Gender Diversity and Gender Politics

Surya Monro

Department of Law, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG
Gendys Conference, 2002

Author of
Gender Politics:
Citizenship, Activism, and Diversity

Published by Pluto Press Ltd

This paper seeks to explore the implications of transgender for gender theory and politics and for gender equality. Transgender can be seen to challenge the gender binary system and the social system which is based on this. However, this challenge is masked by the social exclusion of transgender people internationally, although there are exceptions to this in a number of countries. Transphobia, or the stigmatisation of transgender people, stems from a number of sources. A movement challenging transphobia and the exclusion of transgender people is developing in the West.


This paper seeks to explore the implications of transgender for sexual politics and gender theory and for our understandings of social structure. Transgender raises important challenges for current conceptualisations of gender, but the impact that transgender could have on wider gender relations is masked by the amount of social exclusion that transgender people face. There is a nascent transgender movement in the UK and USA, but it is questionable as to whether this will be relevant to gendervariant people worldwide. The paper is based on empirical research with UK and USA transgender people, and is focused on the Western situation, whilst seeking to explore some of the issues raised by transgender on an international level.

I will start by defining transgender and providing a brief cross-cultural overview of transgender. I will then outline the research methods used for the study on which the paper is based and provide a brief review of literature in the field of transgender. The findings concerning theory, including postmodernism, feminisms and queer theory will form the next part of the paper. I will then discuss the social exclusion of transgender people and processes of transphobia, before moving on to discuss the transgender movement and transgender citizenship. Lastly, I will raise points for discussion concerning transgender, gender studies and the international situation.

'Transgender' is an umbrella term which is used in its broadest definition to describe anyone who transgresses usual gender roles (see Raymond 1994), but is generally taken to mean cross-dressers, transsexuals, androgynes, intersexes (people born with a mixture of male and female physiological characteristics), drag queens and kings, third gender people and other 'gender-complex' people. Estimates of the numbers of transsexuals in the UK range from 2,000 to 5,000 (Home Office 2000) to 30,000 to 80,000 (Morgan 1996), and intersex conditions affect between 0.15% (Dreger 1998) and 4% (Nataf 1996, Rothblatt 1995) of individuals. The term 'transgender' is a contested within the transgender communities.

Cross-cultural overview.

Gender binaried categories are framed by their cultural context (see King 1993, Cameron et al 1996, Valentine forthcoming), with alternatives existing in many other societies and historically within Europe (Feinberg 1996), as well as to an extent within minority ethnic subcultures in for example the USA (see Valentine forthcoming). Some non- European cultures could be argued to be transphobic (see Herdt 1994). However, the range of alternatives to the dualistic Western system is wide and, given Western economic and social hegemony and the normalisation of Western ideologies that this involves, must surely provoke a questioning of the normalisation of the binaried gender system. Cross-cultural gender variance is documented in depth by for example Herdt (1994), Feinberg (1996), Bullough (1976), Bullough and Bullough (1993) and Ramet (1997). There are many studies of culturally specific forms of transgender, for example Nanda's (1990) book on Hijras, texts by Williams (1986) and Jacobs, Thomas and Lang (eds.) (1997) on gender and sexual diversity in the USA, Prieur's (1998) ethnographic study of transgender in Mexico, Garber's (1992) chapter on African-American transgender literature and culture and Kulick's (1998) research on transgender and prostitution in Brazil. There are also various cross-cultural books which relate to transgender but focus primarily on homosexuality, such as Whitam and Mathy's (1991) study.

There was wide variation in sex and gender categories in different cultures prior to colonialism, with numerous forms of transgender occurring in countries that were subsequently colonised (Nataf 1996). Some societies believed in a third sex, while others blended both sexes (Bullough and Bullough 1993) or had other conceptions of gender (see for example Strathern (1994)). Currently, transsexuality is documented in many countries, including all Asian countries and many African countries (Feinberg 1996), Russia, Poland, Spain, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, the Balkans, Morocco (see Ramet 1997), Mexico (Prieur 1998) and Brazil (Kulick 1998). Transgender has become an international phenomenon, for example transgender issues are covered in the Asian media, and in Latin America alliances are developing between transgender and lesbian and gay communities (Whittle 1998b). The Indian Hijras, (intersexuals, transvestites, homosexuals and Western style transsexuals), and the Two-Spirit (problematically termed Berdache by Europeans) Native Americans, who have many different gender systems, are well known examples of what Westerners would call transgender (Nataf 1996). Other examples include the Mahu of Tahiti, where some men dress and live as women and the Pokot of Kenya, who have three sexes (Bullough and Bullough 1993).

