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Stop trans pathologization (STP) 2012: A call to accept the daily universality of transgenderism.

by Antón Castellanos Usigli, October 27, 2012

Last Saturday October 20th, I participated at the Mexican stop trans pathologization 2012, held at the Human Rights Commission of Mexico city. Gloria Hazel Davenport, a Mexican transgender advocate invited me to participate. At first, I thought about speaking of transgender youth, but then I decided to prepare a speech based on an essay I wrote some months ago. My essay is entitled: Trans looks in the 21st century: virtual identities and real stigmas.

I begin the first paragraphs of this essay turned into speech for the STP event, by commenting on the daily and many times invisible nature of transgenderism and on society’s obsession of defining what is masculine and what is feminine. When writing about Herculine Barbin, a French hermaphrodite who lived in the 19th Century, Michel Foucault asked: “Do we really need a true sex?” and he pointed out: “with a stubborn persistence, western societies have responded affirmatively to this question”.

The problem comes when we try to define what a woman is and what a man is, because you can find a wide range of behaviors and characteristics shared by both of them, the difference may come in degrees… John Money, the famous and controversial sexologist of Johns Hopkins University, argued that apart from certain irreducible biological facts (for example: that men impregnate, as women gestate and lactate), men and women are not that different. Gender is such a complex concept that has proved to be extremely malleable. In internet pornography, for example, we find that as many men and women enjoy vaginal coitus, there are some that enjoy reversing traditional sex roles though pegging (the practice in which a woman penetrates a man with a strap-on-dildo), or we find images of men having sex with transgender women who have their male genitalia intact. Many people who decide to have online sex with strangers through chatting decide to adopt a different gender and to fantasize as they had a body from the opposite sex. With its millions of pornographic images and possibilities to transform one’s identity, Internet is proving itself to be a window that shows the huge diversity of gender versatility. Intersex people, transgender people, masculine women, feminine men, they all have existed through history, but our ways of conceiving them have transformed, and nowadays many societies sanction and stigmatize gender-variant behaviors. This is why the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in its 7th Edition of the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender-Non Conforming People openly calls to depathologize trans people and to recognize that stigma may be behind the distress that many of them suffer…

The WPATH also recognizes that treatments to reduce the distress associated to gender dysphoria may vary from individual to individual. Maybe some of them need psychotherapy, but maybe not, some of them may need hormonal therapy and sex reassignment surgeries, others do not require such medical procedures at all. Many transgender women can assume themselves as women with penises and they don’t have problems with that. The problem comes for society: Women with penises? Men with vaginas? Paradoxically, if our society had been based on different gender schemas, maybe the current medical procedures to “treat” transsexualism would not exist…

Science must now recognize the centrality of the person and should also acknowledge that stigma and western gender schemas can be found behind many trans people’s distress.

Tragically, stigma prevails at very high levels and continues to lead many persons into actions that go against their identity. For example, it’s a shame to hear that in Iran, many homosexuals decide to undergo sex reassignment surgery because transsexualism is thought of as disease, while homosexuality can be punished by death. Many Iranian homosexuals prefer to change their bodies in order to live their same-sex attraction naturally, in what constitute a deplorable example of a clear human rights violation. Or what can we say about trans students who face discrimination in school without being able to express their gender identity freely. And what about trans people who are hate crimes victims? Let’s build a 21st Century with no gender stigmas. We have to start feeling comfortable with transgenderism, as it is a daily and universal human condition. The problem is that gender is related to power, and it is hard to make power feel more comfortable…

Let’s keep the fight going, let’s support STP 2012!

The expert Panel of the STP 2012 event at the Human Rights Comission of Mexico City. From right to left: Gloria Hazel Davenport, Ana María Delgado (President of the Mexican Association for Sexual Health), Luis Perelman (Past President of the Mexican Federation of Sexuality Education and Sexology) and Antón Castellanos Usigli.