History of the Transgender Movement in North America Essay

 
History of the Transgender Movement in North America

The transgender movement has often been considered as having its start in modern or more recent times.  However, there were even transgender individuals in the Bible and during Biblical times.  The transgender movement has always been a part of American culture and those who were transgender have played an important role in the history of America through many different aspects.  The term “transgender” is used “to describe anyone whose identity or appearance differs from stereotypical expectations of how men and women should look or act.”  This would include the transsexuals who choose to change their body to meet who they are as a person rather than being happy with the sex to which they were born with.  However this term can be loosely applied to those who have not had surgery who are not a part of the stereotypical thoughts and ideas that men are to be masculine and females are to be feminine (Currah 1).

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The term transgender was first coined by those who wanted to label themselves rather than be labeled by others as being a transvestite, having gender dysphoria, or having a gender identity disorder.  The transgender movement is not only about the medical issues and the rights that the people have for medical things, but rather it is part of the social and political context of these issues as well.   The idea of gender identity comes into play as one’s gender identity is deeply rooted in how they see themselves, and therefore in how they interact with others as well as the things that they will think, try, and do overall - History of the Transgender Movement in North America Essay introduction. (Currah 1).

The first transgender individual that is mentioned in the history of America is the Crow nation “woman chief” Barcheeampe.  In 1850 she appalled many travelers through Wyoming and Montana as she was known for her seven wives.  It appalled the masses as she was regarded as fine where as those from England would have not been okay with this.  In 1861 a transgender Franklin Thompson fought for the Union Army in the Civil War.  Franklin Thompson had been born Sarah Emma Edmonds.  She was used in the army as a spy, nurse, and a dispatch carrier.  She was the only female to be in the Grand Army of the Republic.  During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the transvestites became known as the “tight lacers” for their cross dressing as the corsets that they wore had to be laced tighter than they did for females (“Timeline…” 2-3).

During the First World War those who were transgender were discriminated against and shot at as they were accused of being spies.  In 1930 the Encyclopedia of Sexual Knowledge by Norman Hire is published.  This book is one of the first to discuss transvestites in detail.  The book also illustrated early sex change operations.  In 1938 electroshock therapy was first used and it became commonly used on those who were transgender in hopes that the electroconvulsive waves would change their opinions of their sexuality.  In 1949 Harry Benjamin began treating those who were transgender with hormone therapy (“Timeline 3-5).

Harry Benjamin was a big part of the transgender movement in America.  He was best known for his studies on gender identity issues.  He wrote and published a work on transsexuals.  It was entitled The Transsexual Movement and was published in 1966.  In 1978 many professionals organized the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association which initiated “creating standards of care for the treatment of Gender Identity Disorders” (“Harry…” 1-3).

In 1952 Christine Jorgenson becomes an “American transsexual media sensation.”  This was because Christine had formerly been known as George and was willing to travel in order to get the sex change operation.  As George, he served in the military but later decided that he could no longer live his life as a man.  He decided that he needed to become a woman at this time and then had the sex change operation.  It was a media sensation and the headlines regularly read “Ex-GI becomes Blonde Bombshell” (“Christine….”1-3).  In 1960 the first issue of “Transvestia” (a transgender magazine) is published by Virginia Prince (Currah 2).

The 1960’s held great movement for the transgender movement.  In 1969 drag queens, butch lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in San Francisco fought back against police harassment in Compton’s Cafeteria.  They fought to end discrimination against them because of their sexual preferences (Currah 2).

Transgender was evolved in the year 1970 though it was implied in the 1960’s.  It was giving a description of individuals who wished to stay cross gender without sex relocation surgery.  In the 1980’s transgender stretched out and became more popular as a way of connecting with all of the individuals whose gender identity didn’t interconnect with their gender during birth.  Eventually the term transgender became political because it was an alliance covering all those who in one way or another did not get conformed to gender norms.  The term was used to query the validity of the norms.  It was also used to carry on equivalent rights and anti discrimination legislation.  These lead to extensive practice in the media, academic world, as well as law (David, 184).

