Monday, 30 June 2014

the search for legitimacy

Fetish versus identity. This is the key issue at the core of it all. Yes I know I have dealt with this many times before but this a kind of synposis.

Late transitioning woman-loving transsexuals tagged by Ray Blanchard as autogynephilic are, according to his theory, driven by a love of self as woman. They are men suffering from target location error. But let's look a little deeper at this hypothesis.

Most gender dysphorics understand there is something different about them between age 4 and 7. They begin to fully or partially identify with female things (clothing, activities, etc) and are also typically dissuaded from doing so by their families. This is well before the age of sexualisation and often comes without encouragement of any kind from outside forces.This is our first hitch because advocates of AGP theory need to be certain that sexual fetishes can develop in children as young as age three.

We also know that as dysphorics age their association with a self perceived feminine core intensifies even as the effects of testosterone and corresponding sex drive diminish. Logic would dictate that the fetish should wane in proportion with these key factors. However the dysphoria seems to intensify and in some cases prompts a transition. The argument that the fetish itself morphs into dysphoria makes little sense since a sexual fetish needs an erotic furnace to feed it.

What I had read about has been happening to me and my earnest attempt to make Joanna my version of a real woman in the world far exceeds where I thought she would be. I have no plans to ever transition but this need for validation of my female identity is there and it needs to be acknowledged.

This is why Harry Benjamin had so much trouble identifying the difference between transvestism and transsexualism in some his patients. He wondered out loud whether the basic transsexualism was causing the cross dressing or whether the transvestism was progressive in nature. He never had an answer for this but people like Virginia Prince and Katherine Cummings represent the kind of patients that typifiy this question.

Prince started off as a self labelled heterosexual crossdresser and yet lived as a woman in her advancing years and until her death with the only missing element being bottom surgery to complete the transformation. Was she a transsexual in denial or did her dysphoria grow and progress over time?

Both Prince and Cummings would be for Blanchard archetypes of autogynephilic transsexuals and yet so many questions remain that put this simplistic diagnosis into question.

If there is a biological predisposition for gender dysphoria we have not yet found it but my strong suspicion is that it exists. And if it does then why can't fetishism exist in parallel with gender dysphoria? I could even them being confused for each other during the turbulent search for identity in a teenage boy.

Another wrinkle is that therapists who treat gender dysphoria have no first hand knowledge of what they are dealing with and that is unfortunate. It is such a rare disorder that most people working in the field are really there to provide steady reassurance that all will be well. At best they serve as confidants and moral support but at worst they can become cheerleaders for transitions that should never happen. I now realize that the gender treatment I received years ago only helped with self acceptance but did not work to offer practical help on how to deal with the feelings.

I am still thankful nonetheless for the work that my young therapist did to help me and will always be indebted to her for that.

Casa Susanna

Sunday, 29 June 2014

in your skin

Happy in your skin. Simple isn't it? Well yes and no.

In the end that is all that matters and after all the reflecting and thinking that is the ultimate objective is it not?

You are living day to day and you need to function and be relatively content with who you are. No life is not perfect and the many challenges will come our way but if you are armed with self awareness and love for who you are inside you can manage quite a lot.

Being happy in one's own skin can take a very long time and since we all carry baggage it can be at times daunting to get there but that is what is required of us if we are to be loving partners, parents and employees.

Dysphoric or not, we all need to find the core of what makes us tick. Whether it be through spiritual means, meditation or psychological treatments we need that reflective time for self examination and study.

Out of that work will come a whole human being.

Getting there opens the pores of the mind and heart and allows you to think more clearly than you ever thought possible and with that will come the answer for how to deal with the feelings.

It all starts with the reset button of letting go of excessive weights we have carried all our lives. Once we drop those we can breathe and really allow for that long hard look in the mirror.Certainly it should be a prerequisite before considering something like a transition.

The reflection looking back may be someone you barely recognize.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

some of what I have learnt thus far...

When I was trying to understand myself and where I fit into the gender spectrum I spent a lot of time researching and reading. My research included the work of Ray Blanchard and Anne Lawrence and their theories on autogynephilia which in turn led me eventually to Jack Molay’s wonderful Crossdreamers site where I found many interesting comments and stories from people very similar to myself..

One of the aspects that I learnt that I did not know before was that non crossdressing dysphorics and non dysphoric but AGP identifying posters mentioned that they read TG fiction and/or viewed imagery. Having never done this myself I could not relate but it made sense to me that a person desiring in some way to identify with or be the other sex (even temporarily) would need an outlet for their feelings.

I have come to conclude that the curiosity about what it might be like to be the opposite gender is not all that uncommon. I think many people flirt with the idea and go through phases in their lives. I have read so many stories now that I have come to realize that there are many permutations out there on this common theme which is actually borne out of human curiosity and playfulness. Many artists, poets and writers have imagined themselves as the opposite sex and many experimented with cross dressing and even with their sexuality.

The difference with the dysphoric is the feelings are much stronger and more persistent and they are not easily brushed or put aside. The stronger the feelings are the less the person is able to identity with their birth sex and the less they are able to function in their expected gender role.

