Social Question

KeepYourEyesWideOpen's avatar

Do you think transsexualism is a choice or genetic?‎?

Asked by KeepYourEyesWideOpen (345points) January 13th, 2013

I’m from the school that says it’s in someone’s genes. Why would they choose to live a life thinking they were in the wrong body, enduring the torment of feeling out of place and ostracized? Nobody would ever willingly choose that. They can’t help the way that they feel and it’s terrible how others judge them for something so out of their control.

What your thoughts are on this matter?

I cannot praise and thank you enough.

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23 Answers

BonnieBlue's avatar

I believe it’s genetic as I personally known 2 people that were transsexual. The depth of their struggles and emotional pain tells me that they would otherwise not choose to be that way.

poisonedantidote's avatar

I don’t know enough to state if it is genetic or not, but I do know enough to say that it is not really a choice. There have been cases of kids as young as 5 who refuse to wear the clothes that go with their gender. It can affect you before you even know what sex is.

bookish1's avatar

As with sexual orientation (which is different from being trans) I don’t think it should matter what the origin is. Indeed, there might be multiple origins that do not fit into this dichotomy.

The “I can’t help it, it’s in my genes” defense can at best arouse pity and at the worst, disdain.

How about “ain’t nobody’s business if I do”? I think people should be encouraged to live and let live, to understand that there are many ways of living.

I wouldn’t have chosen to be transsexual because it sucks in this world. This is a social problem, not a problem inherent to being transsexual.

Also, FYI, the “born in the wrong body” trope does not accurately describe the experiences of all transgendered or transsexual people. It was just the easiest way to explain it to non-trans people and to navigate the medical/psychiatric system.

Thanks for starting this conversation. I’m scared to follow it, however, because it’s in Social.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I don’t think it matters, but it’s certainly not a choice.

poisonedantidote's avatar

I wonder what would happen to transsexual and transgender people, if you raised them from birth in a culture where all men dress as women in our culture and all women dress as men in our culture. If they felt like a woman, would they start dressing in the clothes we see as male.

Or, is there maybe something genetic in all of us, that makes us dress a certain way, in the sense that, if you look at any culture on earth, that developed separately, there are no cultures where men used to wear a dress but the women did not.

Could there be, something universal in all humans, that makes males go for more tight fitting clothes, and women for looser more flowing clothes. If you look at tribes out in the middle of nowhere, even they have tight fitting thong things for the guys, and skirt like grassy dresses for the women.

yes I am aware I’m making a pig out of some of my terminology and definitions, but I only just woke up recently and had a rough night

bookish1's avatar

@poisonedantidote: I can’t speak for all trans people, but I do not stick a 1” IM needle into my leg every week because our culture makes men wear pants. For me, it is a physical thing.
And how could genes possibly make us dress a certain way?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
My dad’s culture traditionally has both men and women wearing loose fitting clothes. I think you are seriously overgeneralizing.

This stuff is hard for non-trans people to understand because we are brought up to believe that sexual anatomy is the same thing as gender, which is the same thing as gender presentation, which is the same thing as sexual orientation. All oppression of trans people, gay/bi people, and even straight people who are not gender conforming, comes from this conflation.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@bookish1 I did say in my disclaimer that I am making a pig out of my terms.

I know it is not all about just the clothes, that its much more deeper and complicated from case to case, but in general, don’t you think that it is a little odd, that the vast majority of humanity, has one kind of clothes for the females, and another for the males, and that for the most part, they are similar from culture to culture.

Like, I’m not trying to suggest we can “cure the trans people” or anything sick like that, I was just wondering, in the people were the clothing is an issue, how would that play out in a culture with reversed clothing roles.

bookish1's avatar

@poisonedantidote: You did not make a mess out of any terms; you are simply using faulty logic and overgeneralizing. But cis people using trans people as a thought experiment is nothing new.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@bookish1 I used to be homophobic until I made friends with a drag queen and his/her group of trans friends, nothing personal.

bookish1's avatar

@poisonedantidote: Glad to hear it. That is often how people overcome bigotry. I was completely clueless about trans people before I made friends with a few in high school. I didn’t realize that I myself was in the same boat for years, though, haha.

marinelife's avatar

I believe that it is genetic.

Zakat's avatar

I’ve enjoyed reading these responses…however, I guess I’ll have to admit that issues like this one scare me. Probably because it’s hard to be politically correct and mostly because I have no right to speak on a subject which have I have so little knowledge about but is so very personal to so many people.

Suffice to say, I don’t really care whether it’s genetic of a choice or anything like that. It is their right, and society should accept it. I am fundamentally a libertarian and I don’t wish to even think of transsexual people as a “different sort of person.”

But I am a very normatively straight guy who grew up in the Bible Belt and I have a number of gay and lesbian friends, as well as one or two transsexual friends. There was a time when I struggled with my own preconceptions regarding all of it but now I’m so grateful for their friendship and do and will always stand in their defense.

