healing

The identity trap and alt. ways to work with gender dysphoria

In this video I talk about ways to work with gender dysphoria for those that want to work with gender dysphoria in ways other than transition and medical intervention, and also for those who still have some gender dysphoria after transition and medical intervention.

Transcript:

So, hello, this is my second video and I am going to talk about ways to work on dysphoria other than medical interventions or transition. So, the reason for this is that first of all not all gender dysphoria requires transition or leads to transition. I think this idea kind of become pervasive and it’s not really true. However, there are people who do benefit from transition medical treatment. There’s evidence that shows that at least many people do experience reduction in their gender dysphoria but not everyone. Also, even among those who do undergo gender transition often still have dysphoria. I’ve known many trans people over the years and many of them may have felt like their transition was a success or beneficial but still suffer from these issues.So, the ideas that I’m going to describe here could be beneficial either if you are looking for ways to work on gender dysphoria without going through this process or maybe you might feel good about transition but want also to have better ways to work on stuff. So, we describe a number of ideas. Not all these apply to everyone. So, just sort of choose the ones that apply to you.

So, the first thing i want to talk about is the identity trap. For whatever reason in the last
20 or 50 or 30 years in Western thought we really got into this idea of identities, particularly in academic circles. This idea that we have identities and multiple identities and that identity is really important and that we need to find an identity and form an identity and discover our identity. In general, I think this is not a very good idea at all. I think it is a pretty toxic idea for several reasons. One of the first things to understand about it is that it is not a human universal.  It is a particular cultural point of view of this particular time. If you look at Western philosophy you don’t see people talking about identity very much at all. You don’t really see that until very recently that people were thinking of things in that context.

If you look at Eastern philosophy, you do sometimes see some talk about identity. In Buddhism and maybe Hinduism as well, but it is in a negative context. It is about the traps of identity and about how identification actually gets you away from your true self. We say that these identities are your true self, which is exactly backwards in my view. So, we can talk about this in a few ways.

So, one of the issues of identities is that they really connect to tribalism. Any time you have an identity which is also a group identity, such as identifying as white, or identifying as male, or female or gay or straight or black or any of these things, it creates a sense of us and them. So, there’s people that are in our identity group and people that are outside it and then this leads to tribalism. I think identities originated based in tribalism and evolution where we were part of a tribe and there was an us and a them. We kind of needed an intuition to know who were our people and who were not. So, this creates a lot of divisiveness, and makes it hard to hear things that are outside our tribal view.

Once we identify with a tribe, for example if we identify as trans we are now in that tribe, and so we take this worldview as being true, and other worldviews are rejected. This creates a lack of flexibility and a lack of ability to take in outside information. Once one identifies with something it becomes very difficult to change that. This happens in other contexts too, like in psychology and psychotherapy for things other than gender issues. For example, if you are working with someone who is depressed, sometimes they identify with their depression. They will say being depressed is who they are and that they are that kind of person. In this case it is much more difficult to work with them, and in fact they’re very unlikely to even come to therapy in the first place because they see their depression as who they are.

So, the first thing you have to do is convince them that the depression is not what they are and to try to externalize it which is very difficult. There’s a real difference between identifying a trans vs. saying “I am somebody who has gender dysphoria”.  I think it is a useful exercise to think of yourself as someone who has gender dysphoria vs. a person who is trans because that can lead to more options.

The problem is that adopting identities can increase distress and this is sort of what you see in some of the Eastern philosophy such as Buddhism.  One of the things that we want to do with mindfulness is to loosen the sense of identity – to see that for any identity we are more that that, or that we are outside of that, no matter what it is. There’s actually an exercise I think comes from Hinduism where you say “I’m not this, I’m not that” to take off these identities.  Who would I be if I was not trans? Who would I be if I was not cis? We go through the process of taking off these identities to see what’s underneath.

This idea is in some of the newer Western psychotherapies as well. For example, ACT, where we have this idea of “self as context” which is a being state, vs. “self as content” which is a concept. Identities are essentially concepts, so not authentic being. With identities we are involved with concepts, and acting from rules in our head. So, we’ve been acting from rules in our head, and this is different from acting from our authentic self, which is more like a being state. It is something that is more organic and not rule-based.  It is what we feel in the moment. Once we are in the rules, we’re dissociated from what is in the moment. The rules are a kind of shortcut, they might describe us in some way, but they aren’t what we are in each moment which is ever changing.

You actually see this when people do adopt a trans identity. People read a transgender internet group, and then come to a point where they accept this identity, and the their distress actually increases. If their distress increases when they take on the identity, then the reverse of that is to disidentify and see if that lowers distress. It can be just an experiment to take on that identity and then take it off. If identifying increases your stress and disidentifying decreases your distress then maybe that is the right way to go, but it is something that you have to experiment with yourself.

The second thing that I want to talk abut is “cognitive traps”.  So there are a lot of these going on in the community where you adopt a belief system that leads you in a kind of spiral towards greater and greater identifying. This is encouraged in various ways. For example, the idea that “if you have dysphoria it means you’re trans”.  If you say you feel some discomfort about your gender and you aren’t sure; they will say that means you are trans because cis people don’t feel discomfort about their gender. So any discomfort you feel confirms the trans identity. Especially if you are someone who by the process of identifying increases your dysphoria. Then you are going to be in a spiral, so now you have more distress and confirms you are trans even more. So, these things activate a spiral.

That’s what I mean by cognitive trap, it is this feedback loop that makes things worse and worse. So then the antidote is the reverse process, like saying this story doesn’t necessarily mean that you are trans, and I am just a person with gender dysphoria. So then, you can see if maybe that will reduce your distress and you can begin to reverse the loop.

Another kind of distortion is found in one of the tests the community will frequently put out.  They ask “If you would prefer to be the other gender, then that means you are trans and must transition.”  That is not true, because that is not the actually choice you are making by transitioning. These interventions are only partial and so the real choice you are making is between having a more normative body of your natal sex, or undergoing a kind of partial gender reassignment and being in a trans body. You can make that choice, and for many people that might be right choice, but you can’t make the choice of changing your body fully and becoming fully the opposite gender because that is not possible with today’s technology. So that is one thing to really consider. You have to be in touch with the reality of the real choice you are making.

One reason to let go of the identification is that if you don’t identify with the gender dysphoria it can be placed in context with rest of your life, and you can consider whether you will cause other problems that are worse.  So then the question of the choices that you make is based on a holistic view of yourself. It is not just gender, but is based on everything.

Another trap that exists is for people who experience erotic fantasies of feminization of some kind. Not everyone with dysphoria experiences this but some people do. Then the community will say “that fantasy is proof that you have this essential identity of trans” which also leads you into the identity trap I talked about.  You don’t choose what your fantasies are like.  You have a certain sexuality generally which doesn’t change, but you do choose how you identify. For example, you can choose the meaning you place on your sexuality, but not the fantasy itself.  You can choose the meaning you place on it. You can say “well, I just have this fantasy”, and maybe you can enact that fantasy with a consenting adult or maybe you can not enact it all.  It’s a question of what choice is best for you.