But reading the many different postings on Crossdreamers made me realize the myriad of variations that existed were slightly different from my own and yet common in that they related to a wish to explore the other gender role more deeply; some people strongly dysphoric and being unhappy with their bodies and some not.

I also learnt that there were female dysphorics. They were ignored by Blanchard but they are there and I suspect because at the time that Blanchard was doing his work very few females were presenting for gender reassignment surgery. They exist and although not as numerous as MtF transsexuals they are very much a real phenomenon. One possible explanation for their reduced number could be that all foetuses initially start as females only to become male later in the gestation period. That could perhaps make for a less likely possibility that the individual might become gender dysphoric later on.

Regardless, what I had previously thought to be a more monolithic phenomenon,has turned out to be far more complex model than I ever imagined. It has opened my mind to the reality that the combination of gender and sexuality and nurture versus nature become uniquely combined in every individual. This makes for a highly unpredictable outcome as to what a person will do with their gender and sexuality later in life.

As we have seen in some people, this mixture even morphs over the course of the person’s lifetime.

I am very glad for the work that I have put into studying this topic over the last few years and am deeply impressed by the tenacity of both the human spirit and the bravery of people who defy societal taboos to be who they really are.

It really is quite inspiring.

Friday, 27 June 2014

riding the rails

Public transit is a good barometer for me as to how well I am blending in.

I used to be petrified of taking the bus or the subway as Joanna for fear I would be read and harassed or just plain stared at in derision. So it took me quite some time to work up the courage to finally face my fears over this self imposed taboo and go for broke.

There were the times when my trepidation was confirmed and someone would notice me but then the nervousness and discomfort which were plastered on my face were blatantly noticeable. I was not helping myself at all.

It took me a while to learn to relax and the more I did so the less I was being noticed or read. Nothing in my presentation had changed save the most important element: my self confidence.

This simple litmus test confirmed that I was really getting somewhere with my public personna as Joanna.

Now I don't give taking the subway a second thought during the daylight hours now and it's given me more options for getting to places when driving is just not a good option. It's also more environmentally friendly and less costly.

A win win scenario.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

our male and female identity

In his practice, Harry Benjamin noted that there was a progressive nature to the transvestism (and I use the historical term here) of many of his patients. Some were clearly transsexuals in denial but even for those who were not, many progressed over time into living and behaving in more authentically female ways.

We have examples like Katherine Cummings, Virginia Prince, Susanna Valenti and even more currently the husband (now wife) of Helen Boyd who first identified as a crossdresser. Certainly when Helen wrote her first book in 2003 that was the case but things changed slowly over time.

In all of the examples cited, the person went on to a full or partial physical transition and full time living as a female.

Is gender dysphoria rooted in an inherent and prewired full or partial female identity? I believe the answer is yes.

The burning question however is not whether such an identity exists. The more pertinent question is: understanding that there is some level of innate “femaleness” present how does one proceed to deal with this reality?

Certainly a history of crossdressing does not signify much. The vast majority of Anne Vitale’s 200+ patients for example had gone through such a phase, however brief or long, before transitioning. So that is not an indicator per se.

What I like about today however is that we are entering a phase of history where choosing to be gender variant is becoming a valid option for dysphorics. By adopting a transgender identity you can choose to remain just that – a dual gendered being. You don’t have to transition but you can choose to.

My genitals don't define me but my brain does and I can choose to refrain from adhering perfectly to the binary. After all I was born this way and and how I choose to express gender is entirely up to me.

Yesterday Josh commented on my blog that it was hard to like his male side and I would contend that the best place to start is by looking at the person you are regardless of gender. You are a person first and not a stereotype and all decisions made about your gender role I think should be made from a positive perspective; meaning that the female in you should not win out because you hate the male you but instead because you feel more inherently female to begin with.

It's so difficult to separate ourselves from the expectations of gender behaviour because we have been conditioned from earliest memory to conform to the norm. But I would propose that we need to be outside of this imposed box in order to heal ourselves and find a way that effectively deals with our dysphoria. Once in a good place internally you can go from there but I think that includes loving who you are right now.

Here is a wonderfully written article.....

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

an organic process

For the first time in my life I am happy with both my male and female presentations.

Yes there was the inevitably journey to mental peace about how to deal effectively with my dysphoria but along with that came the work to achieve a physical presentation that would allow me to comfortably go out in public with a certain degree of confidence and comfort.

At present, I feel I have developed a style of clothing and makeup that works for me. It is age appropriate, not overly flash but not dowdy or matronly either. It is a palette that has taken a little bit of time to develop and it has happened in tiny steps; as all good things do.

Because we are not trained from a young age as females, it takes us a while to develop a look that is uniquely our own and works for our body type. Everyone has colours and styles they favour but that does not mean we can pull them off nor should we try.

When you find something that works you know it. Clothes fit better and you look yourself up and down in the mirror and say: yes that’s it.

I like to think that it’s the organic me because I have blended everything that defines me into both male and female presentations and can be proud of both. They both represent who I am and give me comfort and joy.

The mental process however is the most difficult and once you develop the self confidence and poise to carry yourself proudly in the world the physical comes along for the ride in due time.

And it does so slowly and organically.