October 1, 2012

The Other Side of your Transgender Soul -- Body and Mind

Here is my final post on Jung and a transgender psychology.

The starting point for this series is the idea that the subconscious psyche compensates for what the conscious ego considers taboo and therefore denies.

For instance: All male bodied persons have psychological traits associated with culturally defined feminine values, but they find it hard to admit to these feelings and therefore suppress them.

Among many transgender people these suppressed feelings find a way to  the surface through crossdreaming and crossdressing.

The anima and animus becomes one

As I noted in my post on the anima and animus archetypes, the anima and arnimus archetypes may be understood in at least two ways.

The traditional way is to think of the anima as the underdeveloped feminine side of man and the animus as the primitive man in the woman.

The second explanation is to think of the anima and the animus as the gateway to the unconscious. In this sense they are parallels to the persona, the "mask" we show the people around us. The persona helps us interact with the world outside. The anima/animus helps us to interact with the world inside.

In order to function as a gateway to "the other side" the anima/animus compensates for what is lacking in the persona and the ego. If the persona is hypermasculine the anima appears as hyperfeminine in dreams, fantasies and projections. If the persona of a woman is emotional, her animus becomes quasi-intellectual.

I add the term "quasi" to signify that this intellectual side is underdeveloped, for the simple reason that this particular woman has never been encouraged to develop that side of her psyche.

The anima  of a male bodied person does not have to express culturally defined feminine traits only. Nor does the animus of a female bodied person have to be symbolized as a man in dreams and fantasies. It all depends on to what extent "the other side" has been integrated into the ego and the persona.

If the cultural ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman changes, the anima and animus are also likely to generate different content. If a woman is allowed to explore her aggressive and dominant side, her animus is less likely to express this part of her psyche in dreams and fantasies.

Murray Stein's interpretation

There are Jungians who have reinterpreted Jung for a the contemporary age, somewhat in the same vein as I have done here.


Murray Stein asks the same question in the highly recommended book Jung's Map of the Soul: An Introduction:

"But what about women who are not very feminine and men who are not very masculine in their personas? Does a not-very-feminine woman have a nonmasculine animus, and a not-very-masculine man have a nonfeminine anima? Jung would be obliged to follow this line of thought, given his premises."


Murray argues that as the predominant collective image for correct male and female dress and behavior change, the inner images of anima and animus would also shift accordingly (p. 136).

"As the predominant collective images for correct male and female dress and behavior changes, the inner images of anima and animus also shift accordingly... For an extremely effeminate man the inner attitude (anima) will be masculine in personality because this is what has been left out of the persona adaptation."

The transgender approach to the anima and the animus

At the moment the anima/animus is released from the gender stereotypes of the 20th century, the archetype becomes meaningful for transgender people as well.

If we focus on Jung's idea that the anima and the animus compensates for the traits suppressed from the conscious persona and the ego, we see that the anima/animus of a male bodied person does not have to be feminine, if she identifies completely with the female sex. 

A transwoman that has identified and presented as a woman for a long time is therefore more likely to have a "masculine" anima. You could in effect say she has an animus. In other persons the traits are mixed and the anima/animus may appear as both male and female.

Furthermore, transgender people who personality represents an even mix of traditional male and female traits may find that their anima/animus appear as  male, female or androgynous figures in dreams and fantasies.

Some MTF transgender copies the
extreme gender stereotypes when trying to 
express themselves. Like children they
are trying out the relevant gender
expressions without having the 
social training needed to get it quite right.
Image: Barbie doll.
Finally, male bodied transgender persons who have succumbed to social pressure and developed a gender typical masculine pesona, will find that their anima/animus finds a female form, in accordance with Jung's theory. The opposite will be the case for male to female transgender.

Note that Jung's understanding of the anima and the animus makes it easier to understand why some transwomen go over board when they try to express their inner woman.

Their inner woman is real, but she has never been allowed to express herself in a social setting, with all the feedback girls get when they grow up.

They may therefore easily make use of the more extreme symbols found in their surrounding culture when trying to express themselves.

I guess this observation is also relevant for the reported "second puberty" that many transmen and transwomen go through when transitioning. They need to catch up with their lack of personal, social and cultural training in acting out their real sex.