In 1973 a movement was won which re-categorized homosexuality from a “disease” to a “condition” in The American Psychiatric Association.  This is a big step as before this there were many times where those who were considered to be gay, lesbian or transgender were institutionalized and thought to be incurable from their “mental health” problem that was causing them to react in this manner.  By saying that it was no longer a disease it was opening the gates for this to be considered okay and for sexuality to be considered a choice (“Timeline…” 5-6).  In 1975 Minneapolis became the first city to fight against discrimination and they passed the first local anti discrimination law that mentioned transgender people (Currah 3).  Later in 1976, the US tried to ban Renee Richards from playing tennis after she was outed.  It was decided that she would be allowed to play as a woman and that transsexuals are legally accepted in their new identity.  Again this was another huge win for those fighting during this time as it was a big thing to be able to be considered your new sex rather than being labeled still as the sex from which you were born (“Timeline..” 6).

In 1981 the first beginnings of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and the HIV virus were reported and being investigated.  This was a huge step back for those who were fighting for equality among the gay, lesbian and transgender movement as it was considered a “gay disease” for a while and it caused a lot of  discrimination and problems for gay, lesbian and transgender people (“Timeline…” 6).  In 1984 the International Foundation for Gender Education was founded.  They began publishing a magazine which was called “Tapestry” at the time.  It is now known as “Transgender Tapestry Journal.”  Then in 1986 the FTM International was founded.  It became the first female to male community or organization (Currah 3).  In 1989 famed singer Billy Tipton died in Spokane, Washington.  He had lived his life as a man for many years, playing in various big bands and even marrying and raising children.  Upon his death it was revealed that he was really a woman (“Timeline….” 6-7).  In 1991 transgender attorney, Phyllis Randolph Frye founded the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy (ICTLEP).  This was the first international legal organization for transgender people worldwide.  They also adopted the International Bill of Gender Rights during this year (Currah 3).  In 1993 the ISNA (Intersex Society of America) was founded by Cheryl Chase.  Her goal was to “build awareness and offer support to inter-sex people” (“Timeline…” 7).

1993 was also the year that brought about a lot of awareness about hate crimes to gays, lesbians and transgender youths and adults as Brandon Teena was brutally raped and beaten to death in Humboldt, Nebraska.  This crime brought about more attention to these types of crimes and later the movie “Boys Don’t Cry” was written and released about this event.  In 1997 Leslie Feinberg wrote the book Transgender Warriors: from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman.  This book was a book talking about all of the transgender people throughout world history as well as tracing the roots of the transgender oppression (“Timeline…” 7).

In 1994 the San Francisco Human Rights Commission conducted the public hearing on discrimination of transgender people.  This was for them being discriminated against in the areas of employment, housing, health care, education and public accommodations (Currah 3-4).

In 1999 the state of Texas heard the case of “Littleton vs Prang.”  This case was about Christine Littleton who was a post op MTF patient.  She was married and wanted to sue the MD who allowed her husband to die for negligence.  During this time the case was argued that she could not be legally married to her husband as her birth certificate read that she was a male and therefore she could not be legally married to a male.  Later she won the right to amend her birth certificate to say female.  This starts a legal “limbo” of patients with their post op sex status and what they are considered to be (“Timeline…” 7-8).

In 2000 the Transgender Law and Policy Institute were formed.  This was another huge break for those fighting on the inside of this movement.  Then in 2002 the first statewide law center for those who are transgender opened its doors in San Francisco.  The Transgender Law Center provides services and representation to those who are transgender and for many various legal problems and difficulties.  During this same time in New York City, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was formed for the purpose of providing legal services to those in the state of New York (Currah 4).

In 2003 the National Center for Transgender Equality was founded in Washington DC.  Then in 2005 California enacted a law that prohibited insurance companies and health care service providers from discriminating against transgender people.  This was another huge step as there was no longer the problem for these individuals to get the things that they needed in order to be healthy as there had been in the past (Currah 4-5).

Previously in 2002 another tragedy occurred about a transgender youth, when 17 year old Gwen Amber Rose was beaten and strangled.  The retrial of her assailants in 2006 found them guilty of the crime and all of the assailants were later sentenced for this horrible act of violence.  Another thing that happened in 2006 was the movie “Transamerica” in which Felicity Huffman starred as Bree and was later nominated for an Oscar for this role.  This was also the year that the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association was renamed to The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (“Timeline…” 8).

