Posts Tagged ‘Identity Theory’
Close your eyes for a moment and allow your mind to picture yourself. Go ahead; I’ll wait.
The image you see is not a memory. Nor is it an idealised version of yourself. The image is a mental understanding of your corporeality. It is a template that helps your mind interact with the physical world without having to visually monitor your actions. It can be thought of as a mental “you are here” map, that allows one to navigate their vessel of blood and bone through the rather hazardous environment we live in. This internal body template is what allows us to crack an egg without splattering it all over the counter, to pull our foot back when we step on a tack without toppling over, and to experience the physical and emotional sensations associated with sex. It is a rather nifty little trick, when it works, but what happens when it doesn’t work? What if there is a disconnect between the corporeality and the mind?
That’s when things get messy.
Imagine Lisa, an average woman with an accurate internal image. Granted, it is locked-in at twenty-five and she is pushing forty, but other than some grey hairs and a pound or two the image is as accurate as human beings can get. Until there is an accident at work and she loses her left hand at the wrist. Now there is a dramatic contrast between her corporeality and her internal image. The doctors call this phantom limb sensation. The hand is missing but the mind does not recognise its absence. The truth is her left hand is gone. The truth is her left hand is still there. The truth of its physical absence does not alter the truth of the impulses traveling between the brain and where the hand was. She will still unconsciously reach out for something, she will still shield her face or try to catch herself with it when she stumbles, and the brain will still receive sensations from it (usually pain, tingling, or pressure). Lisa is experiencing bodily dysphoria.
Imagine Geoffrey, a twenty-three year old graduate student working an IT internship for a local law firm. On the weekends he likes to compete in body building and strongman competitions. His corporeality is a toned, muscular, five-eleven, one hundred eighty-three pound man. His internal image is locked-in at the one hundred and two pound, lightweight, weakling he was at eighteen. When he looks in the mirror he does not see the strength and redoubles his efforts at the gym. He gives up his social life and his internship to pursue more bulk, he just isn’t big enough. He pursues this goal not to get to something, but to escape something. To escape an internalised image of himself, but no amount of weight lifting will change that image. Geoffrey is experiencing bodily dysphoria.
I have always known I was female. It was not until I was four and starting kindergarten that this knowledge clashed with anything external, when I was wrongly placed in with the boys every time we divided up on gender lines. I went home and asked my parents how people could tell the difference between girls and boys and I received the standard answer regarding girl parts and boy parts. I was, also, informed that I was boy. This news crushed me. I knew I was a girl, but everyone around me believed the opposite. It was confusing and I did what every kid does with the things that make no sense: I ignored it. After all, at this point there really was no noticeable difference for me between girls and boys except hair length and clothes. I had red pants, which I knew was a girl’s colour, and foppish hair, so eventually everyone would realise their mistake and we would all move on. I continued to play house and Care Bears and Thundercats and whatever else was popular with the kids and waited for everyone else to come to their senses. An effective tactic, until I hit puberty and all the girls developed breasts and curves. All of them except me, that is. I got facial hair and a deepening voice. While the other girls were complimented on their slenderness and softness, I was made fun of for being scrawny and weak. My parents, concerned about my lack of weight and muscle, started giving me protein shakes with my meals. In less than a year, I went from a happy girl to a confused teenager who couldn’t look in the mirror or have her picture taken without having an anxiety attack. I had pulled the lever on the dysphoria bandit and it came up all sevens.
Pause a moment to consider something. In the first two cases this disconnect between mind and body is labeled bodily dysphoria. This is, also, how it is labeled in other situations (e.g. paraplegia, anorexia), but in my case it is labeled gender dysphoria. The reason? In the other cases the alternative image, the mental image, is considered viable. It is viable to be mobile, to have all your limbs, to be built like The Rock, and to be Kate Moss thin. In my case, the mental image is not considered viable. To be a gender other than the one you were designated at birth is not an option. This labeling says far more about psychiatric opinion of the trans* experience than it does about the dysphoria. Something to ponder.
