Emmanuel Beaubatie

is a post-doc at INED who studies the trajectories of transsexual men and women in France.

(Interview conducted in May 2019)

What is the substance of your research on the “trans’” population in France? From what perspective do you study transgendered people?

I examine gender issues involved in scientific treatment for people wishing to transition and the life stories and subjective constructions of men and women who change sex. Much of the research on trans’ people discusses gender but usually in the sense of “gender identity.” In my research I consider gender a social relation that produces, differentiates, and ranks two categories: men and women. This approach has led me to think of sex change as a type of social mobility.

You present your study in an article entitled “L’aménagement du placard” [Arranging the closet]. How was it conducted?

It is hard to establish contact with the trans’ population. Because people wishing to change sex receive hormonal and surgical treatment only after a psychiatric evaluation, they may develop feelings of distrust toward anyone investigating them, be they professional experts, physicians or researchers. For my study I drew on an INSERM quantitative study of 381 persons, and on 28 life story interviews. I analyze trans’ life paths at times other than the moment of transition, and this turns up quite heterogeneous biographic timelines.

What are your study findings?

Women transition to men at relatively young ages, whereas half of men who change sex do so only after living family lives as heterosexual men. The latter group usually have a stable job when they transition, but younger men wishing to become women are often in precarious situations, in contrast to women wishing to become men, who receive more parental support.

For a man to become a woman amounts to a fall in social status and is harshly sanctioned by society. The level of stigma is such that half of women trans’ postpone their transition while those who do go ahead with it are often marginalized. On average, men trans’ (that is, women becoming men) change sex in better material and social conditions than women trans’ (men becoming women), and some experience strong feelings of guilt about their upward social mobility. The guilt feelings expressed by male trans’—and the feminism that comes with it—are stronger among people with high educational and cultural capital—a finding that suggests a type of class distinction. Similarly, these social parameters, together with age and generation, shape trans’ constructions of self as man or woman (depending on target sex), as do their experiences of violence and discrimination. For example, trans’ from relatively modest social backgrounds who experience violence or discrimination feel more strongly that this threatens or calls into question their “identity” than trans’ with greater resources. It is very clear that the social space of gender cannot be dissociated from the social space of class.

Source: Emmanuel Beaubatie, 2019, L’aménagement du placard. Rapports sociaux et invisibilité chez les hommes et les femmes trans’ en France, Genèses 2019/1 (n° 114), p. 32 - 52.