Sometimes the body and the person don't match
Back in 1952, a U.S. soldier named George Jorgensen had the first publicized sex change operation and became Christine Jorgensen.
Hardly anybody understood it then, but it was good for lots of Christine Jorgensen jokes. Fifty years later, it's about the same – hardly anybody understands transsexuals today either. But let's try.
Something I did not make clear enough in my last column is that transsexuals and homosexuals are not the same. By definition, sexual orientation (or sex preference) is who you are attracted to; and if it is to others of the same sex, you're homosexual. Roughly 5 percent of adults worldwide are homosexual.
On the other hand, transsexuals are individuals who feel strongly that they belong to the opposite sex. Their body does not match their inner feelings, and they cannot obliterate those feelings. It causes emotional distress, and interferes with day-to-day functioning.
Determination of this "gender identity" probably happens in the womb; at least transsexuals realize as preschoolers that they are different. They have the anatomy of one sex but the mind and emotions of the other. A girl may be convinced that she's a boy, or believe that she eventually will grow up to be a man; then she may spend the rest of her life struggling to be something she isn't. It affects both sexes, and also exists worldwide.
Interestingly, transsexuals are much like the rest of society when it comes to sexual preference. Most are attracted to the opposite sex – only a few to their own sex. But keep in mind that this is based on their "gender identity" rather than their anatomy, and surgery does not change their sexual orientation. Complicated, isn't it!
Sooner or later transsexuals learn that their plight repels society. This causes shame and depression, and it's why many try suicide. Some just endure it as best they can. Often males who feel female deliberately will go into masculine occupations such as the military or law enforcement, trying to bury their true feelings, but they must always be on guard.
Eventually something has to give. Transsexuals usually seek counseling, but not many therapists are trained to deal with this dilemma. Some just change their dress and lifestyle and try to live as they feel, while others take the huge step of transforming their bodies into the opposite sex.
About a thousand people have "sexual reassignment surgery" in the U.S. each year, but this is only a small portion of the transsexual population. Most do not opt for surgery, or they cannot afford it.
Called "transitioning," the entire process may require multiple surgeries, hormone therapy, prolonged counseling, electrolysis to remove unwanted hair, perhaps cosmetic surgery, legal proceedings, and more. The expense can exceed $50,000, and rarely will insurance pay anything.
It also involves a lot of pain and stress – plus the possibility of rejection or violence afterward. Many who transition get fired from their jobs because there are almost no anti-discrimination laws based on gender identity.
This is not for sissies! It takes a lot of courage, and only a true transsexual will risk it.
Today, a skilled surgeon can refashion male parts to create female parts which look and function naturally. Our friend Jamie says, "The plumbing works, and so does the electricity."
It's also possible to transition from female to male, but this surgery is more difficult and costly.
It continually tests personal relationships. Transsexuals don't have a choice about their condition – and they cannot demand acceptance – but family and friends can choose whether to accept them.
Let's hope this column helps.