During puberty, and every day afterward, I felt betrayed by my body. I hated how I looked, I hated my anatomy, I hated whatever cosmic joker had given a girl and male body. I could not look in the mirror without feeling despondent and as the changes progressed I slipped into depression. I could not tell anyone about this because I would be labeled a freak. I figured the news would kill, literally kill, my parents and my brother would be shamed and mocked because he was related to me. So my mind did the only thing it could do to protect itself: disassociate itself from my body. When I looked in the mirror it was like I was looking at a different person. Someone whose body I had to take care of until they returned with mine. As a result, physical sensation meant very little to me. Instead I received my emotional connection through words and ideas. I also became a fantasy and science fiction junkie. I would become absorbed in the stories, identifying with the female characters. It allowed me a vicarious physicality without having to associate myself with my traitorous body. I also invented stories of my own. In my stories there was always someone who was designated male at birth (DMAB) who would through magic, technology, or coercion be physically transformed to female.
Once I hit senior high school fantasy was no longer a viable escape for me. My peers had discovered sexuality and were pairing off with each other or getting off to thoughts of the other. I could not because it involved a connection to the body that I did not have. Also, dating would have been awkward. I was not interested in girls romantically. If I thought they were beautiful it was usually accompanied with a jealous longing to look like them. Neither was I interested in boys because that would have made me (according to how everyone perceived my sex) homosexual and I certainly was not gay. God forbid, I would have been royally screwed up then, a girl in a boy’s body was bad enough but to make it gay also? So I made my first transition. Not physically, but mentally. I went from fantasising or longing for a body that matched to the first steps in making that body match. At this point I was discovering the transformative power of clothing and accessories. I purchased or asked for rings and necklaces that could be read androgynously things that would blend but still empower my femininity. This was satisfying for a while but the need to transform grew. That was when I discovered theatre. As someone involved in theatre it was okay for me to be a little off, or a touch eccentric. It gave me the opportunity to be someone else, anyone else. Even an hour and half as another person was relief. And then there was the wardrobe room. I did not need a closet that doubled as a gateway to Narnia, I just needed this one wall length closet stuffed with skirts, blouses, and accessories. I snuck in there every chance I got. At first I had to create reasons to borrow my English instructor’s keys long enough to quick unlock and prop the door or to concoct a story legitimate sounding enough to get one of the janitors to open it. I worried about this becoming suspicious and with a little patience and practice I learned how to jimmy both the theatre and wardrobe room doors. Here I could be myself, I could transform, and everything seemed to be in alignment. I would invent reasons to stay after school or tell the director I was working on sets so I could get time alone in theatre. It was my only escape from the dysphoria and without it I would not have lived to graduate.
The trouble with dysphoria is it is a hungry condition. Like Audrey II it demands to be feed and each feeding makes it a little stronger and a little bigger. But its more vile than the plant from outer space because unlike Audrey II, starving dysphoria makes it even stronger. When I reached college it was no longer enough to see my body looking like my minds image. I needed recognition of who I was. Not the whole world, but at least one person. I dated a few girls but that never worked because they were looking for a boyfriend and I was looking to be like them. I dated a few boys but, again, they were looking for a boyfriend and I wanted to be their girlfriend. And as far as sex went, forget it! I didn’t want anyone anywhere near my genitals. There was only one girl who ever came close to having sex with me and that was because she was very tomboyish, and I still had to shower immediately after. So I did the only thing I could think of, I grew my hair, hung out primarily with other girls, and hoped I would experience gender by proxy. Every time someone “misgendered” me I thrilled.
As college came to a close, even this was not enough to ease the dysphoria. I had immersed myself in fantasy, I had transformed for myself, and I had sought recognition from others; it was time to get scientific about battling my dysphoria. My first year of college was also the year the internet entered commercialisation. So by the end of college I had enough of a grasp on how to use the internet that I could start looking for answers. Mostly what I found was “she-male” and “tranny” porn. I found the images a bizarre mix of repulsive and triggering. I wanted nothing to do with it and at the same time there was an idolising of these women brave enough to become who they were. Beyond the porn, and internet without safety filters is loaded with porn, I found a few sites that provided answers and suggestions. I learned the term transsexual, I discovered there were operations and hormone therapy available for a price (astronomical). In the year after college and my first two years of graduate school I feel victim to every charlatan and snake oil scheme the internet had to offer. I tried diets, exercises, lotions, pills, anything that would ease the constant feelings of anxiety and depression associated with the dysphoria. Nothing worked for more than a month. Finally, my dysphoria hit critical mass and I attempted to transition.
