January 15, 2014

The Rayka & Jack Dialogue on Crossdreaming 1

Illustration  of Iranian woman, based on photo
by Harris Shiffman. This is not Rayka, but
she could have been.
Last year I had a very interesting email conversation with Rayka, a young Iranian girlfag and female to male crossdreamer.

She is inquisitive, she is intelligent, she asks hard questions and makes very helpful observations.

Because of my discussions with her I have expanded my own understanding of crossdreaming, crossdressing and  transgender issues. Most of all she has helped me map the similarities and differences between female bodied and male bodied crossdreamers.

The following is an edit of that conversation. I publish it here with Rayka's permission.

(About words: A crossdreamer is someone who gets aroused by the idea of being or becoming the other sex. Personally I believe crossdreaming is a symptom of  some sort of broader gender variance. A girlfag is female bodied person with a strong affinity to gay male culture. Girlfags may imagine themselves being a gay man with a gay man, and many -- but not all -- of them are crossdreamers).

Am I transgender?

RAYKA
I can say I'm a FTM  [female to male] crossdreamer but don't know what it all means; does it mean that I'm a transgender? I just mark both options when they ask about gender in a formal paper, I just feel like it but It's so confusing.

It's like you try to keep a hidden identity for yourself but you attempt to give up in the routine of everyday life.

JACK
I consider us transgender, as in "gender variant". We are outliers on the gender spectrum.
Some crossdreamers are truly transsexual, (i.e. with the inborn sex identity of the opposite sex), while others are not, and I am afraid you are the only one who decide for yourself. That might take time.

I guess that one way of finding out who you really are is to see if you suffer from gender dysphoria (i.e. deep unhappiness with one's biological sex and gender role).

If you do not feel distress because of your fantasies and you feel at home in your female body, I would say you are not transsexual. If you feel a deep longing for the life of a man, and this longing causes distress and unhappiness, you might be.

It seems to me you are troubled by it all.

As for myself, I do experience gender dysphoria, but for various reasons transitioning is not on the table.

On gender dysphoria

RAYKA
I'm reading the references you provided. about the dysphoria. Well, I would do anything if I could just cut off these irrelevant mounds of flesh on my chest. I really cant connect to them, they're stupid! I bind them all the time but they are still there! 

You know the image I have of myself  is of a a man with a flat chest, guy's wear and  short hair (just like me!). That person looks like a sweet boy but I'm not sure what's his gender!


Gender roles and alienation

Female roles always have seemed awkward and unfair to me, and I try my best to avoid them. All this makes me a masculine girl in people's eyes -- a girl who wear boy's clothes and is somehow weird! 

My behavior is just neutral -- sometimes masculine, sometimes feminine -- but that strange feeling that always sticks with me is feeling completely out of place most of the times. 

I don't FEEL anything, Life is like a movie passing in front of my eyes. 

Friends say I'm too calm and emotionless, but I just feel numb and barren inside and try to keep myself from releasing something unknown. I don't know where these emotions come from...

If I only could do a top surgery and live in a society which allows me to wear what I want outside and be open about it, it would all get better. 

I still know I'm not a male. Actually it's a case of gender fluidity. Sometimes I feel I'm totally OK with myself; that I'm just a masculine girl (not even so masculine actually) but other times I can't stand myself. I feel I'm not completely girl or boy, and then -- sometimes -- I feel too masculine! So...I can't decide. I'm 50-50 or 60-40, I dunno, I just know I'm incomplete! I would be happy to know your experience. I don't I over-think it Jack? Well, I can't help it!

JACK
I do not think you over-think it at all. We face a lot of problems, but one of the major ones is that the languages we are using (being that Norwegian, Persian or English) are based on the strict gender binary, which makes it so hard to express what we are feeling.

When I read you mail, for instance, I see frustration on at least two levels. One is cultural, you want to behave in a masculine manner, when you feel for it.

The other could  be at least partly biological. You feel anger towards those irrelevant mounds of flesh. This is about the body.

Living in a feminine country

I feel much of the same frustration. As for expressing feminine traits in my local cultural setting: Well, in Norway that is not too hard for a man to do so, as long as you stick to a male dress code. That is: To a certain extent a male bodied person may express stereotypical "feminine" ideals, emotional traits or interests.

In one survey Norway was counted as the second most "feminine" country in the world (after Sweden) which means that macho behavior among men is frowned upon, while culturally more feminine traits like listening, conflict-solving and child care are encouraged.

On the other hand, women are encouraged to express typical male interests. The two largest right wing parties of Norway are now run by women [they are now PM and Minister of Finance respectively], while the major top positions in the business and labor organisations are controlled by women. This changes the rules of the game.

Women may also get away with "crossdressing"  -- that is: using masculine style clothing -- although feminine attire is increasingly encouraged. It is as if the closer men and women get as regards political and social power, the stronger is the need to differentiate along other lines, in this case clothing.

