trans

A story of desistance

I found this post on reddit from /u/PTthrowaway0 interesting it because it has a lot of parallels to my own feelings growing up, though a different outcome. Note when he says “dsymorphia” I’m not sure he means dysphoria or dysmorphia so I left it as is in the quote.

I am a straight guy and had issues with self confidence and masculinity growing up. Had issues of dsymorphia and gender identity that messed with my head constantly and I instinctively kept quiet. I can confidently say my issues surrounding this have have been a central aspect of my life for as long as I can remember. These started before I had any wider understanding of gender politics as a whole. This got incredibly worse once puberty started, a confusing time for any teenager. I also had minor depression and anxiety that I now link to self confidence and masculinity issues. Then I would feed into each other I’d become depressed and not like myself and wish I was a girl. Then I’d feel bad about myself for thinking this and my self confidence and self development would stay low. Why work on yourself when you don’t feel like the right person sometimes? Anxiety would make life too much at times and sexist elements of escapism would come in. Girls don’t have to worry about people liking them, people take care of you, so much less pressure.

And then boom porn. Puberty made the dsymorphia worse, better suppress sexual energy with obscene amounts of masturbation and porn! Except slowly my preferences changed to highlight dsymorphic thoughts rather than suppress them by just jerking off. The availability of porn and the idea of a community existing , even if I didn’t heavily interact with it was a huge problem it normalized it all. In hindsight I was addicted and the dsymorphia was a huge weight and drain on my life. I never told anyone in my family and only one friend when I was in my late teens. What kept me from going deeper into it was a good home life and amazing friends. Not because they supported me in dealing with it, but because I didn’t let them into it and I had a normal interactions not constantly centered around gender and identity. I lived in a moderately conservative household, I know they would have supported me no matter what I said, but they weren’t gung-ho social progressives. I never really seriously considered myself trans, I understood it was mostly a fetish but when it got bad it bled deeply into how I saw myself, and didn’t like the huge negative impact it had on my confidence. But I had developed a cycle of reinforcing it that I couldn’t break.

An aggravating sidenote is that I understood that this all was unhealthy for me as I lived it. In a short talk with a college therapist I laid out how I understood it was linked to my depressive cycles and I didn’t think it was healthy. Their response was to push acceptance and support groups. My desire to keep it private and me understanding it wasn’t a constant identity but rather insecurity made me not go. Reflecting on this moment makes me so worried that all the professional avenues for support simply make it worse for confused people.

What changed was I went off to college felt like a new person for a while got a girlfriend and it all went to the back of my mind. Amazing freshman year stellar confidence all the issues go to the back of my mind. It was like it was all over, huge weekly impact on my life was lifted from me. But then my relationship started going south in ways that hurt my sexual confidence. Just like that self image deteriorated and escapism came back while I was insecure and I indulged in the cycle again as the relationship died. Breakup happened, which was good, and despite a minor good period of confidence bad-hookups wrecked my sexual confidence again. The whole escapism aspect of it was so key in hindsight, feeling bad at being a guy and that it would be easier being a girl was huge. From bottoming out there I took it upon myself to face my insecurities and understand why I fed them and let them persist.

It took me until I was 21 to finally understand what I was doing to myself. What saved me was realizing that my depressive cycles led me to this escapism and dsymorphia, that I fueled my own dsymorphia with porn that reinforced it, building stable sexual confidence through comfortable confidence boosting hook-ups, and realizing it was a fetish built on insecurity and not an identity. Productive conversations with an amazing therapist that helped me unpack it all really cemented the progress I made. In the end I had to decide to be better. Cutting out behavior that reinforced it while building self confidence through exercise and a healthy relationship has led me to the clearest and happiest era of my life so far.

I found this post interesting because I saw a lot of parallels to my own story. He developed a fantasy that living as girl would be easier because he could escape from the pressures of being a man. This fantasy was connected to his self-confidence. Whether the fantasy is realistic or not, the pressures on young men to perform are very real. His fantasies got stronger during periods he was having difficulty with relationships and life and diminished during periods he was having success. The fantasies became sexualized at puberty, but existed prior to puberty.

However, he found a therapist who helped him to unpack everything, stopped engaging in behavior that reinforced his fantasies, and promoted healthy behavior like exercise and building relationships.