Bullough and Bullough (1993) point out that androgyny, hermaphroditism and gender-crossing are part of many non- Western and ancient religious traditions. Many creation legends incorporate intersex as sacred (Feinberg 1996), and belief in intersex deities and sex/gender transformation is part of the spiritual practice of 26 different African tribal peoples (Feinberg 1996). Gender reversal is a common theme in ancient religion, mythology and ritual in diverse societies although clearly this is culturally specific (Ramet 1997). There are a wide range of gender transformations apparent in religious traditions, in some cases associated with purification, transformation or transcendence. Medieval Christianity included transgender (Ramet 1997). Hinduism has hermaphroditic deities and the belief in the ability of deities to change form at will, and includes sex changing (Ramet 1996). Some forms of Hinduism hold androgyny as an ideal to be attained, use male crossdressing for ritual purposes and include emasculation as part of religious practice (as in the case of the Hijras). Some sects of Buddhism include gender changing as part of their religious practice (see Ramet 1996). Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism all teach that people contain male and female principles (Bullough and Bullough 1993). The Islamic world has also had cases of what could be called transgender, including discussions concerning crosssex identification by a religious commentator in the ninth century and the social acceptance of this in some instances, for example men dressing as women in some Islamic countries in certain historical periods (Bullough and Bullough 1993).


The paper is based primarily on findings from Economic and Social Research Council funded doctoral research which utilised participative qualitative methods in conducting research with a range of transgender people. The research involved 24 in-depth interviews, over 50 informal interviews, a focus group and over 1000 hours of participant observation with transsexuals, transvestites, cross-dressers, intersexes, an androgyne, a gender transient, drag kings and queens, other transgender people, and related professionals. The sample included working and middle class contributors (more than half were middle class) and the majority of contributors were white. The approximate ages of contributors ranged from 20 to 75. Research participants are quoted by name or pseudonym, depending on their preference.


Until recently, literature concerning transgender was primarily medical (for example Benjamin 1966, Green 1974, Green and Money 1967, Socarides 1970, 1991) and autobiographical (for example Morris 1974, Rees 1996, Von Mahlsdorf 1995). Sociological accounts were developed by authors such as Garfinkel (1967), Kessler and McKenna (1978), King (1993), Bullough and Bullough (1993) and more recently Ekins and King (1996) and Ekins (1997). Cross-cultural accounts have been produced by a number of authors (see above). There has been a critique of transgender, mostly by feminists (Raymond 1980, 1994, Daly 1984, Jeffreys 1996, Greer 1999). There have also been contributions from cultural studies ( Epstein and Straub 1991 and Garber 1992). Important recent developments have come from the transgender communities, stemming initially from the work of Stone (1991), followed by Bornstein (1994, 1998), Halberstam (1994), Feinberg (1996), Wilchins (1997), Nataf (1996), Kaldera (1998), Chase (1998), Whittle (1998), More and Whittle (1999), Prosser (1998) and Namaste (2000). The work of these authors, and others, such as MacKenzie (1994), has shifted debates towards a politicised approach. However, there is a limited amount of literature concerning transgender, gender theory and sexual politics, especially in relation to citizenship. There is also a gap in the research concerning transgender in relation to postcolonial theory, and whilst addressing this gap is outside of the scope of this paper, this paper may help to provide a foundation for future work.

Theory and Sexual Politics.


There are two key theoretical developments to emerge from my research concerning transgender politics and postmodernism: firstly, the tension between postmodernism and structure, and secondly, theory concerning third or other sex and social categorisation. The first issue is present in discussions concerning postmodernist feminism and queer theory (Plummer 1996), but has not been properly explored in relation to transgender. The second issue is untheorised, although documentation of third and other sexes and genders is present in a number of sources (Herdt 1993, Feinberg 1996, Ramet 1997, Dreger 2000).

I argue that postmodernism provides a useful starting point when theorising transgender. This is because transgender can involve not only fluidity, complexity, paradox, excess and contextualisation, but, also, serious challenges to gender and sexual orientation binaries. In addition, poststructuralist and postmodernist theory, especially the work of Butler (1990, 1993) is used to inform the developing field of transgender theory (for example Prosser 1998, Stryker 1996). Whilst the approaches of transgender theorists vary, core concepts include the body and gender as constructed rather than fixed and essential, the notion of the body as a commodity, the destabilisation of empiricism, the disruption of sex in relation to gender and the problematisation of sex and gender binaries. On the basis of this it is possible to theorise gender and sex attributes as forming a spectrum of constructed possibilities, from which the individual either chooses, or unconsciously internalises, and then expresses, sex and gender attributes in a way that is far broader and more fluid than currently usual in our society. Technology is important in widening options and allowing new possibilities, such as gender-complex cyber- identities and body modification. Poststructuralist transgender theory is linked with notions of post-human identity, as developed by theorists such as Plant (2000).

