February 8, 2015

Young People Move from the Gender Binary to Believing in Continuum

Young people are increasingly believing
in a gender spectrum
Photo: Maruy75
There is a shift in attitude towards gender among younger people, at least in the "Western" part of the world. This has implications for crossdreamers and transgender people.

Fusion just published results from its so-called Massive Millennial Poll, which asked 1000 Americans between the age of 18 and 34 about various issues.

When asked about their understanding of gender, 50 percent replied that they believe that gender is a spectrum, and that some people fall outside conventional categories. 46 percent said that there are only two genders, male and female.

57 percent of female assigned respondents believed in a gender spectrum, reflecting --perhaps -- that society is more forgiving of gender bending among women than among men.

Tumblr reflects shift towards spectrum

Figure from the Massive Millennial Poll.
Click on image to enlarge.
My wife Sally and I are currently blogging at  tumblr, a social site dominated by the young "millenials". (66 percent of all visitors are under the age of 35, while 39 percent are under 25 years-old.)

We are mostly blogging as news curators for transgender and genderqueer issues. This brings us in direct contact with young people struggling with their gender identity and/or sexuality. At the moment some 4000 people are subscribing to our two blogs.

Our observations underpin what Fusion is saying. Among those who are interested in transgender issues (and I am using transgender as an umbrella term for gender variance here), a large proportion support the idea of a gender continuum. This also apply to many of those who are clearly transsexual.

We can see this trend in the response we get on our blog posts. Those that go viral are most often those that help readers develop concepts that make it possible to understand and communicate identities outside the strict male/female binary.

Here are a few examples:


February 1, 2015

Can the crossdreaming concept stop trans women from accepting their identity?

Recently there was an interesting discussion about crossdreaming at the /r/transgender subforum (or "subreddit") at Reddit, the online social community.
Illustration by cienpies

A trans woman who calls herself Vancitygal criticized me for hiding the fact that most crossdreamers are transsexual people living in denial.

I asked neotecha, one of those taking part in the discussion, for permission to republish the following comment, which I think goes to the heart of this issue.

neotecha on crossdreaming

This is what neotecha said:
I'm happy to discuss this to anyone has further questions. 
For myself: I actually founded /r/crossdreaming and was an active participant in /r/autogynephilia, back before we split the subreddit. Yeah, go in there and my name is still in there, and also the top sticky post asking for moderators. Yes, I did come out as female, and I have started transitioning and I love it, but my experiences don't imply that everyone there shares them.

I want to discuss something that I feel the nuance is not being addressed here. What is Crossdreaming and what is Autogynephilia?


January 18, 2015

Crossdreamers Really Do Love Estrogen

It's been just over three years since I wrote my "Autogynephiliacs Love Estrogen" mini bio, which my friend Jack kindly published on his blog. I was very surprised to hear that many of his readers were very keen on hearing an update to how I am doing today, but here it is.

Illustration by Sergey Nivens

Guest Blog Post by "Moon"

Being taken as a woman

"Hello ladies, can I get you some drinks?".....

"Madame, we have some other items over here"....

"No, no madame. The ladies is over there, this is the gents toilet"....

Being addressed by strangers as a female when you're out shopping or in a café with a friend is rather odd, especially if you are, or think you are presenting as a male.

So why do others sometimes think you're a female? Estrogen. Yes, the hormone you perhaps have always wanted to have running through your system.

For a reason you can't explain you have this desire to feminise yourself. You have had thoughts which have driven you crazy, you somehow know that this is what you want deep inside. You want to be a woman. Yet you do fear the unknown of the rather frightening path that you are taking. But hey, you have just been out to a cafe with a female friend and the waiter has just addressed you as a female.

So you have been taken as a woman, without even opening your mouth, you're dressed as a male but others are seeing something else that you’re not completely aware of. You're not even on a full transition dose of estrogen.

Feeling happier

All you know inside is that you do genuinely feel better about yourself. You feel happier, more in control, able to put your thoughts about being a woman into perspective. The obsessional thoughts are very much reduced and your thought patterns more logical. Estrogen is working for you, it makes you feel much, much better.

Before taking estrogen you were pretty much all over the place. Feeling like a car running on the wrong type of fuel - but now you're having to deal with the side effects of turning into a female. But why not? This is what you have always wanted isn't it?

Since the effects of estrogen have helped you feel more like you, should this feminization automatically follow?


January 11, 2015

What trans and genderqueer people think about the origins of gender variance

Our 2014 survey shows that a majority of queer and trans people believe their gender variance is caused by an interaction between psychological, biological, cultural and social factors.

There is a lot of debate among gender variant people about what causes their sexuality and gender variance. What is it that makes some of them feel alienated from their own social role, their bodies or the expected sexuality of their gender?

