Transsexualism: An Issue of Sex-Role Stereotyping

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Transsexualism offers a unique perspective on gender identity, sex-role stereotyping, and sex differences in a patriarchal society. It is also an important medical ethical issue which raises questions of bodily mutilation and integrity, nature versus technology, medical research priorities, unnecessary surgery, and the medical model, as well as definitions of maleness and femaleness. It is suggested that transsexualism is primarily caused by the rigid sex-role stereotypes that a sexist society generates, and is therefore symptomatic of something that is wrong on a deeper level. The role of gender identity clinics and the medical establishment in fostering and reinforcing stereotyped behavior is explored, and it is suggested that a benevolent form of behavior control and modification is occurring. Directions for change in treatment are outlined, including greater concern for the integrity of both the individual and society, and counseling which incorporates elements of "consciousness-raising." (KA)

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That gender is indispensable to feminist theorizing—both as an object of analysis and an analytical tool—seems so self-evident that it surely goes without saying. Yet it is precisely because gender has achieved that status that its historical legacy is worth examining. It bears repeating that gender’s history as an ontological category is very specific and relatively recent in English, and it is intricately linked to technological developments and political projects. In this chapter I continue the conceptual history of gender by exploring the various ways that feminist scholars engaged with the work of Money and of Stoller over the course of the 1970s. At its heart this chapter considers second-wave feminism’s engagement with the intersexed via gender.’ That has determined my selection of material in the following pages. From the moment that feminists turned to sexology for evidence and for concepts with which to refute the sexism so inherent in the social theory of the day, that engagement has had particular effects for feminist theorizing and for the material reality of the intersexed.
A. I. Belkin, head of the laboratory of neuro-endocrinology at Moscow’s Research Institute of Psychiatry, is primarily an endocrinologist. His work with hermaphrodites is a side-line (or, as he described it to me in a personal interview, his ‘hobby’!)1 Much has been written on the treatment of hermaphrodites in the West, and a brief review of the Western approach will provide a context for Belkin’s work.
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