Findings suggest that poststructualist and postmodernist transgender theory is important in a number of ways. It is the only currently available means of theorising the multiple, fluid, expanded spaces which some transgender people inhabit. Moreover, the emphasis on deconstruction of normative identities is extremely important in destabilising naturalised but restrictive gender and sexual orientation binaries. However, I argue that postmodernist models only address part of the picture, and may in fact simply be an umbrella for a period of conflict and contradiction caused by clashing identities, discourses and power systems. Postmodernist theory fails to account for a number of aspects of transgender people's experiences. These include biological, empiricist factors, the 'essential self' which many transgender people experience, and social realities, especially the social need for categorisation and for cohesive identities as a basis for political activism. Also, crucially, for many transgender people, especially in countries where gender binaries are heavily enforced and gender roles strictly defined, the fluidity and diversity which is linked with postmodernist accounts is idealistic and far removed from people's lived realities. Postmodernist accounts become the precinct of the privileged, mostly white, mostly male, and mostly Western subject. I argue that postmodernist theory is only useful insofar as it enables progressive change in the social world, via deconstruction of regressive or limiting structures. Progressive change entails construction of ethical, equal social structures to 'hold' postmodernist complexity and social change safely, as discussed by authors such as Weeks (1995). The construction of moral structures is especially important, given the opportunities for gender and sexual identity expansion and change, and the existence of possibly limiting current moral codes.

Research findings concerning the postmodernism-structure debate imply the need to develop new theory, which allows for both identity fluidity and the structuring of this. This is, to an extent, explored by transgender authors such as Bornstein (1998). Such a theory would model social reality as involving a continuous movement between structure and fluidity and vice versa. Thus, biology, the 'essential self', subjectivity and social identities and structures are all both constructed and real. The fact that identity construction frequently occurs on a subconscious level or in infancy does not make these identities less constructed. However, humans have a need for structure, and, while perhaps ultimately everything is constructed, we have to live it as real. The extent to which identities are normalised, and thus appear to be real, depends on context. Identities and processes, which are liminal become social reality once named and incorporated into institutional structures. This is currently occurring with regard to transsexuality and may happen in the future in relation to intersexual and third or other genders.

Third or other sex and gender identities appear to be starting to emerge from the midst of the current change and complexity concerning transgender. Third or other sexes and genders exist in Western societies at a number of levels: intersexuals and androgynes are biologically third or other, transvestites and cross-dressers are socially both or other, and transsexuals arguably go through a transition time of third or other although they are mostly socially constructed as male or female. The fluidity of cross-dressing and transitioning transsexuality forms a limited basis for any third/other gender category, particularly as this is rejected by the majority of Western transsexuals and cross-dressers. Most transsexuals identify as male or female and see any transitionary phase as something to be moved through as fast as possible, whilst for many cross- dressers, transgender is part-time and recreational. Therefore, third or other sex identities are usually rejected when theorising gender. However, utilising empiricism, it seems clear that something major is missing from current models of sex and gender: the existence of an intersexual biological third or other. Whilst binary-identified people of whatever political and social ilk deny the existence of third/other possibilities, these are only unseen because of the level of social erasure which intersex people experience. Third/ other gender and sex identities are as 'real' as male and female identities: all have biological basis, and can be also constructed as social identities. However, the social identities of 'ze/hir', 'third' or 'many' or 'other', sexes and genders are absent in Western cultures.

Findings imply the need for theory that includes third and other sexes. I argue that the constructionist/ postmodernist notion of 'third space' (Nataf 1996) is not sufficient, because this does not enable people to take 'third or other' social identities, and thus erases intersexuals and androgynes at the social level. 'Third or other' identities can be understood in relation to male and female binaries but can include both, be constructed in opposition to both or either, or can stand as independent identities. Gender binaries are still relevant, but are theorised as fuzzy and malleable rather than discrete, and operational in diverse ways. The new theory models gender as a spectrum, with 'male' and 'female' traits as a set of characteristics which are supplemented by 'intersexual traits', all of which combine in many different ways, and which are also affected by other factors, such as ethnicity and class. The new theory draws on poststructuralist transgender theory, which writes all gender and sex as simply mapped onto bodies, allowing for definition by gender characteristics rather than physical form, and movement away from simple binary definition. Male and female identities could be theorised as, on the one hand, 'real' and coherent identities which form a large proportion of a gender spectrum which include third and other sexes, and on the other, as complex constructed identities which can include aspects of androgyny, characteristics traditionally associated with the opposite sex and so on.


Transgender is a contentious issue within Western feminism. The dominant feminist analysis of transgender stems from 1970s radical feminism (Raymond 1980, Daly 1984). Findings suggest that the work of authors such as Raymond is problematic. These feminists assume a privileged position for biological, genetic, females. They deny transgender people agency and self- determination, and frame transgender as simply reinforcing of patriarchal stereotypes. They fail to properly address gender fluidity, androgyny and third and multiple sex positions. Raymond claims that transgender people 'rape' genetic women, and violate women's space by their very existence, and she argues for the legislative and cultural erasure of transsexuality. Evidence supports critiques of traditional feminist discourses concerning transgender, which can be made on methodological, theoretical and political grounds.

