September 18, 2012

My life as a transgender crossdreamer

Photo from Photos.com
Most crossdreamers are confused.

They are confused about who they are, what they are, why they feel the way they feel. What is wrong with them? Why do they get excited by the very idea of having a body of the opposite sex? Are they transsexual? Are they freaks? Or are they just a normal variation of the diversity of life?

Yes, most crossdreamers are confused. Very confused.

Many of them -- this one included -- therefore spend a lot of time reading and discussing, trying to find thinkers, friends and theories that may help them makes sense of their lives.

In this respect, they -- we -- are no different than other groups who find themselves on the outside of what "normal" people consider "natural" behavior.

I readily admit that I might have focused too much on the theory and too little on my lived life on this blog, making some blog post a bit too dry for comfort.

In this post I will draw upon my own life and show you how my own understanding of crossdreaming is very much anchored in my life experience.

Life narratives

Children start making up stories about how the universe works at a very early age. They rarely get it right at first, and they find it often hard to reconcile their own life experience with the "truths" of others (the "stork" model is, for instance, a tough one). But in the end they manage to develop a theory of their own self that makes sense within the context of their own culture.

 "I am a man. That is why I like cars!" "I am a woman! That is why I like kids." A man that find cars boring, may seek comfort in his love for soccer, and a woman that find children icky, will focus on her ability to keep them clean, and in this way their identity as a man or a woman is not threatened.


Crossdreamers are no different. We find ways of intepreting our own experience in a way that makes sense in our own social and cultural setting -- even if it means that we have to belittle and despise ourself:

Some crossdreamers are at ease with their fantasies, whether they crossdress or not: "I am just exploring another side of my psyche," they may say.

Others succumb to the self contempt and self pity: "I, being a man, dream about being a woman. That means that I an a sissy, a faggot, a loser, a narcissist,  neurotic, an obsessive wanker. I am definitely not normal."

I also developed a narrative of my own life, a narrative that seemed to make sense at the time, but which didn't -- really.

The split

I am normally considered a fairly intelligent man, but I actually managed to keep my crossdreaming completely separate from the rest of my life for a very long time, even if I was aware of its existence.

That's right!  When I made my own theories of self, I never included my crossdreaming in the narratives. I even went to psychotherapy, never mentioning the fact that I often dreamed about a life as a woman.

So, in my case, I not only failed to interpret my crossdreamer condition as something normal. I even failed to understand it as something "abnormal".

That did not stop me from belitteling myself, though.

My  story, version 1: Jack the Loser

Many male to female crossdreamers will find my first conscious theory of self uncanningly familiar.

In my late teens and my early twenties I developed an understanding of myself as a shy, socially akward and unattractive young man who were intimdated by women and who found it hard to adapt to a normal social setting.

I thrived in my own company, loved to read and write, but avoided the rough and tumble play of my fellow male citizens. I hated sports and felt extremely comfortable in social settings where you are supposed to drink, dance and have fun. Parties were rarely fun. No, strike that! Parties were never fun!

Since I was unable to include my crossdreaming into my self-understanding (as it was far too dangerous), I ended up with an image of myself as the nerd and the clever loser.

Because of this I interpreted my dysphoria (an emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, or unease) as the result of my failure as a man. Of course I was depressed! I was the eternal outsider, the loser that is always harassed in high school movies.

Finding my inner man

As a student I took part in  psychotherapy. It was actually very useful and I learned a lot about myself and others.

Innwer woman expressing anger.
Photo from Photos.com
My objective was not to learn to know my crossdreaming self, however, but to regain my lost masculinity (!).

In some ways I succeeded in this. I mean, women may also benefit from finding their inner wolf, as it is simply a metaphor for the ability to say no.

I became more self confident, more assertive and I even managed to find a girl friend. I took this as an affirmation of the theory that a family of strong women and weak men had turned me into a weakling.

I now had a narrative that seemed to make sense: I had somehow been pscyhologically castrated during my childhood (or maybe I was just born weak), and because of this I was afraid of women. Women do not like "soft" men, right? So they were not interested. Case closed!

