October 26, 2011

Zagria on crossdreaming

Zagria has put up a very  interesting post about gender variance and crossdreaming over at her A Gender Variance Who's Who blog.

She argues that one of the problems we are facing when discussing gender variance is that only trans people are considered gender variant. The act is that there is a lot of gender variance among "cisgender" people too.

Please note that cisgender  was coined as a term to describe those that were not transgender. Transgender is the starting point. Cisgender is the residual category.

Cisgender may be defined as  "gender identities formed by a match between an individual's gender identity and the behavior or role considered appropriate for one's sex" or "individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity".

In one sense I believe she is right, in the way that there are many people who do not consider themselves trans in any way, but who still allow themselves to cross the border of what is considered gender normative.

In my discussions with crossdreamers (people who get aroused by the idea of being the other sex) and crossdressers (people who like to display certain aspects of the behavior of the opposite sex through clothing and behavior), I find that many of them identify with their birth sex.

The inside and the outside

However, this an extremely complex issue, for several reasons:

We have to distinguish between social facade and inner gender identity (which applies to the cultural, social and psychological traits and expressions) or even sex identity (which refers to your sense of body). 

Many crossdreamers and crossdressers live and act like their birth sex in public, as this is what society expects of them.

Given the history of their personal lives, living as the opposite sex full time might seem as unreal to them as the lives they are living now, even if they are expressing their sense of gender through clothing and mannerisms at home , and even if they should feel "trapped in the wrong body".

And make no mistake about it: Many crossdreamers are truly gender dysphoric, and some of them are  also transsexual. This makes me hesitate when Zagria makes crossdreamers  a prime example of cisgender variance.

Crossdreamers as cis

Zagria writes:

"I will be treating crossdreamers (to use Jack Molay’s term) as cis, in that that is how the people around them regard them. Arguably they are wannabe trans, and might persuade a psychologist or a gender therapist that they are such, but one of the points that I will be making is that the dividing line between cis and trans is movable."

If cis is defined on the basis of "how the people around them regard them", this is mostly true. Most male to female or female to male crossdreamers present as their  birth sex.

Still, since we do not define transgender on the basis of outward appearance, but on the inner sense of self, the same should apply to the cisgender category, and a significant portion of the crossdreamer and crossdresser population truly identify with the opposite sex.

How many these are in real numbers or as a percentage of the total crossdreamer population we do not know, as no one has ever done any serious research on this group, but from what I hear and see there must be millions world wide.

The subconscious inner woman or man

Note also that many crossdreamers do everything in their power to suppress their inner woman and inner man. This especially apply to the male to female group, as it seems to be harder from male bodied persons to present as women than it is for a female bodied person to present as men.

These are not, as Zagria formulates it, "wannabe trans". A lot of male to female crossdreamers do, for instance, end up in the military in a desperate attempt to condition themselves to become "real men". The fact that they normally fail in this, tells me that they are transgender  and not  cisgender. They are "wanna-not-to-be-trans", but trans all the same.

Then there are the many crossdreamers who go to a psychologist or gender therapist and say that they are trans, as Zagria points out. Zagria's phrase emanates an aura of mistrust: "[they] might persuade a psychologist and therapist that they are such", implicitly  saying that that they may not be real transwomen, being instead self deceiving cisgendered males driven by -- I don't know -- lust  maybe?

I would not be surprised if there are crossdreamers who go all the way with hormones and surgery and who should not have done so, as they find themselves unable to adapt to the social role of a woman. In other words: As there are male to female crossdreamers who actively suppress their female identity, there might be others who suppress the complexity of their own gender or sex identity. 

But that does not stop them from being transgendered. You do not go to the extreme point of surgery unless there is some kind of mismatch between your physical sex and your experienced sex.

Significant overlap

This means that I believe the final section of the quoted paragraph is the most important one: "the dividing line between cis and trans is movable".

If you, like Zagria does, open up for gender variance among the "normal" cisgender population, you will soon find that there are no "gender normal" people anywhere. 

As I have argued (to the point of boring you to death) there are no personality traits that are uniquely male or female. This applies to traits like extroversion vs. introversion, analytical vs. empathic as well as sexual dichotomies like active vs. passive and penetrative vs. receptive.

This does indeed lead to gender variance among the cisgender as well as among the transgender. This is why you will find XY women who -- like most XX women -- do not behave like -- let's say -- Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. They are still women. Very much so.

And I agree that this kind of variation  does not necessarily signify some kind of transgender condition. These may be just normal variations. Many do not experience  a deep mismatch between these traits or behaviors and their sense of being a man or a woman.

Sex and gender

I have become more and more aware of the importance of distinguishing between gender and sex lately. It seems to me that one important reason for the transgender/transsexual war is caused by this mix up.

The "gender" in transgender has made both crossdressers/crossdreamers and militant separatist transwomen argue that transgender is only a matter of  expressing traits and behaviors that violate  socially accepted mores and conventions. The suffering of transgender people is therefore not the result of them being born with the wrong body, but the fact that arbitrary social rules do not allow them to express their full personality. If they were allowed to do so, there would be no transgender persons. We would all be happily living as "cis", making the term meaningless.

Many crossdresser and crossdreamers argue that this is all there is to it, and that this therefore also applies to transsexuals. This is why many transsexual women react so violently towards this line of reasoning. They feel -- correctly, in my option -- that it invalidates their sense of being women, as opposed to playing the role of women.

Unfortunately some separatist transwomen have no qualms about applying the everything is gender kind of logic towards others, arguing that this applies to all crossdreamers, crossdressers and gender queer, but not to themselves. They and they alone suffer from being in the wrong body (misaligned sex), the hated "transgender" are just gender confused.

On the other hand there are crossdreamers and crossdressers who do not experience gender dysphoria, and who therefore conclude that no one does. This gives the separatist transsexuals the argument they need to define all crossdressers and crossdreamers as "TG" men, misled by sexual desire or bizarre fetishes.

This forces the crossdreamers and crossdressers that are truly gender dysphoric -- in the sense of having a deep-felt belief of being born the wrong sex  -- to hide their crossdressing or crossdreaming, which again leads to a new layer of psychological repression.

It is truly a mess, and I cannot see that defining crossdreamers as "cis" is going to help us sort this out.

Three levels

All of this leads me to conclude that a gender variance discussion on the  distinction between cis and trans may lead us astray, unless we manage to distinguish clearly between at least three levels of gender variance, namely:
  1. The outward expression of gender (to what extent persons  behave in accordance with the roles assigned to their birth sex).
  2. The inner  personality of a person and how this makes  him or her  want to express that personality through behavior that is in conflict with culturally defined gender roles (e.g a man with a "femme" personality).
  3. The inner sense of sex and body (as in a male bodied person who truly feels that she is born in the wrong body). 
The term transgender encompasses both 2 and 3, as it is an umbrella term for both crossdressers, gender queers and transsexuals.

The fact is that the term crossdreamer also includes persons identifying with both 2 and 3 as well, means that all crossdreamers are in one way or the other transgender. And some of them are transsexual. You cannot get less cis than that.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!