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.

Non-transitioning

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
chillwear.
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.

9 comments:

  1. "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."

    This has more or less been my instinct and strategy. My dysphoria isn't strong and pervasive enough to the point where I identify as a woman. I see myself as a complex mix of male and female, and identify myself as being non-binary or gender variant. Since they are both usually considered to be under the transgender umbrella, I also claim an identity as being trans, or trans* (just in case someone understands why the asterisk is there). I've come out in this way to almost all of my real life friends, Facebook friends, family members I am in touch and many people I work with as a freelancer. This is all with continuing to present as I always have presented, as the superficially male person I always have been.

    I think it's important for we non-binary/genderqueer/gender variant/etc. people to be validated and not regarded with skepticism. I wondered whether I was a transwoman in denial who really wants to go through a medical transition, and now reject that as being true in my case. However, because of my politics, I identify myself to others as being a trans person and a queer person, and to choose something other than male or female on forms I need to fill out for one reason or another when the option is there.

    I think Felix's persistence in saying that M to F cross dreamers are woman is flawed. Some of us really are non-binary. To invalidate that is kind of lame.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Jack, fantastic post, thank you. Indeed I feel strongly that the coverage and information about non-transitioning transgender people is sorely lacking. Even if we assume that there is a linear distribution of people across the transgender spectrum if you consider the Harry Benjamin scale of trans/sexual orientation there are far more many people in the middle than at the tails. And if we consider the distribution to be Gaussian, well, you get the picture. (And it may well be!) And yet the information for people like me who identify as transgender and yet have no need to transition is lacking.

    I must also agree with mutanmion's statement that "I think it's important for we non-binary/genderqueer/gender variant/etc. people to be validated and not regarded with skepticism." as well as "I think Felix's persistence in saying that M to F cross dreamers are woman [sic] is flawed." I don't think any of us will really ever truly know what it is to be the opposite gender let alone what it is to feel like people of the same assigned-at-birth gender. But that is no reason to invalidate us. To me, a wonderful outcome of the internet experience is that we see such commonality of feelings that would otherwise be extraordinarily difficult to identify.

    I've often wished that I did feel the pull of transition. As hard and challenging as it would be, at least then I'd have a defined target, a goal, and perhaps an existence that would provide an existential foundation of what I am or need to be. As it is now I feel caught in a purgatory, one foot in, one foot out, always wondering if my doubts or lack of conviction are keeping me in this cell or if it's simply where I am.

    Or maybe, at 60 (which sounds ancient but doesn't feel that way at all), I am simply balancing what I know I would lose vs. the value of the unknowable and figuring that in the end I'll be happier staying in between. This is where I think books, articles, and studies would cast very interesting light on this important and substantial population of transgender people.

    Just now I've downloaded Conrad's new book, and after I finish Anne Fausto-Sterling's excellent "Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World" I'll enthusiastically dive into "How to Jedi Mindtrick Your Gender Dysphoria." Thanks so much for providing your post and recommendation of it.

    Your friend,

    Emma

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I have never said that M to F crossdreamers are women.

    I have said that if a transgender person chooses to live as a woman and she goes through all the correct medical and legal channels then we must see her as a woman. Indeed...she is a woman.

    I am a male to female crossdreamer and I see myself as a man. So...sorry...that's not true.

    However, I must admit I say many conflicting things as I like to propose different ideas. So I don't blame you for thinkingb that.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Language is tricky, and especially everyday terms like "woman" and "man". If I understand Felix correctly, his affirmation of the female identity of some (but not all) gender dysphoric MTF crossdreamers refers to a deep felt sense of being a woman in some fundamental sense. This might be hard to explain, but is real all the same. This sense of self does at least partly explain why the dysphoria develops in the first sense.

    I find it hard to explain the persistence and intensity of my own gender dysphoria without thinking of it in this way.

    Emma's point is also valid, however, when she says that "I don't think any of us will really ever truly know what it is to be the opposite gender let alone what it is to feel like people of the same assigned-at-birth gender."