The problem with this narrative was that it was all wrong. And the fact that finding my "inner man" did not cure my dysphoria should have told me so.

My  story, version 2, The Strong Jack


I picked up an old photo album a few years ago. I rarely do so, as I -- like many transgender people -- hate looking at pictures of myself.  My memory told me that I was a fat and ungainly kid.

The teenager who looked up at me from those pages did not have a surperflous gram of fat on his body.

I am not really good at judging the attractiveness of boys and men, but this boy did not in any way look ugly, and definitely not uglier that most of my class mates and friends at the time.

I had clearly not been the fat, ugly, kid I had pictured in my mind.

This got me thinking. Why didn't the boy in the photos look anything like the boy in my mind? I mean, he hated sports, right? So he had to be fat.

Well, when I grew up I walked half an hour to school every day. I walked another half an hour on the way back. I was probably in perfect shape.

This was very bizarre. My therapy had thought me a lot about my "inner man" and the fact that I could be aggressive and assertive if needed. Now I was learning  that my image of myself as the timid, shy, nerd had -- at best -- only been partly true.

Not so shy anyway

Now, forced to reconsider my past, I started to rethink the life of the boy in the pictures.

He had not been the type to hide in the shadows. Oh, he definitely hated sports, but when it came to other types of play or games, he had often been the leader. The one that made up rules and initated games. He hadn't been shy at all -- in the right setting, that is.

In any scholarly context -- let's say a politcal debate -- he was one of the most active, and probably one of the most knowledgable. And these were all considered masculine traits in his day and age, as they are now.

And later on, as he grew up, he might not have been the competitive alpha guy, but God knows he was not a timid, shy, neurotic hiding in the shadows either.

So although my temperament and personality  in many ways had been "feminine", non-aggressive and conflict resolving, I had not been a wuss.

How others see me

One of my colleagues at work is very much into personality types. I guess she has discovered this way of thinking through management courses or management litterature. She is a good observer, and in one social setting she pointed out that "Jack is an introvert."

Several of my colleagues protestested strongly. No! No! No! Jack was definitely extrovert with a strong self confidence. After all, Jack was travelling all over the world talking to powerful men and women in conferences and meetings. There is no way he was introvert! He had always something to say about anything!

Indeed, many of them think of me as a dominant male, an insider, a doer -- a powerful man, even.

I am actually an introvert. My colleague is right. What the others see is the side I had spent years of developing: The person who contribute actively to the development of strategies and communication. But being introvert is not the same as being  shy. And I am definitely not weak.

I would definitely not have been able to keep this blog going if I had been a walk over.

So why did I think of the Young Jack as a weak sissy?

Protecting your ego

I know some of you have wondered why I spend so much time writing about Jung and depth psychology, and why I make everything so damned complicated.

This is why: In order to understand the split nature of my sense of self, I have to go to  psychology.

My own misinterpretation of my own life is a perfect example of why this is important. For me the main question should not have been: "How did I become a sissy?"-- because I wasn't one -- but "What did I achieve by understanding myself as a sissy?" or "In what way did the concept of sissyhood benefit me?"

I now believe that this was the only narrative that could bring sense to my life experience without acknowledging the elephant in the room.

By developing an image of myself as the shy and ungaingly nerd, I managed to explain why I found it so hard to approach women. And this was an explanation that didn't threaten my very fragile male ego.

The fear of women
Crossdreamer fear of women.
Photo from Photos.com

The reason I hated parties as a teenager was not the girls per se. I loved women, and loved to be with them. I still do.

The problem is that parties with alcohol and dancing are venues for flirting, necking, pecking and sex.

That scared me, for reasons I could not comprehend at the time. My explanation was my sissyness, but that was clearly a kind of after-rationalization.

I was  living in some kind of denial, but what was I denying?

Finding the answer to such a question is actually kind of easy, as soon as you have overcome the unconscious resistance: Look at the thing you are not talking about -- the thing you are not bringing into you theories of self! For me that was the long held dream of being a woman.

