genitals that seem different from the male/female norms are “deformed”. In other words it’s not normal for them and they just make a decision on their own.

The thing that I found more interesting is the intersex conditions although my documentary will focus on trans person there are quite a lot similar things. An intersex condition is usually individuals born with either one X chromosome and other X or Y chromosome. Usually the XX chromosome is associated with female and XY with male, but not always. According to the studies those with Klinefelter syndrome possess more than one X along with the Y. This is basically when a combination that is clearly seen in male genitals, small testes, some breast development and sometimes infertility. People with androgen infertility syndrome have XY chromosomes, but are highly feminized. That is because of the testosterone that is blocked and their bodies cannot fully masculinize. They usually have male organs, but female secondary sex characteristics.

According to Devor the consequences to transgender and intersex people can be determined by virtue of legislation, by virtue of the opinions of medical practitioners, legal opinions or by flat of government bureaucrats. And no matter what any authorities may say, there will always be some people who refuse to accept that a person may ever change their sex, no matter what they may go through. Although sex is commonly understood to be biological reality it is in many ways very much result of largely invisible social negotiations. We engage in social and legal wrangling to decide what actually counts to qualify one to be able to legitimately claim membership in a particular sex category. (2002, p.7)

Often transgender individuals are poorly understood by the people for them they are automatically stigmatized in the category of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The homophobic society still debates weather homosexuality is natural or a choice and similar arguments based mainly on religious grounds view transsexuality as unnatural. Very often trans people are expected to be gay by the others which is not always the case. The fact that they are trans does not automatically means that they are gay. Again there is a lot of confusion between sexual orientation and gender.

Green found out that parents who send their gender-variant children to psychologists or psychiatrists often do that because they are afraid that their children are gay or lesbian (2204 p,14). Surgery on intersex infants is motivated at times because of the fear that the infant will grow up to be gay (Feinberg, 1998, p.91). Unfortunately, most of the parents are not fully aware of what will happened when that child grows up.

The gender binary could be really harsh especially for people who don’t follow the traditional standards of male and female and mostly for trans people. That is something that limits the individual expression of a person. Just because it’s much easier for the society to exclude those who are ‘different’ that does not mean that those people don’t exist. But as Wilchins reminds us that ‘gender binary is not something out there, but a product of the way we see” (2002, p.43) it is clear that people believe in what they see.

The real problem comes with the gender requirement on the birth certificates. If the infant is born with either X chromosome and other X or Y chromosome the parents are forced to decide the gender. That could lead to various problems in the future. It is not just the growing up part or the teenage years. I happened to know a few intersex people that cannot find a job, because of the gender identification on their ID cards. Because doctors decide to ‘correct’ what they think is wrong and how is that fair? It is not another thing that I find quite strange is when someone ask me; how do I explain that there are more than two genders to a child or that there are gay people. What is good about children is that they don’t need a specific explanation of how someone should like or behave. If you raise your children to be kind, to be good, to respect other people in general and this is how every kid should be raised you won’t have any problems with explanation. Every parent should support their children in everything. There are a lot of parents who does not support or believe their children in terms of their sexual orientation. My question is how can you stop love your kid when you find out they are gay, lesbian, bisexual and so on? How can you stop care about your own child who is often bullied in school by other students? As a parent you are the most important and trustful person for a child. If you don’t support your child than who? But learning how to behave and accept things could be a lifelong process.

According to Devor learning to think about gender in an adult fashion is necessary to becoming a full member of society, as children grow older they learn to think of themselves and others in terms more like those used by adults (1989, p. 44).

The thing is that in most cases the gender acceptance is stigmatized by disapproval and harassment whether is verbal comments, jokes at school or on the street. The problem is that school institutions put boundaries between boys and girls. Whether by lining up boys on one side and girls on the other or by having segregated bathrooms or playground areas. Even if the child feels ‘different’ they learn how to hide that. They look to their parents, siblings for acceptance, for sings that they are okay. It is natural for a child to feel confused about gender or to want to dress or play with what are seen as cross-gender toys. Unfortunately, most of the kids are misunderstood because they feel certain way that is different from the expectations.

How one feels internally is one aspect of gender identity. What gender other attribute to us and then how they respond to us is another. Trans people want to be treated as how they identify themselves. According to Wilchins “the images are form of ourselves and see in our heads constitute a kind of internal dialogue. They are conversations we hold with ourselves about what our bodies mean, an imaginary construction we undertake over and over again. In time these images stabilize and become what we identify as ourselves.”

Many trans people including Sami take steps of physical transition such as hormones, surgeries and presentation both for personal reasons and for how that will transform their social relationships among family, partners, friends or at work.

The concept of transition is not the same for everyone. The actual transition with hormones for Sami started three years ago, although it’s something that was in her head for the past ten years. One of the hardest things is the struggle to be authentic self when you do not fit into gender binary. This lack of recognition deprives trans people of valuable role models and denies everyone true knowledge of gender variance. There are many aspects of the authentic self whether is mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually. That of course depends on each person. A lot of trans people are scared to truly show themselves due to rejection or abuse from other people. These situations could lead to isolation, depression or worse.