The danger of these fantasies is they can lead you away from the ability to form healthy romantic relationships.There’s nothing wrong with the sexuality per say, but it is a question of whether it can lead you to connect to another person or if it leads to a kind of self-absorption. If it prevents you from connecting to others, then that is a problem.

Sometimes people have a kind of dual sexuality where they have both erotic feminization fantasies and a more heterosexual male sexuality as well. In that case it really depends. You might find somebody you can enjoy both these things with but in some cases only one of them will lead to successful relationship, so I think it is better to choose what will lead to relationships and love and all those kinds of things.  The problem is not about what is normal at all, it’s not about heterosexuality being normal, that doesn’t matter. It is about whether it is functional and can lead to connection.

Sometimes,there can be obsessions and compulsions around these things and if that is the case then the idea of obsessions and compulsions are something that is generally understood in psychology so it can be something you can work with somebody about. Seeing someone who knows about those issues could be helpful. When I talk about choice the goal is to empower you to have as much choice as you can in this process. Some things we don’t choose. We don’t choose our feelings. We don’t choose our erotic fantasies but we do choose our responses to them. This is true in theory, but in practice people don’t always have choice. Maybe because there is something really distressful interfering.

Some people have trauma issues. I’m not say all gender issues are caused by trauma at all. That is not what I’m saying, but if you do have trauma that can interfere with the choice process. So again, that is something to work on with someone who specializes in trauma potentially or you can read books about it. So, another thing I want to talk about is what I call gender schemas, where you have some ideas about gender that are distorted in various ways.  Distorted may not be the right word, more like rigid. The idea that one sex is good and one sex is bad. Like men are really good and women are really bad or women are really good and men are really bad.  Or maybe that it is unsafe to be a man in the world and safe to be a woman in the world or vice versa.  That is something that you might have to work though and it might not be conscious. In my case it wasn’t something conscious at al but a visceral sense that it was unsafe to be myself and man rooted in all the bullying I suffered.  It was really unsafe to be male and be myself, even though I was completely surrounded by many feminine men and never had a problem with them. It was just for myself it felt unsafe. One remedy to this kind of rigid view is to really recognize the within-group diversity of men and women. For example, to see how men and women are both very diverse groups. There are all kinds of men and all kinds of women. Maybe to look to role-models who are more atypical members of their gender and are similar to you.

Another idea to look at is the universality of suffering. One of the views of the trans community is that gender dysphoria is a very unique kind of suffering. That is an isolating view and contributes to making your world smaller and also contributes to being more attached to identity and the identity trap and increasing suffering. One thing that reduces suffering is to see the universality of it. Even though our suffering is unique in various ways it also universal. We all in some ways want to be something different than what we are. Envy or a sense that other people have the thing I need to be who I want to be in the world. In the Eastern practices, such as the Buddhist practices, we generate compassion by acknowledging the universality of suffering and we start with easier people like our friends because we want good for them because they are suffering, and then we go to neutral people, then we get to our enemies and we see they are also suffering, so they are the same as us in a way.

By seeing ourselves as being part of a universal human experience it reduces the loneliness and reduces that sort of special character of the gender dysphoria which makes it feel like no one else suffers the way I do.  So this gender dysphoria is really unfair and feels really lonely.  It reduces that.  I’ve said this once before and some people said it was trivializing gender dysphoria which is definitely not what I am trying to do, because it is not trivial. It can be very severe and intense even leading some people to suicide because it is so intense. However other kinds of suffering are like that too, they can also be so intense as well.  Seeing the universality of it can help to reduce it. We’re all humans in this boat together.

Finally, the last thing is living according to values. Really discovering what your values really are.  This is known to be helpful because if we are focused on living our values we are focused on expanding ourselves, expanding the world and expanding who we’re helping. This helps us get out of the kind of self-absorption that can be really toxic and also helps us to endure suffering.  I think one of the ideas that comes with the ideology around gender dysphoria is that we are not supposed to have pain and not suffer. This is not true, we all have pain. The question is how do we live despite that and how do we face this pain. How do we say despite our anxiety or fear or pain or anger we are going to live according to our values. This makes life more fulfilling and rewarding.

The Greeks had this distinction between hedonia and eudaemonia. Hedonia was simple pleasures such as having a drink or playing games or dancing and all of these things. They are important in moderation, but in excess can lead to this over filled feeling. There is point where they are good and then as you get more of them they become less satisfying. Then there is the idea of eudaemonia which is the meaningful kind of life. It represents living according to virtues and living according to values. It is always good and does not lead to burnout. That’s a question to ask about transition. Is it living according to your values or not. Is it creating a greater good? If it enables you to live according to your values it is a positive step. If it is shrinking your world, like a couple of other people have said then it is negative. If it shrinking your world and making it harder to live according to your values, then it might not be the best path and that is something to sort out. Again I’m not saying all these medical interventions are bad, they can be good or harmful. So, that is all I have for today and hopefully I will do more videos in the future. Thank you.

 

TWT – Now on video!

I haven’t written much recently. A lot of that has to do with being in grad school, the last thing I want to do is even more writing. 🙂 So I’ve decided to start creating some videos. This is the intro video where I tell my story and I eventually hope to make more videos about detransition and alternative ways to deal with gender dysphoria.

Transcript:


Hello, my name is TW. I am the author of the blog Third Way Trans and I thought I would make a video about detransition and also about different ways to deal with gender dysphoria. This is inspired by several of the detransitioned women that have been recently making videos and so I decided that there should be videos from the detransitioned men as well.There’s already a few and there should be more. This is going to be the first in a series.

This is just an introduction. One of the reasons is to help other people who are transitioning so they feel like they’re not alone and they can have someone to talk to. So if you are ready to detransitioning or considering detransitioning you can definitely email me at the address that is given by the video and you know i would be happy to chat with you. A second reason is also to help people deal with their dysphoria. One of the things that I discovered in this journey is that there were other ways to deal with my dysphoria that would work better and also would have been less harmful. I had to go through this whole transition first in order to figure all that out and I had to spend 20 years being transitioned. I transitioned when I was 19 and detransitioned when i was 39. I’m 42 now. I spent all this time transitioned and modified my body in many ways which is still causing problems to this day and I want to help people be able to deal with these issues without having to go through that. To be clear, I don’t oppose transition and I really understand how debilitating gender dysphoria can be.  So I don’t propose to ban transition or eliminate it, or to eliminate treatments like hormones and medical treatments.

I don’t think these treatments should be eliminated but at the same time we should help as many people as possible to work through these issues without having to go through that because it’s a horrible thing to go through, and it’s imperfect and leads to social problems and potential medical problems including sterility. The last is very important. Having children is very important to many people and may not seem so important when you are young.

