I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cis-trans binary and I think it would be helpful to create a scale which expressed gradations of intensity of transgender feelings between the two poles.
When I was a teenager I struggled to reconcile my lemming-like crushes on girls with my furtive desire to wear lipstick and look in the bathroom mirror while I shoved a shampoo bottle up my ass through a pair of frilly panties I found from god knows where. After mixing a pint of booze with a joint and my mom’s ambien to dissociate from it all I have a hard time remembering the details. I also struggled to reconcile my dislike of kissing a boy with the satisfaction of craning my neck and extending my tongue out to lap up the cum that had dribbled out of my mouth onto the ash-covered upholstery of the same boy’s car. I was desperately grasping around for a rope that would lead me out of the quicksand of anxiety lining the bottom of the hetero-homo canyon. Instead of a rope, I found a compass: the Kinsey scale.
Kinsey’s Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale
Kinsey’s Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale accounts for varying shades of straight, gay, and bisexual sexual orientations, with an understanding that precedence of attraction to one sex or the other can vary over time, or in quality or intensity. The scale also shakes up the heteronormative paradigm because a majority of people cannot be classified as exclusively heterosexual, as the thousands of craigslist ads with the headline “wanna suk ur str8 cock tonite” attest. In Sexual Behavior of the Human Male (1948), Kinsey wrote “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats…The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”
Kinsey opted to quantize the sexual orientation continuum into seven steps:
0: exclusively heterosexual
1: predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2: predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3: equally heterosexual and homosexual
4: predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5: predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6: exclusively homosexual
I can still remember the relief I felt when I realized I was allowed to be a 2. All the worry that I was in denial about being gay, all the confusion about the fact that I was not perfectly equally bi, and all the pressure to “figure it out” dissipated, and I could finally explore my sexuality as it was. Unfortunately this realization left me convinced my struggles with gender were incidental to my sexuality, and allowed me to ignore them for another decade.
Could it be useful to have a similar Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale?
Benjamin’s Flawed Sex Orientation Scale
A lot of transgender people who are familiar with Harry Benjamin’s existing Sex Orientation Scale, which was the first attempt to quantize the cis-trans continuum are probably not a fan of this idea. For years this scale was used by gatekeepers as justification for denying medical treatment to male-to-female transsexuals who were exclusively attracted to women, or who did not parrot the narrative typical of the “true transsexual.”
The problem with Benjamin’s scale, however, is not with the general idea of having a transgender intensity scale, but with it’s rigid delineations between shades in the spectrum. Why acknowledge that transvestism and transsexuality occur in a spectrum and then divvy the spectrum up into a series of overlapping binaries of “true vs pseudo,” “transvestite vs transsexual,” “surgical vs nonsurgical,” “fetishistic vs identity-related,” and “androphilic vs gynephilic?” And while the degree to which one is transgender might be at least correlated with one’s sexual orientation on the Kinsey scale, to use that correlation in a normative and prescriptive manner rather than a positive and descriptive manner is certainly inappropriate.
Do these problems with Benjamin’s scale mean the use of such a scale is inherently wrong? No. I propose an alternative Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale which is simple and descriptive, just like Kinsey’s sexual orientation scale.
An Alternative Cisgender-Transgender Rating Scale
First, define cisgender as being comfortable with one’s assigned gender, having no self-identification with or desire to be or express characteristics of another gender; and transgender as being uncomfortable with one’s assigned gender, having a self-identification with or desire to be or express characteristics of another gender. How would you rate yourself on the following scale?
0: completely cisgender
1: predominantly cisgender, only incidentally transgender
2: predominantly cisgender, but more than incidentally transgender
3: equally cisgender and transgender
4: predominantly transgender, but more than incidentally cisgender
5: predominantly transgender, only incidentally cisgender
6: completely transgender
Just as Kinsey’s scale challenges heteronormativity, this scale challenges cisnormativity. I have a really hard time believing a majority of people would rate themselves as completely cisgender. But it would be delusional of me to think that I can convince everyone that gender is as much bullshit as I think it is. As a discussed in a recent post on multisexualism, some compelling evidence shows that gender is not one hundred percent socially constructed. No matter how I wish we would socialize our children differently, I have to accept that a majority of people are going to be comfortable with expectations of sexually dimorphic behavior.
Likewise, the scale also responds to criticism from feminists (including myself) and butch lesbians who reject the intelligibility and implications of the term “cisgender.” A century ago being a “cis” woman would have meant identifying with being chattel. It still would mean that today in some parts of the world. Does being a “cis” woman mean being comfortable with oppression? And surely gender-non-conforming people who do not identify as transgender cannot be said to be comfortable with gender.
Furthermore, the scale rejects the drawing of lines between “transgender” and “transsexual” and “cisgender” and “cissexual,” while acknowledging variation in the intensity of discomfort with one’s assigned gender and its correlation with the desire for body modification. Post-op, non-op, pre-op, and no-ho transsexuals are not fundamentally different species. Who’s to say someone who feels fine with facial electrolysis and breast forms has a different “subconscious sex” from someone with an urgent need for genital surgery?
The scale is independent of what the “other gender” may be, so that neutrois, third gender, agender people and others could fall anywhere along this scale. But for myself, I see genderqueer as a response to the condition of being somewhere in-between cisgender and transgender rather than as a separate gender identity. In the past, it would have been more common for someone like me to practice classical cross-dressing or transvestism, creating and living out separate male and female personae, whereas now it is hopefully possible for me to inhabit a blended or integrated, partially transgender identity and personal expression.
Letting Myself be Partially Trans
How would I rate myself currently? I’d say I’m a 4, I guess. I’m hoping that accepting that I am partially transgender will end my analysis paralysis about what I want to do with my transition. Whether I want to keep my beard or not seems less tied to whether I want to try to pass as a woman. Before I worried I had a limited time to figure out if I’m transsexual before my child reaches adolescence. Accepting that being partially transgender is possible not only allows me to consider that I might be more trans than I think I am with less fear. It also reduces the pressure to “figure it out” and just do what feels right day by day.