Monday, July 19, 2010

Queer/Trans 101

The following is a handout I prepared for a workshop at Broadway United Methodist Church. The workshop was an introduction to Queer and Trans issues. Other workshops in the series specifically addressed sexism and racism. Because we weren't able to have a workshop specially dedicated to disability and body image, I also included a brief disability keywords section at the end. The handout is not comprehensive, and definitions may be simplified and un-nuanced, but for a very general audience, this information may be very useful.

Education Hour, Broadway UMC, June 20, 2010

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Col 3:28

Introduction to Trans and Queer Identities

Gender: In common usage, “gender” is typically used interchangeably with “sex” and is used to refer to the condition of being either a man or a woman. In more specific conversations, the term refers to a wide range of behaviors, social roles, and identities. For example, gender can be used to describe large categories like “men” and “women” as well as gendered roles among men or women (such as “femme,” “butch,” “top,” and “bottom”). Gender is also used to describe cultural or personal practices that are perceived as “masculine” or “feminine” (such as wearing makeup or sitting with your legs far apart).

Most scholars emphasize that gender roles are socially constructed: For instance, in the US men typically do not wear dresses while women are encouraged to. It’s not that wearing a dress is more natural or right for women; rather American boys are taught by their families and schools that dresses are inappropriate attire for boys, and the rest of American media and culture support and enforce that view.

Sex: The condition of being male or female. These categories have traditionally been determined by the presence or absence of a combination of factors including: penis, vagina, testes, ovaries, uterus, levels of testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, and X and Y chromosomes.

Many scholars argue that sex is also socially constructed. They ask if the definitions of male vs. female stable are over time, and whether these definitions are adequate. For example: If a “man” has a penis and testes but is unable to produce sperm, is he male? If a “woman” goes through menopause and takes estrogen and progesterone therapy, is she still female? If a child is born with neither a recognizable penis nor vagina, what sex is the child? If a “woman” with breasts, functioning ovaries and uterus takes a gender test and is found to have chromosomes other than XX, is she female?

Intersex: A person born with genitals that medical professionals consider ambiguous or a person with genetic information that results in uneasy or impossible classification within the XX or XY binary is an intersex person or person with intersex. Because our culture so highly values sex/gender, in most countries intersex is medically classified as a disease whose treatment is surgery typically performed on babies followed by hormone treatments at puberty. Parents are typically uninformed about any other options. Very often, babies with intersex are categorized as female because doctors find it simpler to shape a clitoris than a penis. The medical community typically believes that it’s better to cut an intersex baby’s genitals to the size of a “normal” clitoris than to allow the child to grow up as a female with a large “clitoris” or as male with a small “penis.” These procedures often result in the inability of the adult to experience sexual climax.

An intersex movement has been gaining more attention in recent years. Many adults who were medically diagnosed as intersex are coming out as intersex. Others argue that “intersex” should not be recognized as a category because it was entirely invented by the medical community to enforce sexual difference and gender roles. Many prefer that intersex or disorders of sexual development (DSD) remain strictly within the confines of the medical establishment; they say that people with intersex belong as much to the LGBTQA community as persons with any other medical condition. Most people with intersex would not classify themselves as trans or queer, but all three groups experience oppression from the medical and social establishments for not adhering to strict gender norms. In addition, Cheryl Chase and the Intersex Society of North America has worked together with trans people and organizations to develop theoretical ground that would benefit both groups.

Queer: Many people use “queer” as an umbrella term for lesbian, gay, and related sexual orientations, but a definition that is more congruent with the Queer in LGBTQAI is an identity that acknowledges the constructedness of the categories of sexual orientation (gay or straight), sexual difference (male or female), and gender roles (being a “real” man or woman). Those who claim a specifically queer identity emphasize the choices they make to create their own identity apart from societies that value adherence to specific kinds of gender and sexual norms.

In a world where we’re constantly given directions to “check the box that describes your identity,” a queer identity chooses a mode of expression that purposefully disrupts the assumptions behind such directions.

