Genitalia & Gender: Separate, but equal?

The concept of “matching” the mind and body through surgical and hormonal procedures has brought a focus to genitalia and the body stretching far beyond sexual pleasure and “complete” embodiment, allowing for the medicalization and manipulation of trans bodies.  Being that the extreme division of sex and gender is constantly projected onto the transsexual community complicates the common idea of normalcy,  transsexualism has been called upon as yet another “correction” to make, yet another, disenfranchised group of people.  In order to prevent this “anomaly” from confusing the lives of those surrounding, the demand of congruency between sex and gender has been strongly bedded in the medical discourse in order to prove one’s gender functionality and navigation in society.   To be seen as a trans person within the confines of society, one must desperately seek medical care.  The result being a diagnostic heading for the medical field to trace and define, without the true concerns and variability among patients.  The medical community’s interference in the realm of transsexuality polices which people have right to claim themselves as trans individuals, and, thus, has created a category of trans that only allows for those willing to permanently change their bodies and undergo invasive genital surgery.

As each author alludes to in our readings for this week, the need to stretch beyond our understandings of gender as either male or female is imperative.  For transfeminism, as well as trans theory and feminism separately, the idea of “passing” or gender “fulfillment” is stifling to all seeking asylum within these communities.  This point became very clear for me as I read “The Empire Strikes Back.”  As Stone states, “As clinicians and transsexuals continue to face off across the diagnostic battlefield…the transsexuals for whom gender identity is something different from and perhaps irrelevant to physical genitalia are occulted by those for whom the power of the medical/psychological establishments, and their ability to act as gatekeepers for cultural norms, is the final authority for what counts as a culturally intelligible body” (232).

Though for some trans individuals sex reassignment surgery is invaluable to existence and medical influences on the body have allowed for life improvements, it is essential to understand the ramifications of having such a great emphasis on the genitals.  Recognizing the issues of western embodiment, idealization, and access to surgery in regards to racial marginalization and colonization is vital to understanding the progression of trans narrative and recent trans activism.  The ability to acknowledge the body as a consequence of social pressures and deep-rooted idealism allows us to move beyond materiality and develop a new way of seeing.  It is necessity to escape the strong grip that the genitals hold on not only the trans community seeking to assume western ideals, but our general understandings of what constitutes trans identity.

In this sense, transfeminism offers a way to combat the medicalized understanding of gender identity and the common trans narrative that only feeds back into a capitalistic system.  As also pointed out by Koyama and Salamon, rethinking motivations, representations, and even the way we speak about trans bodies and the constant measurement of ability to function as viable parts of socialization, could perhaps eradicate the forces working against inclusion and the understanding of trans bodies as an important feminist issue.

With issues such as this coming under critique and analysis, the blogosphere can become an important source for celebration of variation. along with its companion Tumblr site ( are among several outlets for young people to submit and support images and text that shows pride in gender ambiguity and allows viewers to rethink the ways in which we identify and name one another.  Moving towards images such as these and away from idealistic female forms provides us with yet another way to consider transfeminism.

-Elizabeth Nash


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