Society and Third-sex Socialisation

Translated from the French
by Curtis Hinkle
Founder of the Organisation Internationale des Intersexué-e-s


The Binary Myth

In the West, the social organisation of sex is characterised by the existence of two socially accepted sexes, which are felt to be mandated by the establishment of an essentialist view of sex as a biological phenomenon, and further requiring that the biological sex be equivalent to an individual’s identity and his/her social role within the society.

This binary construct is a composite and overlapping of both gender (one’s personal and social identity) and sex. This particular system is the result of historical, socio-cultural and political intervention, not a natural occurring phenomenon.

The gender identity (boy or girl) which is assigned to us at birth and officially registered as part of our genealogical history subordinates our gender identity by making our bio-sociological sex as primary for our official identity (which assumes that male – man – masculine are all equivalent and isomorphic and the same for female – woman – feminine).

This entrenched system is not based on biology but on the transmission of identity. As a result, a simple event which gives official status to the individual as a person becomes more important and subordinates all other concerns.

Gender (masculinity/femininity) is based on subordinating one’s internal sense of self to the norms and regulations of a society which is a binary, with an arbitrary boundary drawn between two socially accepted sexes and equating one’s sense of self with the norms and regulations. This naturalistic fiction which supposes gender to coincide with sex has been heatedly contested, but we never seem to escape the narrow confines of essentialism, which itself is a direct result of the binary model put in place and perpetuated by heterosexual, masculinist, patriarchal systems. Then comes the female gender, and on this basis, the West has created transsexualism as a means of transition in order to preserve the binary construct which is contested from all sides. Psychiatrists will become the authorities that we call upon to regulate this situation, considered as new and specific to the West.

This binary construct is intricately linked with an almost religious belief that one's identity is biological based and progresses in a linear manner upon and after birth. The transmission of gender identity at birth (it's a boy, it's a girl) is erased within this naturalistic system. The political, binary construct, far from being a creative construct turns out to be a myth in which one's official status tends to homogenise all the component parts within human society within one complete construct which is indivisible, linear and causal. Men and women as social categories are the result of this overwhelming historical social construct which has never ceased changing throughout the centuries.

This construct is also reinforced by the political ideology inherent in heteronormativity (the assumption that heterosexuality is natural) which pervades all levels of social organisation and notably its institutions. Above all, the family and heterosexual marriage. Heterosexuality within this new fictionalised concept is accorded official status as the norm and becomes the institution which defines so-called traditional society. The implementation of "family" as part of the construct has undergone important changes, such as "enlarged family" and "nuclear family" and today many different reconfigurations of the family are recognised, single-parent, three adults or more, family with adopted children, etc.

Within these changes, there is however some evidence that the inequality and asymmetry of the socially accepted sexes (man and woman) have deviated from their former position with the modern emergence of homosexuality and to a much lesser degree, bisexuality.


Rules and exceptions

The fundamental organising principle which determines the rules within such a socio-biological binary construct totally marginalises the intersexed and trans-identified people (transgender, transsexual and cross-dressers…). By omitting them, the system maintains an ideological, political and cultural homogeneity that would be impossible otherwise.

Requiring surgery and hormone treatments for intersex children and the denial of the same for transsexed adults are a result of this exclusionary and totalitarian binary construct.

There are only two sexes and nothing else, states P. Mercader, a psychologist. There is no third sex, adds S. Agacinscki.

The universalism characteristic within French culture will maintain the belief that the Western binary construct is a universal fact based on natural law, pretending that such a male-female construct exists everywhere in the world.


Emerging socio-political conditions

Intersex and transsexualism have the potential of opening up society to a third sex. They are "something other" which, after being forced into categories against their will, discriminated against and denied official existence, have finally begun to emerge from this political denial which gives the state ownership of their bodies by placing them in abstract, all encompassing social categories, (a belief in naturalism, nation, State, a natural system of "normalcy"...). Their protests intersect and coincide with those from feminists within a broader socio-cultural and political context.


Society and Third-sex Socialisation

I consider those who are intersexed and transsexed as separate identities. However, it does appear that the majority of those who are intersexed do feel part of the binary heteronormative sex/gender construct.