Hormones are probably the most common step that every trans person take. Usually hormone levels change three times in the life cycle. This is during the first few months after birth when hormones stimulate release of sex hormones. The second is at puberty when males produce ten times more testosterone while females double the estrogen. And the last one is during old age when the estrogen decreases and testosterone increases in woman while in men the estrogen increases and testosterone decreases.

Transmen who are on testosterone have different experiences. It could be a muscle growth, fat redistribution, voice dropping, face squaring, facial hair, dick growth, breasts shrinking or male pattern body hair.

Transwomen who are on estrogen usually experienced two major changes emotional and physical. When it comes to the emotional part that could be relaxation and piece within themselves, more happiness. The physical changes however could vary from body hair gone, soften of facial features, aggression dropping, breast growth, beard and body hair dropping, softening of skin, decreasing of muscle mass and so on. The emotional and physical changes from the hormones make differences in the lives of transsexuals. They begin to look and feel more included in the society.  Because of the expensive surgeries most of the transsexuals are just on hormones as they are more affordable.

The identity of someone is how he or she or them want to be recognized and expressed to others. We just need to learn to accept that. Gender variance needs to be seen as valid not abnormal.

Coming out is really hard thing to do in general, but I feel that for trans-identified people is even harder. Gender variance and homosexual orientation are both personal things and people may respond with dislike of or surprise. But a different sexual orientation does not challenge people in the same ways as gender variance. Some trans-identified people will probably continue to look the same and may even take on the same gender role as a gay man or a lesbian, but a transsexual will change his or her appearance in terms of body and gender role.

Telling people about a gender variance is scaring. Whom to tell, what to tell and when to tell are all weighty factors. Sami came out to her parents when she was 14/15 years old, but because her sister was trans too everyone though that she was just coping her sister. She finally realized that she doesn’t want to hide that anymore and told people.

When it comes to the public bathrooms in most of the places we are all familiar with the symbols of men and women on the doors. Very good example of discrimination. What one trans-identified person do in this situation? A lot of people find disturbing the fact that ‘men-look like’ person using women’s bathroom or the other way around. I was in a coffee shop the other day and I went to the bathroom. I have noticed that they have three bathrooms. One for women, one for men and the last one had a sign on the door ‘All gender toilet’. It is not that hard after all. Entering a public bathroom because of a necessary biological function should not be a shaming experience or a problem of any kind. There needs to be all gender toilets everywhere so that all people feel included. How can something so simple like using the toilet be so hard?

Being yelled at on the street is not a good thing I had a conversation with Sami two days ago and she told me: “I went out to the shop near my house last night and a group of 15 or so kids kept asking me questions and misgender me and got it in my face”. Of course that affected her and she is often feeling dysphoric, because of people like these. No one deserves to be treated like that, but it’s not the kids fault. Parents should raise their kids better. If you can’t raise your kid to respect others you fail as a parent, because love and kindness are the main things that you should teach your children.

Trans-identified individuals often face a lot of barriers in terms of medical care. Of course the surgeries and hormones are medically necessary, often doctors, therapists or insurance companies sees these treatments as cosmetic or elective. Sami had to explain the doctors what the process of transition means, because they didn’t know what to do. She said: “You basically have to play up everything or they won’t accept you, they don’t see non binary as a thing, and they ask a lot of personal questions that some of them are a bit unnecessary like asking how you masturbate and who you are sexually attracted to”.

One’s legal status as male or female matters. It matters in terms of marriage, divorce, adoption, child custody, inheritance status, employment for access services like shelters, clinics, health benefits and for identity papers. For trans people being stopped by police or showing a driver’s licence can be stressful. The whole process of changing legal documents should not be that hard and complicated. Of course that depends on where you are. In some places changing name or sex take time and money. In others documentation of surgery is required before issuing the new birth certificate. I read a very interesting article about Canadian baby that is the first baby without gender designation on health card. If more countries accept that that would the solution to avoid all these problems later on.

Having an authentic self is essential for positive mental health and nourishing mutual relationships. Just recently I found out that Sami is going to get married. Her partner who is also trans proposed to her. Although they are happy there are some problems when it comes to mental health. Often Sami is feeling dysphoric about her body. Which does affect her sex life and relationship. Sometimes she doesn’t feel comfortable with how her body look like in terms of her breasts and the fact that she needs to shave very often. Some days she goes through 5 outfits in the morning until she fins which one she is feeling comfortable with. It is amazing how much affects you when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin.

As a conclusion I may add you don’t have to be gay to support and accept people for who they really are you just need to be human. People from the LGBTQ+ community don’t choose who they are, but you can choose not to hate, bully or abuse them in any way. We are all humans we are all live in this world and we need to learn to love each other and be kind to one another, because if you think about it it’s not that hard. People are changing generation after generation and I really hope that one day there won’t be questions like: Why are you gay, why are you dressed like that or why are you using that toilet? Love is love and has no gender!

The bibliography will be on the next post!

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