As I study the photographic images before me, the boy’s face radiates innocence and boldness. He looks like a bit of an imp. I look at his adult face, and can still see the impishness in his expression. He is middle aged now, balding, with ruddy, coarse skin and beard shadow. This is rather astounding – because this person started out life as female.
He is one of a growing number of transsexuals in Scotland and, as such, is one of my research subjects. In the Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification (CAHId) at the University of Dundee, my PhD project is documenting for the first time the changes that take place in the faces of FTMs (female-to-male transsexuals) when they take testosterone.
I too, am a female-to-male transsexual – I am an ‘embedded’ researcher. A late starter, I began my transition at age 37 in Canada. My background is in social, and more recently, forensic anthropology.
Female-to-male and male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals are commonly grouped under the Transgender ‘Umbrella’. The trans in transgender means to “cross over”. Transgendered individuals may express a gender presentation and behaviour that does not match their ‘assigned sex’, or the norms of culturally conventional roles. Having said this, categories of gender, sex and sexuality are frequently controversial. More often than not, the most vociferous arguments over labels take place among those on the transgender continuum. This loose collation may embrace a range of identities that resist the male/female binary, such as transvestites, drag Queens and Kings, cross-dressers, and the genderqueer.
At some point or another in their lives, often as young as two or three years, but also as late as their 50’s and 60’s, transsexuals experience overwhelming feelings of dysphoria – a profound sense of disconnection between the sex of the body and a self-perception of gender. Depending on their geographical location and the entrenched concepts and bureaucracy of their society, they may change their bodies hormonally and surgically to reflect the gender identity which defines them.