I think this was what I really needed at the time I was struggling with my gender, and I think there are people that could benefit from this approach. This man is still young and what will happen in the future is unknown. I suspect the fantasies might come back again for him, but ideally they can be managed in the same way if that comes up.

Philly Follow-up

This is a followup to the recent no-platforming of our two workshops at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. More details here:

There has been a lot of discussion across various forums about the detransition panel. A lot of people providing support and criticism. Some of it for things I actually believe, and a lot of it for things I actually don’t believe. This unfortunately is par for the course for Internet discourse and for discourse in general in the West. I actually think this is a much larger problem than detransition issues and sometimes I think I should focus on that instead. People dividing more and more into ideological camps and being unable to communicate with each other is a huge problem. People always have different ideologies and disagree about stuff. People with different ideologies observe the same world differently. They literally have different facts. That is part of what makes communication difficult. The challenge lies in interpreting the statements of the other charitably, assuming that they have a good intention even if it alien to you. This can be challenging but is an important practice. Some people really don’t have good intentions, in which case the best thing to do is maybe not communicate with them at all. However even many people that are lashing out in some way there is usually a pain or hurt behind that, and the person will soften if you acknowledge it. For Game of Thrones fans this is the exact opposite of Littlefinger’s advice. ☺

If you are critical of things I say I welcome dialogue, I hope that you would approach me with the lens that I am flawed human being trying to do what is best for others and myself in the world, and I promise to approach you in the same way.

One of the things that I find a particular blessing in my work is that I come in contact with a lot of people with a lot of different worldviews. People I would not have encountered in the past as I have spent most of my life in a liberal bubble. I feel my perspective has broadened in talking to people of all different orientations from all different walks of lives. I have come to see the value of the conservative viewpoint as well as the liberal. I also agree that our political views are mostly related to the moral intuitions that come from our different temperaments that again creates another barrier for us to communicate with each other. Though I am a liberal by temperament, I see these other views as important and valuable. I am not a relativist, I believe that things are better than other things, It is just that neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on that. If anything, my number one political issue is stand against those who seek to impose their views by authoritarianism and censor others against those that believe in ideological pluralism. That is not a left vs. right issue.

Now I would like to respond to some of the common themes I have seen in the discussion. I don’t speak for my co-panelists, only for myself:

“This presentation is a secret front to promote TERF ideology”

This idea came up a few times. The idea was that we were actually using detransition as a distraction to promote radical feminist ideology. There was no political intention behind the presentations at all. As I said, I am not in any way a radical feminist and therefore don’t promote their ideology. The presentations were about exactly what they said, no more no less. Some of my co-presenters may or may not have radical feminist views, there was no political litmus test to participate in the panel, nor should there be. Detransitioners are in a very difficult place regardless of their political affiliation.

If you wish to dislike me because of my political beliefs, you can dislike me for not being a pure Leftist. Most people in this discussion are on the Left. (trans people, detransitioners, radical feminist, clinicians). Ideological monocultures are dangerous when looking for scientific truth, because they lead to groupthink and blind spots. We all have blind spots; hopefully we can find people with different blind spots and dialogue with them.

“Detransitioners are a hoax perpetuated by radfems / detransitioners have been brainwashed by radfems which is why they are all AFAB (natal female) and young.”

This comes in two different flavors from people who have noticed that the majority of detransition blogs are from younger AFAB people and many of them have radical feminist leanings. This is definitely true. Not all AFAB detranstioners are radical feminists, but many of them are. It also true that the majority of detransitioners are AFAB.

I saw two different criticisms to explain this, the first was that these people are fake and are a hoax perpetuated by radical feminists to discredit trans people. They are not a hoax, there are a growing number of their videos on the Internet to prove that they exist. I have myself been accused of non-existance a couple of times, which is one of the reasons I made a couple of videos.

