Some people theorize that people can have a “repressed transgender identity” and that the process of deciding to transition is a question of determining whether one has such an identity. This frames the process of transgender identity development as a discovery process. If one has cross-gender feelings one needs to discover whether they are “really” transgender or it is from another cause. This idea is false and also dangerous, because once someone identifies with something, it becomes reified and leads to one acting from one’s self-concept rather than organic desire. Identities are constructed, not discovered. This is nothing special to transgender identity, it applies to all identities.
We see this idea in multiple contexts of religion and psychotherapy. In Hinduism there is a meditation called “neti, neti” or “not this, not that”. This is a process of seeing that one is separate from all identities/concepts. Mindfulness practice can help one be in the “observer self” the part that is distinct from all identities. Identities should be held lightly. Here is an essay from Paul Graham on the same topic, and here is an exercise on defusion from identity.
The queer community encourages the opposite of this process. It encourages the construction of more and more identities, inventing a blizzard of new terminology that is ever changing. It is not surprising that this happens, because the queer community is a haven for marginalized and vulnerable people and those struggling with their sexuality. Retreat into concepts is a way to keep one safe. People are where they are and need to do what they need to do for safety. However the retreat into concepts has a cost of disconnection from the instinctual desires of the body. It is particularly dangerous when these narratives involve the idea that one must change their body to be whole.
It is my belief that the adoption of transgender identity itself is at cause for some of the dysphoria people experience. I have known people who for 40 years have been mostly okay with being perceived as one gender, but after transition experience that perception as life-threateningly distressful. The only change here was that they adopted the transgender identity. For myself, I was pretty okay with being perceived as male as a teenager, and then when I transitioned that felt horribly threatening, after letting go of my transgender identity I am again okay with being perceived as male.
At the queer counseling center I worked at, one of the directors told me that there was a 400% increase in transgender clients in the last few years. I believe this is because the queer cultural explanation of cross-gender feelings has changed. Rather than people saying “you must be gay/lesbian” they say “you must be trans”. I see disturbing parallels between “lesbian until graduation” which was a common idea when I was in college, and the explosion of young people identifying with the FTM-spectrum identities. The difference is that “lesbian until graduation” can be an adventurous time in college, while “trans until graduation” has permanent severe consequences as changes cannot be completely undone.
When people speak of encountering a “female self” or a “male self” this is a very real part of the psyche. However it is not an identity! It is instead what Jung called a complex or what is referred to in IFS as a part. These are very real things. In IFS, identifying with a part is referred to as being blended with that part. This is considered to not be an ideal state, instead if one can remain in the observer self referenced above, one can see that they are bigger than this part and allow it the appropriate place in their psyche. It is quite right that they should not be repressed. However, there is a middle way between repression and identifying, that is simple acceptance.