Confusing Cause and Effect

By: Donna Lynn Matthews, March 1999

"A transgender identity is as natural as any other. Why can't people just accept that and let us be who we are?"

This is a common sentiment amongst the transgendered population. Rejecting the notion that we are sick, we declare that this is how we were born and just want to be allowed to be ourselves. We recognize that as a group, we suffer oppression at the hands of society.

I do not question that the trans-population suffers oppression. Nor do I question that we are not sick. But I have to question the validity of the statement that a trans-gender identity is something natural. Is a trans-gender identity natural, or can it's origin be located external to oneself? Is our transgenderedness the cause of our oppression, or is the oppressive gender system the cause of our transgenderedness?

Some Terms

Lets take a look at some the words we use to classify ourselves.

First on the list is sex:

Definition number four is the most common interpretation. When we talk about our sex, we almost always are talking about our genitalia. In common daily usage, sex is about parts: penises and vaginas.

Next up is gender:

While there are several related meanings for gender, it is definition 2b which is the one we want. Gender is a social construct. It is about people interacting with oneanother.

For most of society, these two words, sex and gender, are interchangeable. One's gender and sex are expected to match, meaning that the males are boys and the females are girls. These people for whom sex and gender align are known as cisgendered.

Cisgendered literally means: on this side of the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. Ones social presentation matches their physical morphology.

Next up: transgender:

For a society that equates gender and sex, this is a pretty accurate definition. Just for fun, lets take this word apart anyway and see what the pieces themselves mean. We've already done gender, so that just leaves trans.

Trans means 'on the other side of' or 'opposite'. So 'trans-gender' literally means 'on the other side of' (or opposite) of the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. No big surprise here.

This little exercise brings an important point to light. In order for there to be a 'trans-gender', there needs to be something which is not 'trans-gender'. There needs to be something to which we feel opposed. The one can not exist without the other. That something is cisgendered.

The Issue

Is a trans-gender identity something natural and innate, or can it's origin be located external to oneself? Is our transgenderedness the cause of our oppression, or is the oppressive gender system the cause of our transgenderedness?

To answer this, lets look at how we come to be gendered in the first place. We are born and a doctor looks at our genitalia and assigns us a gender. The basis of this assignment is simple: men have penises (i.e. are male) and women have vaginas (i.e. are female). We are gendered based on our sex. We have been taught that this is the way things are and it is not questioned. The child is raised as either a boy or a girl on this basis. The process of gendering a child is, from the perspective of the child, nonconsensual: the child has no say whatsoever in this matter. This is the cisgendered ideal at work.

As a nonconsensual act, the gendering of children amounts to oppression. At no time is the child consulted as to what he or she might want to actually be. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Displays of gender traits deemed inappropriate for the child's assigned gender are addressed in a swift and decisive manor: they are not permitted. And it is not only from a child's parents that one's assigned gender is enforced, most every facet of society works to keep everyone in their place: boys on one side, girls on the other, and no middle ground.

But what happens if someone doesn't want to be the gender assigned to them? This is where the construct of transgenderism comes in. If the person in question was gendered at birth as a boy, but doesn't want to *be* a boy? Preferring to be a girl instead and gendering themselves as a girl, this person will develop what has come to be known as a transgender identity since their gender of choice is opposite that which was assigned to them. This identity violates the cisgendered notion that gender and sex have to match. The transgendered individual could be: sexed male but gendered as a woman, sexed female but gendered as a man, or any other host of states in-between.

This sounds pretty reasonable, right? So what's the problem?

The problem is this: How can our gender identity, trans or otherwise be natural if we have no say in the matter? The answer: it can't.

Lets play "What if..."

What if we were allowed to develop unfettered by the gender rules in society? There would be no guiding or directing us as to what is appropriate for our gender. Such a society would allow us to become whatever gender we wanted. Now, assuming that we have been the ones to choose our gender, would it be possible for us to be transgendered? Remember the derived definition we came up with for transgendered: to be on the other side of (or opposite) of the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. As there would be no behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex, how could one form an identity in opposition to that which does not exist. The answer is one could not have a trans-gender identity were one allowed to choose their gender. In order to have a trans-gender identity, you must start with a gender to which you feel opposed. If you choose your gender, then there is no reason to feel in opposition to it.

The Result

More than likely, such a society would not have just two genders but many, probably to the point where there were no real distinct genders. Without the oppressive rules governing gender, people would be free to gender themselves as they saw fit. However, given the current system, it seems clear that there is nothing natural about any gender at all, especially transgenderedness. A lot of time and effort goes into the creation of properly gendered individuals, too much effort to consider the process natural. It is expected that the conditioning one receives will be compatible with the individual, but this is not always the case. A trans-gender identity is usually symptomatic of this lack of resonance with one's gender conditioning.

Again let me state, I do not deny that we suffer oppression from society. Nor do I deny that the oppression directed towards us is because of our transgender identity. But since the institution of gender is itself an oppressive system, a transgender identity amounts to a symptom, indicative of one's natural development stunted by the oppressive ideology of the binary gender system..

Please Note:

The information here is copyright protected and is the exclusive property of Donna Matthews.

Opinions presented here are entirely my own and do not represent the opinions or policy of any other corporate entity.

Back Home

Back from whence ye came