The second criticism is that they have been “brainwashed” by radfems in order to stop them from transitioning or their detransition is legit but they have been co-opted by radfems. This is getting cause and effect backwards I think. They can tell their own stories, but I think for many of them they found that the radical feminist ideology served the same function as their trans identity did as the past, to make sense of difficulties around being female in our society, and from bad experiences with men. I think the fact that there does seem to be a pattern of detransition centered around this demographic is concerning, especially because this is the exact same demographic that has greatly increased in presenting to gender clinics. So much so that it has flipped the sex ratio of these clinics. This wave of detransitioners comes before the peak of this trend, so if there is a true pattern here it is likely to grow a lot larger. If that happens, it is pretty important for the trans and detrans communities to work together to find constructive solutions to this, or otherwise there will be the kind of arbitrary gatekeeping that no one wants. It is not a good outcome if someone undergoes medical interventions, decides they don’t want them, and suffers from permanent lifetime consequences.

It is also clear that there are young AFAB folk that are happy with their transitions and interventions, so I am not saying this is true for all of them.

I am AMAB (natal male) and middle aged so I am not part of the typical demographic of detransitioners. I am also encountering more male detransitioners than I did in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be a systemic thing like it does with the AFAB folk. I think trans identity in AMAB and AFAB folk don’t parallel each other for the most part, and we shouldn’t take generalizations from one and automatically assume they are true for the other.

“This presenter is anti-trans and wishes to stop people from transitioning.”

Even though I say it nearly every post, people keep seeming to think I have the secret agenda to stop people from transitioning and throwing roadblocks in their way. Someone even used a post where I literally said some people should transition as proof that I “opposed transition”.

It is true that I am interested in finding ways for people to work with dysphoria without transitioning. I wish I had learned what I learned before I did it. But, the whole point of that is to create additional options for people, not to take options away. I support you 100% if you choose to transition in the way you see fit. I also thinking finding ways to work with dysphoria is applicable for people who undergo medical transition as well, because many of them still have dysphoria, even if their transition significantly helped reduce it. I think any of us that have dealt with dysphoria know how difficult it is, which is a difference between most detransitioners and other critical folk.

I do think we should try where possible to sort out who might be at a higher risk of eventual detransition, or who have other issues which interact with their dysphoria, or who can deal with their issues in other ways. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have agency over their own lives. Adults at least, are ultimately responsible for their own choices. Also, we don’t really know how to do this, so the only practical thing you can do is try to clear out as many confounding issues as possible, while keeping in mind that the person might be unable to do that depending on the severity of their dysphoria.

The whole reason I create this blog is to try to help people with gender dysphoria live the best possible lives. The evidence is clear that transition and medical interventions help some people, I just think we are throwing caution to the wind, particularly as there many, many more people presenting as trans than there used to be, and the reasons for this aren’t fully worked out.

“These presenters are bunch of crackpots who think you can cure dysphoria with yoga and dance which is false and unprofessional.”

This came up a lot, someone even referred to it as “yoga for dysphoria”. I think people completely misunderstood the intention for this panel. I wrote the description so that is my responsibility. I don’t think anyone would suggest that you can do yoga and poof your dysphoria will go away, that would be silly.

The intention behind the panel was to attempt to make a bridge between the detransitioner and trans communities because many of us have or continue to deal with dysphoria. Even many people who transition and find it helpful in dealing with their dysphoria still have dysphoria. Even many people who detransition still have dysphoria. Detransitioners have found some ways to work with their dysphoria, and I think some people who are happy transitioners have also found some ways to deal with their dysphoria. It was intended to be a bridge between the two communities so we could talk about what worked for us. I think people interpreted it as if I thought people could “cure” themselves with yoga or dance or something which is not the case. For people who are happy with their transition, the goal was to help people find ways to work with their remaining dysphoria, this is something that is almost never discussed in the trans community. There is also no research on it that I know of.

The specific things that were listed were things that many detransitioners have reported were underlying causes to their dysphoria. For me, personally when I am talking about dance, what I am actually talking about is embodiment, which is the antidote to dissociation. When treating dissociation we often get people engaged with their sensory experience some way, in a safe space. Dance for me was the vehicle for embodiment; I am not saying “dance your dysphoria away”. Many people report becoming less dissociated after transitioning, but some people report being more dissociated. I think reducing or eliminating dissociation is a sign that you are on the right track.

In any case the main point was to talk about coping with dysphoria whether you are happy with your transition, considering transition, or detransitioned, not to “cure” you of your transness.

“This presenter is bad because he is supported by radfems, this is proof of his evil intentions. He should denounce them and not associate with them.”