In 2008 many other things occurred that further promoted the transgender movement.  Thomas Beatie (who was born a female and had some surgeries but decided to keep his female sex organs) bore a child when his wife was unable to get pregnant.  He had then announced after the birth of his daughter that he was going to be having a second child as well.  He is thought to be the first man to legally give birth to a child (“Timeline…” 8).

Trans-genderism purports to be more politically progressive than trans-sexualism. Theoretically, transgender covers postoperative and preoperative transsexuals. It also covers drag queens, transvestites as well as straights who exhibit any type of behavior interpreted as transgressing gender roles. Some transgender theories comprise of lesbians and gay gentlemen within the transgender phenomenon. It as well comprises the grounds that everybody who doesn’t feel comfortable with hetero gender roles was referred as a “tranny.” Most people in the new generation have had operations because they trust that they are going to become real after the operation. The development of trans-genderism might indicate the way in which transsexual aspirants look to emulate the norm for womanhood during their time period. During the time when feminism had some success in questioning the rigidity of gender roles, a new model was required if trans-sexualism was not to look hopelessly retrogressive (David, 179).

From a feminist perspective it is questionable whether trans-genderists actually tend to challenge gender stereotypes. Their complete lives as well as identities, usually to the extent of very serious self mutilation, have always been formed around a trust in gender. It is said that men and women are the ones who advocate feminist understandings. However, they don’t agree with matters concerning gender entirely. They challenge it a great deal. Transgender activists try to use postmodern theory in supporting the progressive nature of their project. This is done with the exception of anti essentialism of postmodern theory, an initiative that seems to have been adopted. It was adopted inappropriately by such gender loyalists as transgender activists ends up to be. There are still other postmodern ideas which have been used to justify transgenderism which cause some disquiet to feminist theorists. Some valued stars of postmodern lesbian and gay theory signify transgender practices as politically progressive. They represent the practices, usually the traditional practices of gay gentlemen. The practices have been very seriously criticized by feminists as central to the feminist project of ending the heteropatriarchy (Sheila, 321).

After reviewing the history of the transgender culture in America it could be argued that the transgender movement is nearly as old as America is in the first place.  However it is typically thought that the transgender movement in the United States really took off during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  It can be argued that there are many problems for those who transfer from one sex to another.  The argument is that there are a lot of difficulties and problems that these individuals face however for most of these people the freedom to finally feel as though they are who they were meant to be is enough for them to look past the difficulties.  These difficulties include some very serious challenges.  Some of the challenges are the fact that one might lose his/her job, they can be rejected by family, friends and spouses, and they could possibly lose custody of their children (Currah 5).

By transitioning to another gender there are so many things that one can be persecuted for.  These could include denial of medical health care coverage, problems with medical staff in both hospitals and clinics, the refusal of housing services, the refusal of public aid services, harassment and violence are still common but more so among transgender youth, and employment discrimination.  This makes those who have went through this process at a heightened threat of poverty.  This could cause them to have to commit “survival crimes” which could ultimately lead to their “incarceration.
(Currah 5).
Works Cited

“Christine Jorgenson.”  Transgender Zone.  20 March 2009.

http://www.transgenderzone.com/features/ChristineJorgensen.htm

Currah, Paisley, Juang, Richard M and Minter, Shannon Price.  “Transgender Rights.”

University of Minnesota Press.  20 March 2009.  http://www.upress.umn.edu/excerpts/currahganda.html

David, V.  Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category.  Moscow:  Duke

University Press, 2007.

“Harry Benjamin MD.”  Transgender Zone.  20 March 2009.

http://www.transgenderzone.com/research/HarryBenjaminMD.htm

“Timeline:  Transgender History.”  Transgender Zone.  20 March 2009.

http://www.transgenderzone.com/features/timeline.htm

Shelia, J.  Transgender activism:   a Lesbian Feminist Perspective.  New York:  Springer

Publishers, 2002.

 

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