Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Transgenderists: Products of Non-Normative Intersections of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Transgenderists: Products of Non-Normative Intersections of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

Article excerpt

Contemporary society is organized around the assumption that social arrangements will be fairly predictable and that individual behavior will be easily decodable. We expect that social interactions will conform to established norms and that people will act in accordance with salient statuses. Although the roles traditionally attached to some statuses, such as class, age, and gender, have become more flexible, sex has been an exception to this trend. All of social life, including personal relationships, organizational arrangements, and institutional policies and practices, is based on the assumption that sex is a dichotomous category determined by biology and that it is not subject to identity reconstruction or reinterpretation. Although one may be free to "gender bend," social life is predicated on the premise that the gender one presents to society is congruent with one's biological sex and that one's identity as male or female also follows. However, as with all of social life, there are exceptions to rules and expectations, even when it comes to the sex of those around us.

Some members of society, whether intentionally or not, present themselves as members of sex categories of which they are not biological members. Peo (1988, p. 57) refers "to the broad category of behavior where persons of one sex emulate or take on attributes of the other sex" as transgender behavior. While others (Devor, 1987, 1989) have examined females who socially present themselves as men, our focus is on males who present behavior patterns that are interpreted as indicators of womanhood. Our discussion focuses on the full gamut of transgender behavior, including the nearly constant sex and gender transformation of the pre-operative transsexual to the isolated and situation-specific metamorphosis of the female impersonator (Note 1).

Our discussion, unlike most treatments of the subject, is not concerned with etiology; rather, our goal is to provide an understanding of the elements and dynamics of a myriad of transgender behavior. We believe an expanded examination of the dynamic interplay of sex, gender, and sexuality will provide a clearer understanding of individuals who portray themselves in ways that defy established categories.


The study of transgenderists centers on the intersection of sex, gender, and sexuality. In examining the interplay among these three facets of identity, the problematic elements of social policies and institutional practices become clearer. In the contemporary United States the dominant ideology purports sex to be a dichotomous, discrete, and permanent social category. Gendered social behavior and appearance are assumed to correspond with one of two discrete biological sexes. It is assumed that sex can be deduced from appearance, and institutions and interactions are organized around that premise (Gagne & Tewksbury, 1996; Lorber, 1994). As Woodhouse (1989) explains, "Sex, gender, and appearance form a sort of trinity which runs deep in our social and psychological expectations of how our lives should be" (p. ix). Incongruity of sex and gender is simply not tolerated.

Within dominant belief systems, it is further assumed that gender is indicative of sexuality (Pogrebin, 1980; Storms, 1980; Troiden, 1988), so when the gender presentation of self varies from one's biological sex, an assumption of sexual deviance follows (Gagne & Tewksbury, 1996). Further, if sex identity--one's belief that he or she is male or female--differs from one's anatomical make-up, similar assumptions about sexuality follow. Thus, rigidities in sex categories, like gender, have at their core homophobic assumptions about the proper relation among sex, gender, and sexuality.

The literature has shown that there are numerous components of gender and sexuality, but has revealed little with regard to sex. We believe there are three elements within each of these aspects of identity and status. …

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