Vincent Luizzi | Constructing the Self as a Transgendered Person


This paper explores how best to think about transgendered people. The impetus for this inquiry is ignorance about them and how it negatively impacts how communities and legal systems relate to them as well as how they think about themselves and relate to other people. I liken this situation to those where people, uninformed, misguided, or prejudiced, have grappled with the nature of fetuses, clones, stem cells, African-Americans, and women and how dialogue on how best to think about these entities and people has effected knowledge and change. I argue that a person considering transition is analogous to someone who is intent on entering a role -- becoming a teacher, an arbitrator, a parent, or a convert to a religion. I develop the analogy by pointing to how such roles carry with them sets of expectations and obligations, social and legal standing, and perceptions of personal identity. I reject usual approaches to role identity and role morality and endorse a notion of people being ethical self-constructors of the many roles they do occupy. Each of us can select among a range of variables in building cogent conceptions of ourselves in roles we do occupy or aspire to occupy -- roles as human persons, citizens, workers, or family members -- and these constructions extend to gender. As we conform to the roles we create, we act in a social setting where our actions are the subject of fair comment and, through dialogue, we influence one another to edit the roles we have written. This framework augments social inclusivity, as it accommodates recognition of differences based on reflection and choice, and it creates a common ground for equal treatment and respect insofar as everyone is engaged in a similar process of constructing and harmonizing their roles. I bring out, in closing, how this approach, which draws on insights from Jungians, pragmatists, and existentialists, can overcome many of the epistemic snares, legal incongruities, and social injustices involving transgendered people.