October 8, 2013

Are all crossdreamers transsexual? Is Jack?

In a discussion over at Crossdressers.com the concept of crossdreaming has come up, and I see that there are some confusion about what my position is as regards the nature of men and women who get turned on by the idea of being "the opposite sex".
Photo: Erik Reis, photos.com

auto andrea writes:

"He [Jack Molay] propagates a theory that aims to positively accommodate gender-dysphoric autogynephiliacs, by basically reducing the condition to transsexualism. Those autogynephiliacs who have never experienced gender-dysphoria, he implies, are repressed transsexuals."

I can see why auto andrea has come to read me this way, but this is actually not what I say.

What I have said is that all crossdreamers most likely have something in common, and that this "something" most probably has a biological core.

This does not mean that all crossdreamers are transsexuals -- repressed or not repressed. The fact is that I think only a minority of crossdreamers are truly  transsexual, in the sense that they completely identify with their target sex.


Essentialism

I think the reason this may be confusing is that the debate is dominated by extreme essentalism, whether this is of the spiritual kind (there is a female "chip" in the brain somewhere that generates everything from a love of men to a fascination for Gucci handbags) or the physical ("The XX marks the spot, and who cares about what people feel!").

I find both approaches far too simplistic. Recent research draws a picture of wo/man where the personality is an ongoing end product of a wide variety of factors. To mention a few:
  • The genome.
  • The proteome (a single gene can code for over 1000 proteins, which all may have effects on body and mind).
  • Hormones.
  • General health, including exposure to toxins, different types of food, physical stress.
  • Life experience, including psychological trauma and conditioning.
  • Social, cultural and economic factors (poverty, war, unpredictability).
  • The belief system of the surrounding culture and the extent to which it allows for conceptualization of transgender identities.
All these factors -- and more -- interact through various feedback loops. 

For instance: We now know that how you feel may influence your gut flora. Your gut bacteria may determine how your body is able to handle toxins and nutrients, which again may influence your mood and personality. Wo/man is not a machine. Wo/man is a complex sociobiological system.

The slider model

I have discussed this more thoroughly in my blog posts on "the slider model"  the Thai sexologist Natalie helped me develop. The model is still a work in progress, but it does not in any way allow me to say that all crossdreamers are transsexual.

So what about me arguing that there is "a biologial core" to crossdreaming? 

I see that this phrase may be misinterpreted. This is me using shorthand in order not to have to explain it all every time I write a blog post on crossdreaming. 

The statement is based on the following sets of premises:

Ernest Hemingway as a child. When Ernest was a
child nearly all American boys were dressed as girls.
One reason was to avoid the sexualisation of kids.
Most of these boys grew up to be non-trans men.
Ernest, however, did become a crossdreamer!
1. You cannot explain the experience of transsexuals on the basis of psychological trauma or social construction alone. 

In most societies for a man to want to be a woman is an absolute "no no". This is one of the strongest taboos we have. 

For someone to violate this taboo requires an extremely strong drive or motivation. This motivation is not found in the language or belief systems of modern Western societies.

Moreover, the existence of trans people in different cultures and in different epochs tells me that transsexual men and women are not end products of a "patriarchal capitalist society".

Psychological trauma or abuse may provide parts of the explanation. We have stories of mothers deliberately humiliating their young sons by dressing them up as girls. 

But up til the 1930's whole generations of young boys were dressed up as girls, and not all of them became transsexual. 

Besides, in my correspondence with crossdreamers and transsexuals  from all over the world I am unable to find a pattern as to what kind of abuse produces trans people: A dominant mother? A weak mother? A violent father? A meek father?  This is like the quasi-Freudian explanations for homosexuality: Any explanation works. Such hypotheses may help the individual, but they cannot be used as a basis for a theory explaining trans conditions.

2. The use of Occam's Razor encourages us to choose the simplest explanation for something complex, and I am following this principle.

The hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is that all crossdreamers, transsexual or non-transsexual, have something in common, and if this factor or factors cannot be reduced to psychology and culture alone, we have to look at "the wiring" and "the hardware".

What these people have in common is the fact that they dream and fantasize about being the other sex. I have found it impossible to sort these fantasies into types that are exclusive to transsexuals and non-transsexuals respectively.

Some argue that this biological core can be reduced to a matter of the amount of hormones the fetus is exposed to in the womb. I doubt this. The research is inconclusive. But even if we do accept this premise, we see that we face an infinite number of combinations of hormones and dosages, all of which may lead to different outcomes, identity wise. 

If you, on top of this, add psychological and other factors, the gender diversity we see is exactly the one we would expect to see. The variation  in  temperament and personality we find among non-trans persons strengthens this argument.

I may be wrong in this, of course. It is certainly  possible to imagine a scenario were a similar fascination for TG captions, comics and short stories is caused by two completely different sets of circumstances. A fever may, after all, be caused by a wide variety of diseases. But it seems to me that crossdreaming is a slightly more complex phenomenon than fever.

Is Jack Molay transsexual?

It is not often I find my own identity discussed in a public fora, but at Crossdressers.com they did.

One participant writes:

"I'm not disputing Jack Molay's self-identity, but why does he use a male name and identify as a male? Unless I read an older blog and she has changed her identity and name since then? I don't have a good answer for that. You can ask at the crossdreamers blog. 'He' has often indicated that 'he' is probably TS but will not/can not transition."

In a world where so many people insist on putting us all into neat little boxes, this one is a bit harder to answer.

I have been very careful not to call myself transsexual. I have said that I suffer from gender dysphoria. I realize that it may be hard to keep the two terms apart, as they are often used interchangeably by both experts and non-experts.

For me gender dysphoria is a term that can be used to describe the pain of feeling a misalignment between an "inner" and "outer" sex, regardless of whether you decide to transition or not. 


"Gender dysphoria refers to the distress that may accompany the incongruence between one's experienced or expressed gender and one's assigned gender."

Note that the gender concept used in the DSM includes biology:

"...gender is used to denote the public (and usually legally recognized) lived role as a boy or a girl, man or woman, but, in contrast to certain social constructionist theories, biological factors are seen as contributing, in interaction with social and psychological factors, to gender development."

The DSM is actually pretty good at describing the diversity of gender variance. It makes it clear that not all transgender people feel gender incongruence. Nor are all who feel gender incongruence gender dysphoric. But some are, and the pain I feel from all of this can only be described as gender dysphoria.

Does that make me a transsexual?  Well, one of the reason the DSM distinguishes between gender dysphoria and being transsexual in the first place is that not all gender dysphoric persons decide to transition.

The DSM defines a transsexual as 

"an individual who seeks, or have undergone, a social transition from male to female or female to male, which in many, but not all, cases also involve somatic transition by cross-sex hormone treatment and genital surgery (sex reassignment surgery)"

Since I am living as a man, presenting as a man, and am not planning to transition, I do not consider myself transsexual.


Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!