Physical Differences in Sexual Identity

Sexuality and identity symbols (not a complete list)

Sexuality and identity symbols (not a complete list)

Last time I began addressing the issue of why trans* people are not all intersex, even if some intersex people are trans* identified. I left off mentioning that I would discuss more in depth the physical differences, because they are pretty drastic.

As Natalie Reed pointed out a while back, transexual bodies and genitals do not react, function, etc. in the same manner as cissexual bodies of the same configuration. As she points out, the penis of a cis man, a trans man, and a trans woman all react differently from one another, more drastically different than within members of the same group. In other words, a trans woman’s penis is more different from a cis man’s penis than that same cis man’s penis is from another cis man’s penis, in regards to functioning. This is something I discussed briefly a couple weeks back while discussing how our sexuality shifts.

Though I’m not an expert on intersex bodies, I imagine they find themselves in a situation of having wider diversity among each other than we see within other groups. For example, while two cis men who are not intersex may have their other biological differences, generally their penis is going to function in the same basic fashion. However, intersex covers an entire spectrum of blending between the male and female sexes, so some may have a penis that otherwise looks and functions like a cis male penis, others may have something roughly phallic looking that does not look or respond in a manner consistent with a cis male penis. The same applies to vaginal differences.

This of course, is not universal. There are some individuals who could be considered intersex but are otherwise completely physically male or female, such as the examples of my two friends that I mentioned last time. Someone with androgen insensitivity syndrome, for example, is technically intersex, having testes rather than ovaries, but is for all other intents and purposes female (unless they identify as male or a non-binary gender). They are usually raised female, as AIS is not something easily discovered at birth, and more often than not also identify as female.

This leads to another issue that is related to body. Even those who are both intersex and trans* may not have been raised with an intersex experience. My friend with an XY chromosome was raised female and identifies as male. He is technically intersex (by some definitions), but does not identify as such because it was not his experience. Another well known example, and one I mentioned last time, was that of Stevie Crecelius was raised male, and was later in life told that she was intersex when it was discovered she was menstruating internally (due to no external female parts). So she was technically intersex as well, but her past experience was that matching a trans* person.

This goes back to a point that I mentioned last time: even if we are technically considered intersex (due to brain differences or whatever information may be discovered), transsexuals (and fewer trans* identified people who aren’t transsexual) rarely have an intersex experience growing up. There are other theories and evidence to show that we (transsexuals) could be considered in some way intersex, such as the leading theory that the cause of transsexualism is some form of changes in-utero, a neurobiological theory, which would indicate a form of intersex, neurologically one sex and otherwise the other sex. This is part of what leads to the whole Harry Benjamin Syndrome thing, the belief that we’re not transgender or transsexual, but intersex.

However, as I’ve made clear, we are transgender, and we are transsexual. Some of us may be intersex, and by some definitions, we may all be, but our experiences are widely not those of intersex people. As such, we should not claim the identity. There are reasons to believe I may have been born intersex and “corrected” at birth, but I have not looked into it because it changes nothing. It is not my experience.

So are transgender people intersex? Most aren’t, though some are. Are intersex people transgender? Many, but not all, are (depending on your definitions of intersex and transgender). Are transsexual people intersex? The jury is still out on that one, but we rarely have an intersex experience. Experience makes a big difference in identity, and we should not claim identities that we have not experienced. So transgender people should not claim an intersex identity without an intersex experience. Whether we are technically intersex or not is an issue that needs to be left alone until there is more evidence.


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