Transition has become much more visible as many more people are identifying as trans than there used to be. I remember when I first looking at these issues back 20-25 years ago the reported incidence was about somewhere between 1 in 10,000-100,000. 10 years later the incidence numbers look more like 1 in 1200 – 3,000. Recent numbers used at this point are 0.3% or about 1 in 300, and a recent survey shows something like 0.6% which is about 1 in 150 or 1 in 125 or so. The question is what is this? Is this because of greater social acceptance as some people say? Some people say, oh it’s great people can be themselves. Or is there an element of social contagion which is leading more and more people to jump on the bandwagon of trans. I think it can be both.

I definitely think that there are benefits to having more social acceptance because a lot of the issues to do with being trans have to do with lack of social acceptance and all of the
stigma. That will help trans people to live better lives but at the same time I think there’s also some elements of social contagion. People who would have not transitioned in other times but in this time consider it, are probably the ones who maybe have better ways to deal with their issues and so I think there’s definitely a problem going on. I think it’s a problem with therapists that rubber-stamp people’s transitions. For example, seeing them once and approving them for hormones which I think is pretty bad practice. Especially because I have training as a therapist. I have a master’s degree in psychology and I am now in a PhD program in clinical psychology. I worked in three different clinics seeing a lot of clients including trans clients.

One of the things I learned in my clinical training is just in general how little you know about someone when you see them once or twice or three times. There’s so much we don’t know.  They don’t really trust you as much in the beginning.  If you’ve been a client in therapy you probably know  what it is like to work with a new therapist or psychologist.  You don’t really know them and it takes time to be comfortable with them and to be able to tell them things. As the therapist it also takes time to figure out what is going on. It takes time. I mean, the places I work we don’t even make a treatment plan until three or four sessions because we don’t really know you, like we have to figure it out. If you are writing a letter to somebody after one session you don’t know them. You don’t know enough There’s no way even really great therapists can know enough. Again, I do think people benefit from this practice, and I do think it should exist, but I also think there needs to be a lot more exploration beforehand.

Particularly, people who transition often talk about issues of trauma. They talk about abuse, sometimes there is sexual abuse. Sometimes there is kind of aversion to being their sex because they hate their sex. For example if you’re a woman that hates being a woman because they don’t like dealing with men or things like that. These are things that can be worked with psychologically sometimes.  OCD can be there sometimes too. I think there needs to be a lot more of this kind of exploring beforehand and definitely more than just 1-2 sessions. I don’t know how someone can have the clinical training I have and think that is good practice. Especially someone who has been with clients and known how much complexity they have and how much depth they have and how much you don’t know about them.

I guess I’ll also talk about my own story. When I was a child I experienced trauma issues with bullying. When I was young I was physically the slowest boy but also very intellectually advanced like a child prodigy. By fourth grade I was going to the high school to take high school math, and on the other hand I was the weakest. So I was singled out for being a kind of super nerd. This didn’t make me popular at all. It made me popular with the adults actually but not my peers. So I suffered a lot of bullying and violence. It peaked in middle school where every day I would have some sort of violence directed at me.

When I was a child I started to have this fantasy of being a girl, because it meant I could be safe and not suffer from this violence due to being at the bottom of the male hierarchy. I could also be more soft. I used to cry a lot and that was also something that was not seen as good for a boy. I could be free of all of that and also still be intellectual because everyone was saying that girls can be smart too.  Of course I did’t understand the complexity of society then and all the prior sexism behind that message because I was six. It became a fantasy that kept me comfortable, not something that could really happen, more like a fantasy I had.

Then when I got to adolescence it continued and became tied to sexuality. I was also attracted to women so it was confusing, and my dating life didn’t got well when I was a young teenager. I was a late bloomer but eventually once I got to be a junior in high school I did have some success in dating and had several different girlfriends. After that my gender dysphoria declined.

When I got to college, in the first few months I didn’t meet any women and it felt like a real step back and my gender feelings resurfaced again.  Now I understand that one of the reasons I was successful in dating as a high school senior was because I was at the top of the heap and then when I became a freshman in college I was at the bottom of the heap. This was in 1993, so I was on the early pre-WWW internet and at the same a trans newsgroup was created on Usenet, and I heard people who had similar feelings to mine and it was like a revelation! Other people had these feelings too and I could relate to them. It meant you could really do this. It could really happen!

One of the first things I did was go to my university counseling enter and talk to the intern there. He seemed freaked out. Then I went back a second time and he said this was beyond the scope of the counseling center but we have these referrals to give and they gave me a referral to a gender clinic. I was kind of mad at that because I had to pay for it. The counseling was free at school, I didn’t have much money as I was a student. Ok, I went to the clinic and told the psychologist my story and that I wanted to be female. I didn’t talk about bullying and I was unaware that it was related in any way. This is something I sorted out later when I was in real therapy.

So, I was just like this is who I am and this who I want to be and they were like that’s great. There was no kind of anything, just two session and I was given hormones. One thing I’d like to point out that is kind of ironic is that at the time this was not considered good practice and a violation of the standards of care. At that time they said you had to have at least 12 sessions of therapy for hormones. That’s not true any more. Lots of people are doing it after just one, two or three sessions. This thing that was harmful in my life has now become standard practice in the clinical community.

This really became my identity, and I was young and there were very few young transitioners then, so it wasn’t actually that hard to become seen as a woman, and I started to get a lot of positive attention. That felt really good, I felt like things were going well, but objectively that wasn’t the case. I always got really good grades, but I was put on these really high doses of hormones which were crazy. We don’t do stuff like this any more but I was on the equivalent of 17 birth control pills/day at some point. Just unbelievable! It seemed like the medical community was like okay we are just going to do weird stuff with you people and not follow any good practices. That has actually gotten a lot better over the years.  I think there is a lot more understanding now of hormone practices.

This caused me a lot of problems like my brain wasn’t working right. I was not able to do my work in school. It was also hard because my transition was very visible at a small school and this wasn’t common then. Also there were still things that were wrong. This was supposed to cure my dysphoria, however what I found is that it didn’t actually do that.  It just made me uncomfortable with different parts of my body that weren’t feminine. I had really big hands and a big jaw and so I still had the same problem of hating parts of my body.

Now, I had additionally the problems of being trans in the world, like a lot of social problems. Sometimes people would be aware I was trans and sometimes they wouldn’t and all of those were problems. If they weren’t aware there was a sense of I can’t tell them about it, and that really closes off intimacy because you can’t share this really important part of your life. If they did know about it there would be lots of different reactions. Some people were fine. A lot of people were fine on the surface, but they would really act differently towards me. It almost felt like having no gender at all and being outside of humanity. It was a really awful feeling.

