Transsexuality and transgender: Gender identities and expressions of gender
Palma Saleiro, Sandra
CIES-ISCTE CIES-ISCTE Lisboa, Portugal
This communication intends to present some of the first results from the ongoing research project "Transsexuality and Transgender: Gender Identities and Expressions of Gender" carried out in CIES-ISCTE, financed by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT). At a Portuguese national level this is the first research on the subject, in sociology and generically in the social sciences.
Overall the innumerous gender expressions that the umbrella term transgender includes, this communication will focus only on individuals that we designate as transsexuals, understood as individuals whose gender is permanently felt and experienced as being the opposite of their biological sex. In this category of individuals, attention will be given only to transsexual women, ie, male-to-female (MtF) individuals.
Through the biographical interviews carried out, age stands out as a major distinctive factor of self-identity within transsexual women, more than other variables such as class or geographical location. They share the same sex/gender non-coincidence feeling and reveal similar emotions, but their expression and interpretation of gender differ in various aspects. One of these aspects has to do, first of all, with self-identification regarding the expression of gender: they classify themselves as women, as transsexuals or even as transvestites or homosexuals.
The research reveals that younger transsexual women tend to build their identity of gender based mostly on psychological-medical scientific discourse on "what transsexuality is" or "what is to be a transsexual", which are appropriated through their involvement on medical care services or through the access to information available on sources like the Internet. For this reason they self-identify and account themselves in a way that is closer to the "classic" narrative concerning transsexuality. Older transsexual women, on the other hand, interpret this feeling of sex/gender non-coincidence without access both to specialized information and to transsexual medical care services. Though, they tend to build their gender identity among peer, frequently in micro-cultures linked to gay environments, drag show environments and prostitution, and produce narratives that are less linear and "clean" from a gender identity's point of view.