As for the body frustration (or sex dysphoria), mine is the exact opposite of yours. I find my flat and hairy chest alien and ugly. I find men's pride in their manly bits down there weird and unfamiliar.

The third level of confusion is found in the fact that not all of our feelings fit the expected behavior or feelings of one or the other gender. One day we may feel like a woman, another like a man. The fact is that many non-trans people oscillate between the two poles, but since "normal" people are pretty well anchored in one sex, they do not experience this as confusing. Since we are trying to bridge the unbridgeable, this becomes a problem for us.

You say: "My behavior is just neutral, sometimes masculine, sometimes feminine, but that strange feeling that always sticks with me is feeling completely out of place most of the times."

It is this feeling of alienation that tells me that this about much more than cultural gender roles.

I like to say that it feels like I am living the life of another person, a stranger I do not really know, and that is extremely hard. I fear that I will go to my grave not having been myself for one single day.

This is not a trivial matter. I wish I had a solution ready, but I do not. What I have found, though, is that discussing this with other crossdreamers online has helped me come to terms with some of it.

Do you have friends or family members you can talk to about this? Are there any open minded sexologists available in Iran?

Man and woman

RAYKA
Persian is great in this matter, there's no difference between genders in any part of my language, you never know the sex of a third person and I love that. But they do call me miss or lady and it surprises me at times! What do you feel about it? I use another name in internet and can't stand being called she or lady sometimes. Really, what should we be called?!

I was always unsatisfied but didn't notice it before. I have an old journal in which I wrote my thoughts some years ago. While reviewing it, I noticed a note in the last sheet: I had written that I'm not satisfied with my gender, I'm 50-50! It was so interesting, cause I didn't know for how long I've been through this. I just knew I wasn't content about it, but didn't think I could be anything other than female. 

Here in Iran you almost never see any sign of LGBT [lesbian. gay, bisexual, transgender] anywhere, so I didn't know anything about everything! Then I started to search in English, and found an article on Wikipedia about transsexuals. I just read that a female to male transgender may be gay, and it hit me...so hard. 

I was shocked and depressed for some days after it and then started to read and read and read about it. I realized after a while that I'm not a transsexual, but It was so hard... it is so hard, living like this.

You can't decide on what you are and people keep saying: be yourself and enjoy it, you don't need labels. You know it irritates me, dunno why!

I used to wear more make up and wear girls clothes before, now I even can't look at the women section in shops! I'm curious to know about the journey of other transgenders, how did you figured yourself out?

It's true that Norway is a better place when it comes to gender roles, but here in Iran if a woman wants to be successful no one can prevent her, so yes, I agree that it is not just the roles.

Therapy

Yo ask: Have you talked to sexologists or psychologists about it? Don't they have any solution?

I'm not hopeful to find an open minded enough one to talk to. I just once talked to a psychologist here in my [...] and she told me: Forget about it good girl, you just couldn't accept your role because you have lost your father when you were a child. She even told me why I wear make up! Well, I just love eyeliner, does that make me a cis-woman [non-transgender woman]?!

I guess that  if transgender want to prove themselves here, they need to be so masculine or feminine: the damn binary again! I have my sister and some good friends that understand it but I still feel I'm hidden and lost, and don't know if my dreams ever will come true. Should they become true or would hiding them be a better idea?

Finding love looks impossible to me. I can't stand the guys who approach me and see me as a girl, I just can't handle it. It's frustrating, watching every one falling in and out of love all the time and all you got is yaoi! [Japanese style comics made by women for women depicting gay male relationships] and it (male gay stuff) makes me sad and happy at the same time.

What do you think about the term genderqueer? It's more known than crossdreamer.

More about language

JACK
There are several variants of Norwegian, Danish and Swedish (which are, linguistically, one language). In most variants there are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. However, what is classified as masculine, feminine or neuter may differ from dialect to dialect. Danish and some Norwegian dialects do not have the feminine gender!

In some Norwegian dialects the word girl is feminine (jenta), in others it is masculine (jenten). Unfortunately, this does not make much of a difference as regards people's attitudes to gender roles. In other words: Language does shape our understanding of what it means to be male and female, but it is not determined by the grammatical gender of nouns.

The  idea of anyone addressing me as Ms. is incomprehensible to me. I have been forcefully socialized into the role of a man. Moreover, I look very much like a man. Still, my voice is not very masculine, and on the phone I am mistaken for a woman all the time. I can still remember the embarrassment of a Korean colleague, when he realized he was addressing me, and not the person he presumed was my female secretary. That was kind of fun ;)

More on therapy

It took me years to realize what was really bothering me. I went in therapy -- which helped me much, by the way -- but my main conclusion was that i had been suppressing my "inner man" and needed to express male anger. I needed to express anger, all right, but there wasn't much male about it.

I actually managed to split my thinking in two. I compartmentalized my crossdreaming from my quest for self understanding. And it wasn't until some six to seven years ago I decided that enough was enough. I had to face this dragon. That is the main reason I started the blog.

