Transsexualism: An Expanded Definition
By by Anne Vitale PhD -- Mar 20, 2022
Notes on Gender Role Transition
by Anne Vitale PhD
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T NOTE #12
Transsexualism: An Expanded Definition
Jan 27, 2006
Although it is a complex phenomenon, transsexualism --and what it means to be a transsexual-- is generally defined in the mainstream media in simplistic terms. For example:
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines a transsexual as:
1. One who wishes to be considered by society as a member of the opposite sex.
2. One who has undergone a sex change.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines it this way:
1. The state of being a transsexual.
2. The desire to change one's anatomic sexual characteristics to conform physically with one's perception of self as a member of the opposite sex.
WordNet, an online lexical reference system, expands the definition somewhat:
Transsexualism--n : condition in which a person assumes the identity and permanently acts the part of the gender opposite to his or her biological sex
The medical definition comes from an earlier edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III (APA, 1980). (see Note 1)
The essential features of this heterogeneous disorder are a persistent sense of discomfort and inappropriateness about one’s anatomic sex and a persistent wish to be rid one’s genitals and to live as a member of the other sex. The diagnosis is made only if the disturbance has been continuous (not limited to periods of stress) for at least two years, is not due to another mental disorder, such as Schizophrenia and is not associated with physical intersex or genetic abnormality.
Although decidedly psychopathological in its tone, it does an otherwise accurate job describing a portion of what it means to be transsexual. What it and the proceeding definitions lack is the more meaningful, life defining, implication being a transsexual entails.
An expanded definition might go something like this:
Transsexualism is a state of existence in which one’s sense of gender identity differs markedly from that assigned them at birth. These individuals exist outside of society's common male/female binary gendering system. They can more accurately be described as being gender variant.
How can such a condition come about? This is the least understood part of the phenomenon. However, there is a growing body of evidence that transsexualism -- or the state of being gender variant -- is at least in part, the result of insufficient or inappropriate masculinization/defeminization of the brain at a critical stage of embryonic development (see Note 2). As a result, the affected individual may be left with a partial to a full sense of having a cross-sexed gender identity. Essentially creating a not-male, not-female but otherwise permanent gender variant condition. Even though there apparently are some individuals who fall very close to or dead-center on the gender identity spectrum, most gender variant people can easily identify with being closer to one end of the spectrum then the other.
Transsexualism is usually treated by a combination of hormonal and surgical means enabling the individual to experience a gender role transition and thereby live their lives in accordance with their inner sense of being male or female. Even though gender role transition enjoys an exceptionally high success rate, being gender variant is permanent. It colors every aspect of the individual’s life, physically, politically and socially from the cradle to the grave.
1, Transsexualism was replaced in DSM IV (1994) with the term Gender Identity Disorder.
2. As in the physical differentiation of the genitals during fetal development, the gendering process of the brain is prone to error. Studies have shown that steroid receptors interact with other proteins, nuclear receptor coactivators or corepressors to influence the quality of the hormonal bonding in the fetus. For example, Auger A.P et al., (2000) found in their experiments with rats that steroid receptors in the brain, which act by binding to intercellular receptors located predominantly in neurons, require nuclear receptor coactivators for efficient masculinization/defeminization. Their experiments showed that by reducing a protein known as nuclear receptor coactivator -1 (SRC-1) during sexual differentiation of mice brains that it significantly interferes with the defeminizing actions of estrogen. These behavior changes last into adulthood.
Auge A.P. , Tetel M.J., McCarthy M.M, (2000), Steroid receptor coactivator-1 (SRC-1) mediates the development of sex-specific brain morphology and behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 97: 7551-7555.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
WordNet, an online lexical reference system ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III-R. 3th ed- Revised (1987), Washington, D.C. : American Psychiatric Association.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. 4th ed. (1994), Washington, D.C. : American Psychiatric Association.