Cisgendered: A person with one of two gender identities that is recognized by society as matching the sex one is assigned at birth. For example, a person who adopts male pronouns, a male social role, and who has had a medically recognized penis and testes since birth. Most people are cisgendered. Using the term cisgendered recognizes the fact that traditional gender/sex combinations are not natural but have been culturally constructed.

Transsexual: Someone who adopts a gender role that society recognizes as opposite the sex they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals use surgery or hormones to modify their bodies. Examples are FTM (Female to Male) transsexuals and MTF (Male to Female) transsexuals.

Transgendered (Trans): A person with one or more gender identities that do not conform to traditional definitions of gender. Transgender is often considered an umbrella term that includes transsexuals, cross dressers, drag queens, drag kings, genderqueer folks and androgynous persons (among many others). All trans identities can contain folks of any sexual orientation or preference.

Transgender is often used more specifically to describe those who adopt a gender role considered opposite their assigned sex and who do not use surgery or hormones to modify their bodies. Examples are FTMs and MTFs.

Genderqueer: Similar to the definition for “queer,” “genderqueer” refers to expressing one’s gender identity outside of the binary of male or female. There are many possibilities within the genderqueer category; examples are those who alternate gender roles and pronoun use and those who prefer gender neutral pronouns, but there are many others.

Gender Neutral Pronouns: Many gender variant/ gender nonconforming people prefer gender neutral categories. Instead of He/She, use Zie. Instead of Him/Her, use Hir. Some may also prefer to use They and Them as gender neutral pronouns; some may use other forms or words.

Want to Learn More? Be honest with yourself and others about your limited experience in defining gender and sexual difference. It’s important to educate yourself. Utilize Google, Wikipedia, Ask people you think may know for book and article recommendations (feel free to email or A good, useful, and fun book to start with is Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein (1994).

Discussion Questions:
· How do you think a trans/queer person would feel coming to our church for the first time?
· What can we do to help a trans/queer person feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
· Have you felt that you’ve always been free to make choices about your dress, hair, body, behavior, and pronoun choice? Have you felt forced into certain kinds of gender expression? Have you always felt comfortable with the choices you’ve made or been forced to make?
· What can we do to help all sizes and shapes feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and like a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
· How do you think a person with a disability would feel entering our church?
· What can we do to help a person with a disability feel welcomed (we want you here), affirmed (you are beloved by God and us), and like a necessary part of this community (part of “us”)?
Key Terms for Disability Studies

Medicalization: the process by which human conditions and problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions and problems, and thus come under the authority of doctors and other health professionals to study, diagnose, prevent or treat. The process of medicalization can be driven by new evidence or theories about conditions, or by developments in social attitudes or economic considerations, or by the development of new purported treatments. Medicalization is often claimed to bring benefits, but also costs, which may not always be clear. Medicalization is studied in terms of the role and power of professions, patients and corporations, and also for its implications for ordinary people whose self-identity and life-decisions may depend on the prevailing concepts of health and illness. Once a condition is classed as medical, a medical model of disability tends to be used rather than a social model. Medicalization may also be termed pathologization (from pathology), or in some cases disease mongering. (From Wikipedia entry “Medicalization”)

Disability Studies: Following the lead of critical race, gender, and queer theory, the study of disability is growing worldwide. Disability studies often takes as its starting premise that the disadvantage typically experienced by those who are disabled reflects primarily the way society defines and responds to certain types of 'difference'. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability Studies”)

The Medical Model of Disability: This model is presented as viewing disability as a problem of the person, directly caused by disease, trauma, or other health condition which therefore requires sustained medical care provided in the form of individual treatment by professionals. In the medical model, management of the disability is aimed at a "cure," or the individual’s adjustment and behavioral change that would lead to an "almost-cure" or effective cure. In the medical model, medical care is viewed as the main issue, and at the political level, the principal response is that of modifying or reforming healthcare policy. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability”)