Illustration by Daria Karaulnik

A quest for identity and/or an attempt to fit in

This discussion is partly driven by a natural need to understand and define themselves or their relation to others.  It most often stems from a desire to find some sort of personal solid ground: "This is who I am!"

This kind of insight may also -- combined with personal strength and perseverance -- make it easier for a person to protect important aspects of their personality against the pressure of social conformity.

There are also those out there who are developing mental models that can help them fit into the gender role models of their community. Those who have accepted the the "Men are from Mars" and "Women are from Venus" binary are, for instance, more likely to be attracted to models that accentuate the differences between the genders.


December 25, 2014

How psychiatry and psychology have been used to suppress gender variance

We have to stop using psychiatric models and terminology that are clearly bigoted and aimed at upholding outdated views of sex and gender.

Modern psychiatry is moving from bigoted sexism to
more respect for sex and gender diversity
Illustration: Cienpies Design

There is a tendency in the crossdreamer and transgender debates to pretend that we are somehow having a kind of disinterested discussion, where scientific "facts" can be trusted to tell us what is the "objective truth" about sex and gender.

Since psychiatry has claimed the scientific authority over sexuality, sex identity and -- to a certain extent -- cultural gender, this means that we often go to psychiatrists and sexologist to find theories, models and narratives that can explain sex and gender variation.

Psychiatry and psychology are not exact sciences

There is nothing wrong in doing so, per se, as long as we keep in mind that psychiatrists (and psychologists) are like all other human beings: fallible and caught up in the prejudices of their time.

This only becomes a problem when we forget that the presence of a scientific-sounding terminology and a Ph.D. does not stop bigoted crap from being bigoted crap.

Psychiatry and psychology have been used to uphold political and social power-structures for more than a century.

From hysteria to autogynephilia

It wasn't that long ago psychiatrists fully believed that the diagnosis of "hysteria" (being over-emotional, seductive and displaying a lack of self control) could be used to describe the nature of the female sex in general.

It wasn't until 1980 the American Psychiatric Association acknowledged that the "histrionic personality disorder" (a less toxic name for hysteria) was "a caricature of femininity" (Tosh).

In the same way the medical term "nymphomania" was routinely used to invalidate women with a healthy appetite for sex. Since women were not supposed to be sexually aggressive, and many of the male doctors felt threatened by independent women, they used the term "nymphomania" as a scientific sounding way of branding these women "slut". In a similar way the "hysteria" diagnosis had been used to hospitalize and castrate feminists in the late 19th century.

My point is that we have to scrutinize all psychiatric theories about sex and gender to see if they are the product of cultural bigotry as well.

Psychiatry has been used to reinforce traditional gender roles

Having gone through many studies of the history of psychiatry, I have become convinced that diagnoses like "gender identity disorder", "transvestic fetishism", "transvestic disorder" and "autogynephilia" have much in common with "hysteria" and "nymphomania".


December 19, 2014

Magnus Hirschfeld's Theory of Transgender Intermediaries

The German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld presented a very radical theory of transgender and crossdreaming back in 1910, a theory that can enrich our understanding of sex and gender today.

Magnus Hirschfeld with friends. Hirschfeld with glasses, right.
In my previous post, I presented the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and his arguments against the tendency to pathologize transgender identities and sexualities.

While many -- if not most -- of the other sex researchers of his day developed elaborate classification schemes of sexual desire and sexual behavior in order protect the realm of imagined normalcy against "deviants" (see Tosh 2015), Hirschfeld mapped sex and gender variation for the exact opposite reason.

Elenea Mancini puts it this way in her book Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom:

"Hirschfeld canvassed and classified the rich diversity of people he encountered, not for the mere sake of accruing scientific data or accentuating that which separated certain groups of people from others, but rather to uncover the fundamental similarities between all people irrespective of their sexual orientation, identity, or ethnic and racial provenance. He did not establish hierarchies of qualities such as physical traits and characteristics or sexual practices. This gave his work a distinctive flavor in that it became not only an ethnographic recording of difference, but implicitly, a celebration of that difference as well." (p. 35)

Theory of intermediaries

What Hirschfeld suggests is an early incarnation of the non-binary continuum theory, i.e. that there is no clear and distinct boundary between the male and the female, the masculine and the feminine. He calls this his "theory of intermediaries" (Zwischenstufenlehre, literally: "the theory about the steps in between").

This theory of intermediaries applies to the physiological as well the psychological, as Hirschfeld understands it. In other words: He refuses to separate body from mind, biology from psychology. Instead he considers the human being as a complex system of mind and matter.