I really thought this was was my identity and what I had to do. Even though there problems I thought it was something I had to do because it was my truth. There were other problems too. My body was really tense all the time and I was disconnected from my body a lot and had a lot of dissociation. I wasn’t even aware it was dissociation, it was just kind of the way I was. It is only now that I am in my body that I understand the difference. So yes, there was a lot of problems.

I had difficulty romantically too. There were actually a lot of people interested in my but I was not able to bond with people. This was really frustrating and eventually I started to go to therapy. I wasn’t working on my gender, but on why I couldn’t have relationships and why my body was so tense.  I started to do therapy and all of these embodied practices. I got involved in meditation. I got involved in doing dance practice. I got involved in doing a practice called Biodanza which is a sort of practice where you learn to connect to yourself and other people. I eventually became aware I was really disconnected to my body. I eventually came to the realization that a lot of this had to do with my attempt to present myself female which was unnatural for my body. I was holding my shoulders in and holding my butt out, and doing all sorts of things that were outside the natural movement of my body. This was causing strain and stress on my body.

I came gradually to the realization that this was actually a problem. That this whole transition was actually a problem. It was still difficult because I still had this feeling like maybe I should be a man, but it was totally unsafe emotionally and I couldn’t do it. I did a lot more therapy and eventually came to understand the roots of this with the bullying and feelings unsafe about being myself and a man in the world. I didn’t see things this way in an intellectual sense, but in a visceral. So, it was a long process and eventually I worked through. It was also a big revelation because I thought my gender identity of being female was fundamental. It seemed like an absolute truth and an absolute axiom, and then it turned out not be that at all. It turned out to be something that could be change.

This was very surprising to me because there is all this thought around gender identity being something that can’t be changed and that it is permanent. Although now it is getting kind of confused because it’s permanent but it also can be fluid and it can also change but it doesn’t change and there is no real kind of consistency in the whole ideology behind it.  Having learned that it could be changed, its really something I would not have wanted to do through because it’d be much better have dealt with my issues without changing my body so that I wouldn’t have the difficulties I have now.

I can’t really get my hormones right. I take testosterone but it doesn’t work right, its always a problem because I can’t find the right balance of it and never get it right. I know I can’t recover my body all the way. For example I look way younger than I am which people think is positive. I don’t like it because it reminds me it isn’t right. I want to look like a 42 year old man because that is where I am and not being seen as that is frustrating sometimes. There is also breast growth and stuff like that. I could get rid of it but it also feels like that is just changing my body more so it brings issues.

If you’re interested in the clinical implications I experienced this and other people have experienced this and they are talking about they have dealt with dysphoria A lot of women have gone back, and there are some men as well that found ways to deal with dysphoria. They found ways to work with it, and it is very important for the clinical community to be aware there are ways to work with it. We should be working on this a lot more even if we support transition. I do support it for some people. We should still simultaneously be working on how we can help people deal with these issues without doing that because it would save people a lot of trouble and a lot of expensive imperfect medical interventions.

One of the reasons I went on to a PhD program because I want to research those ideas and also ways to work with dysphoria. In this series I am going to start making some videos and focus on the ways I’ve seen other deal with dysphoria as well as just some general psychological principles. Sometimes it seems like we just throw out the basic principles of psychology, and we need to put back some of these ideas. It takes a while to know someone and human nature is complex. I think things would be better if we kept that in mind. That’s all I have for today. It is just an intro to tell you about myself and I’ll be making more videos. Also feel free to read my blog which is listed in the comments and email me if you have any questions. Either questions about dealing with dysphoria, or maybe you don’t want to transition or have questions about detransition and want support about that. Thank you.

taking dysphoria literally vs. symbolically

This article by Dr. Schwartz posted on the 4thWaveNow blog discusses the need for caution when working with transgender children. In particular, one thing he talks about is looking at the things that children are saying about their gender symbolically rather than literally. He says that differences in treatment philosophies arise from which lens the clinician views the child’s gendered self, as a literal truth or a symbolical one. In particular he says the following:

“It is possible to respond to children in a manner that is either organized around their literal narratives, or around psychological interpretations of those narratives, which themselves take into account such inner contradictions and perplexities as described above. Toward which path the clinician leans may be strongly influenced by the degree to which he or she shares the child’s apparent view of gender, that is, holds the assumptions of essential gender, or not. Simply put, if you believe gender is an internal reality, you will likely be guided or motivated to accept a literal hearing of the child’s narrative, since it matches that view. The child’s self-presentation may then seem straightforwardly comprehensible enough to guide you in clinical decision making. On the other hand, if your prejudice is to hear any claims about real, inner gender as necessarily—necessarily because you do not believe gender is real in the sense described above— composed of symbolic or metaphoric representations, then the child’s story instigates an active interpretive process, and clinical decision making proceeds differently”

Later on he goes on to say:

“There is much more to children than what they say. We owe to them a deeper listening than a literal one.”

This article is talking about children, but much of what he is saying applies to adults as well, who also have symbolic psychological processes, which just might be a little more buried. Giving this kind of deep listening and taking the time to do so is something that is not happening much with therapeutic work with gender issue currently. There is a sense of “well that is just your identity, and it shouldn’t be questioned.” This kind of deep listening also takes time, and is not something that can be done in a couple of sessions of therapy.

Indeed, I think this focus on taking gender thoughts literally is precisely what makes cross-gender roles in modern Western culture different from those of other cultures. Lots of cultures have cross-gender roles of some kind, but only in the West do we have the idea that one literally becomes the other sex, and that indeed the whole point of transition is to do just that. This also brings with it the idea of “passing”, proving your membership in the identified sex by becoming indistinguishable from natal members of that sex. This is also something that is not considered part of the gender-variant roles of other cultures.

If taking gender dysphoric thoughts and feelings symbolically, seems strange or a form of denial, it is helpful to see that this is something that we do all the time, and in fact it is quite important that we do so.

Consider being angry at someone for wronging you in some way. You might feel anger, and have the associated thought “I am going to kill that person”. Taking that thought literally would cause a great deal of trouble. There are lots of responses that you can have to the feeling of anger, and the thought “I am going to kill that person”, some of them healthy and some of them are not.

One possible response to the anger is to feel shame, that you are a “bad person” for having such angry thoughts, and a good person wouldn’t be angry and have the thought about killing someone. This would just add to the emotional pain and would not do anything to assuage the anger.

Another possible response is distraction, to pretend that it isn’t happening and distract yourself. This sometimes is a healthy response, as the emotion might be too overwhelming to deal with right now, or be related to some temporary chemical issue like meds or hormone levels. However, it does nothing to meet the underlying need of the anger, and even if something is heightened by brain chemistry issues, there still might be a real need underneath that. Anger is an important signal and shouldn’t be ignored. Distraction shouldn’t be an always thing, and many mechanisms of distracting from feelings escalate over time, such as numbing behaviors like drug use.