This is the guilt by association piece, saying that I am responsible for who likes my blog. I have also had people think I am responsible for the full contents of every article I have ever linked to. When I link to an article I am not always endorsing it, and even when I endorse an article it doesn’t mean I think that every point in that article is 100% correct.

For the second point, absolutely not! One big problem is that is happening right now is that there are all of these decentralized groups running around on the Internet, they are leaderless and people become members just by identifying with them. Opponents of these groups find the worst members of the group and then treat their actions as representative of the group. The “leaders” of the group are whoever is most popular, which is basically whoever the Internet decides are there prominent spokespeople. One thing I have found when interacting with groups whether they are trans activists, radfems, liberals or conservatives is that they are very diverse, and contain both extremists and reasonable people. I am open to dialogue with any reasonable people, and have had good conversations with radical feminists. They are not a monolith. The same holds true for trans people, I don’t hold all trans people responsible for the actions of the activists that cancelled my presentation. Likewise no one elected me a spokesperson for detransitioned people, so the things I believe should not be taken as representative of all detransitioners.

I will however condemn people who engage in hate. Those who mock, shame and belittle trans people. Those who call trans people mutilated, and condemn them as freaks and sexual deviants. That I do denounce, clearly and fully. Some of these same people call detransitioned people mutilated too, and use our stories to make political points.

“We are okay with detransitoners speaking, just not these ones who are promoting toxic ideas.”

This is a great piece talking about the “good detransitioner vs. bad detransitioner” framework. In other words, detransitioners are welcome as long as they don’t have any problem with what happened to them, and don’t criticize what is currently going on. As long as detransition is just a personal choice it is okay to talk about, if we are critical of some of what happened to us then it is not okay to talk about. Only certain kinds of detransitioners are acceptable. Many of us feel harmed by what happened to us, and are critical of things told to us by the community or therapists and that is part of hearing our stories.

“Detransition is just another stage on some people’s “gender journeys” and should be supported. We should honor their journeys and find speakers who see it that way.

This is similar to the above point. Detransition is much less threatening if it is framed as part of someone’s “gender journey”. In other words, this framing said we had a different kind of gender journey, adopting a trans identity and then a different one. Preferably a non-binary one. There are some people who have exactly this journey. It is also not much of a problem if this happens.

However, there people who feel profoundly harmed by what happened to them. Sometimes I communicate with detransitioners who are so full of regret that they are at the point of despair and suicidality. To call what happened to them a “gender journey” is an deep insult, and trivializes the pain that they are in. It is affirming something as a “journey” that was destructive to them.

This presenter is dangerous because the ideas in his blog might delay people getting traditional medical treatment causing them harm.

This is a potentially serious criticism. In reading the discussion around our conference, someone reported that my blog caused them to delay the treatment that helped them. This person eventually went through medical and social transition and reported that this was highly beneficial to them, and that they had delayed treatment based on the blog. They said I was being irresponsible because “transition is the only way to deal with gender dysphoria.” I was really troubled by this, because the last thing I want to do with my blog is make people suffer more.

There is both scientific evidence and many self-reports that people’s lives are improved by gender transition. I do not think that all people can deal with their dysphoria by means other than transition and medical treatment. There are many people for who that is the only way, and even for the people that are looking for other ways we are just beginning that process and just have the ideas that have worked for us. That is what this is.

However, the statement that “transition is the only way to deal with gender dysphoria for all people” is not true. Dysphoria is on a spectrum, it ebbs and flows, and has more or less intensity. There have always been people who had dysphoria and have not transitioned or felt the need to. Some of these people cross-dress, some of them just have fantasies, some of them take low-dose hormone therapy, anti-androgens, or anti-depressants, some of them choose a different name, some of them find the drawback of medical transition to outweigh the advantages, some of them just cope with their dysphoria and find it manageable. Some of these people identify as non-binary and trans, some don’t. At least a couple of dozen people have told me directly they have found the things I said to be very helpful in dealing with their dysphoria, as an alternative to transition, so they are out there.

So, my position is that it is true that at this time there are people for whom transition is the only way or the best way. It is not however true that this is true for all people with dysphoria. Also it shouldn’t be a requirement that this be true for someone to undergo medical transition. Having more agency and choice in ones life is always a good thing.

