"The very process of living is a continual interplay between the individual and his [her] environment and often takes the form of a struggle resulting in injury or disease. The more creative the individual the less he [she] can hope to avoid danger, for the stuff of creation is made up of responses to the forces that impinge on his [her] body and soul." Rene Dubosi
"We were talking about the space between us all,
And the people who hide themselves behind the wall of illusion.
We were talking about the love that's gone so cold,
And the people who gain the world and lose their souls.
They don't know.
Chapter One: Introduction
They can't see.
Are you one of them?" George Harrisonii
This Chapter is protected by the copyright as found in the printed book.
Endnotes are nor provided in this electronic version. However, the location of endnotes is indicated with roman numeral letters.)
I've learned that zippers are the sworn enemies of attractive nails. I've also learned that colleagues can look right past pearly nail polish and pearl earrings and treat me as a man. I've had enough experience and acceptance in presenting my feminine image to feel what I objectively knew: You can draw outside the lines, but it still takes a lot of work to draw a life picture of beauty and responsibility. These are some of the clues I've used to follow the threads of meaning in my experience as a transgender person. The causes and meanings of transgender experience are a bit of a mystery, since the very idea doesn't fit in very well with the English language or with the basic stories about gender we learn early in life. Most of you, my readers, have choices about whether you think there is anything real or significant in transgender phenomena. Since I've been given a transgender path to walk, it hasn't been optional for me to seek to understand the truths I've been given to carry. This book intends to give you a thread to pull on to raise to consciousness something of what transgender experience is about in the rich tapestry of gender experience.
Do I offer a new thing called transgender consciousness in this book? I think not. In the first place, it isn't new. More importantly, though I am a bigender person and see things from where I stand, I understand myself as following a not uncommon process of dipping into everyday human consciousness rather than some specialized consciousness. I have merely suspended my judgment that the usual polarized understanding of gender is the best way to understand myself and to accurately see what is going on in others. I know from the inside out that one doesn't have to be either a man or a woman. A lot of people know this in small ways as they choose not to conform to one or another socialized expectation that are elements of the role of man or woman. I merely reconsidered myself and my world with regard to gender and sex using the very best concepts and images available to me from the discourses of several sciences, from the conversations of the transgender community, and from Christian theology.
While I was in the middle of working on the fifth draft of this book, I found myself in prayer during a period of collective silence at Seekers Church, an independent Christian congregation of which I'm a member. I found myself reflecting on a phrase that I wanted to use in this first chapter. I was conflicted because I both liked the phrase and was resistant to using it. As I dwelt with my resistance, I sensed that it was spiritual. I became even more clear that I did not want to write another defense of transgender people, nor did I want to plead my own suffering in search of sympathy or acceptance. Much more is at stake.
I realized that the true theme of this book points to a larger context within which my life, and the lives of my transgender friends, makes sense. To gain the most from reading this book, you may be served well by temporarily setting aside your assumptions about sex and gender, the meanings attached to being a man or a woman. It's not so much that the package concepts of man or woman are wrong or unhelpful. Rather, gaining a little reflective freedom may help you reconsider the presuppositions that inform your concepts and thus help you use the concepts with greater insight and appreciation. Without such engagement the most you can hope for from this book is learning something about transgender experience and expression. With such engagement, looking through this transgender window at the landscape of sex and gender may help you appreciate your gender journey more fully.
Though I think this book can help anyone better navigate their gender journey, this is not a general book on the subject of sex and gender. I have sought to provide a better overall picture of what is known, as well as greater appreciation of what is not known, about transgender experience and expression. An improved understanding of the available knowledge base is then used to reevaluate several difficult issues that transgender people must face and then as the factual part of the grounding for a Christian assertion that transgender experience and expression can be a channel of God's grace.
