March 3, 2014

On Getting Your Identity Affirmed (The Rayka & Jack Crossdreaming Dialogue 3)

Last year I had a very interesting email conversation with Rayka, a young Iranian girlfag and female to male crossdreamer. This is part three of our edit of that conversation. Part 1 can be found here.
How do you get accepted for who you
are, if there are no words to describe
who you are?
(Photo: Stockbyte)


In this part we discuss the difference between gender roles, gender traits and gender identity. We also look at what the lack of visibility, recognition and affirmation means for you mental health.

(About words: A crossdreamer is someone who gets excited by the idea of being or becoming the other sex. A girlfag is female bodied person with a strong affinity to gay male culture and who may imagine herself being a gay man with a gay man).

A difference between MTF and FTM crossdreamers

JACK
At first I believed that the main difference between MTF [male to female] and FTM [female to male] crossdreamers was the FTM focus on gay men and gay relationships. In MTF erotica the relationships are just as often male vs. female. It as if there has to be a male involved for many MTF crossdreamers to feel affirmed as woman in their fantasies. If you ask them, however, whether they are truly attracted to men, they will say no.

I have made myself "a sexual orientation test", asking selected MTF dreamers the following: "Go down the main street of your town. At the end list up the people you remember. If the majority is female, you are predominantly gynephilic [sexually attracted to women]."

This applies to me, as well. I am attracted to women and not to men. I do believe I have a preliminary solution to the puzzle, though, and I got it when I read a wonderful lesbian love story written by a MTF crossdreamer I know. The story is widely read by lesbians. I doubt very much if a man would be able to write such a story if he didn't have some kind of inner female identity. The point is that if you remove the erotic part, the crossdream that remains is the dream of a lesbian romantic relationship.

Maybe you can come up with an explanation for why FTM crossdreamers do not need to be a man with a woman in their fantasies to have their masculinity affirmed.

Words for what we are

I realize that it must be hard for you to even try explain what you are to your friends, given that the only terms are lesbian and trans. I have tried to use the term "straight gays" to explain this to non-trans friends. Sometimes it works, sometimes it causes even more confusion.

How it feels to be a girl

You wonder how it feels to be a girl with a girl´s emotions. I can completely relate to this. "How can you possible now how it feels to be a girl?"some people ask. My reply is much like yours: "Í have absolutely no idea how it feels to be a man!" But I do know what if feels to be human, and have found that most of what it means to be a man or a woman is something we have in common.


Still, whenever I am forced to play the role people expect from me, I feel uncomfortable. For instance, some of my male friends think hanging out in a pub, watching soccer is a wonderful idea. I cannot for the life of me understand what it is that they find so alluring. It has probably something to do with being in a place where they can be "themselves", not having to pose for women.

Anyway, I am lousy at being a "man", so I understand your struggle with playing the role of a regular girl.

Unlike you, I have never tried to adjust my clothing or body to appear more feminine. I guess the taboo is too strong. The negative conditioning has been too strong.  I would therefore be very grateful if you told me about the effect binding your chest has for you. I understand that it makes you appear more masculine  (in the same way some MTF crossdressers tuck away their manly bits), but does it make you feel more at ease? Stronger? More attractive? More in harmony with yourself?

No need for female affirmation

RAYKA
You ask: Why doesn't FTM crossdreamers  need to be a man with a woman in their fantasies to have their masculinity affirmed?

Well, I think being the top partner (and the brutal type!) with an effeminate boy does the job! You know; many girlfags are just regular girls with a love for gay men but there are also the tomboy kind and gender dysphoric kind. 

Illustration  of Iranian woman, based on photo
by Harris Shiffman. This is not Rayka, but
she could have been.
It seems like the erotic and love aspect between two men is more important for many girlfags than their own body/identity.  Many girlfags also say that they are androgynous boys or femme FTMs. They want to look like the pretty boys they are attracted to, male, but not of the extremely masculine kind. 

I'm not extremely masculine myself, I hate the male stereotypes as well as female ones. I would be like a stereotypical gay guy with make up and feminine features if I transition.

Crossdressing less important for FTM

Maybe the need to be masculine is not so important to girlfags because of the same reason  crossdressing is not that important to them. I guess MTF persons are so much more into feminine clothes and attributes because they are such taboos for men but masculine traits are not that strange on women, they are actually so common.

I met an Iranian MTF crossdreamer on Facebook and as I noticed he is so much of a woman, you can feel this through his way of writing/talking and he likes my tomboyish style, but you know I want a boy not a woman!!! Actually, I find my butch lesbian friends so much more desirable cause they look like pretty boys! I also read some posts on girlfags journal and they had the same feelings toward the girls who look like the boys who look like girls!!!!!!!! I guess we all are attracted to androgyny.