Another possible response is to try to repress it, saying “I’m not really angry”. This tends to only strengthen it.

It is also possible to construct an identity around it. “I’m an angry person, that is just how I am” This will make it a lot harder to work with as you take it as an essential part of your identity rather than as an emotion. This will also strengthen it.

Another response is to accept it, this doesn’t mean you literally do what it says, but that you acknowledge and accept it. The function of anger is to provide energy to deal with an obstacle. There is likely a real obstacle that needs to be dealt with in some way. Once you have acknowledged and accepted the anger you might get some insight into what that is, and sometimes it is obvious. Once you know you can act appropriately to meet that need, perhaps there is different way to meet the need, or perhaps you have to negotiate with that person, or perhaps you do need to engage in appropriate consequences for them. This can be hard in the moment of course. The important thing is that the anger is a real signal of your real needs and is not always unhealthy.

To take dysphoria symbolically is similar. There is a feeling of dysphoria, which is distress and dissatisfaction combined with thoughts such as “I should be a woman”, or “I am a woman” or “I hate being a man” “Being a man is disgusting”, etc. Like anger, this distress is on a spectrum and can go from mild to quite overwhelming. To take it literally, is to go through transition / hormones / surgery. This may be the right thing, but it is not the only thing. There are other responses besides taking it literally.

Shame and repression have similar effects here that they do with anger, and denying it by saying “I’m really a manly man” or something like that and attempting to live that will also make things worse. Dyphoria points to the fact that something is wrong and needs to change, it is an emotional response that says something is wrong. The associated thoughts give a proposed solution, but like the “I want to kill this person” thought, it is not necessarily the case that they be taken literally. Constructing an identity around it also strengthens it like with the anger.

The question is what are the underlying needs? They may be sexual, but they may not be, and I think it is ultimately the psychological needs that drive one to transition (vs. just having a fetish) Ironically, one of those needs might be to avoid the shame of having a fetish. In any case, there are real and valid needs that are underneath the dysphoria and it is important to meet them. It is only important that they be met somewhere in your life, it is impossible to meet all of our needs in all aspects of our lives, and indeed we must make compromises in order to have relationships and connection with people, and that is the single largest determiner of happiness.

Sorting this stuff out is something that can take time, and indeed something I think there needs to be more of. Yes, adults at least should have the right to transition, and transitioning does improve some people’s lives. However I think there is the need for more exploration, I sure wish I had that. I was approved for hormones after just 2 sessions of therapy, working out everything took 150 sessions.

Here is a story of someone who worked through things symbolically. Here is a
story
from a man who work on integrating his own feminine side but wasn’t transgender. I also recommend the site Transcend Movement in which he talks about a similar process of working through things symbolically. I am not saying that everyone can deal with their gender issues through such a process, but I am saying that more people can than currently are.

Narcissism Pt. 2 – Antidotes to Narcissism

In the previous post I talked about Narcissism. In this post, I will talk about some of the antidotes to narcissism. Severe narcissism such as in full-blown Narcissitic Personality Disorder is notoriously difficult to treat with psychotherapy, however, more mild forms of narcissism can be worked with. Really, it depends on how much access the person has to their true self. The paradox of narcissism is that healing requires that the true self be loved and accepted, and the narcissist so identifies with the image they have created that they reject any love given to the true self. They feel intense shame and vulnerability when the true self is even seen. However, sometimes narcissism can partially or totally remit on its own.

Narcissism sometimes remits when the person reaches their 40s. Also spontaneous remission of Narcisstic Personality Disorder sometime occurs in response to an immenant threat to life itself. The direct experience of one’s own mortality, can bring one into the real, in a way that nothing else can. I suspect the reason that remission sometimes occurs in mid-life is that mid-life also brings the realization of mortality. Narcissism is in part a choice to deny the visscitudes of life, mortality, aging and impermance in favor of an immortal image. Also, of course, one can meet the recognition of mortality with denial, which brings the classic mid-life crisis, the attempt to remain young forever. This is especially prevalent in Western culture, which glorifies youth.

That brings us to the first antidote to narcissism, mortality.

Mortality

My own recognition of my mortality is what first knocked loose my transgender identity and eventually led to the opening that enabled me to heal. When I was 30, I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Fortunately, it was one of the more curable kinds of cancer, but I was given only a 50:50 chance to live. The knowledge that I could be about to die paradoxically made me much happier than I had been. It released me from the relentless pressure to be perfect, and I just played for the first time. A few months later, still not knowing whether I would live or die, I found myself reading Jung. In particular, I encounter some of Jung’s writing on “anima possession”, where a man is taken over by his anima. . In reading this, I felt my body unwind and that there was truth in it, that I had become possessed by a false self. I still could not let of go of this female identity for ten more years, as there was so many things to work through. The encounter with mortality opened the door, and enabled me to begin truly working on my healing.

Service

One of my favorite exchanges in Game of Thrones is the Bravosi greeting. They say “Valar Morgulis” – All men must die. The expected response is “Valar Doheris” – All men must serve. This is because service to something greater than oneself is a healthy response to mortality, and ultimately what is most fulfilling. I first noticed that there was something wrong when I was in my mid 20s and I became involved in groups where there was some emphasis on service. People would volunteer with relish and might even spend their entire festival working in the kitchen. I noticed they had an access to a happiness that I did not. I thought I would try to emulate that, and volunteer, but I didn’t really feel anything. Being wrapped up in the fantasy self acts as a barrier to the human feelings underneath. One of the great joys of working through these issues is the ability to feel the joy of doing something good for another in deeper and deeper ways. This is a much more nutritious food than the more shallow food of attention and validation. What matters here is not the magnitude of the service, but the intention behind it. Indeed narcissists sometimes perform quite valuable acts of service in service to their egos, but that is not what will create healing.

Values

The field of Positive Psychology studies human flourishing. Most of clinical psychology is concerned with pathology, and relieving pathology. One of the findings of positive psychology is the development of character strengths and living in accordance with these values. Each person has their own particular strengths. These strengths specify the ways in which people are most fulfilled in serving the world. However, at first they exist as potentials only, and must be cultivated. Positive psychologists have identified 24 character strengths, and created a test to see which ones resonate with you the most. This value-orientation is very different than the identity-orientation, because it requires action. The identity-orientation says that you are what you perceive yourself to be, no action required. The value-orientation is not just something you are, but also something you do. This orientation to life goes as far back as Aristotle, who defined virtues as habits that were built over time. Who you are is your character, and is based on what you do and what habits you develop, not on how you think of yourself.

Embodiment

Embodiment is being in one’s body and being connected to our own instinctual processes. One of the problems I had with living in my fantasy self was that I was disconnected from my body and usually in state of dissociation. I didn’t even know what dissociation was because it was just my normal existence. My body had a lot of tension. My body is also how I came to know what was real and what was not, because in my head I could be absolutely anyone, but that was not true in my body.

