Archive for the 1960s-70s Category

Theories of transsexuality

Posted in 1960s-70s, children's sexual development, homosexuality, Milton Diamond, parenting, psychoanalysis, transsexuality on October 13, 2009 by Steve

The development of human beings is extraordinarily complex. It is the intricate interweaving of genetic, uterine neuroendocrinological, environmental, social, cognitive and cultural factors which come together during the course of our lives to make each one of us absolutely unique. It is no surprise, therefore, that development in the area of one’s sexuality and gender identity is likewise multi-faceted. Understandably, the theories on sexual and gender identity development which have arisen over the years to explain these identity differences are diverse and complex.

Famously, psychoanalytic theories have proposed that resolving the conflicts surrounding one’s genitalia will have a profound influence on the unconscious processes in gender identity development. Freud claimed that a person’s lifelong sexual orientation, determined between the ages of 3 and 6, depends on how a boy resolves the fear that his father will castrate him and how a girl deal with the contempt she feels at her mother for not having provided her with a penis. Perhaps not surprisingly, this view has largely gone out of favour in recent decades.

Prominent since the 60s and 70s, environmental conditioning theories hold that gender identity arises out of the process of parental identification in the first two or three years of life. Here, for exmple, if a boy has difficulty identifying with a masculine gender identity was thought to be due to an excessive attachment to his mother and absence of a male role model during infancy during infancy. These sorts of environmental conditions could be associated with the development of mild gender identity problems and homosexuality, but do not adequately explain all forms of transgender identity.

In recent decades, neuroendocrinological studies have indicated that the brain’s normal differentiation as male or female may be interrupted if a deficit of testosterone in males, and an excess for females, somehow occurs during foetal development. This would appear to explain someone’s experience of “I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body”. Other interesting findings, such as the tendency for transsexual males to have been born into families with many sons and to have come later in the birth order, add to the mysterious complexity of transsexuality.

One of the most coherent, comprehensive accounts for transsexuality is the theory of gender development proposed by Milton Diamond, termed “Biased-Interaction Theory”. In this theory, Diamond regards a person’s genetics and uterine neuroendocrinological activity as the fundamental organisational factors which will influence the ways in which this person will develop as he or she interacts with the social environment (parents, siblings, culture). Specifically, the course of a child’s psychosexual development depends on whether peers are perceived as are the same or as different. Thus, a typical boy will see himself fitting into the category “boy” and grow up into a sex-typical gender role. The transgender, boy, however, will experience distress in his assigned gender identity, being unable to see himself as similar to other male peers. Finally, this model incorporates the culture’s level of permissiveness as an indicator of how likely the child will be to express his identity.

Diamond’s robust account of transgender identity development reflects the infinite intricacy of psychosexual development and reminds us that we cannot afford to see this experience as resting simplistically on just one or two factors. The mystery and wonder of the formation of the individual cannot be overstated. It is a overwhelming and worshipful thing for parents of both in utero and postnatal children, child-care workers and teachers to contemplate. We must respect the individuality of each human being, knowing that God is at work in the “typically” and “atypically” developed alike. Indeed, in areas where science is still unable to take us, we know that God is not unknowing, uninvolved, or unsympathetic:

You[, God] knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:13-16, New International Version

References and access to Diamond’s publications is available online via his website. Australian-based research and various forms of assistance to transsexuals and their friends can be accessed via the Gender Centre website. For an informative audio presentation on the development of sexual identity, check out the most recent podcast at The Psych Files.

References and suggestions for further reading:

Brown, D. G. & Lynn, D. B. (1966). Human Sexual Development: An Outline of Components and Concepts. Journal of Marriage and Family, 28(2), 155-162.

Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., & Gooren, L. J. G. (1999). Transsexualism: A Review of Etiology, Diagnosis and Treatment. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 46(4), 315-333.

Diamant, L. & McAnulty, R. D. (Eds.). (1995). The Psychology of Sexual Orientation, Behavior, and Identity. Wesport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Diamond, M. (2006). Biased-Interaction Theory of Psychosexual Development: “How Does One Know if One is Male or Female?”. Sex Roles, 55, 589-600.

Lips, H. M., & Colwill, N. L. (1978). The Psychology of Sex Differences. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Lips, H.M. (1997). Sex and Gender (3rd Edition). CA: Mayfield Publishing.


Too much too soon, or not enough? – Honouring girls’ sexuality

Posted in 1960s-70s, children's sexual development, Naomi Wolf on October 20, 2008 by Steve

Having been born in the early 1980s, I confess my ignorance about the details of the social atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s. Yet the more I learn about these decades of “peace”, “free love”, “liberation”, etc., the more I realise how important learning about them is, comparing what is different  between what we take for granted today and what life was like then. Indeed, studying this period feels to me a bit like a lesson in ancient history, yet it is an era that the majority of Australians alive today have lived through, and therefore is directly relevant to those whose parents experienced that era.

It has been Naomi Wolf’s 1997 book Promiscuities which has, in recent weeks, aroused my interest in this historical period. After previously overlooking her as some predictable man-hating feminist with lofty and godless ideologies and nothing particularly relevant to say to me, her book has proven to be thought-provoking, and I have found myself agreeing with her more often than I expected to. Despite her view of sex outside of the marriage covenant as a universal norm, I appreciated her emphasis that female sexuality is an extremely precious gift – something that our world has too often abused, shamed or even sacrificed for the sake of some “higher” calling.

I would like to reiterate a couple of the applications she makes which I think are pretty important, and which are too easily overlooked. In my mind they apply equally to boys as to girls. Firstly, Wolf points out the great need to better protect chidren’s sexual development (by shielding them from inappropriate movies, etc). She sees neglectful parenting and a selfish demand for free speech as the cause of this damaging trend: “Our collective refusal to respect the sexual development of children, in the interest of defending our own freedoms constitutes a collective psychic assault on kids for which we must all take responsibility.” (p.241)

Furthermore, in Wolf’s mind, the distinction between the world of adults and the world of children in recent decades has become so blurred as to no longer exist: “I think that we who were young in the 1960s were perhaps the last generation of Americans who actually had their childhoods, in the… sense of childhood as a space distinct in its roles and customs from the world of adults, oriented around children’s own needs and culture rather than around the needs and culture of adults.” (p.26) This is a tragic reminder for parents to not make their kids grow up too fast.

Lastly, Wolf proposes certain rites of passage for a young girl in the laying of secure foundations for her transition into womanhood. Here, she recommends that a thirteen-year-old girl be taken on a retreat with older women to learn about sex, sexuality, motherhood, and so on. I see the value in giving such recognition and attention to what it means to as a young girl becomes a woman. The silence about human sexuality that still exists in so many homes as children grow up is a devastating tragedy.

These suggestions of Wolf’s are refreshingly thoughtful and practical. Though Promiscuities boldly over-applies Wolf’s very personal and limited experience to a whole generation, it is the intense realness of her (and others’) story which makes it compelling and relevant. As a New York Times review puts it: “Anyone – particularly anyone who, like Ms. Wolf, was born in the 1960’s – will have a very hard time putting down “Promiscuities.””