It was a failure. People were bigoted and judgmental. Basically, they assumed I had lost my mind. And somehow, I knew without even really considering it, that bringing all this home to my parents was not an option. So I stuffed it all back down but those few months were enough to drop the dysphoria back to manageable levels and I kept it there by incorporating small touches of feminine clothing into my wardrobe (a shirt or pair of shorts) and jewelry. On its own this would not have held the dysphoria in check for long, but I was also introduced to the woman I fell in love with and married. For her I could hold the dysphoria in check. For awhile I even thought I had been cured, as Boylan says in her memoirs “cured by love.” But our marriage had other problems, big ones, and we started seeing a marital therapist even before we were officially married. The diagnosis he gave me was that I was not masculine enough. That I, literally, needed to man-up if I wanted my marriage to survive. So I did. I threw myself into the men’s movement. I read books like Iron John and Wild at Heart; I attended a men’s retreat and had men’s breakfast every Saturday. I was going to ignore my internal knowledge, I was going to conquer my dysphoria, and I was going to save my marriage. Instead I became withdrawn, disassociated from my body and interactions with others, and my already dysphoricly enhanced temper Hulked out every time my presentation of masculinity was questioned or threatened. I was miserable. I started self-medicating with phytoestrogens purchased over the internet and shipped from Thailand. In my alone time, which I had a lot of, I dressed and experimented with make-up and nail polish. I did whatever I had to ease the dysphoria so it would not destroy a marriage that was already on rough ground. And then everything went splat.
I was at home, in a dress, trying to ease the dysphoria before my wife came home so that we could have a nice hour together before we went to bed. I had started taking photographs as a way of getting the recognition I craved. I never did anything with the photos I just snapped them with my digital camera and stored them in an encrypted file on my computer. The photographs downloaded and camera equipment put away, I had just settled onto the couch to relax for half an hour when the door opened. My wife had come home early. She saw me. My whole sense of self splattered across us and our marriage. The decent into divorce escalated.
A year-plus later and I am rebuilding my life. This time, I am ignoring what everyone else thinks I am and I am rebuilding it as me. I am female. I always have been, despite how my body was designated. The dysphoria I feel is still present. I still have days where I cannot look in the mirror without crying and there are still aspects of my body I regard with disgust. Due to years of testosterone damage and some abusive mistreatment of my body I will never be free of the dysphoria. But with each change I make it eases, just a little. I’m happier now than I have ever been. I hope that each year sees this happiness grow. If you are privileged with never experiencing dysphoria you are lucky person and I envy you. You are beautiful beyond what you will ever realise. And all I ask of you is that you accept who I am in my search for my beauty and that you are patient when I refuse to believe your reassurances that I am.
- Tom Gabel announces he’s transgender: What is gender dysphoria? (cbsnews.com)
- Help! I Have A Uterus! (waywardgrace.wordpress.com)
Our existence is dependent on two conditions, which together, I call mutual validation. The idea here is for me to completely exist as a person I must be observed and I must be aware of the observation (that is, I must in turn observe the observation).
First, we must be observed. Our existence is only partial as long as people are unaware of the existence. Take my neighbours, for example, their behaviour should be dependent on the existence of the other people in the building. If they are aware of the others they limit the behaviour accordingly. Music is kept at a reasonable volume, voices are not unnecessarily raised, garbage is cleaned up. The awareness of the other means their behaviour is altered, in other words the other person’s existence is validated by the fact they have had direct influence on the neighbour’s behaviour. But if our neighbours play their music at excessive volume, leave trash outside the door, and they host an all night mosh pit and kegger in the hallway, then we don’t exist. They are not aware of us, we have no influence on their behaviour and we are as good as ghosted.
