In the newspapers a few days ago, there was a piece for the general public about possible origins of gender variance. The article points to the small-N study of transsexual brains, among other things. It’s interesting work that really needs to be replicated and expanded before we make it gospel.

A lot of the tension of the sexual essentialists against the transgender camp (which they see as mudding their medical waters) comes from the question of whether you’re born with it or if you just like to do it.

The essentialists argue that the “transgender” umbrella definition lumps legitimate medical conditions together with fetishes, sexual compulsions, and social agendas that try to blur the lines of gender. Better for “real” transsexuals not to associate with these groups because of that muddy water. We’d be better off just blending in, doing away with the “trans” label entirely, and simply treat this condition as we would a cleft palette.

Fair enough.

But what do we do with the rest of the people currently under the umbrella? Do we jettison the cross dressers because they’re not medically legitimate? How do we know they’re not medically legitimate, by the way? One argument that I read over and over again is that if they were seriously transsexual, they’d have a vaginoplasty — nothing short of full transition from one side of the binary to the other side of the binary is acceptable. I’ve even read an argument that MTF’s who hold on to their sexual attraction for women, and who claim they are now lesbians, are illegitimate because a full swing from one end of the spectrum to the other would be seen not only in the “normalized” body, but in “normalized” sexual relations. I always thought Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire was the biggest piece of shit I had ever read, paranoid, backwards, and alarmist, so I’m fairly surprised to see this work referred to by the essentialists as visionary.

What about gender identity? Sexual essentialists really don’t go for this idea because they’re so focused on their “medical” condition and on the sexual/gender binary that the dysphoria inherent in having an identity at odds with your physical body is really a symptom of your medical condition instead of a legitimate condition itself. Don’t get me wrong — the sexual essentialists fully recognize how nasty the condition is and I have no argument with them in this regard. But what to do about it? Fix it by leaping as fast as possible to the other sexual binary, or work your way down the spectrum until the desperation goes away, maybe stopping half way?

What about gender expression? For the sexual essentialists, gender expression is perplexing because there’s only one gender expression: it’s the one that matches your true identity, the one you’ve always been and need correcting. To be fair, they are aware that there are many types of gender variance, from drag to gender-queer to androgyny, but these expressions of gender have absolutely nothing to do with a medical condition and thus fall outside of medical legitimacy.

And here’s where nutty personal beliefs can be harmful. The argument is that those who are legitimately suffering a medical malady need to be treated seriously by healthcare providers and politicians, while the rest… well, they’ve been legitimized (sort of) by the social constructivists, feminists, and cultural studies theorists, so let those groups deal with the problem. The umbrella of medical legitimacy has limited room under it, and the sexual essentialists would really prefer to stand under that umbrella and leave the rest to find another umbrella: the nice rainbow-colored one that covers fetishes, lifestyles, and socially constructed realities.