I didn't understand at the beginning how hard it was going to be to write this book. There have been plenty of intellectual challenges, including repeated reassessments of my basic categories. The biggest challenge, however, was spiritual. It has been very hard to read most of the dozens of books that have informed me in this writing task. Over and over I've had to put down a book and work with the toxic effects of being told I was sick or sinful, that I was deceptive, or that I was an artifact rather than a human. Some clinicians seems to think they are protecting people like me by explaining to attackers that I'm trivial or harmless. At such moments I have struggled to remember that the flood of negativity tells me things about my oppressors but does not name me. Raising my gaze from such emotional floods, I keep coming back to a few landmarks, some moments of recognition and orientation that help a little. I hope they are useful to you.
So poor an effort. I would prefer to prove everything and convince everyone. But there is no secret revelation here, no revealing of a third sex, no newly discovered brain structure or insight into raising children. Still, my landmarks are precious to me, and I think they can be life-giving for others. You don't have to put on a dress to reconsider the limits of masculine images in this culture. You don't have to play professional football to learn about courage.
The next three chapters offer an extensive review of physiological, psychological and sociological scientific contributions and reasoning relevant to transgender experience and expression. Some of you may wish to skip these chapters. What you would miss is the engagement of the relevant scientific work of others that I have gathered into a fresh synthetic, rather than analytic, summarization. The summarization provides several guiding concepts that clean up the envelope of meaning within which practical and spiritual issues are discussed in the later chapters. These chapters allow a fresh assessment of some of the limits of language, culture and theory that make many transgender discussions so difficult. While scientific work, so far, is short on answers, it can help us find the interesting questions. Knowing that some of you will skip the next three chapters, I've tried to write the last five chapters in a manner that repeatedly makes the fruits of the synthetic summarization available to readers with less taste for scientific argumentation.
The most important questions are about what matters most in life as lived. Such questions are the core subjects of theology. At this point I offer just a taste of where I'm heading in the last chapter. I don't claim to worship a God who is androgynous, or transgender, or a man, or a woman. I'm in no place to define God. Instead, God defines me, and I am just trying to appreciate and understand what is going on. Though it has not come easily, I feel I have been sufficiently open to what God has put before me in my life to accept the good gifts I've been given, including my bigender sense of self. My path has confirmed my hope that I am loved.
This is the first chapter of a whole book of introductions. Conversation about transgender experience and expression is just coming into focus in Western culture. I'm hardly a first explorer of this territory. I join the conversation with those who are knocking on doors, peeking through windows, trying to create interchanges that open up spaces denied by the restricted languages of clinical professions and traditional theologies. One of the introductions in this book is descriptive material that illustrates the diverse phenomena of transgender experience and expression for those less familiar with this material. Another introduction invites readers who are suspicious of Christian theology for scientific reasons to reconsider what contemporary theology can accomplish and invites transgender readers who are appropriately suspicious of Christianity, because of ugly attacks by some Christians, to reconsider what a Christian perspectives can offer when transphobic misconceptions are cleared away.
I've happily given a major part of my life to scientific inquiry. There is no need to write an apology for good science. Unfortunately, not everything presented as science is good science. Within good science the principles of honesty and humility lead to the creations of rules, for example, rules limiting the generalizability of findings from controlled research settings to uncontrolled everyday settings. It is the tightness of focus provided by such roles which releases much of the wonderful power of science. But good science is sometimes ruined when scientists change hats and speak as moralists, or for political purposes, without being disciplined about exactly what they bring with them into the changed discourse. I'm not going to spend much space on the politics and ideologies that have affected the several kinds of scientific discourse reviewed in the early chapters. I understand that such critiques are relevant and appreciate the good work of this kind that has been accomplished by other authors. I'm going to focus on what we can know on scientific grounds from the scientific work that has been done, whatever its motivation.
The problems are even more severe the other way around: religious leaders and clinicians adopt points of view that they think are scientifically grounded when that is not true. Consumers of scientific discourse want to know the facts, and this desire often leads them to skip past the humility of good science. Whether it is a scientist going beyond the limits of their disciplines without recognizing the changed discourse or the misuse of scientific studies by a clinician or religious leader, a key corrective question is repeatedly asked, "How do we know what we know about gender?"
