Transsexuality is a term used to describe individuals who desire to change their sex and/or gender presentation. Transsexuals may also self-identify as male-to-female (MTF), female-to-male (FTM), preoperative, postoperative, or nonoperative transsexuals. For example, the experience and visibility level of MTF transsexuals may be dramatically different than FTM transsexuals, because they are transgressing different gender boundaries.
Since the late 1980s, transgender has come into common use as an umbrella term for individuals identifying as transvestites, transsexuals, gender queer, no gender, or multiple genders. Although some transsexuals identify as transgender, the two identities are not interchangeable; indeed, transgender-identified individuals tend to have a history within the lesbian, gay, and bisexual social and political communities. Social problems faced by transsexuals and transgenders may include difficulty with state recognition of sex or gender changes and discrimination in employment, insurance access, and housing, along with violence and suicide.
Most difficulties faced by transsexuals and trans-genders are rooted in the legal and social ambiguity of changing gender or sex status, which varies by country and culture. For example, in the United States, many states either require expensive medical procedures in order to change legal documents or do not allow individuals to change the sex listed on their birth certificates or driver’s licenses. Because many social interactions and structures are organized based on gender, transsexuals and transgenders may face discrimination if they are perceived as gender ambiguous or transgressive. This daily discrimination may include refusal in public accommodations, violence on the street, and hate speech. Some cultures have space for “third gender” or gender transformative roles, such as the berdache tradition in Native American culture or hijras in India, that may alleviate this discrimination. Other cultures may include roles for gender transformative individuals, such as prostitution, that may intensify this discrimination.
In the past two decades, transsexual and transgender activists have organized through support groups and the growing transsexual and transgender movement to advocate for social justice. After World War II, well-known transsexuals such as Christine Jorgenson, British actor Jan Morris, and American tennis player Renee Richards raised public visibility of issues facing transsexuals. Contemporary activists such as Pat Califia, Kate Bornstein, and Leslie Feinberg have continued this education and activism. Transgender activism within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement has led to the increase in local and statewide protections against discrimination for transsexuals and transgenders. Both transsexual and transgender activists have also been involved in various local and national activism around access to medical insurance and health care, street violence, police harassment, and shelter accommodations for homeless transgenders.
- Califia, Patrick. 2003. Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Cleis.
- Meyerowitz, Joanne. 2002. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Rubin, Henry. 2003. Self-Made Men: Identity and Embodiment among Transsexual Men. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
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