~LUCY!!!~ …Oops, I meant, ~Ethel !!!!~
Ethel Spector Person, of “Person and Oversey” fame, died on October 16th of this year. Her obituary in the New York Times said that her work was influential in demonstrating that there was more than one type of transsexual. To that, I would have to agree…
… but, I can’t agree that she was “totally right”, because, in fact, she was not. To understand why, we need to examine both the times in which she worked, and her own words.
First, where she was right. Ethel Person did correctly recognize that there were at least two types of transsexual. She recognized that one type was related to transvestites, and had a transvestic career before seeking sex reassignment. She described them quite well, when she stuck to pure observation. She also discussed another type, that was related to homosexuals. Here, she failed miserably.
Incredibly, she described both of these types as “secondary transsexuals”. Why?
Why? Largely because she too was caught up in the pseudo-science of psycho-analysis. She accepted as revealed truth that sexuality developed during, and was shaped by, early childhood experiences, and not just a little bit, but root and branch. She can be forgiven for accepting such, since after all, so did everyone else during the middle of the 20th Century. Today, with our knowledge of neurological correlates of sexual orientation, the fraternal birth order effect, and of epigenetics, it is easy to forget how even our recent fore bearers struggled to understand the likely biological origins of sexual orientation.
In her book, The Sexual Century, published in 1999, she recapitulated her earlier work. In 1974, she theorized a “primary transsexual” would be an individual who had developed directly to being an asexual transsexual without having first been either homosexual or heterosexual transvestite. This is because both homosexuality and transvestism, in her psycho-analytically informed world view, are both primary disorders, so– obviously, their transsexuality must be viewed as “secondary” to their primary disorder. Thus we read,
Primary transsexuals, as we have seen, are essentially asexual and progress toward a transsexual resolution without significant deviation, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
This naturally begs the question, resolution of what? The resolution of psycho-analytically hypothesized childhood sexual anxieties, of course. It is interesting that in her book, a tiny print footnote appears on page 97, “… I no longer regard homosexuality as a disorder…” So, perhaps we should forgive her for her earlier opinion?
Person’s “primary transsexual” is easily recognized today as being asexual autogynephilic transsexuals, as was specifically pointed out by Blanchard. Her description is quite detailed and accurate, but her analysis is flawed in that she failed to note the autogynephilia driving them.
On another page, we read,
We have concluded from a study of female transsexuals that there is no female equivalent of primary male transsexualism. In our opinion, the transsexual syndrome in women develops only in the homosexuals with a masculine gender role identity. Female transsexualism, therefore, can be classified as another form of secondary (homosexual) transsexualism.
In her equating FtM and MTF transkids as being alike, we see that she was quite right, despite the silly notion of “secondary transsexualism”. But, as alluded earlier, in her case histories she included descriptions of two individuals who she put forward as exemplifying male “homosexual transsexuals”, which as a modern reader will recognize, one was clearly not, while the other was what Kiira Triea so aptly described as an “in-betweenie”, a 25 year old individual that was right at the borderline between a classic transkid and a feminine gay man / drag queen, and unlikely to actually transition. This may be understood in the context of presenting not a middle-of-the-road example or two, but the most dysfunctional? After all, if one is a psychiatrist (as Dr. Person was) describing the course of a disease, one may present a particularly serious case so as to make its characteristics abundantly clear, rather than than a mild one? If so, she misjudged. From her book:
Case 1. C. is a fat, effeminate 32 year-old man who lives with his parents. He is compliant, nonassertive, and unable to mobilize much anger. Despite these inhibitions, he is engaging, affectively responsive, and easy to talk to . His adaptive competence is of a very low order. Although extremely bright and articulate, he failed to complete high school, dropping out in his senior year. He has worked only a total of two years in his entire life. His mother has always slipped him money, while both pretend to the father that he is working. … C. has been an exclusive homosexual as far back as he can remember. He now wants sex reassignment so that he can marry his current lover and live with him as his wife. …
…We interviewed C.’s mother who confirmed the familial history. … She had always known of C.’s homosexuality and fully accepted it, but refused to acknowledge his wish for a sex change. … As she saw it, his sole problem was his inability to work.
C. was an effeminate child. He played with girls and pursued girlish interests. He cross-dressed regularly with parental approval from early child-hood until the age of fifteen. The cross-dressing was theatrical and used to enhance C.’s fantasies of being a girl. It was never erotic, as in the transvestite, nor did it provide a feeling of comfort, as in the primary transsexual. His parents thought it was amusing that they often asked him to entertain. Once, when he was seven, they took him to relatives for Easter dinner dressed as a girl.
C. began a very active and pleasurable sex life when he was twelve. He engaged in various homosexual activities with peers, older boys, and adults. His sexual preference is passive anal intercourse, although he will reluctantly engage in other sexual transactions in order to please a partner. In such circumstances, he is capable of assuming the active role, but does not enjoy it. His sexual relationships have been mostly transient contacts with partners picked up while cruising. Prior to his present involvement, he had only one long-term affair. This occurred ten years ago and lasted for one year. C. was so upset when the affair ended that he became suicidal and had to be hospitalized.
After his release, he hung around with a drag crowd for about six months. Once again he cross-dressed, but only in public to be seen, never in private. … He received no narcissistic reinforcement as a woman since he lacked beauty, and the masculine homosexuals whom he was really after paid little attention to him since most of them wanted another man, not a drag queen. Thoroughly discouraged, C. gave up drag and returned to his previous existence, with its characteristic cruising. …
… Last year he went to Spain and met a presumed heterosexual with whom he lived. He engaged in face-to-face intrafemoral intercourse with this lover and fantasized himself as a woman. For the first time in his life he began to think seriously of sex reassignment: “I’ve known about transsexualism since Jorgensen. I could relate to this guy in Spain better if I were female. He wants me to stay in the the house and play the whole thing, be subservient.” … He is still hesitant, however, because he is skeptical that the lover will, in fact, marry him. …
This man is, in the common vernacular, a “Loser” and a “Bum”. He is an unattractive 32 year old gay man who has only recently thought of sex reassignment, and then only because a lover he met while on vacation has promised to marry him if he does. Ummm… yeah… and the check is in the mail! This man is representative of transkids? Seriously Ethel? Seriously?
~ETHEL !!!! You’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!!!~