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Over the last 25 years or so I have read numerous accounts of the lives of transgender people with one item of particular interest to me being the age at which the identification began. People who most readily identify as crossdressers seemed to begin their fascination just before or around the age of puberty (raiding the hamper for their first bra or pantyhose for example) whereas transsexuals are aware much sooner and realised something was amiss with their gender identity; something which was more than just about clothing.

Today we speak in terms of a transgender umbrella but clearly there is a difference in terms of gender dysphoric feeling to the extent that people who Harry Benjamin would have identified as his types V or VI would have exerted an incredible amount of effort to avoid transition; typically they ended up doing so lest their mental health suffer. Benjamin found that the higher up his SOS scale (a self admitted work in progress) you went, the less one identified with their birth sex.

So the main distinction appears to be the strength and/or existence of the dysphoria and how early it rears its head if at all and there are gender variant people who seem to experience no dysphoria whatsoever. I am wondering what percentage within the crossdresser community fall under this category and have no trouble at all entirely identifying with their birth sex while simply enjoying the activity.

What is also interesting is that some dysphoric people who may have identified as crossdressers early on (and I am one of them) used that descriptor as a shield to avoid facing that their dysphoria was stronger than they would ever admit to themselves. There are many notable historical examples of this delayed reaction and some of this type are readers of my blog. Here we can often see a steady progression over time whereas the crossdresser seems to reach a plateau and is happy with their core gender identity.

Of course there is blurring of the lines here and no two people are alike, but the more I have thought about it the more I think Benjamin was on the right track with his model and the only thing he lacked was the proof of a biological origin to the dysphoria.

What we used to call transvestism and transsexualism may indeed be distinct branches from the same tree but it is difficult to know and hence we have done well to eliminate both terms from our daily lexicon as both our understanding and sensitivity have evolved.

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  1. This is a fascinating topic indeed. Personally, I do not have a memory where I did not know about myself or where I would not have immediately jumped at the chance to transition and ID as trans had the opportunity or vocabulary been available to me. And my memories reach back to my being 2-3 years old. (This was in the early 1970s, and while I did express these feelings with the vocabulary I had, the response of other children and adults, who used body language and facial expression instead of words, communicated clearly to me to SFTU about the very idea.)

    I know "transsexual" has fallen out of favor in today's times, but I embraced it when I transitioned. But, hey, language changes. If you read any of Justice Thurgood Marshall's writings from the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court, you will find the word "Negro" used to describe members of his own race. To him, it was respectful. To later generations, it is jarring.

    I confess, though, while I love that "trans" and "transgender" are umbrella terms, I do wish there were a little more nuance to modern parlance. I still would like to have a term like "transsexual," one perhaps a little less salacious, that at least distinguishes those who are genuinely "sex dysphoric" as opposed to simply "gender dysphoric," and who opt to alter their bodies. Some trans people do not transition physically, and are fine with that. Which is awesome. But I do hope our language evolves to allow for simply communication to non-trans people the different ways there are to be trans under the umbrella.

    As for Harry Benjamin, from everything I have ever read about him, he was compassionate. He was not interested merely in classifying or clinically diagnosing his patients, and certainly not as a clinical goal unto itself. He cared about his patients, and wanted to help them. His classification system was created with the aim of distinguishing among his patients so that he could improve their well beings. And my guess is that if he were alive today, he would be counseling that improvement in well being is the goal; what that looks like for any individual will depend on myriad factors, and the truth will reveal itself to those who simply seek it rather than those who insist upon imposing their preconceptions onto it. To me, whatever the merits and faults of what Benjamin proposed, *that* is the major distinction between scientists/doctors like him, and "scientists/doctors" like Blanchard.

    -Caryn Bare

    1. absolutely correct Caryn! Benjamin was above all compassionate with his patients and a firm believer in the biological sourcing for transsexualism which I also adhere to as the most plausible origin..

    2. I'm okay with having the single umbrella term because I feel there is strength in numbers. I've also wondered how many people do not move more toward the right in the Benjamin scale because of external or internal issues and priorities. I've gone out to dinner with crossdressers who are happily married: I wonder if any of them manage their dysphoria as best they can to maintain their career, family, and social lives.

      As for me I well recall my memories about my gender incongruence from preschool and as I'm actively working on planning for GCS I am at the right edge of Benjamin's scale, a transsexual.

      Interestingly to me I never thought I'd reach this point. I simply couldn't visualize myself going through all this. But with each step, some large, some small, I kept finding doors naturally opening and allowing me to see new vistas that I see are good for me. Wow!

  2. Transsexuals are to singing as cross dressers are to lip-synching?

    If the antonym of dysphoria is euphoria, then I think I can see the difference between cross dressers and transsexuals (I wish I could think of a better word, as well). While both may experience some euphoria by expressing themselves as the opposite gender, a transsexual does so in an attempt to relieve the dysphoria, while the cross dresser is just looking for the next high. Not that it's an addiction, although I thought of it that way for many years. Using binges of cross dressing never got rid of the dysphoria, though, and the binges became so frequent and intense that I fit every characteristic of an addict.

    Anyway, I'm singing my own tune now - I ain't no Milli Vainilli! All or Nothing, indeed! :-)


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