August 26, 2013

Crossdreaming : A Push Towards a Self Authoring Journey

On the road to self authorship (photo: Hemera/Photos.com)
In this post, guest blogger Janikest argues  that crossdreamera needs to develop narratives that makes sense of their lives.

Only then can they find ways of navigating a society that shows little understanding of what crossdreaming is about.

"Crossdreaming : A Push Towards a Self Authoring Journey"

By Guest Writer Janikest

Crossdreaming is a complex phenomenon with a wide variety of features and expressions from one individual to another. One thing is quite recurrent though : to the casual "fetishist" to the dysphoric "twilighter", crossdreaming is likely to come up with a host of issues, ranging from love shyness to chronic or permanent anxiety.

Wandering around forums and reading books on the topic has also allowed me to notice another common feature : The people who seem to be able to handle crossdreaming (be it finding an outlet, trying to figure out what it is, or chose to transition) share something in common. The present text is aimed at understanding what they share.


Becoming the author of our own lives

Among many challenges that modern life can set in front of us, crossdreaming makes it almost necessary for us to develop our mind to a higher level of understanding in three areas :

  • cognitive [regarding perception, judgment, reasoning, knowledge],
  •  intrapersonal [existing or occurring within the individual self or mind], 
  • and interpersonal [regarding relations between persons].

Crossdreaming puts us inevitably (and most of the time unwillingly) on crossroads where we have to depart from following external formulas to become self authors.

Kegan and Magolda

Self authorship is a concept that has been coined in adult developmental psychology, through the works of Robert Kegan and Baxter Magolda. Both of these theorists show that cognitive and emotional development is not something that stops at adulthood, and thus, do not share the idea that development should be a concept limited to child psychology.

Their first key idea is that since the 19th century and all throughout the 20th century, modernity, and its high life expectancy, has placed new possibilities of development along with more challenging demands.

The second idea is that somewhat, the individuals often struggle to face these new challenges because they are not equipped with the mental structure that could allow them to make sense of their complex environment.

The primary level

Imagine a primary level of consciousness where the baby cannot distinguish himself from her environment. Herself, her environment, and other beings are all alike: immediate, undistinguished perceptions.

With this mode of thinking, the baby will be forced to grow because the environment shows an incredibly more complex structure.

Psychoanalysts have to a long extent written about the phase when the baby is able to distinguish from her mother. Indeed, she cannot account anymore for why her mother is not immediately coming when she cries or does a tantrum. "She then must be different from I".

Kegan's five stages of development (from Developmental Observer). Click to enlarge!
Originally in Kegan:  In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life

Secondary level

Then comes, throughout childhood, the secondary level, characterized by a "tit for that" mentality. Toddlers are able to distinguish themselves from others in terms of their concrete needs. 

They are acted upon by their own present needs and as these needs are not reflected upon, they unable to build a long run perspective. Morals are also very basic at that age: they can best be described in terms of seeking the maximum reward and the minimum punishment.

Adolescence

Adolescence is often viewed as another milestone of development to adulthood. The transition from the second to the third stage is still the common description we have today when we are told what it means to be an adult. 

The "tit for that, self centered, and short run mentality has to be abandoned for a self that is able to understand other's enduring dispositions, reflect upon self, build relationship of mutual commitment, and endorse certain values.

One has to keep in mind that the transition from stage 2 to stage 3 places enormous demands on the adolescent. What we ask from her is to be able to understand broader systems, abstract ideas, so that she can fit in a web of institutions involving trust and commitment, the family and the workplace being the most important of them.

Crossdreamers are more likely to face a developmental crisis

Unfortunately, this third order seems itself to be more and more inadequate to the demands of modern life. It does not mean that one equipped with this way of making sense of herself and her environment is going to be unhappy, but her happiness then, depends on the quality of the environment in which she is committed to. 

People facing a developmental crisis at this level often feel like it is time to stop following external formula and start authoring one's life.

In her book, entitled Authoring your life, Baxter Magolda, through longitudinal studies of various people in their twenties to their late thirties, extensively describes both the challenges these young people are facing and the opportunities they did not envision before.

When you are not understood

My hypothesis is that crossdreaming makes it way more likely for such a crisis to happen, since it does not get along well with the values that we have, more or less deeply, internalized.

Crossdreaming indeed denies the possibility of being grasped in any existing discourse society proposes and thus, an individual who is situated at the third order of consciousness is submitted to what is seen as an impossible dilemma causing cognitive dissonance, distress, if not despair.

The struggle to maintain cognitive consistency can lead to mild anxiety to an unbearable mental weariness since one is not equipped to incorporate crossdreaming in her life. She will either fall into a state of denial or split her life in order to view crossdreaming the same way society treats a threat : isolate, monitor, and repress.

Crossdreaming, and the suffering encountered by crossdreamers, is a clear case showing that self authorship is a difficult step that most adults haven't reached yet.

It is one thing to believe we are what we are and we do what what we do now as a result of conscious and deliberate choices (and not seeing the invisible imprint of institutions and other individuals), and facing an issue that reveals how much we have yet to do to act and think by ourselves.

Using self authorship to handle crossdreaming

Without saying that the ability to be a self author solves everything (far from it, but it nevertheless reframes the challenges), this cognitive and emotional shift allows the crossdreamer to move from an a crippling state of anxiety and pain to a more active stage of self understanding and meaning making.

The self authoring mind implies three sets of abilities.

On the cognitive plan, the self authoring mind is able to grasp the contextual nature of knowledge and hold several hypothesis simultaneously.

On the intrapersonal level, the self authoring mind is able to reflect upon his own values to incorporate them into a broader, more complex system.

On the interpersonal level, the self authoring mind is carefully able to craft her own ideology (ideology having no negative meaning here) by which she makes sense of what society proposes to her (she might reendorse or reject social values depending on her own new system). For instance, a self authoring mind value respect but makes a difference between respect and approval.

Are we emotionally equipped to know who we are?

I think the "transitioning or not transitioning" dilemma is an important one, but it should not mask another key aspect which is mainly: is one cognitively and emotionally equipped to know who she is?

The second issue can mess up with the first one, by the way. Before any attempt to know the biological nature of dysphoria (I do not deny its existence), I think most crossdreamers go through a phase of very uncomfortable cognitive dissonance.

I feel happy with who I am right now, although it is only the beginning of my journey to discover who I am, but hell, I was, as many other crossdreamers, a bloody mess several years ago.

I finally must thank Jack Molay to stand as a living and inspiring example of this self authorship concept. Making a blog, gathering and examining knowledge, helping other people finding their own way (but without being normative), this is what it is all about.

You will find Janikest participating in the discussions over at the Crossdream Life Forum.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!