We see this also in discussions, for example a misogynist is telling a joke about women when he notices I am in the room and he elects not to tell the joke. My existence as a person, specifically a female person, has just been validated because it has had an impact on another person. If the misogynist told the joke to me in order to offend me, I would also exist because their behaviour has been altered, albeit negatively, by my presence. If, however, the misogynist is sitting at a table with a male colleague and me and he tells the joke to the male colleague without considering my potential reaction (positive or negative), I have been erased and thus do not exist.
It is also necessary for us to observe this acknowledgement. If we are not aware of the other person thinking of us then we have invalidated their existence. If their existence has been invalidated then there is nothing they can do to validate our existence, thus by denying the other person existence we deny ourself existence. So, if you are thinking of your Mum and she is thinking if you, you are engaged in mutual validation and are holding each other’s place in the world. But, if you are thinking of your mum and she is unaware of your thinking of her those thoughts have no substantial abilities, they do not impact the other person and have been erased, become non-existential.
I have not left my flat in three days. Because I have been unobserved by others my existence in the world is negated. I must interact with another being capable of perception to sustain my existence. So, I post a blog or a Facebook message. This message is seen by others and they reply or choose to “like” the post, which I then see. Now I exist, because I have had an impact outside of myself and I have observed the results of that impact, I have been validated and validated in return. Along those lines, when my cat is meowing for supper and I feed him, I again exist. But if I write someone and they do not respond, even though they have read the email, my existence is not sustained because I am unaware of the interaction with what I have put out as an extension of self. Likewise, should I choose to ignore the cat, his existence is denied and by denying him existence he is unable to validate my existence and thus through neglect of him I become less.
This speaks volumes to the idea of being in community and how we treat one another. When we assign value to the other person we are in turn assigning value to ourselves. By meeting another person where they are at we impact them, the impact is observed, and we observe the results of that impact. In other words altruism is literally the key to our survival, it affords the greatest possible positive reaction, which in turn gives us the greatest degree of validation and we exist as people.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 1.
1) When did you realize the term transgender referred to you?
I cannot remember when I first realized the term was descriptive of me. It was, maybe, in college when I realized the Internet could be used to find information you cannot ask others about. Of course, the first several sites Netscape took me to were “she-male” porn sites. Imagine, my first exposure to the idea there were others out there like me and it was porn. No wonder it took another decade plus a few for me to accept that it was descriptive of me and I had to do something about it. Despite always kinda knowing, I have only embraced who I am in the last seven months.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 2.
2) How did you choose your name, and what names were you thinking about using and why?
Choosing a name is difficult because, like your original name, the plan is you are stuck with it for the rest of your life. You certainly do not want to choose something that will come back to bite you in the ass. At first I was going to go with a feminized version of my birth-name, ——-, but after thought on the issue I decided it would make it difficult for those close to me to remember to use proper pronouns or to see me as I am and not as I was. This is a bit of a sad thing for me, because I liked my birth name (and I do occasionally use it with online games like Farmville, I can’t believe I just outed myself as a Farmvillian).
I had also considered the name Melody or River, but decided against this because the choice was based on admiration for a strong female character from television. This works fine for a nickname that you can disregard later, but I did not want to go with that as my actual name because it seemed a bit flippant and, god forbid, I should find myself hating the character later and thus my name.
I wanted something that would have meaning to me, but also honor my family—as my parents and I still have a strong bond. I talked to them about what name they had considered for a baby girl. Their choice: Guinevere. Now, Guinevere is a bit archaic for my tastes and I cannot stand the nickname Gwen (no offense to all you Gwens out there). I did a little research and learned that Guinevere is Gaelic (Welsh to be exact) and the Anglo-Saxon version is Jennifer. Jennifer also happened to align in popularity with my birth-name from my birth-year (serendipity). My parents liked it and it was confirmed for me by the use of Jenny in Doctor Who—which struck me as a brilliant and subtle reference to a show that inspired my original thoughts on regenerating and identity. It all came together so perfectly that, in retrospect, there could never have been another choice.
As for my middle name, I let my brother pick it for me. I really wanted him to be part of the process and for him to know how much his support and love means to me.
That’s how I ended up Jennifer “Jenny” Caitlin. But I still get a thrill when people call me by my nickname: River.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 3.
3) Have you ever been outed?
