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A Queergendered FAQ
A Primer by Danica Nuccitelli, of Sphere

(For the purpose of this info sheet, I have used the term "queergendered" to mean people who are transsexual and transgendered but particularly those who are bigendered (identifying as both, or more, genders), non-gendered (not identifying with any gender) and third-gendered (constructing their own gender). Many of the questions and some quotes were drawn from P-FLAG's Transgender FAQ; where there are quotes attributed to P-FLAG , they are from that FAQ.)

1: What does it mean to be polygendered?

Polygendered people are transgendered. Transgendered people are defined by TGS-PFLAG as "individuals of any age or sex who manifest characteristics, behaviors or self-expression, which in their own or someone else's perception, istypical of or commonly associated with persons of another gender." Among transgendered people, there are transsexuals (who get sex-change operations), non-op transsexuals (who fulfill all the steps of a sex-change except for the genital operation), drag kings and queens (who dress as the "opposite" sex for performances) and transvestites (who do so all the time). And then there are us, the less well-known transgender folks. We are people who identify as bi-gendered, non-gendered, or third-gendered. We may feel we belong to more than one gender, that we have no gender at all, or that we are our own gender, something neither male nor female.

2: How are polygendered people different from "regular" transgendered folks?

Just like any other transgendered people, we might have a different name for ourselves than the gendered name we were given at birth; we might dress differently than most people of our birth gender and try to "pass" as another gender on a daily basis; we might take hormones or get operations to modify our bodies. The difference is that we are not "switching" from female to male or vice versa; we are going from living as female to living as both female and male, or living as a gay man and a lesbian and a teenage boy and a drag king, or living as no gender at all, ambiguously, or as something entirely other.

3. What causes transgenderism?

P-FLAG notes that "the overall psychological term is called gender dysphoria, an intense feeling of pain, anguish, and anxiety from the mis-assignment of a transgendered person's sex at birth." Experiments of varying validity have been done to try and find out what "causes" transsexuality, but they're very similar to the experiments done to discover the "gay gene." First, such experiments can't tell us very much until we take into account the whole range of sexuality and gender; second, they are misguided. We should not worry about finding a cause, especially since it would almost certainly be a wide combination of causes, most of which we can't control; we should worry about the main cause of pain to transgendered people, which is rejection and hatred from the people around them.

It is worth noting here that gender dysphoria is part of a clinical term, Gender Identity Disorder, which is required for any transgendered individual to be allowed hormonal or other treatment. This diagnosis is found in volume four of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), and was put on the books as a mental illness the same year that homosexuality was removed from those pages. Since then, diagnoses of GID have been used to torment gender-variant children, about 75% of whom turn out to be bi, lesbian, or gay, and 25% of whom are indeed transgendered. The diagnosis, as was noted earlier, is also used to torment those who do not fit textbook ideas of what transgendered people should be. Many queer groups are fighting to remove it from the DSM today.

4. Can queergendered people be treated or cured?

The idea of "curing" any transgendered person is an odd one. It implies that there is something wrong with us for having different gender identities than we are "supposed" to. Transgendered people often have to battle depression because of the discrimination and lack of support we face, and that can be "cured;" we may need hormones or operations to modify our bodies so we may live as the correct gender, but that shouldn't be perceived as some sort of salvation and cure for a tragic medical condition. Being transgendered of any sort is a wonderful and valid identity, not a sickness.

It is important to note that the medical attention to transgendered people reveals another difference in queergendered situations. If you live in a small town or a town which is not very queer-aware, you may go to a psychiatrist or a doctor, tell them you are transsexual, and get complete denial from them, be put on the wrong drugs, be sent to a psychiatric hospital, be faced with years of therapy with a therapist who refuses to learn anything about your condition and insists you stop hurting your family like this. If you live in a big city or one which has a strong queer community, transsexuality is likely to be better understood, and there may even be laws protecting you from discrimination and guidelines for how your place of employment should deal with your transition. But if you live in one of those places and say that you are a male-to-both transsexual, that you want hormones to pass better as both genders or an operation to give you intersexed genitalia, you will get the same reaction as a "normal" transsexual living in Queerphobiaville. Gender clinics will perceive you as just a confused kid and have no time or resources to help you; the most understanding doctors will refuse you treatment because they think you are making a mistake; and those darn Standards Of Care provided to trip up male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals will block your way entirely. This is yet another reason to understand and respect the differences between all sorts of transgendered people.