DominicX's avatar

I also agree that it shouldn’t matter; it being a choice wouldn’t then permit discrimination. However, there is no evidence that transsexualism or homosexuality or any of these things are “choices”, that is just said out of convenience by people who are often entirely ignorant about them or by people who wish to take the “blame” off of God. A person can “believe” it’s a choice all they want, and they’ll still be wrong every single time.

ETpro's avatar

We don’t know. Not everyone here knows this, but at the age of three, I knew I wanted to wear girl’s clothes because I thought girls clothes were prettier than boys clothes. I wanted to play girl’s games and act like a girl. I wanted to be a girl. Thinking I would drop my interest or be embarrassed out of it, my mom actually got me a pretty blue nightgown with pink ribbons decorating it.

Was that a choice I made, or was it driven by my genes. I can definitely tell you that I never sat down intending, at the age of 3, to think through my gender identity. I do not think many people become gay, transgendered or queer because at some point they decide it would be a great idea to buck tradition and the local culture, and pick a lifestyle certain to drive school bullies into rage and bring constant harassment and derision on themselves.

But as @bookish1 noted, whether nature, nurture or individual choice; our gender identity and sexual orientation are our own business. Nobody outside ourselves lives close enough to our feelings about ourselves to make that call for us. Certainly, no large, diverse culture should impose its norms on this most personal of behaviors. If my right to swing my fist stops at your nose, my gender identity and sexual orientation miss your nose by a mile. So nobody else should stick their nose in that business. It’s the individual’s concern and only the individual’s concern.

Growing up in provincial Virginia in the 40s and 50s, I was unaware that there was any alternative to just accepting the primary and secondary sex characteristics I was born with. By the time I became aware there were medical alternatives, my secondary sex characteristics were well enough developed that hormone therapy would never fully reverse them. When I realized that, I did sit down to think about it all. I decided that while I felt feminine, I would never be able to look truly feminine, but I could look like a male. I also decided that for me, being a real female would mean I had all the internal as well as external female sexual organs, and I had XX instead of XY chromosomes. I knew that the technology of the 1970s couldn’t give me that.

So I did actually make a conscious decision to abandon the track toward transsexual surgery after being on track for it for just over a year. But in doing so, I am the exception that proves the rule. For most, gender identity is not a choice. But here I am a male impersonator lucky enough to have a genetically male body. Proof enough that Mark Knopfler was right in declaring, “There’s so many different worlds, so many different suns. And we have just one world, but we live in different ones.” It also proves, “Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without. ” as William Sloane Coffin Jr. said.

Shippy's avatar

Not sure who is judging them? Here it is common place. Plus accepted. It’s not that unusual and has been around for centuries, in various forms. What is unusual is how people judge them? I have no idea if it is genetic, or psychiatric, perhaps some are some are not. I would imagine there are variants within variants. As no one person is the same. I like being female, both physically, mentally and also enjoy some of the characteristics ascribed to females. Not all. So my sexual identity is female, my sexual orientation is bisexual, with a stronger attraction to male characteristics in both males and females I have dated.

wundayatta's avatar

All I know is that if you want to change your anatomy enough to undergo an operation and hormone therapy, then you’ve got to want it powerfully badly.

zensky's avatar

^ Yes, and, you probably did not choose this.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Frankly, I don’t care – I think constantly asking if things like sexuality or gender identity is either genetic or a choice is a terrible trap. Why is everything else in the world almost always described in terms of nature AND nurture but when it comes to these things, just because ignorant assholes don’t tolerate these identities, nobody can possibly choose them. If you’re going to go ahead and say homosexuality or transsexuality is a choice, then so are heterosexuality and any other sex or gender any other person has. There is nothing wrong with any of it being a choice or any of it feeling truly inherent to a person and a lot of it having a complex mix of biology and social factors, etc. I think research into finding genes for homosexuality, transsexuality or intersexuality is always a waste of money and usually has a terrible agenda because it often either assumes these are ‘problems’ to be solved (when it’s society that has a problem and needs to be solved) or that this is just ‘studying for the sake of science’ as if studying these things can ever be considered objectively by laypeople, please.

Pingu's avatar

This question reminds me of a video I saw on youtube in which people on the street were asked whether they believed being gay was a choice or not. When people responded that yes, they believe being gay is a choice, they were asked when they had made the decision to be straight.

