Identity fusion predicts gender reassignment surgery

Here is an interesting study which talks about identity fusion and its connection with transsexualism. Abstract pasted below. Full text here (via transsexualism.tumblr.com)

Transsexuals vary in the sacrifices that they make while transitioning to their cross-gender group. We suggest that one influence on the sacrifices they make is identity fusion. When people fuse with a group, a visceral and irrevocable feeling of oneness with the group develops. The personal self (the sense of “I” and “me”) remains potent and combines synergistically with the social self to motivate behavior. We hypothesized that transsexuals who felt fused with the cross-gender group would be especially willing to make sacrifices while transitioning to that group. Our sample included 22 male-to-female (MtF) and 16 female-to-male (FtM) transsexuals. Consistent with expectation, those who were fused with their cross-gender group (1) expressed more willingness to sacrifice close relationships in the process of changing sex than non-fused transsexuals and (2) actually underwent irreversible surgical change of their primary sexual characteristics (vaginoplasty for MtF transsexuals and hysterectomy for FtM transsexuals). These outcomes were not predicted by a measure of “group identification,” which occurs when membership in the group eclipses the personal self (the “I” and “me” is subsumed by the group; in the extreme case, brainwashing occurs). These findings confirm and extend earlier evidence that identity fusion is uniquely effective in tapping a propensity to make substantial sacrifices for the group. We discuss identity fusion as a social psychological determinant of the choices of transsexuals.

I was excited to see this study, because I have been talking and thinking about identity fusion and its role in transsexualism. It was great to see that someone was studying this. Some in the reddit trans community even talk about the process of fusion, talking about how you go from “I sometimes fantasize about being a woman / have dysphoria” -> “I think I am trans” -> “I am a woman”. They talk about it as if it is inevitable, its not. That is fusion in action and can be reversed by the process of defusion.

A quote for the main body of the study:

“we showed that fusion was also a potent predictor of the steps that aspiring group members take to become group members.”

You can see this phenomenon in action as people become more identified with the community and their views shift, often very quickly as documented here. People who are starting to question, in just a few weeks become determined to take hormones as they become identified with the group.

Also:

Furthermore, whereas past researchers (Smith et al., 2005) have identified variables (e.g., gender dysphoria) that motivate transsexuals to eschew their natal sex, our findings identified a variable (identity fusion) that appears to motivate transsexuals to embrace the cross-gender sex.

This again supports the idea of multiple factors being involved, and fusion being part of the motivation that leads to transition and ultimately surgery.

This study primarily talks about fusion from a group perspective the person’s identity with a group. This is something I have neglected but have come to see the importance of it, particularly after several conversations with Deborah. Part of having a identity is a sense of belonging with a group of people that seem like you, and belonging to the tribe is a key factor in human motivation. Feeling like there are people like you is so exciting, especially afar a long time of feeling that you are the only one.

Part of my own experience was similar to this. My dysphoria actually went away during my late teen years when I was dating and having some success socially. It came back when I went to college, and I still remember how powerful that feeling that there were other people like me when I encountered one of the early online forums for trans people. It was like “wow, people can really do this, and there are people like me!” That feeling of belonging after such long periods of not belonging was so powerful.

This study found this effect occurred in both FTM and MTF transsexuals, but only measured gynephilic FTM’s and androphilic MTFs, but I suspect that shouldn’t make much a difference.

The measure of fusion also measured specifically fusion with cross-gender identity. I would be interested in a measure of fusion with the community itself also. I suspect the effect would be even stronger.

Also many people report that their dysphoria increases upon deciding they are trans.This process of fusion could be a mechanism for that. Identifying with the group itself can propel people along the path. Likewise taking a step back from the community can reduce dysphoria, here is an example of someone experiencing relief by taking a step back from the community.

I think it shows the importance of taking a step back and taking things slowly after the heady rush of first being exposed to the community, and reading as many different perspectives as possible.

6 comments

  1. Looking back at myself, in my teenage years, I was living in libraries reading everything I could get my hands on regarding sex change. This was before the internet and prior to the establishment of most support groups. Had I connected with someone else, like myself, at the time, there is absolutely no question in my mind that I would have transitioned. But, I knew of no one other than some of those early transitioners I read about.

    Instead, I remained status quo and learned to live with it. If I had known some others like myself, certainly the dysphoria would have increased and I would have been on my way like a bull (excuse he expression) in a china shop, accepting being disowned by family and my religion.

    Later in life, when I first met that special person who I could relate to, the dysphoria and the need to transition did increase but, by then, I had managed to control it using methods I have discussed occasionally on my own blog.

    I cannot say that this all started with fantasizing that I wanted to be female. Instead, and without question, I just knew this was a change I needed to make. There was nothing sexual about it. Indeed, I was assexual in my teens, with absolutely no interest in sexual relations with either sex. I just wanted the right body parts…..and I still do.

    Going to try to fit this in as a featured post on T-Central.

    1. I had read about this stuff in my teenage years too, but it didn’t become real until I actually talked to people on the internet, and this was the very early stages of the online trans community, everyone was 20-30 years older than me except for like 3 people, and that was still enough.

      I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be 14 and come across something like r/asktransgender.

  2. This is one of the reasons I am concerned about our province’s advancement of GSA clubs in high schools, which are “student led”. I am certain this has been a source of my daughter’s confusion.

  3. That’s certainly a very interesting, and not really surprising (it should be obvious) finding, but it really takes some scientists to research why it is so obvious and publish it!

    Before the Internet existed, I repressed my cross-dressing urges because I thought I was the only person in the world that had such aberrant desires. They were, for me, not ‘normal’, since nobody I ever met had them. So I repressed those thoughts as deeply as I could. There was a ‘negative identification’, if you wish, with the rest of the world: everybody would have ‘normal’ urges to dress and behave according to their assigned gender at birth, so I simply had to do the same in order to ‘fit in’ with the ‘rest of the world’. That caused distress, of course, but being labeled as a ‘freak’ (and, in my imagination, being placed in a padded cell for being terminally insane) was not an option.

    After I learned on the Internet the meaning of words such as ‘crossdresser’, ‘transgendered’ and ‘transexual’, then I felt relief: there were, after all, millions of other fellow human beings that felt the same way as I did, and it was ‘normal’ (for that group of transgendered individuals) to express themselves according to the gender they identified with. As a consequence, ‘repression’ was not necessarily the only viable strategy. I could ‘become’ a crossdresser as well — and be accepted among the ‘crossdresser community’ (even if, at that early time, I wasn’t even aware such a thing existed in my own country).

    So, yes, looking back I wonder if the Internet never existed, then I would probably have repressed all my deepest urges and wishes forever. Because it exists, and allows people to communicate with similar interests, wishes, and urges, I identify with those people, and express myself like them.

    It makes a lot of sense to me.

  4. Wasn’t that the moral of the emperor’s New clothes? But what about people who become isolated and take their own life? I’ve certainly had the dark night of the soul. Perhaps your doing a great service making a forum for the detransitioned members of society. Maybe my problem is I’m open to all angles…it doesn’t matter to me one way or another if people transition or not…although if someone asked me if tell them to never transition and get out of the mind set just because life is a lot like Oregon…mostly lumberjacks and few tree huggers. Most people view transgenderism as a moral failure. What about the woman who tossed herself in front of a dump truck…even if the cumulative trauma of being transgender built up until she took her own life…isn’t that prevented by having friends who do accept you regardless of how your gender expression manifest?
    I’m told the morbidity is really high…so if we are talking about saving lives…shouldn’t everyone have support?

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