It is also true that sometimes parents and loved ones read my blog and are distressed by their loved one’s impending transition and think that the blog will help them. Maybe or maybe not, it is not some magical cure. If you do feel like something I said was harmful, please let me know. I would like to know how to present things in the best way in order to help the people that will be helped by what I say and not harm the people that it will not.

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.

 

Trans or just a fetish?

The question “Am I trans or is it just a fetish?” has to be one of the most common questions that is asked by people considering MTF transition. This question shows up over and over again on reddit’s r/asktransgender and other transgender forums. They almost always answer “yes, you are trans” and there is even this handy website to determine whether you are transgender or not. (Always yes!) (EDIT: the website is no longer around)

I think it is very important to deconstruct this question and analyze it as I think it explains some of what is going on around this issue. First, there is an implied hierarchy. One can either be trans or “just” have a fetish. The word “just” implies that this is a lesser state. Also you “are” trans but “have” a fetish. One of these things is an identity, and the other is a stigmatized mental illness. I know I would prefer to be something than to have a mental illness! There is also an implied either/or to the question. One is either trans or just has a fetish, not both. I’m not saying that having a fetish is a mental illness, just that is what is implied by the word.

People with trans identities are definitely stigmatized in many contexts, that is true. However, there are certain subcultures where being trans can be considered positively, perhaps in some queer, academic or liberal contexts. In nearly all contexts being viewed as a woman with an unfortunate issue with a wrongly sexed body, is much less stigmatizing that being viewed as a man with a fetish. This adds to the view that being trans is a more desirable state than “having a fetish”. Even in the fetish/kink community itself cross-dressing is considered one of the lower status kinks to have.

This hierarchy has existed in the trans community in a long time. Kate Bornstein wrote about it the 90s. Post-op transsexuals were at the top of the the hierarchy, followed by pre-op transsexuals, and then transgenderists (which at the time was not an umbrella category but instead was a state intermediate between transsexual and transvestite), followed by transvestites, and then fetishistic cross dressers at the bottom. This hierarchy creates a bias towards identifying as trans vs. “having a fetish”.

A larger problem is that emotionally charged words like “fetish” leads one into the realm of moral reasoning. In moral reasoning, things are good or bad, as opposed to analytical reasoning where things are true or false. Moral reasoning activates tribalism and divides us to moral tribes. When two opposing moral tribes discuss an issue it can be difficult to impossible to find compromise. The discussion of trans issues in an objective way becomes very difficult because there are factors on all sides that throw the discussion into the realm of moral reasoning. On one side there is the use of stigmatizing terms such as “autogynephilia” and “fetish” which are sometimes used by enemies of trans people to shame them. On the other side there is the use of social justice ideology which also throws things into the realm of moral reasoning. Once one side uses moral reasoning, the other side than also veers into moral reasoning and communication stops. Moral reasoning also trumps analytical reasoning which means that analytical reasoning tends to stop when moral reasoning is invoked. A good sign that you are in the realm of moral reasoning is when you believe that the “other side” is 100% wrong about everything, whether this be liberals, conservatives, men, women, trans activists, radical feminists, or who ever else. I recommend reading my favorite social psychologist,  Jonathan Haidt if you want to learn more about this issue.

My general view is that you don’t choose to have these thoughts and feelings but do have some ability to choose what to do with them. Some people have more ability to choose than others depending on their particular circumstance, this depends on the intensity of their feelings, the psychological circumstances that surround things, as well as their personal temperament. In many cases the “fetish” will be far less disruptive and be manageable. Transition creates many difficulties as well, and does not cure dysphoria, it only manages it. I think it is better thought of as a chronic condition that can be managed in a variety of ways, and the task is to figure out the best way according to your own circumstances. Also not only is term “fetish” stigmatizing it is incomplete, as there are often deeply meaningful psychological components attached as well and it is not usually just a sex thing.

This phenomena can itself be divided into several different parts some of which have the potential to cause problems others of which do not. Part of it all is simple fantasy. Fantasy itself is not harmful, and also cannot be controlled. We fantasize about what we fantasize about, and lots of people have all kinds of strange and wonderful sexual fantasies. This is just what happens when our modern brains intersect with our primitive sexual instincts. Fantasy itself is never a problem, it is only when it becomes combined with something else that it is a problem. Even for those with particularly unfortunate sexual fantasies that would cause tremendous harm to enact, the fantasy itself doesn’t harm anyone. Also, trying to prevent thoughts doesn’t usually work, and only strengthens them.

