Archive for the homosexuality 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.


Curiosity killed the Kat

Posted in homosexuality, Katy Perry, sexual curiosity on October 6, 2008 by Steve

Katy Perry T-shirt

Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl quickly shot to the top of the charts and currently still receives plenty of time on the airwaves. Other than its sheer catchiness, I suspect this song owes its popularity to the fact that listeners themselves are curious, having at some time doubted their sexual orientation and contemplated other options, but not having dared to act on it. Whatever the exact reason, Katy Perry has struck a chord amongst many, and yet, in doing so, has come under fire from others. Indeed, the song has proven very controversial, evoking strong emotions particularly amongst those who denounce it as a backward step in the feminist cause.

As with most songs, there are many possible interpretations as to the precise intention in its composition. The writer at Feministe sees Perry’s song as endorsing male objectification of women, while others see it promoting a healthy sense of questioning of sexual orientation. Personally, I view the song as an honest confession of a young woman’s mixed-up emotional experience as she learns about her sexuality – a necessary and difficult journey for each of us as sexual beings.

In the song Perry reports back on the experience of having kissed a girl at a party – under the influence of alcohol and out of curiosity – “just to try it”. While I first thought that Perry was simply encouraging female homosexuality, on further listening it became clear that she is not so figured out or probably all that keen on other women.

As you listen to Perry retell the story of her ‘decision’ to kiss another girl, you can’t help but sympathise for her in the pain of the moral and personal implications for what was involved in taking that step. Caught between the teaching of her devout Christian parents and the curious desire to explore the unexplored, Perry’s dilemma is understandably agonising. While on one level she feels a joyful liberation, at another she is plagued with guilt, knowing that she has disobeyed the wishes of her parents:

It’s not what, good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey

Above all, Perry is confused and curious about her sexuality – a common experience amongst teenagers and even adults. Yet she is daring enough to let her curiosity prompt her to action. Though she knows her boyfriend will probably disapprove, she sees the girl-kissing experiment as worthwhile. One blog commentator puts it well:

A lot of the time when people are confused, they act in a way that they normally don’t. Maybe she doesn’t mean what she is saying, or maybe she is just trying to get a new song out there for those of us who don’t know what to do and in a way, she is letting us know that there is more people out there who are like us and that we should just be ourselves.