November 11, 2014

Magnus Hirschfeld's Crossdreamers

It will probably come as a surprise when I say that the best book transgender in general and crossdreamers/crossdressers in particular was published in 1910. It was written by the German scientist Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the pioneers of sexology. In this and the following blog post I will present his theory and explain why Hirschfeld's thinking remains very relevant.

The book, named Die Transvestiten, covered a wide variety of gender variant people. Hirschfeld used the word "transvestite" in the way we use "transgender" today -- as an umbrella term embracing both transsexuals, crossdressers, drag queens and other people transgressing the strict sex and gender binaries.

Unlike many later researchers and activists he did not shy away from the sexual aspect of these various transgender expression, and freely talked about the erotic desires of his various patients and contacts, including crossdreaming fantasies.

Die Transvestiten contains a lot of historical examples of different forms of gender variance, including 17 elaborate presentations of crossdressing individuals, many of whom would have been classified as transsexual today. There is even a case of a woman wearing men's clothes daily, a female to male crossdreamer travelling the world, working in traditional male occupations.

Hirschfeld was the first theoretician who argued that crossdressing can exist independently of sexual orientation. Indeed, he noted that most of his cases were heterosexual (relative to birth sex). Hirschfeld claimed that among the "transvestites" he had encountered, 35% were homosexual, 35% heterosexual, and the rest asexual or bisexual.  (Mancini, p. 67)

There is little here of the need to pathologize sexual variation and different gender expression found among other sexologists of his (and our) time. Indeed, he is very critical of any theory that tries to set up an absolute divide between men and women, the masculine and the feminine, and then goes on to label those who do not live up to such divides as deviants.

He writes:

"The separation of humanity into male and female halves belongs to the doctrines and guiding principles that have crossed over into the flesh and blood of every person. Those who occupy themselves uniting opposites such as energy and matter, God and nature, one and all, body and soul, also unmistakably hold fast to the dualism of the sexes and, in fact, the masculine and the feminine are, in themselves, effective realities the duality of which admits no doubt." (p 17)

"But it is a mistake if one imagines that both are two fully separate entities, one from the other; to the contrary, the constantly present merging of both into one, the unending condition of mixing variables that begins with the man's semen and the woman's egg, each creating masculine-feminine, hermaphroditic organizations, this monism of the sexes is the core for the genesis and substance of the personality." (p. 17)

On the basis of the 17 case studies and other life histories he discusses possible explanations for transgender conditions, presenting the dominant scientific theories of the day. And this is where it gets really interesting, because most of the theories he discusses are more or less the same we find discussed today, more than 100 years later.  There has been practically no substantial progress in our understanding of crossdreamers, crossdressers and transsexuals.


September 25, 2014

Strong support for broad transgender and LGBT alliances found among gender variant people

The Crossdreamer Survey of Gender Variance shows that a great majority of gender variant people support broader transgender, queer and LGBT alliances.
Illustration by incomible

There has been a lot of discussion in transgender and queer circles about social, cultural and political collaboration.

This is partly a discussion on political convenience (they face similar types of oppression), and partly a discussion of what it means to be trans and/or queer.


The continuum interpretation

Since the early 1990s the dominant interpretation of the word transgender has been as an umbrella term embracing a wide variety of gender variant people, including crossdressers, drag queens, transsexuals and various shades of genderqueer.

The terms queer and genderqueer are normally understood to refer to those who fall outside the gender binary of strictly male and strictly female.

People supporting this position often believe in models describing continuums of both sexual orientation and gender variance. In other words: Transgender people may identify completely with one gender (their target gender), or they may see themselves as partly male and partly female or something outside the gender binary.

This kind of thinking is found both among gender variant people, the researchers studying them and the health personnel trying to help them.


The binary interpretation

Others focus more on the differences than the similarities between the different types of gender variant people. This especially applies to those who want to distinguish between transsexual men and women on the one hand and other gender variant people on the other.

They may argue that these two groups are fundamentally different (in the sense that the different "conditions" are caused by completely different phenomena), or that the problems they are facing are so different that it makes little sense for them to collaborate.

This position will be found among some representatives of the health systems, especially those who believe in more traditional gender norms, and among transsexual men and women who do not feel at home under the broader transgender umbrella. There are also gender variant people who do not like to be associated with transsexuals.

When we carried out our survey of gender variance, one of many objectives was to see if we could learn more about how gender variant people feel about collaboration and reciprocal support between various shades of queer and transgender, transsexuals included.

In this blog post we are going to present some preliminary findings from this survey. A more in depth analysis will follow later on.


Forum for crossdreamers, crossdressers and transgender people

Link to the Crossdream Life site for crossdreamers, crossdresser and transgender people