This has social and political consequences for trans activism because there are not just two social sexes, but at least three.

With the advent of a social and political group which views identity from this perspective, there are two important facts which must be taken into consideration. Feminist criticism of the sex/gender construct and the deconstruction of this system and the discovery of third sex socialisation in other societies throughout the world and throughout history. A critical examination of the erasure of intersex and transsex identities in the West has not yet been undertaken.

In Native American civilisations, this third gender/sex category has always existed. This model is also found elsewhere, especially in Indonesia with the Kathoeys.

I call these societies third-sex societies.

This third social sex (or social gender) is not a tertiary derivative of two pre-existing, fundamental binary social genders (man and woman) which simply make place for a third (for sake of tolerance). The peaceful co-existence of these three social genders takes into account the importance of traditions and transference of equality (based on parity) among the three social genders. There are women, men and men-women. A model to which one must add woman-man, which could theoretically constitute a fourth social sex.

I call this social organisation third-sex socialisation.

In such a social system, third sex socialisation is part of the natural fabric and forms the very basis of a rational acceptance of trans and intersex identities which is transmitted from generation to generation, both by kinship and social norms.


Transformation and emergence of trans identities in Western society

Therefore, transsexualism is not an invention of modern medicine, nor is it an pathology, illness or gender disorder. Nevertheless, in the West, the emergence of trans identities as autonomous only appeared sporadically in the Nineties. Previously, transsexualism was defined by the subject being required to undergo a complete journey from one social sex to the other. S/he went from one social sex to the other within the binary construct. The subjects were required to reconfigure their past to the gender they preferred by erasing it, which is not an easy undertaking, in fact it is often extremely difficult and can involve serious conflicts, even complete alienation from family and friends and one's work environment.

Queer criticism, which originated in the US, tend to deconstruct the naturalistic, essentialist binary model and to propose a constructionist model.

The existence of the transsexed and intersexed remained very problematic however within the binary construct, especially in France. A documentary, Transsexual Menace, by Rosa Von Prunheim which will become a critical moment in bringing awareness to this issue.

The polarisation within the trans community and the emergence of queer and homosexual transgenders will be required before any reassessment and reformulation of the issue could be possible. Not only in terms of sexual orientation but more importantly in terms of social inclusion of all trans-identities with respect for their preference for different re-combinations of sex and gender, including a-gender, non-gender, asexual and asexuality. Along side a homosocial model, a third-sex model begins to emerge and produces (or even counter-produces) a distinct social category, with formal intervention and new standards for identification, especially within the trans-identified community. Judith Butler's work, Gender Trouble, laid the foundations for a more incisive criticism but remained confined to activists and intellectuals. Each group remained isolated within its own internal transformations and subjected to the dominant binary system which retained an absolutist control and major, if not unique, intervention. On the other hand, a close reading of the works of pseudo-experts who were neither responsible nor competent, changed course by creating groups and associations with links among themselves. This socio-political emergence is a slow process. There is momentum created by the formation of very small groups, working groups, and associations which form networks via the Internet for sharing and publishing ideas, information and more importantly. political and theoretical texts. This has a direct consequence on the conditions and norms of socialisation. The binary construct based on heterosexual/gendered models came increasingly under attack and no longer appeared to be an easily accepted global social model. We are integrated into it but are not assimilated. Societies based on consumerism, supporting only basic needs of existence, are disconnected with the more political aspects of society and international scholarship, which deal with the more advanced needs expressed in ideas and one's actual presence in society. The "scientific" underpinnings of universalism were deconstructed by its reference and elaboration of an ideological binary construct.

A new foundational system appeared in the Nineties. At this point, transpersons had an intergenerational kinship with described by Pat Califia as "trans ancestors". They consisted solely of transsexed individuals who had been carefully limited to a certain time period and located only in the West. In so doing, not only was the link between transsexaulism and western pathological medical protocols maintained but more importantly, the binary sexual construct as the fundamental and explanatory principle of the whole phenomenon. As a result, there is an heated debate within the transsexed community against the pathological psychiatric model but not against the binarity implicit in such a model. However, the very binary construct of transsexualism is fundamental basis of the pathological psychiatric model, which in fact gives it the authority for its very existence as such. Transsexualism is independent of all these models because it is both a way of crossing social gender roles and of deconstructing the politico-sexual binary model, whether it be hetero- or homonormative.