Relationship

One of the largest determinants of happiness is the quality and depth of human relationships. Having deep intimacy, seeing another and being seen by them, is one of the great joys of life. Narcissism impedes this, because having another see your image is not the same as having another truly see you. It also hard to truly see another if you are fixated on your own image. One of the reasons I let go of my transgender identity was because it interfered with my being present for another, this was particularly true as I began to see clients as a therapist.

Empathy / Universality

Narcissism arises from the belief that one has to be unique and special to be loved. The best medicine for narcissism is to receive empathy, and empathy for the real self. Empathy is not based on what is unique about us, but on what is common about us. We share certain things with all humans, certain things with only some humans, and certain things are unique to us. It is the common things that allow us to put ourselves into the shoes of the other. We all have feelings, we all have pain and pleasure, we all grow old and die. What is unique about us is important also, but does not generate empathy. A person who feels they can only be loved for their specialness is disconnected from our common shared humanity which is the source of empathy.

I see my journey of returning to male as being a letting go of fantasy and returning to what is real, and working to let go of narcissism. I do not mean to imply that all transgender people suffer from narcissism. The research does show elevated rates of narcissism particularly with MTF folk, but does not show that all MTF or FTM folk have problems with pathological narcissism. It is just that since the essence of narcissism is identifying with a grandiose or fantasy self, if narcissism is present as well, it seems possible the two are related. They certainly were in my case.

Don Draper, Superheroes and Narcissism

Spoiler Warning: Contains Spoilers for Mad Men.

I recently finished watching Mad Men, one of my favorite shows. The story of Don Draper is the story of narcissism, set to the back drop of the 1960s. I find it easy to identify with him as my own journey was really only secondarily about gender, and first about healing from narcissism. I have never seen such a good portrait of narcissism, particularly from the point of view of the narcissist, as in this show.

The defining characteristic of narcissism from a psychological perspective is feeling that who you are is unacceptable in some way, then constructing a persona and totally identifying with that persona to the point of mistaking it for your complete self. This is due to feeling a great deal of shame around the real self and therefore wanting to bury it completely. It also has its roots in conditional love. A child that feels they cannot be loved unconditionally and can only be loved due to their achievements or certain traits can develop this dynamic. They build the false self in order to receive love. However, conditional love is not real love, it is only an approximation. The tragedy is that this conditional love can never completely nourish all the time. It is like eating a diet of junk food all the time, yes it might keep you alive, but will not allow for flourishing.

The classic portrayal of the narcissist is of an arrogant man who manipulates others and is abusive and self-centered. This is really just one type of narcissist. Narcissists come in lots of different flavors depending on the particular persona that is constructed. They can be quite self-effacing in fact. What is common is the creation and identification with a persona. I was never a classic narcissist, but the woman I was living as was a character I created, even if I wasn’t consciously aware of it.

Our ability to create a persona is not in and of itself a problem. Indeed it is vital to functioning in different social contexts and part of being a healthy person. A person might go to work and put on one persona in the workplace, and then a different persona with friends, and a third with family etc. The persona is a mask that enables one to take on a role and helps others to recognize that is your role. A doctor might adopt the persona of the doctor when in office, and then take it off when with friends. The mask is like a filter for the self-expression, certain aspects are emphasized and certain aspects are de-emphasized. A persona is not purely constructed, people have personas they resonate with more or less depending on their nature.

The difference between a healthy persona and a pathological one is if the person can take it off and put it on. A friend once observed that you can see this difference looking at superhero stories. The superhero dons their super persona in order to perform acts of heroism and then goes back to the mundane world where they have an ordinary identity and an ordinary life. They are part of the community and have friends, love and connection.

The supervillian is not part of the community and cannot take their mask off. They have no true friends, only subordinates or superiors. Both superhero and supervillian gain their powers in response to an extraordinary, often traumatic event. It is their response to the event that determines which way they go.

Returning to Mad Men and Don Draper: Don Draper was born Dick Whitman, to a poor family. He enlisted in the Korean War and eventually killed his CO, taking on his identity. He used his new background as an officer as part of his rise in social status, eventually becoming a powerful man in advertising. On the outside he is very successful, rich, handsome, powerful and a ladies’ man. However on the inside things are very different. He struggles with his past and his knowledge that on some level that he is fake. He drinks heavily, and bounces from unsatisifying relationship to unsatisfying relationship, always grasping for what is real. He has more and more success in his career, and makes more and more money. One point I get from the show is that while it very fun to watch Don Draper, and it might be fun to have a fling with Don Draper, it is terrible to actually be Don Draper.

The last season he almost totally breaks down. One day he goes into a meeting and just can’t take it any more. He gets in a car and just starts driving. He doesn’t know where he is going but just knows that he needs to get away from things. He confesses what he did to his CO to a group of veterans. He goes to a retreat center and has a moment of human connection. The next to last scene shows him in a group at the retreat center meditating when a smile crosses his face.

You might think he then leaves the advertising world forever, but he doesn’t. The last scene shows a classic coke commercial from the 70s, implying that he created it. That is because his advertising gift was part of his realness, that is the thing about the false self, it contains truth. It is not completely fake, rather it is the best the person can do. It is created as an attempt to avoid unbearable pain. It is the best attempt you can make at the time to be yourself. It is a lot like being a method actor, but being unable to let go of the role you are playing.

There are large cost to this. One of the main ones is that on some level you don’t really believe the persona is you, not completely, and so it requires validation to maintain it. Any challenge to the reality of the persona will bring back all of the toxic shame that led to the creation of the persona in the first place. People don’t have intense emotional reactions to being invalidated about traits they feel secure about, that is easy to brush off. If you mistake the persona for yourself, a threat to the persona is a threat to your very existence. So, there is this endless seeking of validation, which is sometimes called narcissistic supply and every time the persona is validated it feels good, but never enough. Every time the persona is not validated it feels so very painful.

The persona also prevents true unconditional love from reaching the heart, which is precisely what is needed for healing. This is what makes severe narcissism so difficult to treat in therapy. Narcissism is on a spectrum, so there is hope for some. However in some cases all we can do is help the person live the best they can under the constraints of the persona they have created, and maybe help them to not cause harm to others. If the persona they put forth is loved, that love doesn’t truly reach them, because again on some level the person knows it isn’t really them. ”If they really knew me, they wouldn’t actually love me”

Indeed, I think narcissism is the pathology of our age, not full-blown NPD, but a milder kind of narcissism that has become so prevalent that is almost the water we swim in, at least in 21st century America.

Some great things to read about narcissism:

Alice Miller is probably the most well known author on narcissism, in particular her book Drama of the Gifted Child is amazing.

The Last Psychiatrist talks a lot about narcissism and has a fascinating take on many issues.

Sam Vaknin who identifies as a narcissist, has a great site talking about his own experience and ideas about narcissism.

