The short answer is yes, it is possible to change gender and/or sex. In order to understand the complicated nature of this, let us explain the difference of gender and sex. Sex (male or female) describes a person’s physical and biological characteristics (penis or vagina), whereas gender describes the way that a person presents themselves according to different feminine or masculine norms. Gender and sex do not always align with each other. There are some people who have male physical features but choose to identify as women. These people often identify as transgender (trans coming from the Greek word for across). People who identify as transgender often feel as if they have been born into the wrong body, and/or that their genitalia do not match the way that they see themselves. This is perfectly okay.

There are many things that a transgender person can do to feel more comfortable in their skin. Often, trans women (biological males who identify as women) will begin to wear typically feminine clothing and act more traditionally feminine in order to feel more comfortable. For some trans women, this is enough to make them feel satisfied with their identity. Other trans women feel that they need to physically change in order for their sex to match their gender identity. These actions are applicable to trans men as well (biological females who identify as men).  For both trans men and trans women who feel they need to physically change, there is sex reassignment surgery. 

Sex-reassignment surgery is not a one-step process, nor is it taken lightly in the medical field. Possible candidates for surgical alterations must first be extensively interviewed for any psychological abnormalities or actual confusions about their gender identity. Once they are properly screened, individuals are asked to adopt the lifestyle of their desired gender for several months to a year. If at the end of this period the individual has adjusted to the new lifestyle, hormone therapy begins. After a year of hormone treatments, many bodily changes (such as changes in body hair, hip size, or amount of fatty tissue) occur.  At this point, the person may be eligible for sex-reassignment surgery. It is important to note that the changes produced by hormones are very difficult to reverse. Thus, it is important that a person about to undergo surgery is committed and mentally prepared to make the full transition.

 Going through the process of transitioning from male to female or female to male is a long and emotional process, and we recommend finding a support system to help through it. There are clinics which provide therapy to help one make their decision as well as give referrals to doctors and surgeons who can assist with the physical transition. Please refer to our website for more information on being transgender and transitioning.

 

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The two-sex model is a way of dividing people into categories based on male and female biological differences. The two-sex model was first theorized in the 18th century; popular opinion beforehand lay with the one-sex model, which stated that women were less perfect versions of men. Transvestism does not necessarily challenge the two-sex model. Transvestism is the practice of dressing and acting in a style or manner traditionally associated with the other sex. Sex and gender are not synonymous. Sex refers to whether a person is biologically male or female. Gender is a state of mind, and its boundaries are not as rigid as sex. One can be born female, but live as a male. Though a man dressing as a woman does challenge traditional gender roles, he is not modifying the biological state of his body. If someone is of the third gender, they are considered neither male nor female, which challenges the two-sex model, but this is not to be mistaken for the third sex. Typically, those of the third gender prefer to be referred to with gender-neutral pronouns such as one, ze, sie, hir, or ey.

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Sometimes I have feelings that I might not be completely straight. As a teenager, is it normal for me to question my sexuality?

It is very, very common for young people to question their sexuality at some point during adolescence (and beyond). Human sexual orientation can be very fluid and does not always fit within rigid boundaries. Some people are almost completely heterosexual or homosexual, but many others have varying degrees of attraction to both genders and do not fit so easily into one box or the other.

In the 1940s, a biologist named Alfred Kinsey began to do some of the first scientific research on human sexuality. After conducting countless interviews with people about their sex lives, Kinsey concluded that homosexual sex was far more common than had been previously imagined in early twentieth-century society, with significant percentages of both men and women having engaged in homosexual behavior at some point in their lives. Although Kinsey’s particular numerical statistics have been questioned, his central point rings true: sexual orientation is not static and cannot easily be divided into binary (two concrete and opposing) categories.

In fact, Kinsey developed a scale of sexual orientation, which ranges from zero to six. On the Kinsey Scale, people who score zero are exclusively heterosexual, and people who score six are exclusively homosexual. However, there are also many points in between zero and six. A two, for instance, is “Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual,” while a five is “Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual.”

(The Kinsey Scale, by the way, isn’t the only way to measure sexuality. There is also the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, which takes into account dozens of different factors, including past behavior and sexual ideals, as well as sexual attraction, sexual behavior, emotional preference, lifestyle preference, and self-identification. We won’t get into that now. But you see the point: sexual orientation is very complex and cannot be easily defined, despite what some people believe.)

So, where do you fall on the Kinsey Scale? We can’t say for sure. Many young people just like you feel some same-sex attraction when growing up, but then go on to identify as heterosexual. On the Kinsey Scale, these people would probably get a rating of 1 - Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual. (You might also be interested to know that research has shown that most self-identified heterosexual females are sexually aroused by videos of naked women and women having sex, and that female sexuality has been found to be more fluid than male sexuality). Of course, you might eventually decide that you are higher up on the Kinsey Scale. Again, we can’t say for sure.

Whatever your sexuality turns out to be, it’s perfectly okay. Remember, cultural attitudes towards homosexuality have varied throughout history. In many cultures (such as ancient Greece), it was quite normal, manly even, for men to develop very close friendships with other men. At the same time, the female poet Sappho was writing poems proclaiming her love for girls (she lived on the island of Lesbos. You can probably guess where the term “lesbian” came from). The Hebrew Bible, however, forbade same-sex sexual behavior for a very simple reason: living in a harsh region, the Israelites’ society needed lots of children to be born to work the fields, and homosexual sex (obviously) didn’t produce any children.

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My teenage daughter has been kissing other girls. Does this make her a homosexual?

It is very, very common for young people to question and experiment with their sexuality at some point during adolescence. Although age 14 may sound early for this young woman to truly “know” that she is homosexual, many individuals report “knowing” as young as age 3 or 4. It is entirely possible that your daughter may be homosexual. Her experimentation might not be a phase that she can be talked out of. However, there is also a chance that your daughter’s experimentation may simply be “situational homosexuality,” in which case, she might change her mind about being homosexual in a few months, a year, or a few years. Homosexual childhood experimentation is common and does not always lead to homosexuality. Unless the exploration is interfering with her studies, her social life, or her physical and mental health, there is no need to consider it “excessive.” It is also important to remember that human sexual orientation can be very fluid and does not always fit within rigid boundaries. Some people are almost completely heterosexual or homosexual, but many others have varying degrees of attraction to both genders and do not fit so easily into one box or the other.

For many heterosexual parents, it is difficult to cope with the idea of having a child who is homosexual, especially if traditional or religious values are a strong part of the family dynamic. This is understandable. It may take you a long time to fully accept her sexuality, or you may feel you will never be able to move past it. However, we recommend you try your best to understand your daughter’s wishes, regardless of which path she chooses. If you want to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with your daughter, it is important to fully accept this part of her identity. Effective communication is an important tool in working through this confusing time with your daughter. Ask her to explain her feelings, see if she will open up, and then share your feelings with her. Parents, for example, who reject their child’s sexual orientation tend to report major family conflict and even loss of communication between them and their son or daughter.

Should your daughter remain interested in women past the age of 14, she will need your full support. Our society is heteronormative; even though gay marriage is now legal in all 50 of the United States, the general public is still not completely comfortable with non-heterosexual interest and identities. She will face hurdles that heterosexual women do not have to, and she will need your love and support.

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