Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Misunderstood

Source: GENEQ

This is an interaction with ongoing discourse. I recommend looking into the discourse yourself, though I have attempted to reflect the opposing opinions fairly.

Anyone who has sought transgender educational information online at all within the past year would have found that it is impossible to miss the schism forming within the transgender community. There is currently a debate going on about what the word “transgender” even means, and who has the right to use it. On one hand, there is the “tucute” community, who believes that being transgender is a sociocultural experience. On the other, there is the “truscum” community, who believes that being transgender is a medical condition. These two ideas work in opposition to one another, so, for the sake of the community, it is crucial to look into each side, and figure out where the common ground lies.

Typically, during the formation of an argumentative text such as this one, it is common practice for one to omit the definitions of the terminology being used, as it can be assumed that the target audience has a thorough understanding of the issues at hand. However, given that this entire debate seems to exist solely to create a more comprehensive definition for the word “transgender,” it may be important to see how different professionals define the word. The Transgender Student Educational Resources (TSER) website defines it as an “encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term transgender is not indicative of gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how one is perceived in daily life” (LGBTQ Definitions par. 1). The American Psychological Association (APA), a renowned group of psychologists, provides a similar, but inherently contradictory, definition to the previous one. They say that “Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth” (American Psychological Association par. 1). These two definitions would seem to work as mutual antitheses of one another. One definition prohibits those of non-conforming gender expressions without a disconnection from their assigned sex at birth from claiming the label of “transgender.” In contrast, the other definition enforces the inclusion of these so-called gender congruent people. The reasoning behind this stark disparity is the time period from which these definitions derive. The APA is utilizing an older definition of transgender, which includes anybody who may be socially cast out for their supposed “gender deviance.” This includes people in drag, crossdressers, and transvestites. This definition is explained in sources such as Susan Stryker’s book, Transgender History, which is often considered to be the most objective and useful account of the transgender justice movement. She justifies that,

the term [transgender] implies movement away from an initially assigned gender position. It most generally refers to any and all kinds of variation from gender norms and expectations. Of course, given that all gender, as defined above, varies through place and time… What counts as transgender varies as much as gender itself, and it always depends on historical and cultural context. It seems safe to say that the difference between some people have begun to use the term ‘transgender’ to refer only to those who identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned to at birth, and to use other terms for people who seek to resist their birth-assigned gender without abandoning it, or who seek to create some kind of new gender location. (Stryker 52)

Here, she develops that the TSER’s definition is more modern, as it is attempting to define the transgender experience based upon a lack of choice. She further posits that while the several definitions of the word out there may seem contradictory, these varying definitions exist because they were each created in different sociocultural contexts. In discussions of whether or not gender dysphoria is a necessary component to the transgender experience, the definition being assumed is often the modern one, which is present in the TSER’s website. Therefore, moving forward, all sources which cite the term “transgender” as inclusive of choice-based gender nonconforming people will be cast out as irrelevant to the topic at hand.

With that tedious groundwork established, one would naturally question the necessity of a gender dysphoria diagnosis. Nowhere in the definition that the TSER provides do they even mention this diagnosis. Therefore, it is integral to this discussion that the community works on gaining a common understanding of the term “gender dysphoria.” The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistics Manual 5th Edition (DSM-V) states that a gender dysphoria diagnosis entails “a marked incongruence between the gender they have been assigned to (usually at birth, referred to as natal gender) and their experienced/ expressed gender. This discrepancy is the core component of the diagnosis” (451). Most people will stop reading here, conclude that this definition matches up perfectly with the TSER’s aforementioned definition of the word “transgender,” and conclude that people with gender dysphoria diagnoses and transgender people are one and the same. However, those who continue reading will notice that there is an additional bit of information which completely changes the meaning of the term “gender dysphoria.” It continues “There must also be evidence of distress about this incongruence. Experienced gender may include alternative gender identities beyond binary stereotypes. Consequently, the distress is not limited to a desire to simply be of the other gender, but may include a desire to be of an alternative gender, provided that it differs from the individual’s assigned gender” (American Psychiatric Association 451). Therefore, one may conclude that the definition of “transgender” is entirely independent from the definition of “gender dysphoria,” as “gender dysphoria” requires severe distress to be present in the otherwise simply “gender incongruent” individual. Furthermore, the UK’s National Health Service contains the Gender Identity Clinic (a clinic dedicated to transgender health), whose website states prominently that “Gender dysphoria describes the distress experienced by those whose gender identity feels at odds with aspects of their body and/or the social gender role assigned to them at birth. This can be experienced as physical discomfort, and psychological and emotional distress. Social factors are often key in the experience of gender dysphoria” (NHS Choices par. 1). This firmly establishes that gender dysphoria is the distress which results from gender incongruence, and is not the gender incongruence itself. Now, to further clear up misconceptions about the terminology, the word “gender dysphoria” is never once referred to as a mental disorder within the DSM-V. While the DSM-V technically is intended for the diagnosis of mental disorders, “gender dysphoria” is separated from all disorders in the manual’s table of contents. Alongside this, the section of the DSM-V which intends to be used to establish a gender dysphoria diagnosis does not contain the word “disorder” at all in reference to gender dysphoria. Also, the label of “gender dysphoria” in the DSM-V solely exists as a more socially sensitive alternative to the DSM-IV’s diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder,” which was deemed inappropriate, as it stigmatized a natural experience of many transgender individuals. It is clear that, throughout medical texts, the term “gender dysphoria” is a medical condition which describes the distress one may experience as a result of being transgender. The meaning of the word transgender does not particularly entail gender dysphoria, but simply maintains that one must have an incongruence between their gender and their assigned sex at birth. With this information established, it is now possible to begin the discussion of whether or not one can experience gender incongruence without then experiencing gender dysphoria.