“Trans women are women” and RFT

When people say “trans women are women” what are they trying to say? Why does it matter? A lot of arguments around these issues have people going back and forth about whether trans women are women or men. People argue that “trans women are women” because identity, or perhaps brain sex and people argue that “trans women are men” because socialization, or physiology or biology etc.

First, we can talk about what gender identity isn’t. Looking at the gender bread person, a common model used by queer theorists to delineate the different components of gender we can see all of the things that it is not. First, it is not biological sex. It does not have to do with chromosomes, or breasts, or vaginas, or penises, or hormones. Second it is not sexual orientation. It does not have to do with who you are attracted to. Third, it is not gender expression. It has nothing to do with whether one’s behaviors are stereotypical of males or females or anything in between. It is indeed nothing to do with behaviors at all! So, it has nothing to do with your body, or your attractions, or your behaviors. Then what is left?

What is left is the concept of “woman” itself. So, when someone is saying their gender identity is that of a woman; they are saying that their self-concept is that of a woman. More concisely, “me = woman”. Likewise by saying “trans women are women”, they are saying “trans woman = woman”. What is going on here is the equating of two concepts. This is what it means to identify with something in general; you could say “me = American”, or “me = Democrat” etc. Other writers have noticed similar things and ridiculed gender identity as being essentially meaningless because it just has to do with a concept. However, it is not trivial at all. That is why people on all sides of the debate are so interested in arguing whether “trans women are women” is true or false. Why is this question so important to both trans people and their detractors? This question reveals something fundamental about human psychology, as is explained by a theoretical model known as “Relational Frame Theory (RFT)”.

Unfortunately most of the writing about RFT tends to be rather obtuse and academic. If you are a psychology nerd, I recommend the following video series on RFT by psychologist Joseph Rhinewine. Here are another two articles.

RFT is also the theoretical framework underlying ACT, and ACT is more accessible. This same psychologist has some great videos about ACT as well, and you can also read more about it here and here

Fortunately, we only need a few concepts from RFT in order to understand why it can be so important for someone to equate themselves with the concept of woman (or man) even when it has nothing to do with behaviors or bodies.

Arbitrary vs. non-arbitrary properties

The first of these concepts is “arbitrary vs. non-arbitrary properties” An example of a non-arbitrary property would be size. Some objects are smaller than other objects, and some objects are larger than others. This is a non-arbitrary property because it is universal. Everyone would agree that one object was larger than the other, if they measured accurately. It is also possible for an object to have arbitrary properties assigned to it. Take the example of a nickel. It has the non-arbitrary properties of being round, being made of metal and a certain size. It also has the arbitrary property of being worth 5 cents. People of all cultures would see the nickel as being round, mental and of its size. Only those that learn the meaning of the nickel being worth 5 cents would assign that value to it.

A dime has the arbitrary property of being worth 10 cents yet is smaller than a nickel. If you ask a young child which is more valuable, he will say the nickel is more valuable. Only when he learns the concept of value, and has achieved the level of maturity to understand such concepts will he see the dime as more valuable than the nickel. This ability is something that enables humans to create culture and all of the advances of civilization.

When I talk about objects I am not talking just about physical objects, I am also talking about words, sounds, concepts and ideas.

One property that is very important to understand is that the psyche does not treat arbitrary properties and non-arbitrary properties differently. They have the same psychological value.

Relational frames

All of these objects are related to each other through relational frames. Relational frames describe how two different objects are related to each other across various dimensions. An example of a relational frame is the “relational frame of comparison”, which ranks objects according to a certain dimension. We can say a nickel is greater than a dime in the dimension of size. We can also say that a dime is greater than a nickel in the dimension of monetary value. Another important relational frame is the relational frame of equivalence, which says two objects are equivalent, in English this is denoted by “being verbs”.(is, am, are)

Derived stimulus functions

One uniquely human capability is derived stimulus functions. This means that we automatically derive new relationships based on existing relationships. For example, if someone had never seen a quarter, and I were to tell them a quarter was worth more than a dime, they would also know that a quarter was worth more than a nickel. I would not have to teach them that. Looking at the relational frame of equivalence, when an object is equivalent to another object, we automatically derive that it is equivalent to all other objects that object is equivalent to.

The transformation of stimulus functions

The transformation of stimulus functions means that any psychological association with a given stimulus will also be carried over to any related stimulus. For example, say a person loves to eat ice cream. A natural response to a food that someone likes is to salivate. This person will also have a similar reaction to imagining ice cream or even potentially the words “ice cream”. Say this person hears the words “uachtar reoite”. This will likely have no effect, unless the person speaks Irish and knows those are the words for ice cream. Later, if the person learns this association, these words can acquire the salivating response.

These associations are not always conscious

Another thing that is important about these associations is that they are not always conscious. They might be unknown to the person that has them. A clever test that psychologists have come up with to test these associations is the Implicit Association Test This test measures these associations by comparing reaction times to different paired concepts. For example, a person with implicit racism will have a longer reaction time if they have to pair images of black people with positive words, than if they pair images of black people with negative words. These tests show that implicit racism is rampant even for those that don’t have conscious racism.

how does this apply to trans issues?

Lets return to the statement “trans women are women”. In terms of relational frames, this is saying that “trans woman = woman”. Here we are talking about the concept of trans woman and the concept of woman, we are not talking about bodies or behaviors. So all this is saying is that the concept of “trans woman’ is equivalent to the concept of “woman”. On the surface, this seems like a meaningless statement, however it has profound implications both in the psyche of people dealing with gender issues, and in how trans people end being treated.

First, looking at the identity component, if “me = trans woman” and “trans woman = woman” then “me = woman”. Why this matters is that because of derived stimulus functions, if “me = woman”, then “me” is also equivalent to every other concept that is equal to woman. So if someone has the association “woman = caring” or “woman = good”, then if “me = woman” then “me = caring” and “me = good”. Also due to the transformation of stimulus functions, the person’s self-concept then acquires all psychological associations with those concepts as well. Also, if one has the common association “woman is opposite of man”, then they acquire the inverse of all psychological associations with the concept of “man” as well. So if “me = woman”, and “man = brutal”, then “me = not brutal” etc. Some people identify as non-binary or gender-queer, which is saying “me = not woman” and “me = not man” or in some cases “me = woman” and “me = man”.

These networks also interact with rule-based behavior. People internalize various rules, which can be expressed in an if..then format. These are “shoulds” and “oughts”. For example, “before bed, you should brush your teeth”. These rules can also pertain to particular classes, “men should not show their feelings”, “women should be sweet and submissive” etc. Not following your “shoulds” causes psychological distress, and if they conflict with your impulses that will be a source of tension. It is important to note that these rules can also be held unconsciously and contradict with conscious beliefs. For example, a person can believe that it is okay for men to show their feelings, but simultaneously have an internalized sense that is wrong for a man to do that. This is very common.

