Bockting, thrice

Posted: January 26, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve started working with Walter Bockting. He’s going to help me with this last exam, and he’s going to help me with my research afterwards. As a part of that, I need to get a few reviews here on the site. I want to make sure I have all the quotes I need right at hand.

To that end, I’m going to talk about three articles that involve Walter in some way: “Homosexual and Bisexual identity in Sex-Reassigned Female-To-Male Transexuals.” by Eli Coleman, Walter Bockting, and Louis Gooren; “A Further Assessment of Blanchard’s Typology of Homosexual Versus Non-Homosexual or Autogynephilic Gender Dysphoria.” by Larry Nuttbrok, Walter Bockting, Mona Mason, Sel Hwahng, Andrew Rosenblum, Monica Macri, and Jeffrey Becker; and “Gay and Bisexual Identity Development Among Female-To-Male Transexuals in North America: Emergence of a Transgender Sexuality.” by Walter Bockting, Autumn Benner, Eli Coleman. I’ll start from the top, and move to the article where Walter was the primary author.Coleman et al. write about some very interesting aspects of transgenderism that I hadn’t really considered. And the fact that I hadn’t considered it before really surprised me. Coleman et al. talk about the  FtM (female to male) transgendered, and the differences of that group. I’ve never met or spoken to any FtM, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t know they existed. But that doesn’t mean that FtM is the same as MtF, just the other direction.

There are some similarities. Gender dysphoria in FtMs tended to happen pretty early in life, much like with MtFs. And of those Coleman et al. studied, “All of the subjects became aware of their sexual attraction to men prior to reassignment” (41). So they identified as male before they developed a sexual identity (that is, an attraction to one gender, the other, or both). This causes the FtM to consider attraction to men as homosexual and attraction to women as heterosexual. This isn’t all that different from MtF.

But there are differences. Coleman et al. tell us that “the classification of homosexual and heterosexual, tranvestic, and nonhomosexual gender dysphoria does not apply to the female gender-dysphoric individuals. Therefore, for female-to-male transsexuals, classifaction based on sexual orientation does not seem relevant in clinical-decision making as to sex reassignment” (48), which suggests that the FtM works very differently from the MtF. Sexuality is not relevant, as it often is with MtF. It seems, by this reasoning, like it shouldn’t be relevant for MtF either, as they tend to feel the gender dysphoria before developing sexual attraction. The fact that it does seem to matter for the MtF suggests to me that maybe the problem is how we define sexuality.

And Coleman et al. agrees. They write that “Homosexuality and heterosexuality both might be better defined if one would not limit the definition to the genital criterion but also would include the element of perceiving a partner as belonging to one gender and not to the other” (48-49, my emphasis). So we might better understand hetero and homosexuality if we based it on gender perception, and not as much about genitalia. This is because it is much more rare for FtM to have full gender reassignment surgery than for MtF to have it. So many FtM are men with vaginas.

What I found most important in the above quote, the part I emphasized, was that this seems to accept a bivalent view of gender. That is, it suggests a binary. One gender and not the other. As if there were only two. I think that concept might be so pervasive that we tend not to even notice that we ascribe to it.


But let’s move on to the next article, to Nuttbrok et al. This article was more about transvestic fetishism (the desire to dress as the opposite gender) than about actual transgenderism. The article is a response to another article, and refutes much of what Blanchard said. For example, Nuttbrok writes that “The lifetime prevalence of transvestic fetishism was approximately three times higher among the non-homosexuals (69%) as compared to the homosexuals (23%) and significant differences across sexual orientation were also observed for lifecourse specified transvestic fetishism. These associations were strong but clearly not deterministic, however. Significant numbers of participants reported transvestic fetishism at odds with Blanchard’s predictions (23% of the homosexuals reported transvestic fetishism; 27% of the non-homosexuals did not report transvestic fetishism)” (9).

This is incredibly significant. Blanchard predicted that roughly the same number of homosexual and non-homosexuals engage in transvestic fetishism. But in fact, it seems that most transvestites are heterosexual. Or, as Eddie Izzard, the Executive Transvestite, would say, “Most transvestites fancy girls.”

That is not the most interesting part of what Nuttbrook et al. write, though. They point out that “transvistic fetishism may be a historically fading phenomenon” (10), which may be largely because of the taboo aspect of it; clothing becomes less gender-specific, and the taboo of it goes away. But it is also likely because of the ability of sexual assignment. That is, those transvestites who are actually transgendered are able to actually change genders, rather than simply dress that way.  That’s my own thinking, though, not what Nuttbrook says. He suggests that transvestic fetishism is generational; that is, that it is experienced primarily by members of one generation, and not continuing with others. He writes “Transvestic fetishism is not only a generational phenomenon but a phenomenon disproportionally experienced among Whites as compared to non-Whites (in North America)” (10). So not only is it more prevalent among a certain generation, but it’s also more prevalent among white people. No idea what that means, though a part of me is sure that I’m missing an opportunity for a joke.

Moving on to the article where Walter was the primary author, let’s discuss the emergence of a trangender sexuality. Walter writes that “Traditionally, transsexuals were described as women trapped in male bodies and men trapped in female bodies, reflecting a binary conception of gender; treatment focused on helping transsexuals to change sex and pass as nontransgender men and women. Once a generation of sex-reassigned transsexuals came of age, a transgender consciousness emerged, with individuals coming out and affirming a unique transgender from “outside the boundaries of gender, beyond the constructed opposition nodes” of male versus female (Stone, 1991, p. 295; see also Kimberly, 1997)” (689). In other words, transsexualism was originally seen as reinforcing the heteronormative binary of gender, but as a generation of sexually reassigned transgenders spent their lives on the other side of that binary (from where they were born), they began to note that there was more, that it wasn’t just men who should’ve been women or women who should’ve been men.

There seems to be a whole different type of sexuality among the transgendered. One we can see by the tendency towards bisexuality among the transgendered. Bockting writes that “Compared to nonstransgender gay and bisexual men, female-to-male transexuals were significantly more bisexual in all aspects of their orientation except for social preference (Table 3). For this one aspect, the difference was in the same direction, but not significant” (691). This suggests that for the transsexuals, gender was less and less important. What mattered was something else, something about the people and not just about their bodies. Of course, such a change brought with it social stigma, which the transgendered needed to respond to. And, according to Bockting, “In reaction to the ongoing social stigma and in an effort to liberate themselves from the confines of the binary gender schema, participants began to claim their own sexuality and argue for a greater visibility of their unique experience” (696). They began to develop the idea that there was a different sexuality, something outside the binary.

It’s a difficult position to be in. Knowing that you don’t fit in a binary doesn’t tell you where you do fit. Instead, they have to find a new path, as Bockting suggests. He writes that “Our findings suggest that norms about male versus female sexuality, and the social stigma associated with crossing the boundaries associated with these norms, play an important role. Those growing up with a cross-gender identity who were able to conform in a gender role and sexual orientation will likely experience a different developmental path than those who have to face the stigma attacked to being nonconforming in one or both of these areas (Bockting & Coleman, 2007)” (699). There’s a fair amount of personal identity consideration that must be done when developing this new sexuality.

This article doesn’t present a solution, and it doesn’t need to. The very idea that there is, or may be, more types of sexuality is enough to make us look beyond a binary. It’s also enough to look at the logic of sex and see that a third type of gender makes for a third type of sexuality. It explodes the binary. Which is good.


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