Apparently, CocoRosie discovered Antony Hegarty long before I did. Besides possessing a unique and powerful voice, Hegarty is widely known for being transgender. This term, in itself, is rather confusing. In Hegarty’s case, he’s biologically male and seems to have no intention of changing that but many people (or at least that’s my impression) who consider themselves transgender have a desire to change their biological sex. This has always been odd to me but not due to the reasons people tend to find it odd (disgust, mainly) but because it’s difficult for me to understand why someone who doesn’t believe in the confines of gender labels would have such strong feelings about what their genitalia looks like.
The basic idea, for those who don’t have friends steeped in human sexuality studies, is that sex is what you’re biologically born with, meaning which genitalia you have, but gender is defined by your culture and, I suppose, the role you play when interacting with others in your culture. For instance, maybe you’re born with a female genitalia but all your interests and mannerisms fit into the mold of the prototypical male in your culture. Your sex may be female, but your gender could then be considered male.
This is exactly what’s interesting to me about sex changes, though. If the hypothetical person I’m speaking of feels their gender is male, they may choose to make their sex match their gender. Why make such an extreme change when gender is simply an ephemeral quality anyway? This sounds strange, to me, because you could become part of a different culture and find that your gender suddenly matches your sex without physically changing anything. For instance, Conrad Phillip Kottak claims that in Brazil transsexuals (at least, biological males who live as females) are seen essentially the same as biological females that identify as female (Anthropology, 13th ed.). In fact, I recently had a conversation with a guy whose part Brazilian (close enough that he visits occasionally and speaks Portuguese) and he claimed that cheap “female” prostitutes in Brazil are often biologically male and yet their clients are often heterosexual males (in gender and biology) that simply don’t care about the genitalia of the prostitute. It seems that someone from my culture in the US, for instance, who is born with the sex of a female but identifies as male would be completely accepted as is in Brazil. Maybe this has something to do with why Hegarty doesn’t feel a need to change his sex either, because he may have become involved in a subculture that accepts his sex/gender combination as perfectly normal.
I guess, in a way, this is a discrepancy in definition. It’s actually difficult to write about this topic because I feel like I have to constantly specify if I’m talking about sex or gender because we link these two so closely that there aren’t separate words for male sex and male gender, etc (that I know of). It’s so confusing to me that I don’t even know what someone means when they say they feel as if they were born as a male in a female’s body, a description I’ve read a lot when learning about sex changes. Does this really mean anything when talking about such a transient idea? It’s like there’s some sort of psuedo-Whorfian thing going on here where even transgender people end up with confused ideas because of the terminology available to them. If your culture uses the same terms when speaking about gender and sex, are you more likely to want a sex change when your sex and gender don’t match up with cultural expectations? I bet there are studies on this that I will never have enough time to read so anyone in the know should comment and clear the matter up.
Update: Coincidentally, today my Japanese professor asked us what gender/sex we’d want to be reincarnated as. We’re gonna have a discussion next week; maybe I’ll post about it.