“Transgender theory” is an emerging theoretical orientation driven by the limitations of previous conceptualizations of the nature of gender and gender identity in understanding the lived experiences of transgender individuals and transsexuals. By rejecting the idea that one of the most fundamental social identity categorizations, gender, is essentialist in nature, while at the same time asserting that even a fluid gender identity is both embodied and constructed, the lived experiences of many transgender individuals presents a dynamic manifestation of social identity that transcends both essentialism and social constructivism. This has implications for a social work discipline that, as McPhail (2004) suggests, is caught between the social constructivist impulses of theoretically oriented academic researchers and the essentialist impulses of practitioners and political activists and advocates. Instead of a “compromise” as McPhail proposes, transgender theory would argue for a transcendant approach that would embrace and go beyond both imperatives.
The key to such an approach is the lived experiences that McPhail (2004) uses as part of her argument in support of queer theory's critique of essentialist conceptions of gender and gender identity. One's identity within a social categorization must be understood as a continually dynamic interaction between a social environment that can be understood positivistically in its efforts to essentialize social identity, a subjective consciousness that must be understood phenomenologically in its efforts to construct aspects of self identity, and the lived experiences and actions of the person that embodies these interactions. This transgender theory, in turn, provides a more solid theoretical basis for reconciling feminist theoretical scholarship and social work practice and advocacy, not only with regards to issues of gender, but also to larger issues of group identity and social oppression.