If one holds the rule “men should not show their feelings”, this rule only applies if you also hold “me = man”. There are two ways to eliminate this association (actually three but we will get to the third one at the end). The first ways is to eliminate the rule “men should not show their feelings”. The second way to eliminate the association “me = man”.

Not only does this matter in terms of sense of self, it also matters in terms of treatment from others as well. People who hold the association “trans woman = woman” will act differently to a trans woman than those that hold the association “trans woman = man”. It is possible to hold either association, because here we are dealing with concepts which are arbitrary objects, and not non-arbitrary objects like breasts, penises, hormones, chromosomes and vaginas. It is important to see this, because if you hold one of these associations strongly, the other is likely to seem ridiculous or offensive.

Again, the psyche treats the non-arbitrary objects and arbitrary objects the same way. Also, even though the concepts of man and woman are arbitrary objects, they are almost certain to be associated with the non-arbitrary objects like breasts, penises, hormones and vaginas. Most people hold the association “woman = vagina” and “man = penis” also. Even those who consciously hold the belief that “trans woman = woman” and that woman is about identity and not bodies, are also likely to still hold the “woman = vagina” association unconsciously as well. Not, to mention that these associations also interact with low-level instincts which have a lot to do with bodies. This can lead to dissonance, as the remaining masculine characteristics of the body (in the case of trans women) contradict the identity me = woman. This causes dysphoria and distress and leads to the desire to change the body and eradicate those characteristics. However as this is not completely possible, it is likely that dysphoria will remain. In addition, the person is likely to seek validation for “me = woman” in order to affirm that side of the contradiction. However, like the body changes, this validation does not remove the basic conflict it only serves as a temporary salve.

This was my experience of transition, the dysphoria did not end because this basic conflict remained. There was never any peace, and it was so primally important that I be validated as a woman, and it was never enough. Likewise, I was still uncomfortable with my body because it still contained masculine characteristics, and there was no amount of surgery that would fix that either. In fact, it is the adoption of the trans identity itself that greatly increases dysphoria for this reason, even as it simultaneously solves other issues.

how to apply these ideas

There a few ways to apply these ideas in order to reduce dysphoria and the suffering from dysphoria. When I was describing some of the various associations, such as “me = woman”. I was careful to use “me” rather than “I”. That is because there is a hidden additional association there, which is “I = me”. Meaning the association of the being self “I” with the conceptual self “me”. This association is not essential, and indeed causes numerous problems. The practice of mindfulness makes it possible to weaken this association, and see that the being self “I” is indeed distinct from the conceptual self “me”.

ACT identifies mistaking the conceptual self “me” for the self as a source of psychological difficulties. By practicing mindfulness and defusion exercises it is possible to reduce this association. It is not surprising that many detransitioners who are are still dealing with dysphoria report meditation as being beneficial. A couple examples of these exercises are here and here A good ACT self-help book is “The Happiness Trap” by Dr. Russ Harris.

Another way to reduce distress is by uncovering and eliminating some of the rules (shoulds, oughts, and musts) that you hold about gender. These absolutist shoulds are known to cause distress in all domains, and gender is no exception. A form of cognitive-behavioral therapy known as REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) takes this as one of its core principles. There is a great book called “Three Minute Therapy” that describes some of these ideas in a self-help way.

A third way is to relax some of the psychological associations with gender. I have talked about this in ”relaxing gender schemas” and also here and here Men and women are both diverse. Men are cruel and kind, oppressive and gentle, nurturing and cold. The same is true of women. If you are holding a deep psychological association such as “men = bullies” or “men = unemotional”, it is helpful to meditate upon examples of men that have the opposite characteristics. Having friendships with such men is helpful as well. Something experiential is best, whether visualization or experiences of real life people. Men range in diversity from Martin Luther King to Stalin and everything in between.

Conclusion

Nothing I am saying here about trans identity is special to trans people. The things I am saying are about identity in general and psychology in general. Transgender and gender dysphoria are very human conditions. I am definitely not saying that trans identities are different than other identities and therefore are pathological. I am saying they are a human response to a human condition. The point I am trying to make is that transition is not the only solution to these difficulties, not to eliminate it as a solution entirely.

Expanding maleness to include myself

This last week I attended a training in couples therapy. It was good to see some people that I knew and to be in a large group of people that were dedicated to learning how to help people have better relationships and ease their suffering. Afterwards, I went out to lunch with several of the men from the training and I reflected on how it was good to be part of a group of men dedicated to helping others, and learning more about how to promote connection.

It made me think how different these men were than the view of men that I see on my internet feeds. Men as brutes, men as barbarians, men as violent, men as abusers, men as narcissists, and men as violators. Yes, all of these types of men do exist. A lot of us have been abused by men in one way or another, and adopt this view of men. It was my deep internalization of this idea of men, and male culture that made it feel unsafe to be seen as a man or to be a man in the world. It was as if becoming a part of male culture was to participate in violence, either as perpetrator or victim. That childhood experience was deep-rooted and governing my behavior. Now I can clearly see there are lots of different kinds of men, and lots of different male cultures. I knew this in my head of course, but not viscerally, and it was the visceral part that required healing.

I think that is a task all of us with gender issues must face whether detransitioners or not, the fact that there is still some aspect of the birth sex that remains. Long-term transitioners write about this too. Anne Vitale has written about this. Kate Bornstein has written about this too. I don’t think detransition is required, but I think wholeness requires some integration and acceptance of maleness. It is only possible to partially change your sex. Suffering comes from the discrepancy between how you would like the world to be and how the world is.

I see some of the the gender critical trans women I know struggling with this. Trying to accept their maleness and the desire to transition and present as a woman. Also struggling with the political and social ramifications of doing so. After all, how can you simultaneously accept your maleness and maintain a vision of males as horrible and evil? I would suggest that to the degree that you see yourself as male, you are the very example of how a male can be considerate and thoughtful. You are so concerned with the potential negative effects your transition might have on others that you are willing to forgo your own happiness, and to deeply explore how you can be comfortable in the world and still considerate of others. This is a sign of your good heart. So, such things are possible for males.

It is funny sometimes, I find when people refer to my blog, they often refer to me as a “they”, rather than a “he”. Almost like I have to be some outside of gender being. I am not that, I just expanded maleness to include myself. And if you have found any of my words useful, helpful, or kind. Know that they have come from a male. Technically a straight white male even!

What was toxic for me was not expressing femininity, what was toxic for me was attempting to hold my body in ways it wasn’t meant to be held in order to attempt to convey the idea I was female to people. Holding my shoulders in and my hips out, pitching my voice higher than its natural resonance. These things were toxic. Adopting a female role, wanting to be beautiful, desiring to participate in more feminine cultures, expressing myself in ways that our culture says are not okay for men, there was nothing wrong with any of those things.