In additions to the many introductions in this book, it seemed impossible to write this without paying attention to the numerous pragmatic challenges facing transgender people living in this oppressive culture. For non-transgender readers, you may nonetheless appreciate the Eighth Chapter and some other elements of this book as "so what" illustrations of the implications of the scientific and theological work. For transgender readers, I want to indicate from the beginning that I'm aware that sometimes my engagements of pragmatic issues are controversial within the transgender community. Some of that is unavoidable since some current divisions seem so deep, so confrontational. On the important policy debates of the day there is no way through except as we learn the paths a step-at-a-time. This part of the book is the most time-bound and contextual and my hope is to merely illuminate some next steps.
All of us who write about human concerns are influenced by the social locations we inhabit. What we see depends on where we stand. I am at least standing. It is challenging to live a life that doesn't make sense to many people I care about, to people who care about me. It is challenging to read book after book by socially recognized experts that do not know me but think they do. It is frightening to realize how much some clinicians would have hurt me if I had not stayed hidden when I was young. And it has taken decades of spiritual growth to work with all that my hiding has cost me.
What we see also depends on where we look, what lenses we use, and whether we move around. I am a bigender person, one of the many ways of being a transgender person. I'm also an ordained Christian minister who initially studied psychology and prepared for a career in pastoral counseling. After becoming involved in the civil rights movement and learning about oppression, I changed direction, added sociological skills, and have had a career of ministry, teaching, and public policy advocacy.
My scientific and theological lenses were initially of little help in trying to understand myself as a bigender person. There was little to read in the professional literature in the 1950s and 1960s beyond the Kinsey Report. I remember having to justify my interest in order to gain access to the Kinsey Reports which were held as restricted access volumes in the Florida State University library. The only "literature" that had any vitality was pornography, and after working with that a bit, I found that it wasn't my interest or story. Christianity as well as science had made people like me invisible. I thought I was the only one. But "only one" or not, I knew God loved me, and I escaped the looming alternatives of teenage castration or suicide.
One thread through my academic preparation was an interest in the general philosophy of science.iii I have been interested not only in what we think we know scientifically but in how we know it and in the fairness of our reasoning based on what we think we know. Such concerns are at the heart of reassessing the transgender experience and expression of everyday people doing their everyday things.
Transgender experience and expression has become more visible as an object of study over the last 30 years. We transgender people are not as hidden as we used to be. We have increasingly found each other, begun conversations, and formed organizations. But we are still mostly hidden, and too much of our public image has been shaped by the popular media. But it is also crucial to note that the sensationalized distortions in the popular media would not stand if our lives were not being measured against the stereotypes created and defended by clinicians, and religious leaders.
Of the many problems transgender people face in becoming known to themselves and society, the most serious is that the professional writing has come overwhelmingly from psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. They have drawn widely varying pathological pictures of me and my community. You might or might not like my bigender commitments and activities but you would have a hard time justifying a picture of me as somehow sick. Indeed, my testimony in this book is that claiming my reality as a bigender person has opened wellsprings in my heart. This book is one way to own and give away all that God has given to me.
As I came to understand why clinical pictures do not fit me, as I figured out why a lot of Christian theology blocked rather than opened the channels of God's grace, it became important to name the misunderstandings and attempt corrections. When I was gifted with a sabbatical in my job, I got a chance to catch up with my reading and write the first draft of this book. There is no point in pretending that I am dispassionate. But, since I trust that God's truth is not separate from God's love, I have let my passion turn my attention to the harder questions and to admit the frustrating limits to my understanding. Sad to tell, a lot of this book is about noticing the limits of scientific work for a well-grounded understanding of transgender experience and expression, as well as about the harm that has flowed from Christendom's attempts to repress gender reform in general and transgender experience and expression in particular. Some of you may be doubtful that my training and commitments as a scientist and a theologian have led to disciplined objectivity. That's fine. This is not a "trust me" book. You will get a chance to see the factual grounding and assumptions of my work.