Female to male transgender seem to be less likely to go for extreme gender expressions of this kind, mainly because society  accept some masculine expressions in  women. A woman wearing jeans, boots and a T shirt is normally not considered a crossdresser, even if she secretly is one.

The biological core

Please note that the Jungian interpreteation does not necessarily mean that there is no such thing as a basic sex male or female identity. That is: Jung cannot be used to support some kind of postmodernist theory that claims that eveything sex and gender is culturally determined.

In Jung's model there is always a biological core of the personality that is sex specific. The archetype is biological, but the way it express itself is influenced by the symbols in the surrounding culture.

Murray puts it this way:

"Jung seems to avoid dividing the human race into two clearly different gender groups with little in common. In his theory, both men and women are both masculine and feminine. However, these qualities are distributed differently. And this difference is archetypal, not societal or cultural."  (p.134)

What is developed through the psychological process are cultural and psychological personality traits that are present in both men and women in varying degrees. Culture will often push the development of the psyche in one direction -- hence the repressions. But the inner biologically based personality may often push the development in a different direction. This conflict may cause mental illness.
Jung adapted to the traditional crossdreamer. He or she develops
a persona and ego that is congruent with his or her birth sex.
A suppressed alternative identity is expressed through
a parallell personality-complex, the ponyo.The ponyo is given a voice
through crossdressing, an online avatar, a pen name etc.
Click on image to enlarge!

In other words: We may postulate a deeper biological factor that causes a person to feel like a man or a woman, i.e. his or her sex identity.

(And no, I am not going to repeat my arguments against the various fetish-theories here. This blog post is already long enough.)

Does the anima/animus equal sex identity?

I suspect both Jung and Murray believe this sexual identity factor to be the anima and the animus archetypes (i.e. the instinctual basis of the archetype -- i.e. without its culturally defined expression). This makes little sense to me, and I will tell you why.

Imagine a male bodied person born with female sex identity. As this person actually is a woman, she has an animus. But if this person has managed to repress her female identity, her animus would contain very much of the same repressed material as the anima of a non-transgender man. 

In other words: Since the anima and the animus always represent the psychological traits that have been repressed, being those traditional "masculine or "feminine" traits,  these traits cannot be the cause of male or female identification.

There must therefore be something else that causes the transgender mismatch. This could be an inborn body image, an inborn (or acquired)   sense of female self, or something else that leads to the development of a specific sex identity  (as opposed to a gender identity, which is clearly a product of culture).

Anima and animus as cause of sex identity

The only way of defending the idea the anima and the animus are the sources of sex identity is -- as far as I can see -- to focus on the fact that  these archetypes have no symbolic content or value in themselves. The symbols of the feminine and masculine  (like Barbie and Batman) are generated in the interface between the archetype and the surrounding culture, it is not found in the archetype.

That is: Our sex identity often drives us towards reaffirming culturally defined symbols of masculinity and femininity, mostly because we want to be accepted and loved as men and women. The acceptance, admiration and sexual desire of others strengthens this tendency.

This is an important point that is often misunderstood, especially by those who think that there is no inborn sex identity, arguing that everything gender is defined by culture. Everything (or at least most of) gender is defined by culture. Whether long hair is considered feminine or masculine varies from culture to culture and over time. But that does not mean that there is no instinctual basis for the feeling of being a man or a woman.

An interesting parallel is found in the instinct that generates the feeling of disgust.The feeling of disgust is clearly an evolutionary trait that is to protect us from contamination and dangerous phenomena in our environment. And yes, it is genetic. We can see this from the fact that disgust is expressed with the same facial expression in all cultures, unlike -- for instance -- signals for agreement, which may vary.

The feeling of disgust is inborn. Still, whatever causes disgust is culturally defined. Small kids will gladly play with spiders, eat dung or ask embarrassing questions. It is the constant reminders from their fellow human beings that makes them associate manure with the feeling of disgust. In the end this association is so strong that even the word "shit" will make them react negatively.

This makes perfect sense, evolutionary speaking. Since human beings live in all kinds of environments, hard wiring of what causes disgust would be less efficient. Fear of African spiders and lions is of little use on Greenland.