I had compartmentalized that dream. I had put it in a box that was supposed to have nothing to do with my life and how others saw me. And this might have been easier for me than for many other crossdreamers, as I never crossdressed. The very act of crossdressing makes it harder to deny the importance of  crossdreaming.

I had had crossdreaming fantasies of being a girl since the age of nine or ten at least. Maybe earlier. I cannot remember. Still, I never put these dreams in context with my self image of the unpopular nerd.

As soon as you add that piece of the puzzle, however, the whole image starts to morph and shift.

Sexual incompatibility 

A crossdreamer of the gender dysphoric kind, as I am, faces a horrible dilemma. I was attracted to women and wanted to find love with a woman.

On the other hand, it felt like I was wired as woman, with a female sexuality (which in my case included everything from a receptive copulatory instincts to a strong aversion against proactively trying to seduce anyone). Since women are supposed to prefer aggressive men with a thrusting instinct, I believed I was incompatible.

Women were dangerous because any amorous association with them would reveal my basic identity and sexuality, which in practice would reveal that I wasn't a "real man".

If that happened, the women would despise me. They would certainly leave me (I believed), and I would be hurt both emotionally and  socially.

In this context my constructed self-image of the nerdy loser fit a purpose. As a bland and boring male I could argue that the reason women did not approach me like that, was that I was unattractive, not that I was wired as a woman. In other words: Not only did I avoid heartbreak, I also avoided looking myself in the eye and admitting whom I was.

You could say there was a part of me that found it easier to live a lonely life of unfulfilled longings than facing "the fact" that love was impossible.
The forbidden sex.
Photo from Photos.com

Women in my life

In hindsight it is easy to see this was all wrong.

I cringe now when I think of the girl who crossed half of Europe to show up uninvited at my parent's place. I mean, she did not do that out of interest in parents!

I have also this clear memory of a moment of intense awkwardness when one of my best female friends at the university looked me into the eyes with an forcefulness that made me blush and stammer.

She was challenging me, and I failed completely to follow up. (I think now that she was a crossdreamer, so that was definitely a wasted opportunity).

This way of filtering out the interest shown by women became an integrated part of me. Even now I have to ask myself the same question over and over again: "Is that woman smiling to me because she likes me or because I have something on my nose?"

Intellectually I know that some women like me. I have female colleagues flirting openly with me, but that does not stop the inner defeatist voice from whispering in my ear.

What I have learned from this

When both crossdreamers and researchers try to make sense out of  crossdreaming, they make use of the mental maps and theories they know.

There are only two dominant mental maps available today: the mental disease map and the transsexual map, and most crossdreamers steer towards the one that feels less threatening.

That is: Those male to female crossdreamers who try to hold on to an exclusive male identity prefer the mental disease map to the point of embracing the idea of being a sexual pervert. The crossdreamers that have come to the conclusion that they belong to the opposite sex are more likely to embrace the transsexual paradigm. The rest of us are caught in the twilight zone, and in a world that hates that kind of ambiguity, Limbo is not a nice place to stay.

My own self discovery has forced me to question a lot of traditional "truths", being that those found in culture or those presented by scientists.

It is obvious that my life story  -- or my understanding of it -- does not constitute scientific proof. My story cannot be used as a map of crossdreaming in general. In fact, the most important lesson I have learned from working with my readers on this blog, is that the community of crossdreamers and crossdressers is extremely diverse. There are, for instance, many who have not experienced the kind of shyness I report here.

Still, I think it is fair to use my own story to check the validity of the various theories and models out there.

For instance: The fact that I am a crossdreamer who does not crossdress, proves that crossdreaming cannot be reduced to "transvestic fetishism". (I do not agree with Ray Blanchard in much, but here we are on the same page). My very existence proves that it is not the fetish that causes the crossdreaming, but the crossdreaming that causes the fetish.

Moreover, the fact that my crossdreaming appeared before puberty, tells me that my crossdreaming cannot be reduced to a purely sexual phenomenon.