I also made some progress by posting on my FB timeline that I am 40% male; and guess what? No one was surprised!

A boy friend of mine told me afterwards that he likes to wear make up! Its so interesting but I don't think he get the same reactions if he writes that he's 40% female on his page! It is so unfair: Why should being like females be so degrading to people?

The need for chest binding
About the binding; I think, it's simply necessary. I remember how I was ashamed of my chest before starting to bind- I just can't bear those things! I tried to lose weight in hope of making them look smaller, but no matter what size, they were still there!

Binding really can hurt sometimes but I can't open it even when I'm alone and no one is there to see me, so I guess it makes me feel more at ease cause without doing it I feel so uncomfortable. Though they are still there and the shape is not ideal but it's better than nothing.

In one forum I posted something about feeling extremely sad while watching gay movies, porn etc. it's like I "remember" the dysphoria and the fact that I'm not one of those. One of the members said something like this: It shows the difference between a dysphoric girlfag and not a trans one.

On grief

JACK
Yes, the comment about sadness rings true to me. It took me along time to get down to that feeling, but I now realize that I have a strong feeling of sadness -- or maybe it is grief -- that follows crossdreamer fantasies. And that makes sense now. I guess I am grieving the fact that she has never really had a chance to live a real life -- and I guess she never will.

I hope acknowledging the grief will make it easier to bear. Maybe it is similar to the grief following the death of a loved one. It never disappears, but it fades over the year.

That being said, my inner woman is far from dead. She is with me every day. And that is also a good thing.

Transgender has many levels

RAYKA
Non-crossdreaming crossdressers...hmmm that's interesting. I think the female identification is there, they just don't focus so much on the body. Transgenderism has many levels.

So you know that kind of "grief". It's great to know that. At least it proves something about my identity!

On  being genderqueer in a society that does not understand

Jack, I have a question. It's not something new, I'm just confused. [Named girlfag] once said  that if she/he (I dunno!) was younger, she would consider transitioning and if she did that, she would identify as a transman but now she is -- and being read as -- a butch woman. 

She says she's not a fan of labels. I don't know how she does that but I thought maybe I should do it too. You know, I am living as a female in my society. I'm not sure if I can make a good male or not, but I have been raised and lived as a girl and I probably have to go on like this for the rest of my life. 

I know the male part would always be with me and I know that: to me it means genderqueer. But it's just something private. No one understand the concept of "genderqueerness" in my country. So "what am I living as" in my society?! 

You know, I'm a big fan of women's rights. But I have discovered that most of my problem was with the stereotype thing. People perceive me as a woman and they assume that I have a woman's common traits and it drives me crazy! I always have to remind people when they're talking about women that not all women are like that! 

I'm actually desperately trying to prove my existence. And they may say: "Oh you're just an exception," but as an "exception" I have no specific rights to live with. I have to live as a subcategory of the female category and hopelessly defend its rights. So am I being described as just a specific kind of female here? 

Of course I understand women in many (but not all) ways and I'm always the daughter of my mom! I just need to feel a solid ground under my feet Jack. "TO BE" something, a real thing! 

I know it's silly to say such things to non-binary people, I consider myself one, but in the reality of my life, I lose myself everyday! It's just so confusing to live as one thing and feel something weird else inside, "something" that is not even a thing, 

Drawing by Rayka

I'm not super masculine, and everyone can see this. It's like you want to be some "gray- without-any-shape" thing. and that thing even doesn't exist where I live, so do I have to choose the closest "thing"(my body sex) to live as?! What do you do about this gap?

The limits to gender tolerance

JACK
Gender tolerance is a kind of rubber band in most cultures, I think. In Medieval Scandinavia men, were considered the head of the family -- him being "strong and wise" and all that crap. In practice, however, women wielded enormous power. She had the keys to the farm. She was the real CEO of that business enterprise. And if you read the sagas, you will also see their influence on politics. Some of them were shield maidens, i.e. warriors in their own right.

If I am not mistaken, men are considered the head of the Indian Hindu family. On the surface it looks that way in the Bollywood movies I have seen (this is not a very scientific exercise ;). That being said, the oldest woman of the family is extremely powerful, which is why we have all the tales about the mistreated daughter in law.

In Elizabethan Britain, men were considered natural leaders, but none of them questioned Queen Elizabeth's ability to rule. (Or if they did, she chopped their heads off :).

The first two examples tells us about the rubber band: As long as you do not explicitly question the rule of men, people may tolerate (some) ambition, aggressiveness and a will to power in women.

The Queen Elizabeth example is a variant of what you are facing: "powerful/aggressive/creative/spiritual etc. women as an outlier".

Your Self demands recognition as an proactive, independent human being. I suspect the fact that doing this by stealth is not enough is caused by your strong masculine sex identity, an identity that demands affirmation from others.