    But this is a reference to another understanding of the term "woman". In this case she refers to the the experiences of those who have been assigned this gender, and who have been raised as such and lived the life of a woman, and who has been recognized as such. This is an important reminder, but it does not stop trans women from being women in the first sense of the word. (Nor does it stop Emma from being one).

    I agree with mutanmion: Many transgender/genderqueer people identify as non-binary, and must be respected as such. We are facing some complex interaction between various continuums here: That some people fall in between the two traditional genders -- or outside -- is exactly what we should expect.

    ReplyDelete
  6. As someone who has for various reasons decided not to transition I think its important to stay away from labels and simply try to honour the person you feel yourself to be inside. This means finding various methods of treating that "inner woman" (for lack of a better term) with respect and eliminating obstacles that block your gender non-conformity inner peace.

    For me this includes dressing but not everyone feels comfortable doing so hence they will have other means to achieve the goal of coming to terms.

    There has been far too much focus in our community about physical transition as an ultimate goal but it has been a failed experiment for some for a myriad of reasons not the least of which include a long history as a male.

    The good news is that its never too late to find a compromise that gets you where you need to be by eliminating societal expectation on what a male is supposed to do or think or look like. This is a pivotal requirement for internal liberation and peace of mind and something which took me years to achieve.

    Thanks for focusing on this topic Jack because it merits much more discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi alltogether,

    I have been reading Jack's blog for some time now and was very happy to have found his blog as within a lot of his articles I did find myself and started to understand what I have been Feeling and thinking in the past. In all my relationships (which only are with cis girls) I imagined I would be a girl when having sex with my partners.

    I also have been searching forums like Susans and so on but found the strict binary approach of many MTF trans there and the banning of everything autogynophil not to match what I thought and felt. The more I am glad to have found this place – so I know I am not alone.

    The book presented in this article (I have read most of it already) really is intriguing to me as it provides possible solutions and reflects in many parts ideas reflections I already had by myself before.

    I already like 10 years ago had episodes of using E and backing off again for several reasons (I am 45 now) including family, job and environment. But I also myself came to the conclusion: “Who the damn wants to be a 50 old, slightly overweight woman with a manly face and a big built that would never “really” pass.” And at what price? Family, Career or Job in general, house, hobbies, kids?

    So I started small steps – an if only for me and not visible outside – like wearing only girl panties (in neutral colors and without to much pattern) under my clothes, changing to girl cut jeans (again without patterns – and nobody noticed), caring for my nails (not to long and only clear without colour), buying shoes that look fem (men shoes but you can Italien models that look fem style) and taking care of body hair with laser (have no chest hair left).

    All these are small steps giving me the feeling of moving in a direction and making me feel better without giving anybody outside at my job and living area the impression I might be trans – they might just think I have a strange taste in clothing (they would not suspect I am gay or something cause I have three kids). I never had the urge to wear a dress or pearl necklaces anyway, I always only imagined a female body (which lead to my occasionally shaving all my body hair already as a teen and other things) and would have presented as a natural boyish girl (as most of my girlfriends were).

    For me this book is more or less a prove that I am not alone with my ideas and imaginations – I hope this post also encourages others to think between the boxes. Please apologize if my English is not so perfect as my mother tongue is German.

    Kind regards

    ReplyDelete
  8. Welcome to Crossdreamers huntressboy. Your English is great (says one who is struggling with English as a second language as well).

    I am glad this blog and Felix' book have helped you. And I am glad you have found ways of exploring and expressing yourself.

    I am, frankly, surprised that Susans even now -- in this day and age -- remains restrictive when it comes to discussing crossdreaming as well as non-binary options. I guess that tells us a lot about how our societies and the medical establishment have disciplined and marginalized us.

    The leading trans women activists are much more open til the topic of crossdreaming. Read, for instance, Julia Serano's book Whipping Girl.

    ReplyDelete

Click here for this blog's Code of Conduct!

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!