The Social Model of Disability: This model sees the issue of "disability" as a socially created problem and a matter of the full integration of individuals into society. In this model, disability is not an attribute of an individual, but rather a complex collection of conditions, many of which are created by the social environment. Hence, the management of the problem requires social action and is the collective responsibility of society at large to make the environmental modifications necessary for the full participation of people with disabilities in all areas of social life. The issue is both cultural and ideological, requiring individual, community, and large-scale social change. From this perspective, equal access for someone with an impairment/disability is a human rights issue of major concern. (From Wikipedia entry “Disability”)

Accessibility: a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is accessible by as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the "ability to access" and possible benefit of some system or entity. Accessibility is often used to focus on people with disabilities and their right of access to entities, often through use of assistive technology. (From Wikipedia entry “Accessibility”)


  1. I have to say, as an Intersex person, I find it very offensive that you are making intersex people assume that they have some gender idenity issues. I find the poet very offensive that you are making intersex people look as if it's a sexual orientation/gender identity instead of leaving it alone as a medical condition. This is why intersex people find it so hard to be left alone when people like you continue to place intersex people as if they have gender issues.

  2. kallmannssyndrome, I apologize, really. I am only recently coming into my knowledge of issues related to intersex, and quite honestly, I am surprised by your offense and even by the fact that you've come across this blog. Can you be more specific about what it is I should change? Oh, and I also see I have a typo: I'm now going to change "that does not results in uneasy or impossible classification within the XX or XY binary" to "that results in uneasy or impossible classification within the XX or XY binary..." Please understand, that I am definitely teachable on these matters.

  3. I also added "is medically classified as" in one section. Leaving that out was definitely a gross error, which I had assumed would be implied, but I sincerely apologize for its absence. Still, any suggestions you have are appreciated.

  4. I think I see now what you're saying. I would just say that the way I'm defining intersex is in line with a lot of intersex individuals and activists. For example, Thea Hillman has a good book out called Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word). I'd definitely be interested in hearing your reaction to her book since for a very long time, she shared what I think your perspective is.

  5. First of all, If your gona be talking about Intersex people. You need to Leave intersex people out of the Transgender crap. The majority of Intersex people do not have any Transgender or Gender identity issues. As an Intersex person, I find it very offensive that you would class Intersex people with transgender people. Intersex people again, do not have any gender identity issues or sexual orientation issues.

    On top of that you need to read more on DSD (Disorders of Sexual development) which is the medical term for Intersex.

  6. Kallmannssyndrome, Several things:

    I never classified intersex people as transgendered or vice versa. I only said intersex is a queer/trans issue just as I also classified gender, sex, cisgender, and gender neutral pronouns. I think you have every right to name and classify yourself.

    I also admit that I have not read enough about intersex issues. I am working on that. In the meantime, I do have some familiarity with the literature on DSD, intersex movements, and am sure I am not speaking out of ignorance. You and I just disagree. Your theoretical stance on DSD is fundamentally different from mine and from the sources that I have found useful. I read your post ( ) and disagree with most of what you say, but I was affected by what you said about outsiders erasing your experience. I don't want to do that, and I apologize for making you feel that way. However, I feel an ethical responsibility to represent intersex the way I and the intersex theorists I've read view as most just and accurate. I will add a line to the definition as I've written it. I'm sure you will not be satisfied, but I hope you view it as a gesture of acknowledging any definition's limited ability to recognize all experiences.

    In response to your claim that intersex is a medical condition that is apart from trans issues, I want to urge you to see gender from the perspective of a transperson or even from a cisgender person. Why must biology determine destiny? Why must chromosomes determine gender? Why must genetic information determine social roles, clothes, hair, and what medications and procedures a person is allowed to have? It's possible trans activists have been too forceful in co-opting the experience of intersex individuals. If that's so, I am truly sorry. Still, you will find that the LGBTQA community is likely the fiercest allies people with DSDs have, and there are many intersex activists who are working to make sure intersex lived experience is not erased within the LGBTQAI community. Many LGBTQA people view themselves as sharing something in common with intersex people: the medical establishment has attempted to control our bodies and lives, but we find it necessary to fight for the individual's right to live their chosen life. I hope you live yours, but grant intersex people who align themselves with the LGBTQA community the right to do the same. Grant trans and queer people the same right as well.