I have been outed a couple of times. The one that stands out most clearly in my mind happened about six months ago. I was at the grocery store picking up a few items and the cashier in the check out lane decided it was his responsibility to make sure everyone else in line knew I “was male.” The person behind me let me use their Safeway card and the cashier said, “Thank you for helping HIM with HIS groceries.” There was a caustic tone every time he used the male pronouns. He was trying to remind me of “what I was” and to make me ashamed of who I am.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 4.
4) How did your family take it when you came out?
My immediate family took it well overall. My brother has been the most supportive. He is a recovering alcoholic so he understands what it is like to be trapped in a state that is not who you are. He has been a rock of stability as the ground quakes with change. My Mum has been pretty cool with it. She is an aging hippie (one of the originals) so she is very into the ideals of freedom and self-expression. My Dad was the one I was most worried about. He is a the epitome of manhood and, although he is accepting and loves me all the same, he was also hoping there was another way of finding peace. He asked why I could not just be a bachelor. I had to explain to him that it was not about who I might have sex with but who I was; I could not be a bachelor anymore than I could be a playboy. He has moments still where he is very sad, but he is supportive and is starting to see that I am still me, just more me.
Extended family has been a mixed bag. My grandparents (surprisingly) have been very supportive. Most of my extended family well that all depends on if we are talking about the maternal side or paternal side. Let’s just say the maternal side has taken the news better.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 5.
5) Are you active in the trans community or LGBTQ community?
Yes, I am. One of the unique things about my regeneration is I am more socially/sociologically/societally conscious. One of the major reasons for this is the amount of time and energy I now have.
Before, I was expending all my time and energy on maintaining my disguise. Being who I was (read: who society wanted me to be) was a constant vigil, an unending self-monitoring, that never went anywhere because it took all my effort to stand in one place. People described me as steadfast and a bedrock. That was because I was unable to progress beyond the illusion into deeper territory.
Also, without the Trans* and LGBTQ community I would have no local friends. Zip. Zilch. Zero. People who knew the previous incarnation have expressed disinterest in the regenerated me or, on a few occasions, out-and-out hostility toward me. The Trans* and LGBTQ community, though they did not know me from Lilith, accepted and supported me, so I do everything I can to show my acceptance and support of them.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 6.
6) Who was the first person you told about being Trans*?
That is a hard question to answer. I have told elements of my story to people through out the years but because I did not have the terminology or understanding I could not make myself clear to them whom were even more confused by what I was trying to say than I was. The first person to piece my muddled confessions into a coherent picture was my brother. He did not put all the thoughts in order but he gathered enough pieces into one place that he was able to make a clear image of them. He has also been my greatest source of love and support.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 7.
7) Who do you look up to?
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 8.
8 ) How do you deal with being read/mis-gendered in the beginning of transitioning by people?
It all depends on the day and my emotional state. Sometimes I get embarrassed and hang my head in shame. Sometimes I get offend and I correct them. Sometimes I just cannot be bothered with it.
It is the first that is the most disturbing for me. Why should I feel shame because someone else cannot figure out who I am? Why should I feel embarrassed because someone else doesn’t like who I am? I don’t understand the insistent need to apologize to people that I have. This need angers me even more than the mis-gendering (and the mis-gendering is definitely angering, I am in feminine clothing and have breasts, fucking get it right!) It is after the intense burst of shame that I am most angry with myself. Angry that I am so compliant, angry at the damage over-exposure to testosterone has done to my body, angry at the world for being so closed minded I had to wait thirty years before it was safe to admit who I was.
I don’t hate my life. I do hate how broken and damaged it is.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 9.
9) What is something positive about being trans?
Having lived as both genders I have a deeper, richer insight into the human condition and that makes me a better novelist.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 10.
10) What are some of your fears in regards to being trans?
I love how this question is phrased. What are some of your fears? If I listed all of my fears, the post would be ridonkulously long. I’ll just go with my top three.
3. That my body will develop abnormally. This is a rather legitimate concern. I found myself with the wrong physicality to begin with, so how do I know things will not get muddled again. And there is the question of testosterone damage. In spite of being on HRT there were still thirty-four years of over-exposure to T. So I am very concerned about how my body will develop.
