Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Basics

One of my readers (who writes a charming blog on her motorcycle-travels) mentioned that she's not sure what "transgendered" means and she asked me to explain it.  Because some of you are in the same boat, I'm going to address the subject.  Actually, I'm eager to be understood and, since few people have personally met a transsexual (we're rare, despite the disproportionate media-attention we attract), putting out this information is a public-service.

The basics are this: "transgendered" is an umbrella term for several different types of gender non-conformity.  Transsexuals, like me, are people whose gender-identity differs from what others commonly perceive it to be.

The most important aspect that needs to be understood is that we know who we are: we don't want to become the opposite sex; we are the opposite sex.  The problem is getting others to see and accept us that way.

Gender is a complex subject, more than most people realize.  It isn't answered by biology because humans can have physical attributes of both genders.  There are people, now called "intersexed," who possess biological gender-characteristics that are either ambiguous or belong to both sexes.  The South African runner, Caster Semenya, who was tested last year and found to have both female and male biological characteristics, is a good example.  Biology doesn't create two simple categories into which you can drop everyone.  There is wide diversity in nature which makes categorization difficult and the process of defining gender is always heavily freighted by culture.

Different societies have defined gender differently: did you know that there are several societies (including American Indian) that recognize three genders?

The current science on transsexualism focuses on development during pregnancy.  Hormones, which regulate a baby's development, cause the growth of a male/female brain but later, for several reasons, the hormones switch and start developing the rest of a body as if it were the other gender.

Not all transsexuals are intersexed, but some are.  I, for example, appear to have male genitalia externally but its internal development wasn't normal; after being observed by doctors for several years as a child, I had surgery when I was 10 years old to internally change things in that area.  A four-inch scar remains there as a reminder.

I know this is a lot of information to absorb, so I'm going to stop here.  I'll touch on some other aspects of the subject in the future and, if you like, share some more personal history with you.  I welcome any and all questions and hope I can help you understand this better.


  1. I admire your honestly and openness and willingness to share this information.

    Hope your day is simply awesome.

  2. Wow. A very well-written post! I, too, admire your honesty. And your willingness to educate. I think it is simply awesome that you know who you are willing to share yourself with folks like me. Nice job! And thanks for the nice mention, although since it's November and I haven't done any motorcycle posts for awhile, people may think you linked them to the wrong spot. :-)

  3. Wow Ralph this was really informative! I like that you are sharing some really personal information, that takes a lot of guts! In my Native American Lit class last fall, my prof (she had heavy native background, from several regions and tribes, very cool)told me that the beliefs most natives shared were like you said, they recognized three sexes, and thought of transgendered, as well as homosexuals, as having a sort of magical spirit. They were thought highly of, because they were regarded as being able to comprehend more than a heterosexual, they were highly regarded.

    I also wanted to say that I loved your comment on Lauren's post, you crack me up! :P

    Hope you are having a great week!!

  4. Thanks, guys. You give me the courage to do this.

    Sara, the Indians use the term "Two Spirit" to describe us. They honor us for precisely the reason you cite: the ability to understand and be part of both worlds.

  5. Thanks for the info. My understanding of the term was right, but it's always good to double check. I think a lot of people use the term incorrectly, so it does have a tendency to create some confusion!

  6. Confusion comes with the territory of being different. That's why I think it's good to toss information out there.

    You helped me, Ashley, spread word about this, for which I will always be grateful. We Scorpios never forget a kindness.

  7. That's such an awesome post - I am even more admiring of you (if that's even possible). :)

    I look forward to reading more.

  8. I have a friend, who is a human rights lawyer and often deals with these cases and most of the time, its the not understanding things that are different that causes the issues in the first place.

    I am fortunate, if I can say that, to be surrounded by a huge group of friends coming from different backgrounds, culture, gender, etc. but more information like this certainly helps!

    Merci Jude!


    Come say hello:


  9. Thanks for explaining this. I get confused sometimes and I certainly wouldn't want to offend anyone with my ignorance. I really wish everyone would be accepting, not just accepting of sexuality and gender, but religion, beliefs, etc.

  10. I just saw a feature on News 12 at lunchtime today about a transgendered high schooler who was beaten up at the Bayshore train station. Bunch of assholes.

    FWIW, Ralph-
    I'm glad you continue to find the courage to be yourself. It's so simple and can be so hard at the same time.

    One day if you feel so inclined, it would be interesting to know how you finally presented what you find to be your true self to those that love you. (Is there a correct term or phrase such as "coming out"?) I can only imagine that on one hand it could have been frightening and yet incredibly liberating at the same time.

  11. This is very well written and it is Great that you are educating people out there.

  12. Thanks, guys, for the support.

    Fuzzy, bad stuff happens to us. Saturday is the TDOR (Transgender Day of Remembrance) which draws attention to the many people hurt and killed simply for being different. The statistics are sad.

    And, Fuzzy, you ask a good question about how I presented myself to loved ones. The answer is simple: everyone close to me has known this aspect of me from day one. My family knew it because they tried to beat it out of me. My two romantic partners (Maura and Robin) knew it because, from the outset, I explained it as part of who I am. Someone dating me would have to be told this information because it's integral to who I am and I've always been honest with those people.

  13. Thank you for this post. I am personally try to not use labels to describe others in any way just because I think we are all so unique and complicated, that it's impossible to identify anyone with just one term. However, they are out there, and it's always great to be aware.

  14. Good point, Francy. That's why I hesitant to describe myself with any one term. I'm a lawyer (yuck!), but also a biker (yeah!) and also a trangendered person (huh?) and, finally, uniquely me. No one label captures all of that.

  15. Thank you for the enlightment Ralph - and most of all my hat's off- you deserve my total respect for being so honest.
    Like one of the other bloggers commented the issue is we label, we judge and we have to stop and see that every time we point a finger to anyone, 3 fingers are pointing back at us.

  16. Hormones, which regulate a baby's development, cause the growth of a male/female brain but later, for several reasons, the hormones switch and start developing the rest of a body as if it were the other gender.

    Can you go more into that (if you know)? What causes one to be born transgendered?

  17. They're not sure, Doe. In fact, the science I described is recent: before that, they were clueless.

    My suspicion is that it's neurologically based since TG people mentally know for certain their gender-identity even at the youngest age. It's the rest of physical development that doesn't match.

  18. Your vulnerability and openness on this are going a long way in educating people to be more understanding!! When people hear it from someone who's experiencing it, it's much harder for them to challenge the idea. :)

    My question is, how do you feel about the fact that you had that surgery? I've heard many intersexed people say they were angry with their parents for forcing a surgery to try and "correct" something; they wish their parents would have left it alone and let them decide when they got older. I can also understand the parents' side - not from an angle of wanting to force their child to be one gender or the other (which I DO NOT agree with, ever) but from the angle of wanting to protect their child and at least having good intentions. Just curious what your thoughts are!

    I love the "Two Spirit" idea. A wise culture! I am always intrigued by how you are able to see things from both sides of the coin.

  19. You're the coolest!! Luv ya... this post is a diamond! Keep being YOU!!!