One example of when it becomes a problem is if it develops obsessive qualities or becomes compulsive. Another is if impedes the ability to form relationships. Yet another is if it causes one to violate the boundaries of others in some way.

If it is used as a coping mechanism, this can be okay in moderation. However, like most coping mechanisms there is a tendency to escalation and requiring more and more of the “drug” for the same effect.

Also, it can be tied into psychological needs. Sometimes it is tied into an experience of an “inner woman” which some people who experience this phenomena have. Jack Molay writes about this here and here.

I think Jung’s writings on the anima are very relevant here. Jung described working with the anima as important to the psychological growth as those qualities can be integrated and produce growth. The anima can be an important guide. However, Jung simultaneously warns about the phenomena of “anima possession” where a man can become taken over by the inner woman. It was actually reading Jung and his phenomena of anima possession which first knocked loose my transgender identification.

In summary, a “fetish” or cross-dreaming are not lesser states to transgender identity. This idea can lead to preferring transgender identity which could potentially be far more disruptive to one’s life. Also, shame over sexual motivations can specifically lead to the preference for a transgender identity over other possible outcomes. This is a place where trans critics sometimes go wrong, by specifically shaming the sexual aspects of trans identity, they may be creating more of the very phenomena they oppose.

For some more related reading I recommend this essay by Ozy “Trans as Choice” and this essay by Angus Grieve-Smith “On the Slippery Slope”

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Social Justice and Gender Therapy

This post is an expansion of this discussion I had in the comments on the 4thWaveNow blog. I am hoping to get back to focusing on working with dysphoria rather than political issues, but after spending the last three months in grad school surrounded by these ideas I thought this post was important.

A lot of what is currently going on with gender therapy is currently related to “social justice” ideology. The goal of social justice ideology is an admirable one. Its goal is to correct injustices that occur when groups are marginalized in various ways. This is a noble pursuit. Being part of a marginalized group and being subject to discrimination and prejudice is pretty awful, which is something I certainly learned after 20 years of living as a trans women.It is not the goals of social justice ideology that are problematic, but its methods. In fact, its methods sometimes cause harm to the very marginalized groups it purports to protect.

I have seen several stories from parents who take their children to see therapists for gender issues and the therapist sees the person only once and immediately recommends transition, dismissing any parental concerns as prejudice and bigotry. Likewise, people who see therapists of their own accord find their cross-gender identities are enthusiastically supported and exploration is dismissed as unnecessary. They are reassured that their gender feelings cannot relate to other causes. Some critics have suggest that therapists are just going along with trans people because they are money-grubbing and afraid of losing business if they don’t just go along with things. I don’t think this is actually true, for one I have known many therapists and none of them seem like money-grubbers, for another seeing people only once is a poor money-grubbing strategy. Rather, it is misplaced idealism that leads to this practice, which is harmful to very minorities it purports to support.

I have written in more detail about this particular ideology here. In particular there are two features that are relevant here. One is the idea of oppression. Social justice ideology sees people as members of “marginalized” or “privileged” classes. People in marginalized classes are seen as suffering from oppression and discrimination. This is true to some extent, but social justice ideology tends to see all of their problems as coming from that source.

Secondly, narratives are primary. What I mean by that is personal narratives and stories are the most important thing. The subjective triumphs over the objective. This also intersects with the idea of oppression, where members of a dominant class are seen as unable to understand the experiences of people of the marginalized class and therefore they must always take those experiences at face value.

This means that if therapist who has a strong orientation towards social justice and works with trans people they will tend to see their problems as due to oppression, and additionally feel they should not question the client’s narrative which must be taken at face value as they are oppressed people. At first I found it perplexing this practice of engaging in minimal assessment for something as serious as hormonal treatment and surgery. This seemed irresponsible especially given as I am trained as a therapist and understand how much focus is generally placed on assessment for other conditions. Now, I understand it is not so much irresponsibility, as morality. It is not that they consider it unnecessary to do assessment; it is that they actually consider it immoral to do assessment!

