THE BLANK POINT—what is transsexualism?Study Guide

We Give Birth to Ourselves

Richard's Commentary on The Blank Point

Since this film was made, I've "come out" as a transsexual a few times. I used to say, "I am a transsexual." But after thinking this through, I've realized that there is a better way to say what I've experienced: I've had surgical sex reassignment.

The term transsexual is too loaded. It conjures images of an ordinary woman waking up one day, marching like a zombie to some sinister clinic, and re-emerging flat-chested and bearded in a suit and tie. It gives people the wrong impression about who I was, who I am, and what I had to go through.

I've had gender confirmation surgery. The term "gender dysphoria" was never true for me. I was always comfortable with my male gender identity. It was my sex, my female body, that created the dysphoria.

My condition can only be called gender dysphoria if one assumes that gender identity is formed by examining one's own body, discovering it to be either male or female, and accepting that. I saw that I had a female body, but I knew I was male gendered.

I believe gender identity is not a construct based on logic. Much like homosexuality, gender identity is a behavior pattern which isn't chosen but which emanates from the expression of one's inner being. People who are presently labeled gender dysphoric by the medical/psychiatric community are people whose gender—whose psyche—whose experience of their inner being—happens to be opposite of what their physical body suggests.

Homosexuals are attracted to people with the same sex characteristics as they themselves possess. The operative definition of a transsexual has nothing to do with what type of people (male or female) they are attracted to. It has specifically to do with how one perceives oneself. It is more like sex dysphoria than gender dysphoria.

This confusion of sex and gender is a problem for many people. In fact, many times in the narration of The Blank Point, the auteur uses the terms interchangeably. One fragment of a quote I recall is "…people changing gender to live in the opposite sex." We do not change our gender; we change our sex in order to facilitate the full expression of our selves. Our gender opposes our sex, and it is the physical sex which causes the dysphoria and which we want to change. And the social pressure against (1) even realizing that this is a change that one needs to make, and (2) against making that change (as well as the hurdles put up by the medical/psychiatric community and insurance industry) is so great that it seems ridiculous to think that anyone who walks this path has chosen to do so on a whim. But people do think that.

Some men think that male-to-female transsexuals are not tough enough to hack it in the world of men; some women think that female-to-male transsexuals are not strong or courageous enough to make it as a woman in this "man's world." These people perceive us as weak, as "cop-outs," as unable to master the hand that nature has dealt us. These people underestimate us.

At another point in the film, the narrator says, "…modern techniques created transsexualism." I believe this is also a misconception. Just as homosexuals and transvestites have existed throughout history, there have been individuals who have lived their lives as "the opposite sex." In particular, many women have "passed" as men: Louis Sullivan, an author and historian, has documented many cases of this in his book Information for the Female to Male Cross Dresser and Transsexual, published by Ingersoll Gender Center in Seattle, Washington, and in From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland, published by Alyson Publications in Boston, ISBN 1-55583-150-8. Modern techniques didn't create transsexualism; they created surgical sex reassignment and made hormones available.

Misunderstanding of our position, our predicament, is rampant, even among those who are working to help us. In The Blank Point, in describing part of the genital reconstruction surgery known as "genitoplasty," Dr. Brownstein says the new genitalia "gives the appearance of maleness." This implies that we are masquerading as men…

If a man suffers an injury and loses his penis, is he henceforward masquerading as a man? Maleness does not reside in the penis. Having genitalia that conform to one's own body image or self-concept is important, but it is not always a mandatory component of an actualized gender identity. Many transsexuals do not seek a surgical solution—for many reasons—not the least of which is money. For female-to-males, mastectomy [excision or amputation of the breast] is usually desired, but the results of genital reconstruction surgery are far less satisfactory for some because a full-sized and fully functional phallus is rarely achieved. It is a risky business.

But focusing too closely on surgery evades the larger social issues of process. Sarah mentions her transition, the role change she experienced as she brought herself slowly into the world as a woman. I think this aspect is much more dramatic for a male-to-female. Female-to-males often have taken themselves through much of the role change prior to hormone-aided transition. For us, transition is a confirmation: our inner truth is becoming manifest in the world. And it is a time to learn about and adjust to society and the expectations of the world. It's a time to find our place in the world. It's time to grow up, get real, face facts, make our life work. Nobody else is responsible for who we are or what we do. We give birth to ourselves.