Transgender poses a serious theoretical challenge to feminism. I argue that this is one reason why most feminists have operated to exclude it. Feminisms, particularly radical feminism, are based on the notion of an unequal gender binaried system. Transgender scrambles gender binaries and opens up the space beyond or between simple male-female binaries. Radical feminists are unable to deal with this, except by stigmatising transgender people. Transgender highlights the flaws in feminist theory, for example the simplistic equation of masculinity with oppression. These flaws are evident in the work of transphobic feminists, who fail to adequately address issues such as transgender masculinity and political activism. Transgender also shows that radical feminist's notions of transcending gender without moving towards androgyny or gender plurality are mistaken. In other words, the idea that women can move beyond gender and still be women, and female feminists, is a fallacy. Postmodernist and poststructuralist feminists (for example Butler 1993) have accounted more fully for the issue of transcending versus embodying gender binaries. Here, there is acknowledgement that gender binaries co-exist with challenges to these, and that it is impossible to escape from categorisation completely. However, there is an absence of discussion of gender plurality as an alternative to binaries, and a tendency to remain 'stuck' in postmodernist liminality.

Critiques of feminist approaches to transgender relating to politics are based on evidence that feminist transphobia stems from a desire to protect feminist ontologies, identities, agendas, social space and academic positions. This manifests as adoption of 'morally privileged' positions and prescriptive politics which rest on a narrow definition of what is acceptable. While this is understandable, given the cultural resistance to feminism, I feel that it is completely inexcusable. Feminist transphobia simply perpetuates a cycle of gender abuse, and creates a hierarchy with transgender people at the bottom. This goes against feminist ethics of equality, the right to self- determination and commitments to non-harm. It excludes transgender feminists and transgender women, who face many of the same issues as 'women born as females'. It also damages the feminist cause, as it alienates potential allies.

Findings imply the need for an upheaval in feminist praxis similar to that resulting from Black and working class women's critiques. The main differences are that transgender problematises the very basis of feminism, necessitating discussion which includes non-female people and people who move between female and male identities. Transgender politics is broader than feminism because it can contain female identities and feminism as part of a gender spectrum, whereas gender-binary based feminism cannot deal with transgender except by exclusion. Thus, transgender theory could supersede feminism as a means of conceptualising gender, whilst also incorporating masculinity studies. Core tenets of this theory would include an acknowledgement of constructed and biological factors, and standpoint approaches. It would allow for difference (both in terms of identity and praxis) but would set this against universalism based on feminist principles such as equality and self-determination. Findings imply that feminism would become one of several tools in a spectrum of gender praxis, but a crucial tool, given the ongoing inequality of women. The changes would not, as feminists such as Raymond (1980, 1994) fear, lead to a homogenised or male dominated 'androgynous humanism', but, rather, to a spectrum of gender standpoints based on a politics that acknowledges and addresses difference and inequality. This spectrum could include radical, separatist feminism, but only as one of many equal positions, including transgender theory and masculinity studies, and thus not as a fundamentalist position. A remit of equality means that transgender praxis would be related to other matrices of social inequality such as global inequalities, ethnicity, class and ability.

Queer Theory.

Queer theory is aligned with postmodernist feminism and broader postmodernist theory. Queer theory aims towards transcendence of traditional gender and sexual orientation structures, and is built in opposition to them (Plummer 1996). The paradoxical queer 'harking back to the categories, which are superseded' is typical of the postmodernist-structure debate. Findings highlight various problems with queer theory in relation to transgender. Where queer is defined as lesbian, gay and bisexual it is problematised by transgender, which destabilises the gender categories on which these identities are based. Where queer theory involves postmodernist/poststructuralist deconstruction, the criticisms which I have discussed above apply. In addition, queer theorists such as Butler (1990) have used some aspects of transgender experience to develop their ideas, whilst invalidating or erasing other aspects, in particular transsexual identities and people's experiences of bodily limitations and self-essentialism. Butler and others rely on the notion of transgression as a motor for social change. However, transgression can only exist in relation to existing structures and is thus limited, and potentially reactionary. Findings show that transgender politics involves transgressive and assimilationist strategies operating hand in hand, something which is echoed in discussions concerning wider strategies for sexual liberation (Weeks 1995). Whilst the queer celebration of sexuality, and the related sex liberationism can be seen as life-affirming and politically progressive in some contexts, it is not sufficient on its own in effecting changes in the social structure. In addition, queer praxis is ultimately limited because it shuts out heterosexual men and women, and fails to explicitly include many transgender people, particularly androgynes and intersexuals. And, as with postmodernism, queer theory is a Western phenomenon which can be criticised for being irrelevant to most non-Western peoples, although this is open to debate given the existence of same-sex relationships in non-Western countries and the need to develop theory and politics to understand and support sexual diversity.

The research implies that gendervariance theory, which includes transgender, could supersede queer theory and feminism, because it addresses the whole gender and sexual orientation spectrum, including what are currently known as lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual sexual orientations. It includes recognition of the limitations of transgression, includes assimilationism, and enables context based models of identity and activism. The granting of civil status for intersexuals and third or other sex people would necessitate a broader base of sexual orientations as well as gender identities; probably continuation of current forms plus new ones. Queer praxis would still be relevant and many of the core tenets would be carried forward, including the emphasis on diversity, equality, the 'politics of partying' and transgression as a means (but not the only means) of social change. Transgender theory would include the usual debates concerning universalism versus difference, and localised forms of identification and activism, around for example lesbian women's concerns, would be needed as well as a broad-based gender-pluralist praxis. And, importantly, such theory would need to address cultural variation, and the power of economic structuring forces.

