A Drama Preemption
September 27, 2011
More Separatist Crap
December 26, 2011

Identity VS Definitions

If you’re a researcher or provide services to a target population, how do you  work with identity vs reality vs definitions?

How does your datasets deal with:

  • White people who do not identify as white
  • Non-transsexuals who identify as being transsexual
  • Transgender people who do not identify as being transgender
  • Black people who do not identify as being black

In other words, how do you work with self-identity?

For instance, Hispanic people are counted as being white and not Native American even though their physical morphology comes directly from their Native ancestry. I – a white person who does not appear to be anything other than white – am generally counted as being Native American because my grandmother was “full-blood” and my grandfather was “half”.

When tracking the HIV epidemic, I’ve seen folks put a white person under a HIV grant for African Americans because their great-great grandmother was black even though they’re as white as I am. At the same time, I’ve heard of providers excluding white African-Americans (white people from Africa) from services funded to serve African-Americans.

If you are funded to research transsexuals, do you include the data from someone who identifies as being transsexual but lives part-time, doesn’t want to take hormones and who is disgusted at the idea of having genital surgery? If you’re funded to provide transgender services – say free medical care – do you provide services to a transgender person who does not identity as being transgender?

I’ve seen some providers claim that they go with whatever definition the person chooses. However, I’ve seen that value system chunked out the window when someone like a chronic injection drug user (IDU) with Hep C needs help from a program funded to help addicts with Hep C even though the person does not self-identify as being an addict. Likewise, some people refuse to self-identify as being an HIV-positive person even though they’re HIV positive. Here’s a video of POZ people rejecting that self-identity for religious reasons.

Several months ago, I began exploring identity issues within the trans population. Some non-cisgender people claim to be cisgender; some non-transsexuals identify as being transsexual; some non-intersex people identify as being intersex; some transgender people do not identify as being transgender and some reject any and all self-identifiers (which is a self-identity in and of itself) and ALL of the claim grave personal insult and even injury if their self-identification is challenged due to actual definitions.

I realize that some think that the self-identity vs reality vs definitions issue only affects a some within the trans community, but it’s a common issue in all sorts of fields that work with communities of people.

There are HIV, Hep C, African-American, Native-American, transgender, gay, addiction etc. communities. That’s a fact. If an addict refuses to self-identify as being an addict, are they still and addict? If a white person born in Africa self-identifies as being an African-American, are they? If a non-cisgender person refuses to self-identify as non-cis, does it make it so? If an HIV+ person self-identifies as being HIV- for reasons of faith, does it make it so? If someone who doesn’t live full-time, take HRT or want genital surgery self-identifies as being transsexual, are they?

What are your thoughts?


  1. Alison T says:

    TS/TG distinction is not really a clear cut issue like some of those you mention. You can objectively determine whether someone is HIV+ or not, whether or not they are an addict, if they were born in Africa, etc..

    I guess the question becomes: do you define TS based on the presence of psychological discomfort / dysphoria related to ones natal sex characteristics, or based solely on actions taken to modify ones natal sex characteristics such as HRT and/or SRS.

    Given that sex characteristics are external and physical unlike gender which is cognitive, it seems logical to require actions taken to modify those characteristics in order to qualify someone as a TS. Personally I feel it is fair to include anyone who lives full time and has made any permanent, readily distinguishable alterations to their body in order to take on characteristics of the opposite sex. That way no one is excluded who is unable to take certain steps due to medical conditions or financial reasons.

    • Well, that's the rub, isn't it? Some invent their own definitions. Look at many of the HBS folks; these folks have invented their own definitions and their community claim domain over the pronouncement of who is and who is not transsexual. Then there's the folks who claim that the only transsexual is a "true transsexual" while others use the Benjamin scale and still others use definitions their specific social networks have given to these words.

      What is the correct standard and if this "correct" standard is applied and runs contrary to someone's self-identification, which is more important? Should someone's self-identity be trumped by the definition you value?

      This issue is what lies at the heart of all of the TS-Not-TG controversy.

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