Relaxing gender schemas

In an earlier post I referenced the role of schemas in transgender identity development. As I also referenced earlier, I believe integration is something to be aimed for, which will relax gender dysphoria. As Jung said, when a person disowns part of the self, a compensatory attitude is created in the unconscious. Eventually, if this polarization persists it will get stronger and stronger, and eventually there can be a kind of flip where the unconscious attitude takes over, a process called enantiodromia. I think this phenomena can most clearly be seen in midlife MTF transitioners who often live a very masculine life prior to transition, and then say that they are really women and that the masculine identity was just a lie and a shell and the female self is their true self. Jung also said that midlife is a time when the unlived life comes to the forefront. Sometimes, younger people just skip that part, as I did.

In my eyes, they are partially right and partially wrong. They are right in that the masculine shell is a false self, and is causing pain and suffering that they wish to alleviate. Or it would be more accurate to say it is a partial self, as all false selves are. The false self is nothing but an attempt to express truth in the best way the person can. Unfortunately flipping the polarity is just expressing a different partial self and doesn’t solve the problem. It might make things better. It might also be easier to integrate the masculine aspects into a female identity than the reverse, in essence doing an end run around whatever schema the person has around gender. I know for myself this was true. I could adopt an identity as a somewhat masculine, nerdy woman and be comfortable with that. I was never socialized to not be a nerdy woman, and that was mostly accepted in the social circles that I ran in. However, I was always restless as there was a part of me that knew this was not quite true, no matter how much validation I received. Adopting an identity as a somewhat feminine male on the other hand was completely not okay and terrifying, because I suffered constant violence for that throughout my childhood and it felt primally unsafe.

In more modern psychological terms, this is a rigid gender schema, where the person feels they cannot be themselves and be a certain gender. Bringing the female identity from repression to the center can allow these repressed aspects to now be expressed. That is an attempt to move towards health, but does not relax any rigid gender schema that exists.

In order to relax these schemas, a corrective emotional experience is required (and probably many depending on how entrenched things are). This means a visceral experience of a counter-example. A mere intellectual understanding is not sufficient, although it is a beginning. For me, it was important to find several different positive experiences of men being warm and kind, so that I could be comfortable being a man. Some of these experiences included a boyfriend who was able to accept all of me, a kind male therapist, some male therapist friends and some men in my spiritual practice. Also, it was important to work with the traumatized parts of myself that suffered all of the bullying when I was a child, which seemed at the time only happened to me because I was a boy. This can be slow work, and is best done with another. It is difficult to do this work alone but possible.

One way to begin to counteract this is to create a resource, which is an internalized representation of someone who embodies this counterexample. You can visualize them, think about what they might say in certain situations, and make them into a figure in your psyche. I would often think of what my boyfriend might say or what my therapist would say in a given situation. I have been reading some writings by the Dalai Lama recently, and I think about him too, or the Buddha. They can be real or fictional. I also use my body as a guide and move in the direction of what creates greater peace in my body.

It is possible that you may have distorted schemas about both men and women, in which case repeating this process with women is important too. This is something that I am working on now, as I have found that doing this work on my relationship to masculinity has uncovered a whole another layer of my relationship to femininity, as I want to learn to relate to women in a healthy way as a man.

8 comments

  1. I have relaxed my own gender schema by allowing myself to crossdress regularly and fully embrace that part of myself. For a long time I rigidly denied myself this experience and when I let the genie out of the bottle in mid life I suddenly thought I might want to transition.

    I have now rejected this as an overshoot reaction to suppression over many decades and am trying to marry my male and female sides more effectively even if crossdressing is an unconventional way to do it. Its been working very well.
    Thank you for another great post.
    Joanna

  2. “For me, it was important to find several different positive experiences of men being warm and kind, so that I could be comfortable being a man. Some of these experiences included a boyfriend who was able to accept all of me, a kind male therapist, some male therapist friends and some men in my spiritual practice. Also, it was important to work with the traumatized parts of myself that suffered all of the bullying when I was a child, which seemed at the time only happened to me because I was a boy.”

