You’re girlfriend has a vagina and breasts, so it’s probably fair to say that you’re attracted to females. What about when she tells you that she once had a penis and fathered two children? She is now a woman, but was once a man. Is your girlfriend still a “true” woman? Can you still be a true heterosexual or lesbian if your female companion happens to also be a good father? What if your boyfriend was once a girl and is still capable of bearing children?
It is no surprise that transsexual individuals challenge our notion of the gender binary: that all boys live as boys and are attracted to girls, while all girls live as girls and are attracted to boys. They clearly demonstrate that there are exceptions to the strict laws of society. Through surgery and hormones, boys can become girls and girls can become boys. Or maybe they can just exist partly as both sexes.
What is surprising is that transsexual individuals make the rest of society reconsider their own sexuality. We first ask ourselves if transsexuals truly belong to the sex they are now or the sex they were born as. Can anyone ever completely lose their sex and transition completely to the other side of the spectrum? What does it means to be a true boy/girl? What does it mean to be attracted to a boy/girl? Is it possible that there is no fundamental difference between being attracted to a boy and being attracted to a girl? If there is nothing fundamental about being or being attracted to a boy or a girl, then our notions of being attracted to one sex begin to break down.
We know that the transsexual is violating the gender binary, but what about their potential partners? Can you ever be sure that the cutie you just exchanged a glance with has lived her whole life on one side of the sex spectrum. Transsexuality questions the notions of what it means to be attracted to a certain sex for society as a whole.
Though the statistics vary, transsexuality is surprisingly prevalent in today’s society. Some studies state that roughly 1 in 30,000/100,000 males/females seek sex reassignment surgery in the US (van Kesteren). Other groups suggest that transsexuality is far more common and that this number is also growing (Reed). Not only are transsexuals growing in number, they are also growing in visibility. Once a hidden notion in society, the transsexual community can be seen in TV shows, movies, and books.
There is no question that transsexuals are not the majority. There is also no question that most of society considers themselves to be attracted to one of two sexes. For many, this notion seems natural and comes without question. People view themselves and others around them heterosexuals and homosexuals because they see no alternative.
Awareness of transsexuality blurs these notions. The notion of males and females is blurred. What happens if your partner has or plans to transition from male to female. For Sonya Bolus, her whole self-identity as a lesbian was put into question when her girlfriend decided to transition from female to male. She writes, “My greatest fear is of how this might affect my own sense of self. Just don’t ask me to be straight… It took me too much pain and time and struggle to come out queer…”(Bolus 116). But wait! Is it possible that transexuality is nature’s way of solidifying the sexual binary? Perhaps this lesbian couple is actually a heterosexual couple if one of the members is truly a boy (which is why Sonya’s girlfriend is a female-to-male transition attracted to a girl). Sonya Bolus may not agree with this point, however. She identifies completely as a lesbian, but her partner’s transexuality puts these notions into question. Now she is neither lesbian nor heterosexual. She is just a woman with a transsexual partner.
In fact, transexuality may completely undue previous agreement with society’s sexual binary. Allie Lie was in a perfectly (natural?) heterosexual marriage as the father of two kids. She then transitioned to female, wishing to still be with female partners. She fits the mold for a “real” male and yet transitioned to female. She completely turns against the notion that boys should be attracted to girls and girls to boys. Allie shows us that your own sex is irrelevant to the sex you are attracted to.
Is the inverse also true? Is the sex you are irrelevant to the sex of your partners? Awareness of transsexuals affects people not is relationships with transsexuals as well. You may be attracted to the voluptuous breasts of a transsexual walking through the aisles of the grocery store. Or you may find out that the charming boy in the coffee lived his first 22 years as a female. We ask ourselves what it means to be attracted to these people. If these people have fluid definitions of their own gender, then we must have fluid definitions of the sex to which we are attracted. Transexuality shows us that society’s sex and gender binaries need not be followed and that our own sexual notions may not fall along rigid lines.
Food for thought:
Bolus, S. “Loving Outside Simple Lines” GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary. Ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins. New York: Alyson Books, 2002. 194-200. Print.
van Kesteren, P. et al. “Mortality and morbidity in transsexual subjects treated with cross-sex hormones”. Clinical Endocrinology. 2007. Journal Article.
Reed, B. and Rhodes, S. “Presentation on prevalence of transsexual people in the UK” Gender Identity Research and Eduation Society. 2008. Proceedings.