If it is not apparent already, the idea shared amongst all texts is that gender dysphoria is not necessarily a requirement to being transgender, it is simply one of many symptoms. In fact, most sources seem to have gone out of their way to state that gender dysphoria and gender incongruence are entirely separate and unrelated topics to one another. These sources also make it clear that gender incongruence is the sole criterion to judge the applicability of the label “transgender” in a given individual’s psychology. The definitions of “transgender” and “gender incongruence” even line up perfectly. Gender incongruence is defined by the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) as “the mismatch an individual feels as a result of the discrepancy experienced between their gender identity and the gender they were assigned at birth” (Terminology par. 9), which mirrors the earlier definition of “transgender” from the TSER which, again, states that the word is “an encompassing term of many gender identities of those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth” (LGBTQ Definitions par. 1). It would, however, be an extreme case of cherry-picking to continue to use one source’s definition of the word without accounting for any alternative definitions. If one were to simply visit Dictionary.com, they would easily find a definition of transgender which states that it is “noting or relating to a person whose gender identity does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth” (Transgender par. 1). It is now certain, beyond reasonable doubt, that gender dysphoria is not a key component to being transgender, but gender incongruence certainly is.

However, at this point, it would be entirely justified to jecture that, while the truscum community is objectively and factually wrong, they do not seem to be causing any harm with their ideology. While, on the surface level, this would seem to be the case, one of the largest obstacles the transgender community is facing at the moment is a direct result of the pervasive truscum movement which permeates throughout cisgender ideals of what it means to be transgender. As a result, much of diagnoses and narratives painted around the transgender experience may be ill-informed by truscum that the community requires gatekeeping in order to flourish. In affect, a large amount of the transphobia directed at the community is actually coming from within, though, instead of pointing at the entire community, truscum seem to point it at non-dysphoric transgender people in order to deflect their own internalized prejudices. While much of this seems to be direct and non-systemic bigotry, there is no such thing as bigotry which exists in a bubble. All transphobia placed into the world is contributing to a global system of oppression which intends to further diminish any minority which attempts to rise up. However, in this case, even though the minority which truscum attempt to oppress is non-dysphoric transgender people, their hatred and outright denial of aid to this minority-within-a-minority ends up reaching the transgender community as a whole.

In order to halt this wave of inter-community discrimination, more effort needs placed upon promotion of a proper education about what it means to be transgender, not only within our community, but also outside of it. Feeding two birds with one scone, truscum will be stopped from causing more harm to their own community through furthering misunderstandings of what it means to be transgender, while more thorough explanations of transgender experiences will be boosted amongst allies of all backgrounds. Ideally, this spread of education about the community not only would solve the tucute-truscum schism, but also world allow for a more active and unified transgender justice movement amongst the next generation.

Footnote : To make things extremely clear, the American Psychological Association is the source which was disavowed as being out of date in the prior paragraph. The American Psychiatric Association is a wholly separate organization.

References

NHS Choices, NHS, http://gic.nhs.uk/info-support/gender-dysphoria/.

American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

“LGBTQ Definitions.” Trans Student Educational Resources, www.transstudent.org/definitions.

Stryker, Susan. Transgender History: the Roots of Today’s Revolution. Seal Press, 2017.

“Terminology.” Gender Identity Research & Education Society, www.gires.org.uk/resources/terminology/.

“Transgender.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/transgender.

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Megan Jordan

Megan Jordan

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writing about my interests, LGBTQ+ liberation, feminism, racial justice, and more