April 19, 2015

The Problem with Arousal

Guest writer Joanna Santos argues that it is time we liberate ourselves from  models that reduce gender variance to sexual arousal.
Trans people are liberating themselves from the
stifling theories of the past. (Photo: moodboard)


By Joanna Santos

I have lived all my life with the knowledge that something was different about me. By the age of 4 or 5 years old, although aware that I was a boy, I had an interest in playing with dolls and trying on my mother’s shoes. But quickly enough I learned to suppress those desires because the messages I received were that I was not to indulge in these activities.

Since then I have come full circle and after a long period of reflection and angst (during which time I kept an almost daily blog), I have come to return to the state where I began my life. I have returned to being as true as I can to a nature that was always there but within the confines of the reality that I now live as an ageing adult.

After having read every book and every article on the subject of gender dysphoria I could get my hands on, I finally had to concede that there was not going to be a conclusive answer regarding the way I was made and why I was drawn to being a female. I had to finally accept without question that it made up part of my natural wiring and nothing was going to change that.

My gender expression need not be tied to my natal sex. No matter what society expects of you, it’s best to adhere to an expression that fits your comfort level and your self-image. This lesson was the hardest to learn because I came from an era where there was little latitude or permissiveness on that front. One was a male or one was a female and that was that.

Things have changed considerably since then.

We are now on the cusp of a revolution which I am still young enough to be able to witness first hand. Yes the same old arguments exist among the academics who will argue about Blanchard’s two typologies of transwomen and which one is more genuine but for me that is now entirely irrelevant because the true question is: “in which form do you feel most comfortable to live out your life?”


April 16, 2015

Chevalier d'Eon: Early Transgender Role Model

Fencing Match between Monsieur de Saint-George et Mademoiselle La
Chevalière d'Éon de Beaumont 
at Carlton House on 9 April 1787.
Engraving by Victor Marie Picot

By Sally

Chevalier d'Éon (Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont) was a French soldier, diplomat and spy who publicly lived as a woman in 18th-century London. 

image
Portrait by Thomas Stewart
D’Eon lived from 1728 to 1810 who appeared publicly as a man for 49 years, although during that time d'Éon successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman. For the last 33 years, d'Éon lived as a woman.

The Chevalier d'Éon claimed to be assigned female at birth, and demanded recognition by the government as such.

King Louis XVI complied, but required in turn that d'Éon dress appropriately in women's clothing. When the king's offer included funds for a new wardrobe of women's clothes, d'Éon agreed.

April 2, 2015

Does the effects of hormones on transgender people prove that crossdreaming has a biological component?

Is crossdreaming purely psychological or does it have a biological basis? Hormones may give us part of the answer.
Illustration: xrender

There seems to be a general agreement among most psychiatrists who treat dysphoric male to female (MTF) crossdreamers and crossdressers that there is one "drug" that will alleviate some of their distress: Estrogen/oestrogen (the most important being estradiol/oestradiol), often misnamed the "female" hormone.

Estrogen and anti-androgens reduce possible emotional distress caused by crossdreaming

Harry Benjamin, the grand old man of transgender research, noted as early as 1966 that both "transvestites" (i.e. crossdressers) and non-transitioning transsexuals could benefit from taking estrogen, as it could be "helpful emotionally" or "needed for comfort or emotional balance".

There is little literature on this, but my contacts among therapists and activists confirm the well-known "secret" that doctors continue to prescribe estrogen to MTF crossdreamers, even when they do not plan to transition.

Some doctors  also prescribe antiandrogens, i.e. drugs that reduce the flow of testosterone, "the masculinizing hormone", in the bloodstream, or reduces the brains ability to make use of "T".

There are also antiandrogens that stop regular testosterone from being transformed into the more active dihydrotestosterone. The effects of antiandrogens are somewhat similar to the effects of estrogen: a reduction in the effects testosterone has on the mind and body.

Some doctors also combine the use of estrogens and antiandrogens to achieve the desired effect: a reduction in emotional distress and dysphoria. Crossdreamers who self-medicate on herbal alternatives often look for similar combinations, like when taking pueraria mirifica (for an estrogenic effect) and saw palmetto (for an antiandrogenic effect).

The two sides of sex hormones

It is important to note that you may influence the effects of sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen in two ways:

1. You may increase the amount of testosterone or estrogen in the body by way of pills or injections.
2. You may stop the body from absorbing the relevant hormones.

This relationship between "production" and "reception" of sex hormones is well known in sex research. It is not enough to produce the relevant hormones. You also need the appropriate receptors to absorb and make use of them. If a child with an XY "male" chromosome combination for some reason fail to develop the sufficient number of testosterone receptors, that child may develop a female body and mind.

It is also important to keep in mind that testosterone and estrogen are not really "male" and "female" hormones. A male fetus actually needs estrogen to produced the amounts of testosterone needed to develop a male body. The fetus transforms estrogen into testosterone, then the testosterone triggers the development of male sexual characteristics. At puberty another boost in testosterone turns boys into men.

On average men may have up till 20 times as much testosterone as women.

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".


Forum for crossdreamers, crossdressers and transgender people

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