And it is my own life experience that makes me question many other theories forwarded by both crossdreamers and researchers. Here are the most important ones:

1. Crossdreaming is caused by extreme shyness

Many male to female crossdreamers explain their crossdreaming as the end result of extreme shyness and a failure at being men. This is, actually, a very sexist attitude as it is based on the ancient idea that women are somehow failed men. Still, it is understandable in a cultural context like the Western one.

Sometimes crossdreamers will use psychiatric diagnoses to underpin their theory, explaining their condition as Asperger or autism. Asperger has the advantage that it can also be used explain a nerdy interest in computer games, which strengthens the image of the social loser.

I am sure there are crossdreamers with Asperger, and God bless them, because it is ultimately the extremely  focused Aspergers who will save the world. Still, there is no way Apergers, extreme shyness or lack of alpha male qualities can explain all male to female crossdreamers. This makes it more likely that the shyness is caused by the crossdreaming and not the other way round.

In my case it is pretty clear that my fear of women is not an inborn trait, but a psychological response to a seemingly unsolvable dilemma: That is the dilemma of being forced to play the stereotypical role of the manly man in order to win love, even if your basic temperament is  incompatible with this role.

2. Crossdreaming is a compulsive obsessive disorder

I have no idea how much time I have spent on this blog or other crossdreamer writings. A lot! And in one way this is an example of obsessive compulsive behavior.

But again, it is not the obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD that causes crossdreaming. It is the crossdreaming that causes OCD. If you are denied any outlet for you natural sexual inclination OCD is a natural response. If you are denied any other way of expressing your true self, OCD becomes close to rational.

After all, this is also about sexual desire, and sexual desire is one of the strongest drives there is. It will not be denied, and if it cannot find a natural outlet, it will find another way. Compulsive crossdressing or endless searches for transgender erotica online are two such channels of expression.

3. Crossdreaming is a masochistic fetish

There is one subcategory of crossdreamer erotic fiction that focuses on submission and humiliation. Some takes this as proof of crossdreaming being an extreme kind of masochism: Male to female crossdreamers are men driven by a male psychology who seeks the most extreme form of humiliation: The dream of being a submissive woman.

This may seem a very sexist theory, but we should keep in mind that fantasies like these reflect the prejudices of the time, and if you live in a culture where women are considered inferior, the masochist argument can be made. In fact, I am pretty sure that the popularity of such tales reflects the need for a time out. Forced sexual submission and humiliation relieves you of guilt. You are forced into becoming a woman. You cannot be blamed. Your male ego is protected.

But the question is not whether some male to female crossdreamers enjoy submissive fantasies, but whether this is common for all. The discussions taking place here and on Crossdream Life tells me that they are common, but not shared by the majority.

Supergirl from DC comics:
dominant crossdreamer
role model
I use transgender erotica as my way of exploring my crossdreamer self, and have also written stories about submission. Still, the first fantasy I can remember, which I had before puberty, was the dream of being Kara Zor-el, also known as Supergirl, not the most submissive of feminine role models. The submission fantasies came much much later, after puberty and after I had started to explore my crossdreaming in earnest.

Moreover, submission fantasies are common among women as well. I have seen research that indicates that more than 50 percent of women have had rape fantasies, and the common popularity of  the "mommy porn" bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, proves that sado-masochistic submission fantasies are common among XX women. Submissive fantasies can therefore not be taken as proof of a male sexuality.

Then there are those pesky female to male crossdreamers, who often fantasize about being the dominant male. Researchers and fetish enthusiasts have tried to ignore them, as the basic theory requires that only men can be perverts, but -- hey! -- they are not going away.

4. Crossdreaming as autogynephilia

Ray Blanchard came up with the term auto-gyne-philia for male to female crossdreaming - "the love of oneself as a woman". Fellow crossdreamer Anne Lawrence expanded upon this theory, arguing that this was not only about sexual attraction to your imagined female body, but also a romantic kind of love.

In short, both of them argue that male to female crossdreamers have the hots for themselves, and are therefore more or less incapable of loving real women out there.

The fact that the word autogynephilia can be associated with the term autoerotic ( the arousal of sexual feeling without an external stimulus) and narcissism (excessive love or admiration of oneself.) has made the autogynephilia theory the ultimate tool in the persecution of crossdreamers. The message is that crossdreamers are self-obsessed wankers.