  7. Here are some links I want you to read before u reply to this post;
    Dangerous Intersections: Intersex and Transgender Differences

    Adding the "I": Does Intersex Belong in the LGBT Movement?

    DSD Guidelines

    What's the difference between being transgender or transsexual and having an intersex condition?

  8. Kallmannsyndrome, I had read a few of the links you posted (though I have not read everything in the two handbooks), and I've just now read the others. I think you and I aren't in as much disagreement as you may think. I do not classify people with intersex as trans or trans people as having intersex. I am saying the two communities have a common interest in changing public perceptions about gender and "normative" bodies. The second and last links you posted both speak to that issue. I will definitely think twice about including the I in LGBTQA, but I think you will see from my blog, that the entries are not only about trans or gay issues. I am writing from a feminist perspective--one that values human diversity and freedom from social oppression. I do not wish to tokenize people with intersex, and I want you to know that the information from this post derived from an educational workshop that was to address several things: Trans and queer identities, disability studies, and issues of body image. Intersex seems to fit well into that kind of conversation. Again, even though the name of the post is Queer/Trans 101, I do not advocate or suggest that Trans/Queer=Intersex.

    What you say about biological facts is concerning to me. I do not deny that the medical establishment is useful, but you even say that it has done you wrong in many ways. An MD can say, "You have a medical reason to take hormones/medication" or "You have a medical reason to have a fluid gender identity." I don't think anyone needs an MD to say that. I think each of us is capable of determining what pronouns one wants, what gender roles (if any) one wants, and what "primary" or secondary sex characteristics one wants to encourage through medical/cosmetic intervention.

    I think your story is an important one to tell, and I believe intersex experience is distinct from transgender or queer experiences. I am sorry trans people have tried to erase intersex experience by making claims to intersex conditions/identities. They are likely trying to find social justification for their experience, but they are being more concerned about their social credibility than the fair representation of intersex people by intersex people.

    It's too bad that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender are words that scare parents. It shouldn't be so. In a just world, children with intersex would be welcomed into the world and accepted as one among many genetic and bodily possibilities, each with its own needs for medical attention. In a just world, trans and queer people would not need to come out because they'd be free to explore and express their own personal possibilities. I hope that even if you don't agree with all the particulars of what I say you can at least see that we're fighting for the same thing: a just world.

  9. I don't think you think twice about adding Intersex to the LGBT crap. I think you just add Intersex because you think Intersex has something to do with sex and gender issues. I think you added Intersex in their because you wanted to imply that intersex people had gender identity issues and that you implied to parents of intersex kids and babies that their intersex child has gender identity issues. The information you got and posted, makes intersex people look like as if they had gender identity issues and not Medical issues. The information you got makes intersex people look like a sexual orientation group and not a medical condition group. I think the information you have imply to people and society that intersex people = trans people.

    See, their you go again. Mixing biological science with feelings. The fact that you can't distinguish medical science from feelings is why Intersex people are not happy with the way the LGBT community treats intersex people. You simply don't understand that no matter what feelings you have, it doesn't count. What counts is your chromosomes and your DNA. Your DNA tells you who you are and what your gender is. It's plain and simple and that Feelings don't tell your DNA jack. It's also why you can't change your DNA.

    It's wrong to exploit intersex people and I think you were doing the same thing that transgender people do to Intersex people. Exploit them and exploit their experience to justify their own existence. It's wrong in my book for any transgender person to exploit intersex people for their own social and political gain. It's wrong for any trans to think they are intersex without any independent proof. It's even wrong for any trans to steal, co-opt and claim to be intersex.

    The way I see it, adding intersex to LGBT would imply to parents of intersex kids and babies that their intersex child would grow up to be queer. That alone would scare some parents into pushing their intersex child into the operating room and forcibly surgical normalize the Intersex child. Forever traumatizing and psychologically damaging the child even further. All because the parents saw something online about their child's intersex condition on a site that implied that their intersex child will grow up to be trans or queer. That's why Intersex people such myself are not happy when we see a Site like this saying something out intersex people and classing them in the same category as transgender people. It puts intersex kids and babies in greater danger and it makes their parents even more scared than ever.