Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Coming out Trans: Questions of Identity for Therapists Working with Transgendered Individuals: (Trans Identity from the Queer Perspective)

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Coming out Trans: Questions of Identity for Therapists Working with Transgendered Individuals: (Trans Identity from the Queer Perspective)

Article excerpt

[An earlier version of this paper was originally delivered as a presentation at the In the Family conference "Fostering Therapies of Resilience," San Francisco, CA, June 2001. At that time I was a member of the Ethics Committee of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (now the World Professional Association for Transgender Health), past-president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, a member of the International Foundation for Gender Education, FTM International, and TGSF (Transgender San Francisco), and had been, since 1989, a participant in Bay Area Gender Associates (BAGA), the longest-running therapists' peer consultation group in the world devoted exclusively to transgender identity issues. I thank my BAGA colleagues--Rebecca Auge, Ph.D.; Koen Baum, MFT; Lin Fraser, Ed.D.; Kim Hraca, MFT; Dan Karasic, M.D.; Luanna Rodgers, MFT; and Anne Vitale, Ph.D.--for their thoughtful readings of and responses to this paper in its penultimate draft.]

What is gender? I believe it is becoming increasingly clear ... that ... gender is considerably less fixed than we have been led to believe and that one's sex has less to do with one's wholeness than one's individuation. So simple is this idea that I think it is easy to underestimate the momentous implications such a view has for civilization as we know it.... Ours is a culture in which the gender dichotomy has been made so central to the definition of what it means to be human that any change reverberates deeply and terrifyingly in the souls of even those who ardently wish for movement.

--Robert Hopcke, Persona: Where Sacred Meets Profane


A gym-toned, bearded man and a voluptuous, large-breasted woman were walking down Castro Street a few years ago, in the heart of San Francisco's gay mecca, and as they passed a local coffee place they were hissed for being breeders. The man had once been an extremely well-known member of San Francisco's leatherdyke community, and the woman had been a recognizable gay male resident of this very neighborhood for years. At such a moment that altogether transcended degrees of queerness, what could they do but laugh? At that moment, what could they have said about the ways gender identity, gender roles, and sexual orientation intersect? How can we talk about identity in this context? What is a trans identity from the queer perspective?

The premise of this paper is that, at least in the absence of a known transgendered therapist or specialist, you and you and you and I--therapists known to be LGB--are often the referrals of choice among straight doctors and therapists for their transgendered clients, simply because straight people often presume similarities between "transgressive" gender identities and "transgressive" sexual orientations.

We and our transgendered clients may make the same assumptions, and in fact there are many reasons to include "T" along with GL and B in the headlines, banners, parades, and events that more and more bind a very broad coalition into a single community of people. What makes our sometimes disparate groups one community can be understood most simply by the need every individual in those groups has to take at least one look at his or her own identity, exactly terms of sex and gender, that the main body of straight, heterosexual, vanilla, non-queer folk do not have to do. Even though some straights most certainly do make such an examination, they don't have to: they can get along in their lives, in their relationships, and in society without ever attending to that aspect of themselves; and so I use that necessity to define the concept of queer, and it is what, for me, lumps T in together with LGB and a few other fellow travelers, such as people in the leather, or BDSM, communities.

But being transgendered and being G, L, or B are also not alike in many ways, and in those ways the experience of coming out with a variant gender identity, including coming to terms with a gender-variant life, is not like the experience of other comings out. …

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