It is  therefore possible to argue that the anima generates a male sex identity and the animus a female sex identity, but that the archetypes do not determine how this identity is to be expressed.

I am still not convinced that this is correct.  In any case, it makes sense to postulate an instinctual basis for sex identity, an instinct that drives people to define themselves to make use of the symbols of gender found in their culture, so that they will be understood and accepted as men or women in their social context.

This also makes sense, evolutionary speaking. Even if nature love diversity and variation, there still is a need for procreation. A majority of people still has a sex identity aligned with their body's sex. Moreover, a majority of people are hetero- or bisexual, and they will have to be if you are to produce 7 billion people.

You will find other blog posts here that cover the possible causes of transgender conditions in more detail.

A Jungian model for transwomen and men where the
conscious gender identity is congruent with the inner sex identity from
an early age. Here the the anima/animus will normally
be of the gender of the opposite sex. The persona may
still present as the birth sex publicly, though, as the person is forced to
give in to cultural and social pressure.
Click on image to enlarge!
An imagine example

Let me give you an example of how this psychological drama may play out in real life. The following narrative is based on the life stories of many male to female crossdreamers who have contributed to this blog and to the Crossdream Life forum. That is: This is a made up case, but the basis for the case is real enough.

Similar cases have been presented by others. See for instance Milton Diamond's article on self-testing transsexuals or Anne Vitale's The Gendered Self. My own life history, as presented in the previous post, also shares elements with this imagined case.

I am going to use a male to female transsexual woman as an example, simply because it makes the argument clearer and easier to understand. Please note that not all crossdreamers and transgender people are transsexual or gender dysphoric. Only a minority is transsexual, and as the jury is out on how many are gender dysphoric (i.e. alienated from the sex of their own bodies).

A mash-up of traits

If transgender conditions are caused by the combination of  atypical genetic combinations or pre-natal hormonal development combined with environmental factors (as I believe), variation is to be expected. (Ref. David/Davida's guest post on causes of transgender conditions).

The production or reception of hormones is not digital and binary, but analog and gradual. This means that the intensity of the feeling of misalignment between body and soul will vary, as will a person's sense of being male or female.

(This does not mean that most crossdreamers are gender queer, androgynous or beyond the gender binary. Even those who identify with their birth sex, embrace their target sex in fantasies and role playing. Most male to female crossdreamers dream of being full blooded women -- not something in between.)

Let us imagine  young male bodied person who is born with a relatively strong female sex identity. Children  have no clear idea about what gender (i.e. the cultural expression of sex) is in their first years. They look at what grown ups and playmates say and do in order to make sense of them selves and their place in society. Gradually, however, this kid becomes aware of gender roles and gender expectations. This kid is told that she is a "he", and is expected to behave accordingly.

Some transkids will protest vehemently at this point, insisting on their real sex, and refuse to play the role allotted to them. Our transkid might also have done so, at first, but she soon realize that resistance is futile. Or -- more likely -- she has never been able to develop a story that makes sense for her, and she has therefore tried to suppress her inner self. She becomes "he", not only in the eyes of the world, but also in her own mind.

The reason for this is simple: Children have a limited capacity for handling too complex a reality. Above all, they need to keep their parents and their friends on their side. They need their love and respect to survive, and if amputating an arm and a leg is what it takes, that is what they will do. They will then deny there was an arm and a leg there in the first place, because that would make the loss and the lies real, and they cannot handle that.

Their parents, friends, family and teachers play along and reinforce this belief. "You are not a girl, honey. Look: You have a little willy!"

Puberty

The female side has now been suppressed deep down into the unconscious, where she lies simmering, waiting for the next phase of life, the phase where both sex and gender becomes paramount. A couple of years before puberty children start exploring sex and gender roles in a new way. There is puppy love, which -- in fact -- is a very serious kind of love. There may also be sexual experimentation.Our kid starts dreaming about being a girl in earnest. "He" is still able to handle this, keeping the dreams secret.

So far the kid has gotten away with "his" charade, but that won't last. Fueled by the sexual desire of puberty, the inner sex identity demands to be heard. The internal  sex identity forces her way up to the surface of the mind, using images from the anima to express herself.