A couple weeks ago I was meeting with my friends from high school, one of whom I hadn’t seen in five years and who has recently begun the transition from male to female. I was asking her about it, and she said that if she hadn’t decided to go through with it, she probably would have eventually killed herself. I strongly suspect that transexualism is not a choice.

wundayatta's avatar

Which gets to the issue of what a choice is. Like if you are driven to do something by depression, is that or is that not a choice? Does it make a difference what you driven to do? If you feel that you will kill yourself if you don’t change your gender, is that a choice? If you feel you will kill yourself if you don’t get a new job, is that not a choice? If you felt like you would kill yourself if you didn’t find a new lover, does that mean you didn’t have a choice? If you kill yourself instead of going to trial and risking a 30 year jail sentence, does that mean you didn’t have a choice? Once they threatened you with jail, you were dead (from today’s news)?

I have to say that I am very uncomfortable with this. Conflicted, too. On the one hand, I have been in a position where I desperately needed to do things or else I was in danger of killing myself. I did some things that some people disapprove of rather than kill myself and it worked. I’m still alive. Did I have no choice? It feels like I had two choices, death or to do what I had to. Were there any other choices? I don’t know.

I believe that people can feel like they have to transition, or else life will be so miserable they will have to die. The pain is unbearable. Does that mean they have no other choice? Well, people put up with a lot. People spend years in jail, being beaten and survive. So living in the wrong gender body is possible, even if it is painful.

I keep coming back to that question: does that mean they have no other choice? Of course, on one level, there are always other choices. But those choices might mean misery. Yet, if we practice Buddhist practices, we can probably come to peace with our current state of existence and even learn to love it. It is only in Western society where we believe that if we don’t like something, our only choice is to change it. Other societies think the individual should learn acceptance rather than resistance. So for them, the “choice” might go the other way and to satisfy a personal need, even if it means saving your life, might not be acceptable.

bookish1's avatar

@wundayatta: I appreciate that this question of agency and choice and necessity is one that touches you deeply and that you struggle with. But I think you are making some overly broad and potentially dismissive generalizations here.

It really irks me when people idealize and schematize “Eastern” religion and culture and how supposedly liberating and peaceful it is. I had to stop my Buddhist practice, which I was very serious about for years, because I was using it as a weapon against myself, with this idea that I should “come to peace with my current state of existence.” When I meditated, I could only think of my body as a corpse. I had to stop meditating entirely for a while because I was so morbid and depressed. I would start crying and have no idea why, and be unable to stop or feel better.

Speaking as someone who was raised by a parent from outside of Western society, indeed from a very conservative subculture of South Asian society, already highly conservative and patriarchal, well… if I had been born and raised in India, I would either be resigned to a life of misery and falsehood, or I would be dead right now.

Where did you get the idea that it is only in Western society that people seek to change things that make them unhappy? How then do you explain the wave of wars of decolonization after World War II? I guess those people had a ‘choice’ to continue in their present situation, and learn to love it…

Yes, technically speaking, it is a choice to pursue treatment for type 1 diabetes, as it is for any other chronic condition, and it’s a choice to take hormones to medically transition, and I am grateful to have had both of these choices available to me. Because I like being alive and being able to enjoy life.

Why does choice even matter here? Are trans people only legitimate human beings if they had no choice but to be that way? This attitude suggests disdain concealed as pity.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s hard to think of a reasonable example to compare your discussion about disdain to. But let’s say someone needs to hurl invective at people. He claims he has no choice, because he is mentally ill, and this is the only thing that makes him feel better. He knows it hurts people, but he chooses to do it because the alternative is that he would get depressed and might well end up killing himself.

Psychologists tell us this is true. He has no choice. So, we pity the poor fellow, and secretly disdain him. Same as trans people.

Both would die were it not for the intervention. In one case, the intervention is to transition to another gender. In the other, the intervention is to swear at everyone constantly with vile invective.

Would anyone do these things if they didn’t have to? Would people have recreational sex change operations? Would people swear at all and sundry just for fun?

What makes us legitimate? Accepted?

I don’t know about transexuals, but in my example, the answer is that there is nothing that will make this person acceptable. Not even a psychologist saying this guy has to behave this way or he will die. No one will believe it. They think he’s faking. It’s an excuse.

I think that having no choice—that you were made that way and you can’t change it—helps other people accept something. I don’t think you have a choice, because the alternative is to say you want to change genders just because you want to. It is merely a quirk. A flavor of the month.

In order to say this is so powerful that you have to do it, you really have to say you have no choice. And that means people will pity you for being born in the wrong body. This is not something that most people can accept as a lighthearted choice. But as a serious thing, they can accept it, and that doesn’t mean they will pity such people or hold disdain for them. It means they can respect the struggle. That’s how I see it, anyway.

I hope you are wrong in the way you see it, because if you are right, then there is no hope for many of us. There are many people who will live with differences that will make them second class citizens, or maybe not even citizens, forever. It will be a kind of racism. Saying it’s not a choice is not a copout. It’s not relegating people to pity and disdain. I think it is a door opening to the possibility of respect, although that door is only open a crack.

KeepYourEyesWideOpen's avatar

@wundayatta : You gave an excellent response to that question. You are unbelievable.

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