The reason Blanchard came up with this idea was him meeting male to female crossdreamers seeking surgery at the Canadian Clarke Institute. And yes, I guess many of them did report arousal from the idea of being a woman. Moreover, many of them lived alone and their sex life was limited to masturbation.

Blanchard is the leading paraphiliphiliac of the world (he is obsessed with the classification of deviant sexual behavior), and he therefore immediately took this behavior as proof of the crossdreamers being perverts.

For me, on the other hand, the social isolation and the lack of an active sex life, is simply a natural response to the ultimate crossdreamer dilemma: How to find sexual satisfaction with a woman, when she wants you to be the man, and you want to be the woman. For some this tension becomes intolerable, and the only solution is to become a woman in both body and soul.

At the same time as I dreamed of being Supergirl -- around the age of 11 or 12, I guess -- I also had a crush on one of the girls in  my class. I fell head over heals in love in the way only kids can, proving once and for all that I was capable of loving others.

However, as soon as I entered puberty this ability seemed to disappear. In hindsight it is easy to see why. It was not because I was incapable of loving others; it was simply because falling in love would lead to an impossible situation where the only way out was disappointment and hurt. I therefore suppressed the feelings I had for the women I loved.

Finally -- after mobilizing the bravery of my "inner man" -- I managed to overcome my fear and approached the most wonderful girl in the world. She became the love of my life and my life partner. So much for being incapable of loving others!

If you want to understand crossdreaming you have to understand the context. This is where Blanchard and Lawrence fail.

Lessons learned

The one factor all of these theories have in common is the idea that the starting point for male to female crossdreamers is that they are men with a male psychology and a male sexuality. The crossdreaming therefore always becomes the end result of some kind of perversion, whether this one is psychological (as in the fetish theory) or inborn (as in the autogynephilia theory).

Since this starting point is taken for granted the proponents of these theories, being those researchers, crossdreamers or the enemies of crossdreamers, will never try to interpret their observations within a different model, a model where the crossdreamers are truly transgender.

They therefore fail to see that the observed behavior can easily be explained as the end result of some kind of sex dissonance. If you do use such a misalignment between mind, body and social expectations as the starting point, the observed shyness, autoeroticism, crossdreamer fantasies and lack of a decent love life become logical outcomes of an unbearable dilemma: A situation where you have to play the expected role of a man, while your temperament and/or your sexual wiring are more similar to the ones of a woman.

For female to male crossdreamers the same applies. The desire to act like a man, dress up like a man and put on a strap-on and make love to a man as a man reflects an inner nature that is at least partly masculine.

Crossdreamers offended

I know that there are many crossdreamers who find this conclusion problematic -- yes, offensive even. They identify with their birth sex, they say, and do not want to be the other sex in reality. Their avid reading of stories about men being changed into women (or -- for the FTM - identifying with gay males in Boy's Love) is arousing not because they are the other sex, but because they have been conditioned to feel arousal from this image.

I think they are wrong, as I have explained here and elsewhere. But I do not think they are all living in denial, in the way I was for many years. In fact, many of them are probably right when they say they are happy living as their birth sex.

The reason for this is that crossdreaming not only varies in intensity, but will also be the end result of a mix of a large number of variables. For some this mix leads to a strong identification with the opposite sex, for others this is more a kind of weak sexual fascination.

But in spite of this diversity, I doubt very much that the crossdreamers who identify with their birth sex and those that identify with their target sex belong to two completely different categories. After all they have the same fantasies, read the same type of erotica and/or engange in similar erotic crossdressing.

Following the scientific K.I.S.S.-principle of Occam's Razor, which says that among competing hypotheses you should always select the one which makes the fewest assumptions, I  conclude that all crossdreaming has something in common, and that it is very unlikely that some types of crossdreaming are completely psychological and others only biological.

To me the explanation that makes most sense is therefore the one that understand all expressions of crossdreaming as caused by  a mix of biological, personal and cultural factors. This is what my own revised life story tells me.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!