How Has Society's Attitude Towards Transsexuals Changed Since 1950?

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Amanda Greenall
Independent Studies Part One: Gender Sexuality and Society

How has society's attitude towards transsexuals changed since 1950?

A transsexual is defined as
"1) a person who feels that they should have been the opposite sex, and therefore behaves and dresses like a member of that sex 2) a person who has had medical operation to change their natal sex" (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 2004). In the context of this assignment I investigated the views towards transsexuals described in the latter definition, as a person who has undergone a medical operation to change their natal sex. The essay is an analysis of the changes in attitude of society towards transsexuals since 1950, in an attempt to identify what may have contributed towards this change and how the modern society now view transsexuals. For the purpose of this essay I chose to concentrate on society's attitude towards transsexuals in the UK. Many examples in the media and key events have influenced a change in modern society's views towards transsexuals. Changes in legislative rights of transsexuals have also influenced this change which this essay will be looking at in the hope to find a correlation between such events and the change in society's views.

One of the first acknowledgements of transsexuality in the beginning of the last 50 years is by practitioner of sexology Harry Benjamin M.D. "With the advancement of biologic, and especially genetic studies, the concept of "male" and "female" has become rather uncertain. There is no longer an absolute division (dichotomy)." Taken from his 1966 book "The Transsexual Phenomenon", the book outlines several cases of transsexuality, including one of the first public cases of transsexuality which was the case of Christine Jorgensen's conversion from a man to a woman. Christine was famous for being one of the first transsexuals. She was originally born George Jorgensen. It was the 1st December 1952 when she became an overnight media sensation. The New York Daily News carried a front page story announcing Jorgensen was the recipient of the first successful gender reassignment surgery. Although gender reassignment surgery has been carried out since 1930, therefore she was not the first person to undergo this operation, this was once of the first stories to be brought to the attention of the public and she became a willing spokesperson for the transsexual and transgendered community. (Information provided from Since Christine's story many more stories were brought to the attention of the public, providing the transsexual individuals with a sense of community. "Suddenly they understood and found themselves and saw hope for a release from an unhappy existence" wrote Harry Benjamin in the same book "The Transsexual Phenomenon". Prior to this publication, the lives of such individuals are hard to imagine, but Harry Benjamin summarises the probable scenarios, "Some of them probably languished in mental institutions, some in prisons, and the majority as miserable, unhappy members of the community, unless they committed suicide".

This latter quote, with particular reference to the fact that some of these individuals faced prison sentences, led me onto research of the law. As the law is believed to be the most truthful establishment, built on the foundations of facts and everything that is concrete, precise, accurate, the law is accepted to be a guide of what our morals should mirror. Because the law is so highly regarded, it is therefore vital that the law must acknowledge and accept the transsexual community as human beings. To address the question of how society's attitude towards transsexuals has changed since 1950 it is therefore essential that I examine the changes in law, because a reflection in the attitude of the law is likely to show the same reflection of attitude of the society towards transsexuals.

Stephen Whittle identifies some of...
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