Transgender People and Transphobic Social Structures.

Transgender people in the West experience transphobia in many and diverse ways. Intersexuals and androgynes experience the greatest levels of transphobia and social exclusion, as intersexuals are usually 'treated' when infants or children to make them fit the gender binary system (Kessler 1998). This sometimes results in serious physical and identity problems (Dreger 2000). Intersex is pathologised by the medical system and is framed as socially problematic. Findings evidence the way that intersexual, third or other identities do not exist as social or civil identities, and there are no widely known terms to describe intersex or gender ambiguous people. Non-male and non-female people are bureaucratically erased, through 'male/female' coding on forms and official documents. Economic exclusion is a very major problem for gender ambigous people, unless they are able to successfully 'pass' as male or female. Like other transgender people, intersexuals, where visibly gender ambiguous, are frequently victims of violence and abuse. Intersex people are currently socially invisible, with hardly any representation in the media, social policy and sexual minorities, and a lack of service provision in areas such as education, the family and the penal system. Both medical and legislative bodies in the UK adhere to a gender binary system, but their models are in opposition, as medics recognise the assigned identity whereas transsexuals remain their birth sex in terms of civil status. Transsexuals in the UK are denied basic civil rights, such as marriage, and in some cases parenthood. Transsexual rights are limited; only available to those who have had full surgery and emphasise passing. Employment patterns vary, but many are excluded and for those who are in paid employment there is often discrimination. Stigmatisation and abuse are widespread in certain specific contexts, such as prisons. Discrimination sometimes occurs in education, for example bullying at school. Access to social space is problematic, especially for non-passing transsexuals, and experience of violence is very common. Relationships and family life may be difficult, as transsexuals sometimes face discrimination from potential partners and family members, although this is by no means uniform. The media appears to be contested territory; coverage is mixed. Transgender people face exclusion from some minority groups, but are now mostly welcomed or tolerated in the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities. Cross-dressers, drag queens and drag kings have been framed as abnormal by the Western medical system (Bullough and Bullough 1993), but because they do not usually receive medical treatment they have managed to evade the more damaging effects of pathologisation. Findings indicate that cross-dressers vary in their attitudes towards pathologisation; the early groups took on a pathologised model but later groups mostly celebrate the identity, including the fetishistic aspects. Drag queens, and, later, drag kings, rejected stigmatising mainstream models of identity and established affirmative subcultures, playing an important role in queer subcultures. Transvestites and cross-dressers face less of the social exclusion which plagues other transgender people. This is because cross-dressing is a part-time, recreational activity for most, and takes place in social space, which supports it. Transvestites, who are usually heterosexual, sometimes face relationship problems and crossdressers are generally at risk of violence. In addition, they remain socially marginalised and are usually unable to express their identities in the public sphere, except in queer spaces, where they also face a certain level of discrimination as well as celebration. There appears to be a widening of social tolerance for sexual minorities, which makes life easier for some transvestites, cross-dressers and drag queens and kings.

Subjective Processes and Transphobia.

Subjective processes can be seen to play an important role in the normalisation of the gender binary system and the continuation of the exclusion of transgender people. The use of psychoanalytic theory, specifically object relations theory, enables recognition of the way in which characteristics associated with transgender trigger unconscious anxieties. These are frequently dealt with by exclusion of people who are perceived as undesirable, and are linked with cultural processes of stereotyping and stigmatisation (Sibley 1993). Relevant characteristics include ambiguity and the blurring of categorisation, physical and mental difference (especially disability) and sexuality. Findings extend understanding of the subjective processes behind transgender social exclusion. Evidence implies that the postmodernist scrambling of sex and gender characteristics, as well as the notion of sex and gender as constructed, may be threatening to some people, who rely on a naturalised gender identity for psychological safety. Furthermore, the containment of conflicting discourses within one psyche (for example separatist feminist androphobia and FTM valorisation of masculinity) can cause anxiety, which may be projected onto others. Transgender people moving away from, 9 or constructing their identity in opposition to, a particular identity may feel particularly challenged by people inhabiting that identity. The existence of these causes of transphobia implies a need for therapeutic models which take them into account, as well as a revision of cultural and social norms concerning gender, so that people are educated about gender difference in a similar way to ethnic difference, and cultural taboos become less pronounced.

Transphobic Discourses.