Don't make up your mind about anything yet! This is a tough journey, and there have been others before you who gradually have realized that they were transsexual after all. Others have found that they are not. I will never call me transsexual, because I am never going to transition, but I havemuch in common with them.

Lou Sullivan, the founder of the American FTM movement, was an man-loving crossdreamer like you.

Finding out

You write: " I'm curious to know about the journey of other transgenders, how did you figured yourself out?"

Unfortunately, I am not a crossdresser. I would feel ridiculous dressed up as a woman, as this body of mine would completely ruin the illusion. I envy my crossdresser sisters who manage to live with that illusion or who have the looks to get away with it. I am certain their crossdressing helps them stay balanced mentally.

For me it was the crossdreaming that gave the game away. It just got stronger and stronger the older I got.

Childhood

Still, I can remember childhood crossdreaming as well. While my comrades dreamed about being cowboys and tough soldiers, I wanted to be Supergirl, female but strong. I am not there yet :)

You write: "I just once talked to a psychologist here in my university and she told me: forget about it good girl, you just couldn't accept your role because you have lost your father when you were a child."

I have looked closely at theories like the one she presented, and have come to the conclusion that not all crossdreamers have lost their father/mother, had an absent/dominating/weak/aggressive father and/or mother. We can all make up narratives like this one. Besides, if one sibling becomes a crossdreamer under such conditions, why not all of them?

No, I believe there is a biological component to all of this. That does not mean that childhood experiences and the culture surrounding us do not contribute to how the crossdreaming plays out. Indeed, maybe the same biological basis may play out differently under different circumstances: Some become crossdreamers, others do not.

Finding love

You say that finding love looks impossible.

If you search for girlfags on my blog you will find stories about girfags hooking up with guydykes and who actually make it work. But we have not come to the point where it is possible for us to find each other. The gay and lesbian cultures have all these subtle symbols and signs and meeting places that make love easier.

We have tried to set up a meeting place over at Crossdream Life, which has become an important meeting place for crossdreamers, but it is not really working as a dating place. There are too few female to male crossdreamers taking part at the moment.

On the positive side: there is much more variation out there than we tend to believe, and also a lot of understanding. It is amazing to see to what length some girl friends of crossdreamers are willing to go to make things work.

You might find a guy who is neither gay nor a crossdreamer, but who nevertheless accepts you for who you are. The best way of finding such a man is to be who you are.

On genderqueer

As for the word "genderqueer":

What I have learned from many crossdreamers is that they really dream about crossing the line between the genders. They want to be the other sex. The term "genderqueer" is often used by those who feel that they can bridge the sexes. Some of the ones using it are also post-structuralists, following a philosophy that denies any biological core to transgender conditions. Some even argue you can choose your gender!  I am not so sure about that.

Julia Serano, the trans activist, says that she went through a genderqueer phase on her way to a female gender identity. But she now identifies as a woman. (See Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity)

On the other hand, there are also male to female crossdreamers who do want achieve a balance between the masculine and the feminine. Others again, are very careful to distinguish between their sex identity (which may be male), and their interests, temperament and gender expressions (which may be feminine).

I guess a am "gender queer", but "sex woman", if you see what I mean.

Click here for part 2!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting conversation.

I was not even aware of the female to male crossdressers, but I now see that we have a lot in common and a lot to learn from each other.

I can recognize my own struggles in Rayka's, even if I was born with a male body instead of a female one.

The hardest thing for me is that I will never be seen for who I am, and it seems to me that Rayka is facing the same problem.

Roy

Jack Molay said...

@Roy

I believe the MTF crossdreamer community (or more correctly, the American male to female crossdresser community) made a serious mistake when they decided to keep their distance from both gay men and trans women.

I get why they did so (and I am mainly refering to Virginia Prince and Tri Ess here). They wanted to create safe havens for married heterosexual male crossdressers. They needed to reassure worried wives that their husband was not gay and that he were not going to transition.

Prince even argued that this kind of crossdressing had nothing to do with sexual desire, adopting the asexual ideal of womanhood in the process.

Because of this they also bought the idea that there are no female to male "heterosexual" crossdressers, losing yet another opportunity for learning and assistance.

Rayka's experience of invalidation, loss and alienation is very similar to the one felt by many male to female crossdressers and crossdreamers.

We can learn a lot from her and her "female brothers". The female to male crossdreamers and crossdressers can also learn a lot from their MTF counterparts.

Unfortunately, there is entrenchment on all sides: MTF crossdressers, trans women, lesbians and gay men, so it will take some time before we can get such dialogs flowing.

A. Quiet Voice said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"A crossdreamer is someone who gets aroused by the idea of being or becoming the other sex."

No it isn't.

Jack Molay said...

@Anonymous

"A crossdreamer is someone who gets aroused by the idea of being or becoming the other sex. No it isn't."

Huh?

Could you please elaborate?