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Why has the Trans movement become much more prominent?

In brief
  • John Money, a New Zealander, developed the “theory of gender neutrality” which proposes gender identity is shaped by socialisation.
  • Gender dysphoria -discomfort with one’s biological sex- is now generally seen as being born in the wrong body, but this is recent and controversial. 
  • LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bi) activism now includes T (Transgender) after they converged in 1969, but the groups have different experiences and identities.

Trans defined

Transgender, transsexual, and trans are terms used to describe people who identify as something other than their biological sex. A biological male who identifies as a woman is confusingly called a trans woman.

Why has the Trans movement become much more prominent? - Centrist
John Money – the controversial Kiwi psychologist that shaped modern gender theory . He was as controversial as he was groundbreaking. Image by Luca Borghi

Modern gender theory born in New Zealand

This concept of gender and sexual identities was developed by psychologist John William Money in the 1950s and 60s. Money graduated Victoria University of Wellington in 1944 with master’s degrees in psychology and education, before moving to the US where he earned a PhD from Harvard University.

Money believed gender and sexuality are primarily learned through social interactions and that biological sex is less important in determining one’s gender identity. He proposed  gender identity can be shaped and modified through various social and environmental factors. 

However, Money’s theories have been controversial. His theories rested largely on one single failed case study. Two twins ended up badly abused and traumatised by him, with one committing suicide. 

Money also played a role in the institutionalisation of  renowned Kiwi author Janet Frame on a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia.  


Gender dysphoria has a long history, and is referenced even in ancient texts. Only in the 20th century did it begin to be recognized as a medical condition. It is a term used to describe discomfort with one’s biological sex. 

Other similar conditions exist, such as body dysmorphic disorder, being the desire to have a significant physical handicap. It is an example of a mental illness. This is, unsurprisingly, not treated with surgery or chemicals to handicap the person. 

The term “transsexualism” was developed to describe individuals who in order to live like members of the opposite sex have undertaken medical procedures, such as hormone therapy and surgeries, in an attempt to have the body mimic the other sex physically.

In the past, it was believed that psychotherapy was the best approach to treating gender dysphoria, attempting to lead the individual back to biological norms. Although there were many people who disagreed, the WHO’s official position until 2019 was that gender dysphoria was a mental disorder. Currently the WHO recommends treatment through hormone therapy, surgery, and psychological support, although there is no surgery that can perfectly convert a person from one sex to the other.

There is considerable controversy around the world about the degree to which gender dysphoria is a mental disorder, a physical problem or even a fad taken up by impressionable youth. This is not surprising as beliefs are evolving(or not) and there is a lot of politics involved. The recommended treatment is often dependent on the beliefs of the person providing the treatment

Putting the T in LGBT

The transgender community and the LGB movement converged in 1969. The shared experiences of being on the fringe of society led to a natural alliance between the two communities. The term “LGBT” has since been used to encompass both communities, with the “T” standing for “transgender”.

While the LGB and transgender communities are often grouped together under the umbrella of “LGBT”, there are important differences between the experiences and identities of these groups. Gender dysphoria is a condition that is distinct from sexual orientation, and not all transgender people identify as LGB. Likewise, many LGBs do not support some of the initiatives of the Ts. 

We will discuss the situation in NZ specifically in a future article.

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