I argue that transphobia (defined as fear of and stigmatisation of transgender) plays a key role in the social exclusion of transgender people. Research evidence shows that transphobia can be linked to the dominance of a range of discourses and processes, including ethnocentrism, racism and colonialism, patriarchy, homophobia, sexphobia and religion. With some exceptions, the economic and to an extent cultural interests of Western industrialised countries are currently dominant world-wide. This domination is built on the legacy of colonialism, which wiped out cultural diversity, including many forms of transgender (Nataf 1996). Research findings evidence ethnocentrism as a cause of transphobia. One research contributor, whose background is Chinese, discussed the way in which Taoism and Taoist culture allows greater freedom concerning gender plurality, and a South East Asian non-transgender person attending one of my presentations described greater acceptance of transgender in the Pacific Rim countries. Western transphobia has, in some cases, directly impacted on communities which could be called transgender, for example Nataf (1996) discusses British colonial stigmatisation of Hijras and prohibition of their practices. The extent of gender plurality among other cultures is used by some Western transgender people to argue for gender plurality in Western Capitalist societies, while others resist this and continue to see a binary system as natural. Meanwhile, it is worth pointing out that while it would be easy to adopt an argument that non Western-Capitalist and precolonial societies are or were perfect, but that this would lead dangerously into an essentialised view of the 'natural goodness' of non- European peoples, in other words a sentimental ethnocentrism which erases difference and contradiction (see Slater 1992). Thus, for example, while the Hijra third gender people of India are part of Indian culture, they are also denigrated. It would take careful analysis to ascertain the extent to which this is due to British colonisation and the impact of Victorian values on India and how much this relates to other factors. What is clear, however, is that a wide range of cultural variance concerning gender has been and continues to be subsumed by the interests of colonialism and, now, globalised capital. Patriarchy appears to be an important cause of transphobia. The construction of gender categories enables men as a class to dominate women, through structures such as the sexual division of labour and paternity systems. Challenges to the malefemale divide, such as intersexuality, are erased. Homophobia is enmeshed with transphobia: transgender people are often stigmatised because they are seen as homosexual, and vice versa. Homosexuality, like transgender, threatens traditional gender binaries and heterosexual power. Body fascism affects many transgender people negatively, for example non- passing transsexuals face greater social discrimination. In the context of this cosmetic surgery becomes a contested issue: it acts to create a smaller range of 'acceptable' appearances (Kessler 1998), yet is used in an empowering way by many transgender people. Sexphobia is another cause of transphobia, particularly where transgender is recreational and linked with sexual expression. This is linked with the taboo concerning non-procreative sexuality, a taboo that finds its roots in religion and patriarchy. Many of the main religions, particularly Christianity, Judaism and Islam, reinforce male-female binaries and frame transgender as an abomination thus legitimising persecution. The spiritual traditions which 10 support gender diversity have often been suppressed by these religions (especially Christianity) (Feinberg 1996). Capitalism is also linked with transphobia, although there are different models: conflict perspectives would frame capitalism as dependent on gender divisions thus enforcing of gender binaries, or alternatively as gender commodification and capitalist exploitation of transgender people; pluralist approaches would argue that capitalism enables transgender via commodification, which is linked with a loosening of sexual authoritarianism. Other forces, such as disablism, may also contribute to transphobia.

The forces which contribute to transphobia interweave, creating oppositions to diverse gender identification and expression. With the possible exception of capitalism, those people with stakes in maintaining these forces share an interest in supporting restrictions on gender and sexual expression, as freer expression would destabilise existing power structures. While gender diversity would not necessarily affect the personal identities of non-transgender, heterosexual, men and women it would certainly imply a movement towards a more gender pluralist society and reform of the cultures and institutions that block this. In policy terms, there is a great need for exploration of the possibilities and implications of gender pluralism. This would include state support for education, social space and cultural forms which promote diversity and the social citizenship of people of all genders. Gender pluralism could be set within the context of international multiculturalism, because it was cultural hegemony that initially enabled the world- wide erasure of much transgender diversity (although this would be problematic given the religious fundamentalism of some ethnic groups). It can also be related to discourses concerning consumer rights and sexual citizenship, both of which fit within the participatory democracy remit, and both of which can act in a empowering way to benefit transgender people. Notions of gender equality (including those developed by feminism) are also very important as a means of combating transphobia, both directly, in the sense that gender equality must surely include transgender equality, and also because equality between men and women would lead to a number of gains for transgender people, such as greater ease of transitioning because of a wider breadth of sex roles. In addition, discourses from disability rights could be very useful for transgender people, as these concern physical difference, and challenge social norms concerning identity and social participation. However, this issue has yet to be explored.

Transgender Politics.

There have been a range of UK organisations involved in activism concerning transgender, characterised by grass-roots membership and organisation. There appears to have been a general shift in recent years from self-help groups to those concerned with changing the social conditions which exclude transgender people, although organisations are usually concerned with both. Some contributors see the transgender movement in the UK as taking off during the 1990s. There is to some extent an increase in political activity and gains, social recognition of transsexuals and development of partnerships and alliances. The transgender movement can be seen as a New Social Movement (NSM), as it consists of a loose, pluralist, nonhierarchical network of activists, and is similar to, if much smaller than, movements such as the Women's movement.

