August 21, 2016

Coping with gender dysphoria without transitioning

Felix Conrad has published a new ebook: How to Jedi Mindtrick Your Gender Dysphoria, containing some pretty useful observations and advice for those MTF crossdreamers who do not go down the road of transitioning.
Felix' inner wise man talking to his inner woman.
(Photo of female Luke Skywalker by MJ MIller.)

The recent interest in transgender issues has been of great help to transgender people of all types.

Yes, the bathroom laws represent a back-clash, but you only get a back-clash when society is changing, and in this case in a much more tolerant direction.


There is still one group of transgender people  --- and I am using the term in its broader, umbrella meaning of gender variance here -- who remain invisible, though. Or, at least, less visible.

These are the gender dysphoric transgender people who -- for a wide variety of reasons -- decide not to transition.

This is the group Felix Conrad, our MTF crossdreamer philosopher per excellence, targets in his new book How to Jedi Mindtrick Your Gender Dysphoria.

  Gender Dissonance

Gender dysphoria is, as many of you will know, a feeling of great dissonance between your assigned gender and your sense of self. At its worst, it can be totally incapacitating, and even cause people to take their own lives.

In our survey of transgender people we found that as many as a third of crossdreamers experience severe gender dysphoria. They have a strong sense of female self, and whether they transition or not is not a measure of their gender identity, but more a result of opportunity and ability.

This remains true regardless of what causes the deep felt desire to become a woman. Felix has for a long time expressed the belief that this condition has a biological basis, but in this book he underlines that no one really knows what causes gender dysphoria, and that it does not matter that much for what you do with your life.

To transition or not to transition

Felix does not say that trans people should not transition, and this is important, because this is exactly the kind of book transphobic people will try to use to stop trans people from transitioning: "If Felix can survive without transitioning, you can!"

That is not Felix' point. He argues -- as do I -- that for some people, given their unique circumstances, transitioning is not necessarily the answer. There may be financial, medical, social or psychological factors that stop them from going down that road.

For older transgender people, there is also the question of historical "baggage". It is hard to redefine your very identity in the eyes of others, when you have struggled so hard for so long to adapt to a life you hate.

Passing as a woman

The book is very personal and reflects Felix' own struggle with this issue. He writes about the problem of passing, and the possibility of presenting as the woman you feel you are inside.

In this respect he comes to  a different conclusion than Monica P. Mullholland, whose book I presented in my previous blog post. Monica argues that no woman can live up to society's ideals of feminine beauty, and late transitioning trans women even less so. These trans women will therefore have to move beyond those ideals, and live as themselves in spite of them.

Felix is looking more closely on the "late onset" crossdreamer's own ideals of feminine beauty. The fact that your body -- regardless of modern medicine and modern technology -- cannot embody that dream fully, should make you stop and think before you do something irreversible, he argues.

I do not think there is a simple answer to this dilemma. Each and every transgender person will have to find out for themselves.

To Felix's discussions I would like to add, however, that we should not forget that the question of passing has been one of the most efficient weapons traditionalist medical gate-keepers have used to stop transgender people from getting access to hormones and surgery. In other words: It is used to discipline trans people and force them back into the closet of binary absolutes.

The line between common sense pragmatism and giving in to the "Cistem" is a blurry one, indeed. Like Felix, I have also decided not to transition, but I am not sure about how much of that decision is based on common sense and how much is based on my fear of social exclusion.

I guess Felix' argument would be that social marginalization -- given this day and age -- is a reality, and that we will have to take it into consideration. This will probably change now that more trans people come out when they are younger.

Tell the world you are gender variant

So what do you do if you do not transition? This is where the book gets really interesting.

Felix argues -- convincingly in my opinion -- that the fact that you are not transitioning, should not stop you from admitting to yourself and others that you are, in some fundamental sense, a woman.

Telling others about your feelings are cathartic in itself. It also frees you from having to play the manly man:
"And this is where we start to see that classic transition is no the only way to introduce change and authenticity into a transgender life. My coming out as transgender was nothing more than words -- there was no Versace dress or outwards signs of femininity -- but those words changed the ways my friends view me. Those words were a transitional movement, therefore, and because they marked a shift towards an authentic projection of my gender they helped to reduce gender dysphoria."
The Wildfox sweatshirt,
an example of Felix' non-binary
Felix argues that you can achieve a lot by exploring the non-binary, option. Not in the androgynous sense of the term. You will still identify as a woman. But in the sense of making use of more gender neutral symbols to express that your sense of self. Felix makes use of what he calls "chillwear": female clothing that isn't particularly masculine or feminine, like tracksuits, jumpers, t-shirts etc.

Other rites of passage

Felix also recommends a symbolic "rite of passage" that express your acceptance of your own sense of self.

For those who transition this may be the day the letter changed on their licence, the day they started hormones, the day they went full time etc.:

"Transgender people like me and you -- non transitioners -- have jack-diddly. Our transformation and realisation of gender is an internal event. We are the Buddhist monks of gender variance, travelling shaven headed with no possessions but the enlightenment we carry inside."
Felix found a tree in the forest and carved a symbol which represented his "truegender" onto the trunk.

As part of his "transition light" options he also includes the possibility of exercising (getting a healthier body) and taking hormones.

Happiness beyond gender

Felix' approach does not guarantee happiness. He does, in fact, argue that nothing you do with respect to gender will ever make you happy. He says:
"An awesome life includes good health, friends, love and a stimulating job. Yes, i know these things are difficult to get, but that's what the rest of your life is for, Jedi..."
I cannot argue with that.

To conclude

We have finally come to the point where we are able to make the lives on non-transitioning trans people visible. That is a huge step forward.

I am sure this book will be of help to many caught in the limbo between living as a man and feeling that they are a woman. It is very well written, contains a lot of interesting observations, and will help both crossdreamers and those closest to them navigate these waters. Read it!

See also: Transcend Movement.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!