    I just want to say this really touches me. Thank you.

  3. This post really drives at the heart of the issue.

    It might also be easier to integrate the masculine aspects into a female identity than the reverse, in essence doing an end run around whatever schema the person has around gender. I know for myself this was true. I could adopt an identity as a somewhat masculine, nerdy woman and be comfortable with that. I was never socialized to not be a nerdy woman, and that was mostly accepted in the social circles that I ran in. However, I was always restless as there was a part of me that knew this was not quite true, no matter how much validation I received. Adopting an identity as a somewhat feminine male on the other hand was completely not okay and terrifying, because I suffered constant violence for that throughout my childhood and it felt primally unsafe.

    That anyone thinks the function of transition is anything but this baffles me. Although, it is more difficult to understand FTMs with this framework. I’m hoping trans has become accepted enough that my schema of feminine male as unsafe are not reinforced by society as I try to relax the schema internally.

    Interesting how you talked about having a male therapist. I’ve wondered whether I should have a male therapist as well. Every therapist I’ve chosen has been female.

    Incidentally I found it interesting that you want to “relate to women in a healthy way as a man.” I had assumed given your age of transition that you were androphilic. But more importantly, why do you want to related to women “as a man” and not as ThirdWayTrans? Are you expanding maleness to include yourself or expanding yourself to include maleness?

    1. It is funny, when I found my male therapist I actually had the idea that I could only work with a female therapist and that was what I was looking for. I was required to be in therapy as part of my graduate psychology program and didn’t even think I was going to be working on gender issues. While I was looking for a therapist I was looking on an LGBT therapist listing and I came across a man that intrigued me, he just felt right. I think it is important to trust the unconscious in the choice of therapist because often you may not be consciously aware of what you need.

      When I referred to “relating to women in a healthy way as a man” I was mostly referring to the social rituals around heterosexual interaction, but my thinking has also changed since then as only recently have i realized that I have to be myself first. I have some insecurity around dating and some fear of not being attractive since detransitioning. I recently realized that I have to be myself first and that I have been acting a little more “like a straight dude” than is natural for me due to that insecurity. I am still figuring this stuff out too.

      1. While I’m satisfied with my current therapist, It’s occurred to me I may have avoided male therapists out of fear of being vulnerable in front of males. I was seeing a gender-specific therapist for a while, but I found my current therapist through the IFS directory as I stumbled on IFS not long after cracking the lid on my repressed cross-gender identification and saw tremendous potential. I was on a waitlist for an IFS therapist for nearly a year, but I’ve been seeing one for a few months now and I think I am making more progress than I was with other therapists.

        It seems you believe your cross-gender part functioned as a protector, shielding you from being a “soft” male in a world of brutes, but I definitely conceptualize my cross-gender part as an exile wanting to be unburdened.

        I think I’m going to start going to “men’s groups” again. That was how this all started for me actually. I had just started unraveling my negative self-talk and ended this dysfunctional relationship where I was denying myself and projecting myself into my female partner, and picked up this partly bullshit but extremely useful book “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Dr. Robert Glover which is basically a sensational repackaging of codependency recovery applied to males. It’s unfortunately sullied by anti-feminism and re-shaming into masculinity, but there’s a lot in it that’s right on. I think if I can present the same person in both a “men’s group” and a “trans women’s group” and feel good about myself and my connection with others then a healthy coherence of personality and relationships to others would have to be right around the corner.

        1. I’m glad you found IFS, I am a big fan of IFS as I have mentioned other places and did some IFS work as part of sorting things out. I am also an IFS practitioner.

          I had multiple parts really. I had a female part that very much functioned as a protector as well as a cross-gender exile and male exiles too. Having parts of different genders is pretty common when doing IFS, even when working with non-trans people.

          I’ve thought about going to a men’s group but haven’t yet. I like you idea about seeing if you can be congruent in both a men’s group and a trans women’s group.

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