Transgender politics seems to be based on a broad set of values: the acceptance of diversity, emphasis on selfdefinition and agency, equality and inclusion. There is often a move towards depathologisation of transgender, interest in gaining civil rights and legislation for equality, as well as wider social reform to enable transgender equality. Some participants argue for the diversification of gender categories and social reform to support this, while the majority envisage the two-gender system as continuing, and transgender people being included within this. There is considerable awareness of the difficulties of effecting social change, so that, in some cases, participants wished for diversification but felt that this was impossible given structural forces.

Alliances appear to be crucial for transgender politics, because of the small numbers of people involved as well as the issues of fluid identities and overlaps of interest with other groups. For some people this means alliances with other excluded groups, a finding which is supported in the literature (Feinberg 1996). However, alliances on the basis of experiences of oppression seems to be problematic in some ways, as they do not necessarily further transgender claims for social inclusion. This has unfortunate spin-offs, for example some transgender people distance themselves from lesbians, gays and bisexuals, despite what one contributor describes as inevitable, if often temporary, identity overlaps. The more assimilationist activists thus seem to seek alliances with health practitioners and policy makers. This is overlaid and in some cases combined with visible and growing alliances between gay, lesbian and bisexual activists and transgender people, although this entails some tensions concerning ownership of identities and social space. There is also indication of alliances with other groups, including feminists, sex liberationists, and members of the men's movement, Black and minority ethnic groups, and the disability movement as well as supportive non-transgender heterosexuals.

Discourses of citizenship and democracy form an important basis for transgender politics. The transgender movement draws on notions of equal rights and civic participation; notions which are associated with citizenship. However, research findings imply a critique of the currently dominant models of citizenship, which tend towards universalisation of the white, male, heterosexual, Western, able-bodied subject, even in texts which discuss gender and ethnicity (see Carabine 1996). Gender diversity is written out of these models, which easily act to reinforce the hegemony of the two-gendered/sexed system. Feminist and sexual citizenship theorists (Lister 1997, Carabine 1996 and Richardson 2000) have identified a need to change this universalism by incorporation of gender and sexuality into this model. Research findings indicate the possibility of further development of the notion of gender and sexual citizenship to include transgender, and an exploration of the implications of this for theory and policy concerning citizenship and social exclusion.

Tensions and Alliances.

Research findings evidence many tensions within the transgender communities, although it is important to emphasise that there is also a lot of collaboration. Tensions include disputes concerning the definition of transgender itself, ownership of the term and in some cases rejection of the term. There are, in some cases, divergences because of the marked differences between the groups currently subsumed under the umbrella of 'transgender' and hierarchies concerning surgery and passing. There are 'border wars' concerning identities and social space where these overlap, for example in the case of butch lesbians and FTM transsexuals. There are tensions between those (the majority) who see transgender as essential, and use this as a means for gaining social legitimacy, and others, who adopt constructionist accounts (see King 1993). Resentment exists in some instances towards those who appear 'less oppressed', for example cross-dressers, and also those who 'disappear' once they have transitioned. Issues concerning sexuality and morality are another area of difficulty; for example many transsexuals and other transgender people distance themselves from transvestites, some of whom have sexual reasons for crossdressing (some transvestites deny this). Another area of tension concerns third/ other identities and transsexuality. Many transsexuals deny the validity of third, other or multiple sex/gender identities, seemingly because these are disruptive of the male and female identities which transsexuals mostly take. A minority of transsexual contributors support gender and sex plurality. In some circles intersexuality is valorised, which becomes problematic if adult intersexual surgery is condemned but transsexuals fail to activate against infant intersexual surgery.

Research findings indicate that many of the causes of the tensions in the transgender movement can be traced to the transphobic binary gendered system. Social exclusion and unequal social structures impact on transgender people and their ability to participate in the political process. Thus, for example, political organisation would be much easier if transgender people were better financially resourced via full inclusion in the labour market. Similarly, hierarchies of passing and surgery would not occur if passing transsexuals were not socially privileged. Importantly, some transgender identities (androgyne, intersex) are socially unrecognised, so that it is impossible to use them as a basis for campaigning. I argue that the crucial shift in standpoint is from that of individual pathologisation to location of the exclusion and stigmatisation of transgender people at the social level. There do, however, also seem to be linked, subjective and intersubjective processes at work, including in some cases internalised transphobia.

Discussion and conclusion.