This is intended to help trans people and other marginalized people, but it actually can cause harm. What it means in essence is that if someone is a member of a dominant class they receive regular psychotherapy but if they aren’t they receive a special kind of social justice psychotherapy. I do think it is important that the legitimate issues that arise from social justice thinking be considered, but not at the expense of regular therapy. I feel I have been profoundly harmed by my original therapist’s failure to encourage deep exploration of my issues, versus simply “affirming my identity”.

Because of this, gender therapy is reduced to just a few steps, specifically:

1. Eliminate sources of oppression (internal and external). If the person does not accept their trans identity then that is internalized oppression, if someone else in their life questions their trans identity, than that is just due to their prejudice and privilege that makes them not understand the gender-questioning person in question.
2. Affirm and validate their identity. In particular don’t question their identity, or assume the possibility of other underlying causes, a privileged person should never question the narrative of a marginalized person.
3. Make them aware of their options and make sure they have adequate resources and support to get through transition.

A few months ago, I attended a conference about trans health. At this conference, there was a presentation titled something like “assessments for mental health” and I was excited to attend this presentation because I thought I might finally come across some good information on this topic, which every training and conference I attend never seems to have. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed. The presenters presented a case study of a client who had psychotic symptoms, and issues with dissociation. Surely some caution would be indicated in this case. Of course, the answer was “we found a way to get them enough resources and support to have that surgery” and there was nothing about any kind of evaluation of whether they should do this or not.

I have attended four separate trainings on working with trans clients and they all were more or less like this. Everything in the training was about cultural competency and better understanding trans people. There might also be something about the nuts and bolts of transition as well. However there was never anything about how to help people deal with their issues without transition, or how to differentiate between those who will do well with transition and those who won’t.

Here is an example of a syllabus for a class for therapists to learn about trans issues. Notice that everything in the syllabus is about learning about the experiences of trans people and how to affirm them. Again, nothing about the dynamics that might lead to transition, what factors should lead to extra caution, or how to help someone figure out if they can deal with their issues without transition.

Again, it is very appropriate to consider social justice factors when working with trans people, but it should not be considered the sole factor and overshadow regular clinical judgment. Paradoxically, serving social justice requires making sure that social justice ideas don’t result in substandard therapy for sexual minorities like trans people.

Where did I go?

Where did I go?   I fell into a grad school hole.   I started a PhD program in clinical psychology this fall, and our workload for the first quarter was very demanding. I ended up regularly working 60-70 hour weeks and the last thing I wanted to do was more writing. Now the quarter is over, and I am back.

I am questioning whether school is something I want to continue with or not.   I was hoping to get more involved in the scientific/research end of psychology in addition to the clinical end which I really can’t do with counseling degree.   However, I am wondering if this is interfering with my work rather than aiding it. This path greatly delays the amount of time it will take until I will be able to be in independent practice, something I could do in about 1.5 – 2 years at the Master’s level, but will take more like 5-6 years on this path.   Also it will be several years before I can actually do any kind of research on my own interests. I do feel it is very complimentary to my previous training, my master’s program was in holistic counseling, and this program is very much in the academic/scientific tradition which has a totally different culture to it.   So, that is something for me to figure out.

It has been good to take a break from writing the blog, I find it very difficult to avoid getting sucked into all of the toxic politics around these issues. My primary goal for this blog is to help people dealing with dysphoria, and finding better ways to deal with their dysphoria than transition.   I don’t expect those ways to work for everyone, but even if they work for some people that is a good thing.   I don’t have any moral or philosophical objection to transition, hormones or surgery. I just think they are awful experiences that people should not have to undergo unless necessary. I feel that I lost a lot of opportunities as a result of this, from not being able to have a family, to dealing with social stigma, to relationship difficulties, and various mental health issues stemming from untreated trauma and taking too high dosages of estrogen.   On the other hand I recognize that some of the challenges of transition arise directly from stigma, and I don’t want to contribute to the stigma faced by trans people either.