5. Is transgendered behavior sinful and against the teachings of
the Bible?

I don't like including this question because it assumes everyone is coming from a Judeo-Christian background, but it has a very interesting answer. There is a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy (22:5) which reads, "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God." The reason this and similar passages are in the Bible is because a large number of very popular Pagan religions at the time included transsexual priestesses and intersexed Goddesses! Yes, even then there were procedures for sex-changes, which seem to have been remarkably similar to our own. Many cultures held transgendered roles in high respect, and some even had third and fourth genders; for more information, go get a copy of Leslie Feinberg's _Transgender Warriors_, a fascinating history of transgendered people. Anyway, as P-FLAG notes, "Judged strictly by Hebrew standards the entirety of modern civilization would appear to violate the Purity Code."

6. Are queergendered people gay?

One might think that, if you are born a man with an attraction to women, and "become" a woman, you will still be attracted to women and will thus be a lesbian. In reality, many people experience this and many other people discover upon transitioning that they begin to discover their attraction to members of another gender, coming out as bisexual or even losing all attraction to their original "preferred" gender. This makes transitioning even harder, especially if your original community rejects you for "switching sides."

In summary, your gender and your sexual orientation are SEPARATE; being transgendered doesn't mean you're gay or bi, necessarily. However, many of us are, particularly because many of us discover the fluidity of gender during our own transitions.

7. How are Transgendered People Discriminated Against?

As Gianna Israel writes in her essay, "External Homophobia," "Are men and women with gender issues required to deal with those issues affecting gays and lesbians? Yes, absolutely. There are many issues existing that affect both transgender persons and gays and lesbians. The most insidious and device of which is homophobia. Homophobia is an irrational fear or dislike of gays and lesbians. Moreover, it is an intense misunderstanding of who gays and lesbians are, based on stereotypes, misinformation and ignorance." Transgendered people face employment and housing discrimination and extremely violent physical attacks. The hate directed towards transgendered people is based on the same element as that directed towards lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men: violation of acceptable gender roles.

Transgendered people are also subject to outdated gender-based laws, and risk being arrested for "impersonation" if a police officer does not like them living as something other than their biological gender, or for violating state laws regarding which bathroom to use. Health care for transgendered individuals is abysmal, with many of us dying because of transphobic medical staff laughing, pointing us out to colleagues, refusing us medical attention, and even requiring unwarranted psychiatric treatment.

Bigendered, third-gendered, and nongendered folks are often even discriminated against within transgendered resources and within the trans community. We are seen as "wannabes" and "fans." We are often denied treatment of any sort because medical "authorities" do not have any information on us. We are automatically seen as "confused" and merely in need of therapy to decide between the acceptable conclusions of either being textbook transsexuals or regular people who just dislike gender roles. There is a vicious circle at play here: many post-ops discover that the sex-change operation was the wrong way to go and get more, costly operations to go back to their original sex, or worse, are forced to commit suicide. Then the medical establishment decides that there are not enough barriers to the operation, and require even more "proof" of transsexuality before anyone is allowed even to begin hormones. Then the idea that one is either very strongly a "normal" textbook case of transsexuality, or else a "normal" human being, becomes even more entrenched, and more of us are denied treatment - causing depression, agony, and death - or forced to have the wrong treatment - causing depression, agony, and death.

8. Are there differences between crossdressers and queergendered people?

Crossdressers are a subgroup of transgendered people, along with drag kings/queens, transvestites, and transsexuals. Someone thirdgendered might also be considered a transvestite, because they live in one gendered body and are seen wearing the clothes of another gender; they might be described as transsexual, for attempting to get surgery to make their bodies into something they can live with. The difference between a crossdresser and a bi-, non-, or third-gendered individual is the same as the difference between a transsexual and an FTM: one label explains their gender, the other explains what they're doing about it.

9: How can I help support the queergendered person in my family?

We'll just quote P-FLAG wholeheartedly here: "First, offer your family member your unconditional love and support. Secondly, educate yourself about transgenderism and transgendered people and their concerns. Thirdly, help your loved one educate and 'come out' to other family members and friends who will be supportive."

On a personal note, when I came out, the people in my life who were most supportive were the ones who asked me what I wanted to be called, what pronouns to use, whether I planned to start taking hormones and/or have a whole sex change, and what I needed from them. These friends are some of the most loving people I know. Ask your transgendered friends what they want to be called. Especially within the queergendered community, everyone has a different way they want to describe themselves, and even if they don't, they will see that you care and that they can confide in you when they need someone to talk to about it.


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this page created May 26, 1998.


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This Sphere page first resurrected 6/6/07 by Stephe Feldman. Last update: 8/25/07.