“Slow down a minute, will you, Bill?” Grace asked as she wrote furiously.
“And you can get an ‘xyxo,’ which will be a short male whose gender and orientation may be up for grabs. That’s called Noonan’s Syndrome,” he continued.
“Stop!” pleaded Maggie.
“The point is,” Bill said with a satisfied look, “that nature is not neat. Biological sex is not an easy issue. Further, when we talk about ‘male’ and ‘female,’ we’re talking about ‘sex,’ ‘sexual identity,’ and ‘sex role.’ When we ask the question, ‘What is a “male”?’ we’re not just asking about chromosomes, hormones, gonads, genitals, and differences of the brain. We’re asking about sexual identity and sex role. We’re asking both about the sex of assignment and rearing, as well as gender identity differentiation. In other words, is a person male who has ‘xy’ chromosomes, is raised male, but sees self as female?”
“What was that about sex role?” Beatrice asked.
“What ‘sex role’ does a female have that a male does not have, and vice versa?” asked Bill.
Again, the room was silent.
“Females lactate, gestate, and menstruate,” he answered. “Males impregnate. That is how the two sexes are distinguished by their ‘sex roles.’ But what if there is no ability to lactate, gestate, menstruate, or impregnate? How do you answer the question ‘What is a male?’?”
“This is confusing,” Maggie said.
“Good,” said Bill with delight. “And we haven’t even started talking about gender role and sex-coded role. Where before we were asking the question ‘What is a male?’ we now ask the question ‘What is “masculine” and “feminine”?’ and what is the difference between a man with a feminine sex-coded role and a man who is gay?”
“Can you stop there for a minute,” Beatrice asked. “Sex-coded role and sexual orientation?”
“Good. You ready for a couple more definitions?” Bill asked. “Sexual orientation is about our erotic potential. What turns us on erotically?”
“Is that the same as ‘sexual lifestyle’?” asked Grace.
“No,” he replied. “Sexual lifestyle refers to the patterns around which we organize for daily living. For instance, open marriage would be a sexual lifestyle.”
“What’s an open marriage?” Maggie asked. “Is that like ‘swinging’?”
“No, they’re different. We’ll talk more at the end of the week about the various options for sexual lifestyles,” Bill said. “But let’s get back to my question. What’s the difference between a man with a feminine sex-coded role and man who is gay? First, what’s our ‘sex-coded role’ or our ‘gender-coded’ role?”
...“Okay. Now. Moving on,” Bill said with a look of satisfaction and excitement. “How would you label a man who codes ‘positive’ for masculine-coded gender roles, and ‘positive’ for feminine-coded gender roles?”
“Transgender,” offered Carla with confidence.
“Exactly,” said Bill. “More precisely, ‘transvestite,’ although I acknowledge that there is a lot of debate in the transgender community about terminology. ‘Transvestite’ has fallen out of favor.”
“Would the word ‘bi-gendered’ work here too, Bill?” Carol asked.
“It’s a new term but I like it, and I think it works,” he responded. “Now, how would you label a man who codes ‘negative’ for masculine-coded gender roles, and ‘positive’ for feminine-coded gender roles?”
“Transsexual,” answered Betty after a few seconds of silence.
“Correct,” said Bill with a proud and affectionate smile. “A transsexual is a person who has his or her entire life coded as ‘positive’ for themselves the gender role of the other sex, and ‘negative’ for themselves the gender role of their biological sex. And the answer to the question ‘What’s the difference between a man with a feminine sex-coded role and man who is gay?’ is that the first is an example of ‘gender identity,’ and the second is an example of ‘sexual orientation,’ or erotic attraction. There isn’t a comparison to be made. For the record, most transvestites, bi-gendered people, and transsexuals are heterosexual in their sexual orientation, but some of them are gay.”
He now drew a line indicating the “Transgender Continuum.” The name “Joe” was written at the far left end, and “Joanne” at the other end. In between the two he wrote the words, from left to right, “traditional male,” “transvestite,” “transgender/bi-gendered,” and “transsexual.”
Brian McNaught is a sexuality trainer and author whose primary focus are the issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and those who live or work with them. Named “the godfather of gay sensitivity training” by the New York Times, he has worked primarily with heterosexual audiences in major corporate and university settings since 1974. He is the author of the classic “coming out” book, On Being Gay - Thoughts on Family, Faith and Love, as well as Gay Issues in the Workplace and Now That I’m Out, What Do I Do? Brian also produced and/or is featured in five highly-praised videos, three of which have been aired regularly on PBS affiliates. He lives with his spouse, Ray Struble, in Provincetown, MA, and in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
For more information on Brian or his educational materials, go to www.brian-mcnaught.com.