Although, I do have a secondary goal of bringing awareness of these issues to mental health professionals, both the issues of detransitioners, and even more importantly working to find ways to prevent unnecessary transitioning.   Increasingly, at least in the USA, there is no exploration happening at all, and some therapists even find it offensive to explore or question with their clients. I think a lot of this ties into “social justice” ideology, which I wrote about a little bit here. and guest poster Lane on the blog also wrote about.   I will write some more on this, as I am finding this ideology very prevalent in my psychology program, I don’t know if many people realize the extent to which it has taken over many parts of the field. It is important to note that one can oppose social justice ideology, without being against its goals of equality or ending oppression which are admirable.   Indeed one important reason to oppose it is the harm that it can cause to minorities and particularly vulnerable people dealing with gender issues.   Jonathan Haidt and others write about the issues of political monocultures leading to groupthink and blind spots and the people at Heterodox Academy write about these issues well.

Also, I have been taking some time to reflect upon detransition.   It has been over 2 years since my detransition, and over 3 years since I started on T. There have been things that are good about detransition, but there have been some losses as well. It is not possible to fully restore things to the way things were.   In some ways things are better. It is so great to let go of having to speak with a voice that was not my own, and to just be able to be myself without worrying about how my gender is perceived. I also find much to my surprise that I really enjoy hanging out in groups of guys as a guy, I feel like I fit in there. None of the guys I hang out with are “dudebros”, some of them are gay/bi, a lot of them are nerdy or psychology people, but it feels really good to hang out with them. Also being on testosterone has granted me more vitality and energy, greater emotional stability and generally sharper thinking.

However there are still problems that remain. For one it is impossible to get my hormone levels right. I have experimented with a wide variety of different levels and gotten it the best I can. If my levels are too low I suffer from low energy and fatigue, if they are too high I end up with too many angry thoughts and too much sex drive. I find the best middle I can but it doesn’t quite work right.   I even experimented briefly with not having it, which leads to feeling calm and peaceful but not quite alive. Also going without sex hormones is bad for long-term health. But, who knows what the long-term health consequences are. I have no idea if I am helping or harming my health by taking T, compared to nothing at all or E.

Another problem is I keenly feel a loss of community.   I was an active part of various queer communities for the past 20 years.   When I was younger I was largely focused on the bi community but also spent time in general alternative sexual minority communities.   I once co-hosted a radio show on bi issues, went to conferenes of various kinds, and worked in a queer counseling center.   The queer community was my people, and now I feel alienated from those communities due to my detransition and critical views around gender.   It is hard to go against what I considered to be my people, but I think it is very important to speak truth.

It is especially strange to be doing this right in the middle of time where there are more out trans people than ever and in many ways trans people are celebrated. I don’t at all mean to say that trans people don’t suffer a lot of stigma and problems, but there are certain subcultures where this is well accepted.   They happen to be the subcultures that I mostly live in, and I feel like I will get in far more trouble for being critical around gender issues than for being trans.   Letting go of my trans identity right at the moment when more acceptance is happening feels especially strange. I still struggle with shame around transitioning in the first place and ending up in this place. I haven’t shared about my transition/detransition with my grad school colleagues or many of my newer acquaintances/friends.

Another area that is especially challenging is dating. Even though dating as a trans woman was definitely a challenge, there were actually quite a lot of people that were attracted to me. Some of these people also didn’t have any problem with my being trans. The irony is that the real problem was me. A lot of people that were attracted to me were attracted to aspects of my androgyny or even appreciated that I was trans. However, that was unacceptable to me, as I was so wrapped up in my “gender identity” that I was very closed off about talking about being trans, and wanted to people to validate my identity, so if they were attracted to my being trans or masculine qualities that was very uncomfortable and unacceptable. I became very difficult to get close to, and that closed offness was a bigger barrier to relationships than being trans was actually.

Now, I just feel invisible. I do get read as male, but still have quite a bit of breast growth and barely grow any facial hair. I am pretty sure I will do something about my breast growth, and I think it will feel better not to feel the need to wear baggy clothes and conceal things all the time. Part of me feels good about doing that, but part of me procrastinates because it feels like it is doing the same thing again, changing my body so I can be myself.   I did briefly date a woman who was a friend that I knew before detranstion, but since then haven’t met anyone. I think I am reluctant to approach people because I don’t know how to explain my body to them, I know that is something I need to get over. I just really wanted to share the good of detransition as well as the bad, I think that is important.

That is where I am now, I am hoping to get a few more posts out over my break, and catch up with people.