As part of making clear my sources of potential bias, some may find it relevant to know that I've been working with my personal transgender issues for over four decades. I participate in organizations of transgender people. I have lived out most of my life with a man's appearance and, at the time of writing, live out most of my social interaction with an appearance on the masculine side of androgyny. In some settings I dress in a distinctly feminine image. In all my gender presentations I am trying to pay attention to how my gender-related consciousness is growing, both as an individual and in my multiple human relationships.
I'm trying to explore and affirm all the good things that men and women have carried in this society and to say no to the rest. This really isn't such a radical notion. Many writers have criticized both roles as traditionally defined. What makes my choice seem so radical to others is that I shape my appearance to affirm my identity with both options. I feel this path has led me to more deeply understand and appreciate my whole self. Opening myself to appreciation of all that culture calls masculine and feminine, and bringing it together in an integrated life, has felt like saving grace to me, a gift from God.
In addition to confessing my personal transgender subjectivity and telling you that I have sought to be reflective and analytic from my several intellectual disciplines, it is only fair for me to point out also that the range of transgender experience is so diverse and varied that I cannot claim subjective access to much of it. I stand with the reader in trying to understand experiences of others that I partly share and partly do not share.
I also feel constrained to tell you I'm well aware that I have enjoyed the advantages that come with being white, with claiming the masculine role in my academic and professional life, and with growing up in a middle class family. While I've paid attention to cultural and historic considerations, discipline is always a matter of correcting for limitations.
Seeing What You Don't Want to See Takes Discipline
Everyday seeing is not a matter of simple or neutral observation since it involves focus and interpretation. Which cues will one notice and which cues will one tactfully avoid? What information will one seek out so that one can understand more deeply? What categories, such as "clean" and "dirty," will be used to link new observations to mental categories and pictures?
When I preached my coming out sermon in my local congregation, where I am an active member, I was very well received by just about everyone. But when I made it clear by showing up that I would sometimes participate in congregational life in my feminine presentation, with dresses and makeup, some became concerned. What would visitors think? What would the children think? The first round of questions and reconsideration was mostly managed by my mission group, which created several organized discussions. I attended one of the three discussions and got very few questions directly. Thankfully, some of the children were willing to ask the obvious questions. Thankfully, things have worked out well, and I continue to preach occasionally, work with the children in various ways, offer adult classes in our School of Christian Living and otherwise participate fully in the social life and ministry of Seekers Church.iv But this episode confirmed again for me the power of seeing as opposed to just talking about the things that matter in our lives. Though working with my feminine appearance feels to me to be just one part of working with my gender consciousness, it draws a lot of energy and attention because the seeing is so socially provocative. What you see depends a lot on what you are willing to see. People were ready to receive my story as I told it in my sermon and were warm and concerned in response. Seeing me required people to reconsider how to relate to me. Presenting myself as a woman not only causes transitions and adjustments, it challenges the categories themselves, with resulting discomfort and confusion.
Scientific seeing, in contrast to everyday seeing, depends on formal rules of observation so that recorded data can more fairly be compared. What categories and standards are chosen to focus observation? It isn't an automatic process. In the fourth chapter, a lot of the discussion turns on this point. The most distinctive mark of scientific seeing is that by formalizing and reporting one's definitions, categories, and standards, biases may become more visible and the limits of one's factual base more obvious. This process enables additional research and review to be more constructive or corrective. Lacking formal discipline, the reporting of everyday seeing often hides biases hidden from others.
My path to freshly seeing the scientific and theological grounding for transgender experience and expression is illuminated by two opinions. The first is that inadequate science has been linked to misleading theology in Western culture to deny the truth about transgender experience and to oppress transgender expression. The inadequate science is first and foremost the result of clinical studies. The misleading theology goes back to problems in the third and fourth centuries of Christendom, is hostile to the best insights of Hebrew scripture and the teachings of Jesus, and has distorted almost all later versions of historic Christendom.