2. Being a trans woman will make it impossible to do my job. As a teacher my credibility is an important issue. If I do not come across as sound of intellect and psyche, the students will disregard my instruction (in regards to both content and life-application). I am ranked, nationally, in the top one percent of English instructors yet my identity as a trans woman matters more to most parents and students than my qualifications as an exceptional instructor.
1. I will never know anonymity again. At this point in the journey I am open about who I am, partially because I believe others knowing about this journey and condition will increase tolerance and social acceptance and partially because I cannot consistently pass (sometimes I wonder if I ever pass or if on those occasions where I seem to I am just interacting with one of the few people in this world who know how to be polite and respectful). Will I always be open? I do not have an answer to that, but I do know that I would love to walk down the street without attracting attention, without the stares, without the comments, and without the laughter. My biggest fear is how things are now is how they will always be.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 11.
11) How do you manage dysphoria?
I do not like the phrasing of this question. “Manage” makes dysphoria sound bland and inconsequential like how do you manage your portfolio or how do you manage your morning routine? I do not manage my dysphoria, or perhaps I do not manage it well.
One thing I try to do is avoid mirrors. Mirrors always set the dysphoria off. I look in it and the reflection is not the mental image I have of myself. Hair, facial structure, brow. No good. None of it. Mirrors are the enemy.
When I was a kid that was literally the case. I had this phobia around my reflection (to a lesser extent I still do); because it was so dramatically different than how I thought I looked, I was afraid it was another person. Some mirror alternate in his universe and he was trying to get out and that’s why I did not see my reflection.
Crazy, huh? That is why I do not like the phrasing. You cannot manage dysphoria; you have to beat it down with everything you have in you and occasionally you win.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 12.
12) What are you doing to stay healthy for transitioning mentally and physically?
I am doing the obvious, of course, which is eating right, taking vitamins, and getting enough sleep. I find my appetite is in flux. Sometimes I am ravenous and other times I don’t feel like eating at all. Today it is the latter, but I make sure I eat at least two meals even if I am not hungry.
Another obvious thing that I am doing is seeing a therapist. I say that is obvious because you cannot transition without a therapist (and a minimum of two therapists when you decide to have surgery). I also have a support group that I try to go to on a regular basis (I have not had the best luck with that lately) and I stay in touch with my immediate family (they are very supportive),
Making sure I get out and do social things is also important. My natural tendency is to isolate myself. If I follow that natural inclination, though, I will exacerbate my depression, which I have always come by naturally and the dysphoria is not kind on.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 13.
As I am a woman I use the women’s bathroom.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 14.
14) What are some of your passing tips or things you do to pass?
• Always, always put on a little foundation before leaving the house.
• Develop a scheduled routine for any prep work you need to do and give yourself time to do it well; this is your safety!
• Do not throw out your pantyhose with runs in them. Instead, cut the leggings off and you have a pair of binding panties to aid in tucking.
• Express your style. Trying too hard to look like someone else will result in you feeling nervous an awkward either of which can prevent you from successfully passing.
• Be confident. If you are confident and comfortable in your self-expression you while pass easier and/or people will notice your confidence and be less likely to bug you.
Regeneration: 30 Day Trans* Challenge. Day 15.
15) How have you embraced your trans* identity?
Admitting it to myself and to people I know is a big step in embracing my identity. A lot of times I feel like I am going through AA. First, admit there is a problem. Hi, my name is River and my subconscious sex and biological sex do not match.
My journey has also wandered through the grieving process. I had to give myself time to mourn and to be angry at the universe for having been afflicted with the wrong biology. There were other things, however, that also required mourning. Lost friendships, the change in how people respond to me, the dramatic loss of respect and trust, and—most painful—the end of my marriage. There needed to be time for the pain and time for the healing. I am still healing, but in coming through the pain I can embrace who I truly am and who I have become.
I see us all as a series of snap shots strung together through space-time, the ultimate foray into timelapse photography. As a result there is me and there is Me. The me I am now is just a single image throughout a lifetime of images whereas the true Me is the sum of those images, a view of the whole. Each me is different from the other mes, sometimes by small degrees and sometimes radical shifts, and each must be embraced for without each one there can be no Me.