The inclusion and visibility of a global culture necessitates the inclusion of third-sex identities in non-western societies.

The binary social construct of sex and gender is no longer the only model and is now considered to be a socio-political construct. From this point on, it is seen to be nothing more than a system which has been imposed and kept in place by intervention from socio-political authorities within the particular Western societies in question and is subjected to more and more incisive criticism as a result of its excesses and internal tyranny and its denial and erasure of external alternatives. In due course, heterosexuals started contesting the linkage between gender (clothing for example) and sex/gender categories (man or woman).

Male and female begin to be viewed as two different social genders or identities and not as facts of nature (natural occurring phenomena) and/or historical, immutable characteristics.

The historical domination by males shifts to a political emphasis on equality between the social sexes and then to an equality of gender, sometimes within a transgender context: sex and gender not being concordant, as opposed to cis-gender.

The transgender model in not linked to sexual orientation nor to a third-sex socialisation. It has become a socio-political arrangement which takes into consideration the individual's needs for growth and development, which obviously, is not without its own problems. Resistance is very bitter and risks marginalising individuals within discriminatory sexual minority groups.


The Genesis of a more open society

As a result of these changes, critiques and transformations of the constructs and models, many important factors emerge.

With regards to the formation of a new form or seduction linked to the third-sex model: transsex is no longer a reintegrating and reunifying trajectory which recomposes and reproduces the naturalistic binary construct (male and female identities) but is potentially a separate identity altogether which can be a constituent part of a new social order based on transformation and equilibrium within our individual lives.

The formation of couples outside the binary social construct of sex/gender constitutes the next phase. Transsexed men and women were assumed to be heterosexual and to seek a partner within the confines of the heterosexual/gender binary construct. Henceforth, couples are formed which are characterised by their own important constituent elements, straying far from the binary construct of sexual orientation defined by exclusive homosexuality and heterosexuality.

There are couples consisting of, for example: a transsexed woman and a "masculine" man born male, and intersexed person and a transsexed person, an MtF and a lesbian (butch, feminine, drag-king...), an FtM and a "feminine" woman born female, two transsexed individuals (of the same or opposing genders)...

There are other queer identities and categories which appear in the wake. An FtU and an FtO: Female to Unknown or Other in an attempt to totally deconstruct the circular, exclusive and all encompassing binary model.

The emotional and psychological reconfiguration involves a re-examination of the past, of the conditions of the transition process and of what it consists of which necessitates an extremism of a life or death situation. The individual disengagement from the entrenched construct is then paralleled by the historical disengagement and the historical erasure of third-sex socialisation throughout the world. Political autonomy along with a rejection of erasure and assimilation and of the lies of the past which opens up a space in which one can re-examine different forms of destructive censorship and self-censorship.

Among other consequences, this results in a re-examination of what one has actually lived and experienced by comparing the preferred gender outcome with the gender assigned for rearing by the legal/medical authorities. And thus, a re-examination and openness to new and different emotional and psychological constructs of identity and other reconfigurations. I refer to this double configuration of gender as intergender; not a new way of adding male and female (binaries) but a way of totally joining the two genders and establishing at third separate gender entirely. By extension, a woman, a man, intersex, intergendered transsex. I categorise effeminate or hypermasculine genders or constructs, whether their performance be deliberate or not, as one, exclusive and superimposed gender: by extension, an effeminate woman and an effeminate man, a hypermasculine man or woman, an effeminate transsexed person, an effeminate intersexed person.

Rejecting sex categories on official documents is part of the larger political battle which goes far beyond identity issues, which implies a political critique of the very organisation of modern society, most notably in its relationship of unilateral domination vis-à-vis the rest of the world and most importantly our common environment.

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