The second shaping opinion in this book is that people don't have to choose between the limited options of conforming to the roles of man or woman. One can choose some of both. Some transgender people go back and forth between traditional roles or make a permanent change from one to the other. Many who pursue a single change are as committed to sustaining traditional gender roles and images as are the defenders of "straight" perspectives. They are just moving their psychological location in a gender landscape that seems fixed. I respect and affirm such choices, but I claim for myself more of the radical freedom implicit in the possibility of movement.
We are stuck with using words for a lot of our communication with each other. Unfortunately, a lot of the words in common usage, words we think we understand very well, are decidedly unhelpful for understanding transgender experience and expression unless we add additional specifications. This book returns repeatedly to definitional issues, because understanding transgender experience and expression is dependent on more carefully attaching words to familiar phenomena and concepts. There are definitional problems with common words like woman and the resulting lack of precision is one of the things that messes up research.
Scientific discussions of transgender issues are often burdened with psychological and psychiatric jargon. It is not accidental that such jargon often serves to confuse rather than to clarify important issues. Control of the language is fundamental to control by psychiatric and psychological clinicians of what constitutes professional opinion. Confusing the laity is a major contribution to professional control. Freshly assessing the content and relevance of key words and phrases is a big part of coming to an understanding of transgender issues that initially seem strange or impossibly technical. My fondest hope is that readers will be able to say to themselves "Oh yeah, now that makes sense to me."
Let's start with the common words we use: male and female, man and woman, masculine and feminine. I join the convention of discussing physiological differences with the words male and female, psychological and social role differences with the words man and woman, and cultural symbols with the words masculine and feminine.
Some writers move away from a bipolar conceptualization of males and females, men and women. Instead they conceptualize these words as end points of physiological, psychological and social continua. Such usage suggests one may be more or less male or female, masculine or feminine, man or woman. Though I endorse the underlying ideas of complexity, flexibility, and diversity, I am not enamored of the concept of continuum, because it still carries the image of gender as a line between far-apart end points. Instead, because I believe that gender factors are not only complex, flexible, and diverse; but also interactive, I have come to see each of the terms: male, female, man, woman, masculine and feminine as package concepts. For example, I use the words male and female to describe physiological aspects and contributions to the psychological and social realities identified by the words man and woman. But I'm also aware that social and psychological factors change the physiological realities of people. Thus I use all of these key words to help describe one or another aspect of a complex and interactive whole. Studying the physiological aspects of a person is a powerful analytic simplification, but while it is useful to distinguish the sciences, it is important not to forget that physiological reality is the result of both physiological and non-physiological factors.
When a package fail to fit the contents, it is easy, but wrong, to see the contents as misshapen. Scientific research asks how well the packages fit the contents. For example, the distribution of hair length in any human population is a proper subject for research. It is inaccurate to assert that women have longer hair than men, especially that it is natural for women to have longer hair than men, without doing the relevant research. Such research should properly include the influence of cultural fashion on this physiological reality.
There are some common language usages in transgender writing that can also be over-simplifying or misdirecting. For example, it is common to write of transsexuals that they are either male-to-female or female-to-male (M2F, F2M). This usage emphasizes the physiological changes that are wanted or have been made. In the case of cross-dressers with only modest physiological changes, such as shaving the hair on one's legs, it is even more important to use descriptive words related to gender rather than to sex. The extra care taken with language may sometimes seem clumsy. Perhaps such clumsy moments will remind you that a first challenge in understanding transgender phenomena is the need to learn to communicate across the barriers of mental habits shaped by everyday language.
I use the word transgender in a way that is at variance with some other authors when I point to a range of gender issues and not just to appearances. Violating appearance norms may be the behavior that concerns those who are interested in suppressing such "deviance" with punishments or therapy. Violating appearance norms may be the focus of many who are new in their transgender expressions. In this book I aim at an understanding of transgender experience and expression that takes account of all the varieties and channels of such experience and expression.
Most writers also draw a bright line between the discussion of transgender issues and the discussion of homosexuality. I prefer to treat the issue of whom one chooses as a partner for explicitly sexual expression as just one of many ways to affirm or challenge the traditional role concepts of man and woman, as one expression of identity and desire.