"She" is wired for sex as a woman. "He" is expected to behave like a man. But regardless how much he tries to repress it, the fantasy of having a female body becomes strong and eroticized.

Again, the psyche makes use of anima images, all depending on the life situation of this person. If femininity is associated with filth and sexuality, his "ponyo" or female self takes the shape of a bimbo or a slut. If femininity is associated with weakness and stupidity, "she" may take the shape of a debutante, a cheer leader, a school girl.

"She" will nearly always take over the "negative" aspects found in the subconscious first, for the simple reason that the "positive" aspects are already taken by the masculine ego and persona. After all, the ego holds on to that which is considered positive by the surrounding culture.

Homosexual?

Some of the disturbing fantasies leads our case to fear that "he" is homosexual. Basic, feminine, sexual instincts often  include a desire for penetration, and male to female crossdreamer fantasies therefore often include imagery of being taken by a man.

The fact is, however, that our case is attracted to women, as is many --if not most --  MTF crossdreamers. "His" dream of penetration is not that different from the one found among many lesbian women. In other words: "He" is actually homosexual, but not in the way "he" thinks. "He" is homosexual as a woman, but not as a man.

Catch 22

But even if our friend come to terms with the idea that he is not gay, a life as a lesbian is no solution either. His girl friend will definitely object, and lesbians rarely go for male bodied crossdreamers. He is caught in a Catch 22 situation. He is damned whatever he does. He needs a cure to live a normal life and he now starts desperately looking for one.

Our friend now makes new attempts at forcing "the inner woman" down into the subconscious, and he does so in many ways. He gets himself a girl friend, hoping that she will cure him. He might try out extreme masculine activities in order to toughen himself up. A lot of MTF crossdreamers end up in the military. And for a while, it may seem to work. But it does not really. As soon as there is a lull in his life, she pops up again and demands to be heard.

Now he may try to compromise with "her". Many crossdreamers do so by crossdressing. Others by exploring their fantasies in fiction or online role playing. In fact, there are therapists who argue that the best way of handling some transgender conditions is through "controlled crossdressing", meaning allowing for crossdressing in secret and at certain times.

The good thing with all of this is that the unconscious self now gradually realigns with the conscious ego. The female sex identity is no longer hidden. She is able to express herself through crossdressing, as an online avatar or through role playing.

Through acceptance comes some kind of peace. "He" still has to uphold "his" masculine persona, however, and there are limits to what "he" can let his girl friend and family go through. There will always be a residue of longing and emotional pain.

For some the gender dysphoria -- i.e. the mismatch between the female sex identity and the masculine persona -- is so strong, that the acceptance of crossdreaming and/or crossdressing is not enough.Their need to express themselves as women, fully and unconditionally, is so strong that they are driven towards deep depression, drug abuse, self abuse or -- in the worst case  scenario -- suicide.

The research I have read seems to indicate that transitioning is of great help for them. Becoming women in the flesh does not mean that their troubles are over, but most of them report that they are much happier in their new lives.

Again: Not all crossdreamers are transsexual. Many find that expressing "the other side" through crossdressing, role playing and/or fantasies is enough. I find it very hard to believe that their crossdreaming is caused by something entirely different from the transsexuals, though.

Conclusion

If your crossdreaming is very weak, and your sex identity is clearly congruent with the bodily sex, it should be possible to live a good life without facing your inner woman.

However, if your sex identity is misaligned with your body, and your crossdreaming fantasies are strong and persistent, the only way of coping is by integrating her into your conscious self.

For some this means transitioning, but for the majority this means letting her express herself through crossdressing, role playing or fantasies -- without the guilt and shame. That is not an easy task, and in future post I would like to discuss the practical sides to surviving as a crossdreamer.

Here are  the other posts in the transgender psychology series:

1: The Role of the Unconscious
2: The Ego and the Complexes
3: The Shadow
4: The Animus and the Anima
Ponyo for Crossdreamers
Transgender and the mind and body conundrum
Spellbound transgender
Falling in love with your own anima
The other side of your transgender soul - from Dostoyevski to Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Transgender Jung




Jung's Map of the Soul: Kindle edition

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!