And I am afraid that frustration won't go away, even if you find a practical way of uniting your sense of independence with a life as a woman (let's say, as a popular lawyer, politician, doctor etc.)

My problem is not that I cannot express traditional feminine values in my part of the world. Both men and women share values that are traditionally considered feminine and that there is only small differences between male and female values.

This does not solve the problem. I sense that my deeper self crave recognition as a woman, which it will never get.

Sex as more than gender

I am starting to suspect that the term "genderqueer" is of little use if your internal sex-identity is anchored in the identity of the opposite sex. Some people are truly genderqueer (in the sense of having no clear sex identity, trans or non-trans), and for them it makes sense to think of sex identity as something socially constructed from which you may liberate yourself. I no longer believe that that is all there is to sex identities.

I am working on a blog post on the identity seeking of Norwegian girls, right now, and it is relevant to what you are asking about.

Here is the paradox: The more egalitarian Norwegian society becomes, and the more real power women get, the more extreme becomes girl's and women's need to appear feminine. I am going to call the post "Gender identity in Barbie-land", because -- right now -- Norwegian girls are looking more and more like Barbie dolls on the outside. (On the inside they are fierce, independent and powerful warriors -- many of them).

This cannot be explained as a social construction. I believe that now that you can no longer get your "womanness" affirmed by motherhood, the role of a house wife or by choosing traditional female occupations, Norwegian girls are using the only thing left to get their sex identity affirmed: fashion.

If I am right about this, you may find ways of expressing your true nature by stealth, but you will not get the confirmation or affirmation you are looking for.

Crossdreamer spaces

Closeted Westerns MTF crossdressers have tried to solved this problem by becoming members of secret organisations where they meet and reaffirm the femininity of each other. Psychologically speaking, this seem to work quite well, but since I am not a crossdresser, this does not help me.

In your context I guess there is no organised FTM crossdressing culture. In some Arab cultures you will find the boyat culture (which I guess is partly lesbian and partly girfag), but I have not heard of Persian boyats, and even if there was such a subculture, I am not sure if it would fit your needs.

As for transitioning. We have talked about the ayatollahs' acceptance of androphilic [man loving] trans women once, but I don't know if that tolerance embraces female bodied persons as well. And even if transitioning is possible in theory, there is a heavy price to pay.

Darn! I am not really helping, am I?

Anyway, what you are saying is extremely important. Your psychological health requires some kind of confirmation, and it is better to get a little bit of affirmation than none at all.

This is not about Iranian gender roles

RAYKA
I have to say that my problem here is not about the gender roles of my society. Women can be leaders, aggressive etc.I  told you I'm a feminist, and I don't care what ignorant people think of women. No one can really prevent me from being successful but I'm not gonna be a lawyer or politician or doctor.

If I were a boy, I would be generally feminine, I guess. Of course I want to be proactive and independent but so do many women. These are just traits, not identity. 

What I'm saying is that while trying to be an independent powerful person (female or male is not important here), what is my identity? Am I a fairly masculine girl who should be proud of her independent self but wishes she were a boy from time to time?! I can see both women and men are proud of their identities and try to emphasize it in some ways and it makes me think: what is my part here? 

So should I be proud of my androgynous self?! Well I like it; androgyny is ideal for me but in reality I have to fight for my rights as a female. I don't think I'd ever live as a real male. Men and women can be whatever they want, regardless of their gender but I just don't know my part, I don't know what to be proud of, what to live as?!

The need for affirmation

JACK
You are pointing out something I have not been very good at communicating: The suffering that comes from not being able to present yourself as who you are, and be affirmed as such. Unfortunately "heterosexual" crossdreamers and crossdressers have become so good at adapting to the gender normative non-trans hetero society, that they have become completely invisible. Being a "fetishist" is not an identity, and leads to no affirmation of any sorts.

There are parts of the gay and lesbian culture that have been so much better at doing something about this. When some lesbians tried to explain drag and butch as "gender performance", butch ["masculine"] lesbians protested angrily. "Butch is a noun," they said. "Butch is an identity!" By being recognized as "butch" (regardless of how fluid and diverse such a term may be), they were seen and respected -- at least by some. Trans men are right when they demand to be seen as men. That is their identity. Not some kind of game.

Your regular MTF crossdresser, however, will try very hard to pretend he is a regular Joe with a kink or a strong "feminine side", simply because this makes it easier to placate wives and partners.

And since female to male crossdreamers and crossdreamers are considered non-existent by society as a whole, including some of the so-called "experts", it becomes very hard for you to find the recognition you deserve. I think crossdreamers and crossdressers have a lot to learn from the gay and lesbian communities and their endeavor to develop a language that makes their identities visible and comprehensible.

More to follow.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!