What do developments concerning transgender in the West mean for sexual politics world-wide' How will the emerging field of transgender studies affect gender studies internationally' It is difficult (and foolhardy) to attempt to predict how things will develop, especially from the limited standpoint of someone located in a country associated with ethnocentrism and cultural hegemony. However, there are a number of points for discussion. These are as follows: the cultural limitations of the term 'transgender', the world-wide development of feminism in relation to transgender, the links between transgender and lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and gender diversity as an international human rights issue. As noted above, transgender is a Western term. It developed in the context of certain types of activism, initially based in the USA, mostly in urban areas: the lesbian, gay and bisexual movement, and, to a lesser extent, the women's movement. It is, as Namaste (2000) points out, an English word, and is not necessarily found in other languages. As such, transference of the term and associated discourses to other contexts is problematic. Does the use of the term elsewhere signify cultural hegemony and risk erasing the understandings of gender developed in other cultures' Does the use of transgender as an umbrella term, encompassing identities such as the ladyboys of the far East and the Hijras of India, mean the appropriation of such identities by Western activists and theorists' Or, does a failure to make links between gender-diverse identities worldwide and to develop a term for them indicate theoretical and political weakness' Arguably, the term is broad enough to include different culture's terms and definitions for gender variance. And the increased visibility of gendervariant people world-wide will mean increased options for at least some people, as well as an enrichment of theory. Whether or not the term 'transgender' itself 'speaks' to gender- variant people, and gender theorists, internationally remains to be seen. And, the extent of possible universal theorising and politics will always be open to debate, given the wide range of differences concerning gender internationally.

Transgender can be seen to challenge feminism in a similar way to the challenges posed by postmodernism. Exploration of this territory can be seen as dangerously out of line with the needs world-wide for social and political change to support women's equality. Who has time to explore such theory when people lack basic means of survival and when women bare the brunt of the lack' However, this stance only makes sense when transgender is related to postmodernism. A more structural form of analysis, focusing on economic redistribution, challenging unfair gender roles, and equal rights, is crucial to both non-transgender women and transgender people. Many transgender people (the majority in the West) identify as women, and as such experience the same inequalities. And, importantly, the fight for equal rights for gender- variant people is similar in important ways to the fight for women's rights, as both are associated with challenges to rigid gender roles. Transgender rights would open space for women who did not identify as transgender, but who wished to live differently from the socially prescribed ways. Transgender rights could also open space for exploration of masculinities and for a challenging of male dominance. I would see the fight for gender-variant or transgender people's rights as developing alongside and in alliance with feminisms internationally, would hope that this would bypass some of the mistakes made by feminists in the West.

Another issue for gender activists internationally is the link between transgender and lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) cultures and politics. This link is very important in the West, although, as discussed above, there are also tensions between the different communities. One theme in the UK has been a tendency on both sides to disassociate from the other if the other is perceived to be more heavily stigmatised. So, for example, some transgender people distance themselves from the LGB communities. However, in the UK, the current climate concerning LGB people is reasonably liberal. This is clearly not the case in some countries, where gay people may face imprisonment or death. And, discourses concerning homosexuality as a 'Western disease' seem fairly common in some countries. Given such stigmatisation, are alliances with LGB people on an international basis wise for gender-variant people' Or, are they unavoidable, given the fact that many transgender people do experience same-sex desire, at least at some stage in their lives, and that transgender and LGB people are often forced into the same ghetto' Or, are they desirable, given a broad remit of equal rights and the knowledge that same-sex desire exists world-wide although it may be constructed very differently from in the West' Personally, I would argue for a broad set of alliances between gendervariant, LGB and others who are progressive concerning sexual orientation.

The last, and possibly most important, point for discussion concerns gender diversity as a human rights issue. Obviously, gender diversity varies widely depending on culture, with what we call 'transgender' evident in some cultures and not in others. If transgender referred only to cross- dressing, and possibly (but arguably) even transsexuality, it might be possible to write it off as a culturally relative phenomenon, relevant mostly to the white and affluent West. However, this is not the case. Intersex babies are born world-wide, which means that a hidden population of stigmatised and oppressed people must exist in every country except the small minority where there is social space for non male/female people. Because of this, and the claims for transsexual and other gender-variant identities as essentialist and not chosen, transgender is an international human rights issue. The fact that transgender people are a small minority who are so heavily erased and excluded that they are usually not even visible should not mean that the issue never reaches the tables of policy-makers.

To conclude, transgender has important implications for gender theory, provoking a critique of postmodernist positions and calls for the integration of postmodernist and structural approaches. The existence of non-male and nonfemale identities leads to debates concerning the possibility of creating social categories to match these in the West - such categories have existed in some much older cultures for a long time. At present, there is a lack of theory supporting the notion of gender diversity, as Western feminists have been critical of transgender and queer theories are of limited use in theorising transgender. What is needed is a spectrum model of gender, one that models gender as plural and as both constructed and essential. However, the use of such a model, and the concept of transgender itself, in non- Western countries requires discussion, as does the relevance of the Western transgender movement to non-Western countries. Some aspects of relevance are the cultural siting and limitations of the term 'transgender', the relationship of feminisms and Women's Studies to transgender, the links between transgender politics and LGB politics, and, last but not least, gender diversity as a human rights issue. Ultimately, gender variance, whether termed 'transgender' or not, must be taken seriously as a human rights issue. Gender variant people face severe social marginalisation or erasure in most societies, and it is time for the matter to be addressed on an international level.


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Citation: Monro, S., (2002), Gender Diversity and Gender Politics, GENDYS 2002, The Seventh International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 26.12.06