My use of the word transgender is not unusual, however. For example, my usage parallels the writing of Leslie Feinberg: "The words cross-dresser, transvestite, and drag convey the sense that these intricate expressions of self revolve solely around clothing." Then, after pointing out the ways this doesn't work, Feinberg concludes, "Because it is our entire spirit - the essence of who we are - that doesn't conform to narrow gender stereotypes, many people who in the past have been referred to as cross-dressers, transvestites, drag queens, and drag kings today define themselves as transgender."v
The first scientific point to make about transgender people is that we exist. There has been a lot of writing about issues of sex and gender that leaves out transgender people but presents itself as if it were inclusive. Well, I exist. My community exists. We may not fit into your scientific theory. We may be an embarrassment to your politics or spirituality. But we definitely do exist.
Though appearance issues are but one part of transgender expression, consider some of the different patterns that describe the appearance activities of transgender people. There are:
- Postoperative transsexuals who were assigned the male physiological definition at birth and who assimilate into the role and culture of being women. They become invisible to the transgender community.
- Postoperative transsexuals who were assigned the male physiological definition at birth but now think of themselves as transsexuals, or as transsexual women. They may partly assimilate while also sustaining some connections to other transsexuals and to the transgender community.
- Postoperative transsexuals who were assigned the female physiological definition at birth and who assimilate into the role and culture of being men. They become invisible to the transgender community.
- Postoperative transsexuals who were assigned the female physiological definition at birth but now think of themselves as transsexuals or as transsexual men. They may partly assimilate while also sustaining some connections to other transsexuals and to the transgender community.
- Repeat all the above distinctions for preoperative transsexuals, with several stages of transition.
- Repeat all the above distinctions for full-time transgender people, who are sometimes called nonoperative transsexuals. These are people who have no intention of undergoing sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) of their gonads. Such people may or may not undergo other kinds of physiological changes by using hormones, by undergoing cosmetic surgery of many kinds, and by electrolysis (hair removal).
- Full-time transgender people who were assigned the female physiological definition at birth but live all the time as men with little or no physiological support.
- Transgender people who were assigned the male physiological definition at birth and who spend a little, a moderate amount, or a lot of time presenting the feminine image of themselves without trying to take on the whole role of a woman. Such people are often called transvestites or cross-dressers. Most people in the transgender community think this is by far the largest category of transgender people. It is also widely considered in the transgender community to be a largely hidden population.
Cross-cutting all the above categories are the distinctions about whom people choose for sexual partners. Further cross-cutting all the above categories is the issue of performance. Drag queens and drag kings have their separate organizations, which also function, in part, as actors' unions for their jobs. There are amateur, part-time, and full-time kings and queens.
The above transgender distinctions are cross-cut by subculture and age group contexts. Further cross-cutting all the above categories is the reality that many transgender people make changes as they grow older. A person who would be defined above as a postoperative transsexual was quoted as follows: "I thought I was a homosexual at one time; then I got married and had a child so I figured I was a heterosexual; then because of cross-dressing I thought I was a transvestite. Now (postoperatively) I see myself as bisexual."vi
Some people cross transgender lines while resisting the application of transgender language. For example, some people like to dress up for a permissible moment, such as a Halloween party. Others have transgender fantasies or dreams but don't follow them up. Yet others express some androgyny or partial violation of gender appearance norms: a man may wear a single earring.
It is important to remember that people who were assigned the female physiological definition at birth and who sometimes wear masculine clothes is very different face very different labeling circumstances than people who were defined at birth as males and sometimes wear feminine clothes. In the United States at the turn of the millennium, women have a lot of freedom of apparel and appearance without getting labeled as anything by anyone. This means that if social causes are important, and I believe they are, then theories about man cannot be applied to women as if the circumstances of women are some kind of mirror image of the circumstances of men. This is important not only for appearance factors but for other factors as well, such as gender oppression.
