July 29, 2013

Warrior Princess - On Using Hypermasculinity to Kill Off Your Feminine Side

Kristin Beck, before and after
A new fascinating book covers the life of Kristin, born Chris, Beck, an American Navy Seal who ended up transitioning.

The book,  Warrior Princess A U.S. Navy Seal's Journey to Coming Out Transgender, should be of interest also to non-transsexual male to female crossdreamers. It gives a clear example of what has been called "hypermasculinity": attempts at suppressing a feminine side by getting involved in stereotypical male interests.

I have no way of definitely knowing whether Kristin Beck is or has been a crossdreamer (in the sense of having experienced sexual fantasies of being a woman pre-op), but she was definitely a crossdresser while  male bodied.

She was also married with a woman, so I guess we can say she had a lot in common with many of the readers of this blog, whether they are transsexual or not.


She is not the first MTF transgender to have joined the military to toughen up and become "a real man". Military male bodied persons are twice as likely to be transgender as civilians.  Still,  I do not think there are many crossdreamers out there who have joined special ops like the Navy SEALs in order to support a fragile male identity.

The fact that many gynephilic (woman-loving) male to female transgender often chose stereotypical male occupations has been used to "prove" that they are not real women. (This implicitly means that female firefighters and fighter pilots are not real women, either, but let us put that aside for a moment.)

Family members and friends may also push them into traditional masculine occupations in order to have them "cured" of their crossdreaming.

This is an old tactic, often used for  homosexual men (and women). The idea is that if you force them into accepting activities "appropriate to their sex" they will rediscover "their true selves", or -- if not -- they will be conditioned to accept their fate.

This does not work for the gay and it does not work for crossdreamers, but as long as people can make themselves believe that this is a question of will and character, and not the result of an inborn trait, I guess both family members and crossdreamers will continue trying.

To me the fact that a male bodied Navy Seal decides to transition is proof of the exact opposite: The inner drive that forced her to take this extreme decisions goes far beyond anything you can expect from a controllable "fetish" or  fixed idea.

This is a violent and extreme attempt at suppressing a natural side of ones own personality, in order to fit in and find love and respect. Mental conditioning won't solve this problem.

Warrior Princess, the book

The book is interesting on many levels. I especially admire the courage of Kristin. And here I am thinking more about her courage to chose her own life and go public with her story, than her actions as a Navy Seal.

It should be noted, though, that  the book has clearly not been written by Kristine herself, but by the psychologist Anne Speckhard.

Speckhard has chosen a journalistic style that sometimes weakens the message, in my mind. She quotes childhood conversations, word by word, as if she was there. This gives the presentation a dramatic flair, but unfortunately weakens its credibility.

Childhood memories

That is a shame, because many of the childhood stories given in the book demonstrate clearly that gynephilic trans women also have childhood memories of wanting to be a girl:

"When Chris wanted to be part of the girl's rituals he was actively rebuffed.
'That's for girls, silly!' Hanna said, taking one of her small plastic barrettes out of Chris's pudgy hand after he tried to fasten it to his short hair. And when the four-year old Chris burst into tears she didn't give it back.
'You don't need a barrette,' his mother explained. 'You're a boy!'".

Psychological explanation

Implicitly Speckhard also gives her own psychological explanation for Kristine's female identity that I find difficult to accept.

Speckhard seems to believe that Chris, now Kristine, chose a female identity in response to the masculine demands of an oppressive father. It is as if she believes Chris wanted to be one of the girls, because their lives were easier than his.

"I want to be Hanna! Chris frequently wished. While he put on his little boots and a jacket early in the mornings braving the cold weather to go outside to shovel snow, or feed the farm animals; Chris saw that his sisters stayed inside and seemed to have a much nicer life helping their mother. I'd rather be a girl and stay with them! They get to have all the fun. Chris thought to himself."

Given the diversity of transgender family constellations, I am not sure this makes much sense at all. I had a kind and "feminine" father who would not have touched a gun if you forced him to. Moreover, very few hypermasculine, oppressive, fathers get transgender sons. Most boy's remain non-transgender, regardless of upbringing.

And had his sister Hanna been a female to male crossdreamer, she might perfectly well have envied Chris his tough and exciting challenges out there in "the free world of male privilege". Trans kids have a tendency of secretly identifying with every stereotypical aspect of their hidden sex, in the same way non-trans kids try on the meanings and the mannerisms of their gender in order to gain respect and develop a stable personality.

In other words: Using this kind of reasoning, it seems you can use any childhood, regardless of internal family dynamics, to "explain" a transgender condition. That may be of help to the individual, but is impossible to prove and does not help us find a more coherent explanation for what all this is about.

Upbringing may determine attempts at "solving the problem"

I seriously doubt that the harsh upbringing of Kristin is a sufficient explanation for her gender dysphoria. However, her father's fundamentalist obsession with making a real man out of Chris does help explain why she chose to join the military.

"One day Luther [his father] happened into his room when Chris was playing quietly wearing one of Hanna's skirts.
'What the hell are you doing wearing that dress?' Luther shouted dumbfounded at the sight. He scooped up Chris in a rage and shook him hard. 'Take that off right now! I don't ever want to to see you doing something so perverse as that again! Boys do not wear dresses! You got that?' he shouted."

His father didn't want the boys to grow up to be "sissies" and he was tough on his sons. Chris got more of this abuse, because of his feminine side.  This is exactly the kind of reaction that traumatizes transgender children and make them turn against themselves.

Relating to the other sex

There is a tendency for both crossdreamers, researchers and others to ignore the social context of the lives of transgender people. That is: People easily forget that their attempts at fitting in, actually may make them stand out, simply because they fail to live up to the demands of friends, foe and family.

I know for a fact that I was not wired for the life of a proactive, aggressive, beer drinking "bloke", which in no way helped my social life as a teenager and young adult.

The following description of Krisitin's high school day's echoes a large number of stories told on this blog:

"In high school Chris was socially awkward -- perhaps not knowing how to relate as a boy to the opposite sex given that he was already gender identified as a female. He didn't feel gay either -- he wasn't sure about anything -- so Chris mostly shut down any sense of sexuality preferring to relate to others in a non-sexual manner. He tried to date girls and did a few times, but mostly it didn't work out. He mostly just wanted to be around the girls and be in the talks and gossip with them. He liked to be near them to their clothes and wish he was wearing what they were wearing. He was an odd ball and an underdog."

I can certainly relate to this description, although my solution was a different one. I took the intellectual route, another area of male dominance. My female side insisted on engaging in traditional "feminine" disciplines, however, so I am afraid my studies didn't really help -- or at least not in the way I had envisaged.

Other male to female transgender -- especially  those who cannot realistically live up to the ideals of soldiers and policemen -- often end up in more "nerdy" male dominated spheres of life, like engineering or computing.  Not only do these occupations imbue them with some sense of masculinity. The male dominance in these communities also helps them avoid facing their fears. If you do not interact romantically with women, you can pretend nothing is wrong.

The Warrior Princess definitely preferred life in the field to a life in suburbia. Facing the Taliban was nothing compared to her  facing her failure as a man in the marriage bed.

Sexual life

Unlike many transsexual autobiographies the book does not hide the sexual aspects of being transgender. Chris' painful attempts at establishing normal relationships with women illustrates the clash between two female sexualities:

"Pretending she was the girl, Chris laid down and let Angie get on top and ride him again. Even though it was he penetrating her, her body thumping down on top of him gave him the sensation of being the girl. When they finished it was clear she understood what was going through his mind, and it was obvious -- even though she was silent about it -- that she wasn't pleased. That was the end of that relationship. Nearly the same would happen with all of Chris's relationships for the rest of his life: awkwardness, then isolation and finally failure."

In many of the comments on this blog you will find similar examples of the incompatibility between MTF crossdreamers and many (but not all) non-transgender women.

If anyone wonders why so many crossdreamers decide to journey alone, this is  the main explanation -- and not that they are "narcissists with an autoerotic sexuality". Unless they can find an open-minded partner willing to experiment, they will find themselves sexually incompatible with the women they love.

Unfortunately, this book -- as so many other autobiographies of transsexuals -- does not manage to capture the complexity of what is happening. Take this quote as an example:

"For years Chris had turned off his sexuality like a light switch and lived as a warrior, consumed with the battle -- living basically asexual... And until he resolved his body issues and got a girl body it would be too strange for him to engage in homosexual behavior that he did not relate to."

First of all: For Kristine to have sex with men is "heterosexual", not "homosexual" behavior. And if she cannot relate to having sex with men, why does not the book discuss the possibility of living as a lesbian woman? Or for that matter: If Kristine's sexual orientation is fluid, why not say so?

To call Kristin's pre-op life for "asexual" is -- at best -- an insufficient description. The story itself tells us that sexual pressure is one of many factors driving her towards transitioning. She was far from asexual.

The effect of this book

My Scandinavian temperament may find the style of the book a bit loud and forced. In a rather bizarre way Chris' status as a masculine American war hero is used to underpin the legitimacy of Kristin, the woman who "wants to be pretty". I don't think this would be possible in a country like mine.

But then again, the book is written for an American audience. I  realize that this popular, journalistic, style may be exactly what is needed for Kristin to achieve what she set out to do by having this book published: namely, to stop transgender people in the US from killing themselves.

And the following is definitely written in the voice of Kristin:

"I reach out to all of the younger generation and encourage you to live your life fully and treat each other with compassion, be good to each other especially in your own backyard (whether it be high school or community). There is a huge world out there and many adventures that await you."

The book has been well received well in American media. What is even more promising is the fact that so many of her colleagues in the military have accepted her. She is actually still working for the US military, although no longer as a Navy Seal.

See also:

Kristin Beck and Anne Spekchard: Warrior Princess A U.S. Navy Seal's Journey to Coming Out Transgender

See also: Kristin Beck, the SEALs’ Warrior Princess Who Came Out as Transgender

Transgender Navy SEAL 'Warrior Princess' Comes Out

Sandra L. Samons, Ph.D.: "Building Your Own Prison: The Use of External Structure to Reinforce Suppression of Transgender Feelings and Behaviors" Gender and Psychoanalysis, Volume 6 #2 Spring 2001

Aaron Belkin:   Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Fa├žade of American Empire, 1898-2001 (Columbia/Hurst)

The book's references to the term hypermasculinity is based on George R. Brown's study of transgender in the military. See for instance George R. Brown: "Transsexuals in the Military, Flight into Hypermasculinity", Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol 17, No 6, 1988.  Brown believes that the the percentage of transsexuals are twice as high in the US military as in the general population.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!