Two more definitional issues deserve attention. Those who wish to assign labels based on the subjective claims of the labeled people need to recognize that a lot of transgender people are not ready to claim a particular label or category. This isn't necessarily because of personal confusion, though that too can be an issue. Rather, many transgender people appropriately understand that they have not lived out a lot of their images, questions, and sensitivities in a wide range of everyday experience. Because of oppression and fear, a lot of transgender people are closeted or out only in protected circumstances. With little social support for identity development or confirmation, it isn't surprising that many people express tentativeness or confusion. Instead of pathologizing honesty that reflects a lack of social experience, it might be better to think of many transgender people as going through a delayed childhood or adolescent exploration. Darry Hill has done a small interview study with transsexuals that highlights this dynamic.vii
Furthermore, as was made clear in several workshops of the 1998 International Foundation for Gender Education Convention, there are more than a few out and experienced transgender people who see themselves in more than one category - for example, intersexual and transsexual, or cross-dressing lesbian. When it was pointed out that claiming two or more labels seems to create some contradictions, one answer is "But it works for me." Another is, "Sure, I'm just living with the contradiction." Yet another is, "It's where I am right now and I hope I'm still a growing person."viii
Another cut across the issues of definition is offered by Dallas Denney who has offered a brief summary of the kinds of social roles made available to transgender people in other cultures and over time within Western civilization.ix She names 45 such roles.
The fifth chapter further explores the variety of ways transgender people express their feelings, imagery, and selves. Several brief stories are provided there.
A Scientific Preview
A good deal of the scientific review in the next three chapters is not built on specific studies of people with transgender experience. Much of the most relevant work in the context of functioning human beings has been done on gay males who may or may not have transgender experience or engage in transgender expression. Furthermore, a great deal of the research that has been done on any aspect of nontraditional sexual expression, or in comparing men and women, is shaped by the mind set of looking for a needle in a haystack. By this I mean that the studies look for some single factor to explain homosexuality or transgender experience, on the presumption that it is different in kind from everyday expressions of gender or sexual activity. The critique of such studies will repeatedly draw attention to the haystack: that is, research that has been disregarded because it did not find a looked-for needle can tell us a lot by attending to what was found. The scientific grounding I point to draws from the same research base that other scientists refer to but emphasizes the larger and contextual truths in such research rather than the focused testing of hypotheses that often failed.
Some aspects of the scientific review in the next three chapters are technical. Attention to the details of the standards of research is important for answering the question "How do we know what we know?" If you read the chapters you will see that answering this question again and again is important to reducing scientific confusion and misunderstanding of transgender experience and expression. In turn, cleaning up the science can contribute to reducing cultural confusion.
Though this book contains some history of the relevant sciences, I am more interested in philosophy of science contributions. My most important goal is not the deconstruction or critique of key scientific concepts for political or ideological purposes. That is good and important work and others are much better at it than I am. I particularly honor and have gained from Anne Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. Fausto-Sterling's book extends the feminist critique of science.
If you choose to skip the scientific review chapters you may still want to be aware of the several scientific themes I develop. When I discussed the "haystack" realities of scientific research above I was thinking of complexity, interactivity and flexibility. I argue against both physiological and psychological essentialism (determinism) by distinguishing between the explanation of biological and psychological bases and biological and psychological determination. To reconsider what is most real, I emphasize the relevance of synthetic thinking as a means of integrating analytic studies. My own synthetic theory is available in the sixth chapter, and many readers may find it easier to work with than my reviews and critiques of the research of others.
One of the reasons that the scientific review in this book is difficult is that there is so little direct scientific study of transgender experience and expression. This means that some of the best thinking is based on cognate studies, particularly the study of gay men, the study of lesbians, and studies generally comparing men and women. Perhaps the greatest challenge for my effort to provide a scientific base as part of the grounding for a reconceptualized understanding of transgender experience and expression is that I am interested in explaining everyday experience and expression whereas most of the writing that is currently counted as scientific comes out of clinical analysis based on assumptions of pathology. I don't assert that all transgender people or all non-transgender people are free of pathology, only that we need to understand everyday transgender and gender experience and expression without precategorizing it as pathology.