October 7, 2011

Spellbound transgender

I'd like to share a painting with you. It is called "Alvelek" (Elves' Play) and is made by the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen.

I think it is relevant for many crossdreamers, because it says something about how male bodied persons can be ensnared or bewitched by their inner woman.

When that happens, their whole lives are at stake. If she can keep them spellbound, they will never be able to become what God or Nature wanted them to be. They will not be able to follow their "inner bliss", to quote the great Joseph Campbell.

The female elf in this case is clearly one of the many species of "little people" found in Scandinavian folklore.

A related being is huldra, a blonde and beautiful girl-like figure with the tail of a cow. While the elves are "over-earthly", huldra is more of the subterranean type.

While the female elf ensnares the man with her unearthly femininity, the hulder captures him with her animalistic sexuality.

Below you will see another painting by Kittelsen, called "Huldra disappeared". Huldra has lured a man into a swamp and he is now lost for humanity. He is probably also in danger of sinking  into the marsh.

Fairy tales are real

But these are all fairy tales, right? They don't mean anything real.

I can assure you they do.

The people who made these fairy tales were like all great artists: They tried to capture that which cannot be defined by science and dogma -- the parts of our minds that can only be reached through metaphors and symbols.

In these cases the fairy tales clearly tries to tell us something about how forces in the unconscious may ensnare us.

The man caught by the elf is caught up in her magical mist, like a fly in a spider's web. The man sinking into the mash -- into the underworld -- tells us the story about someone who is engulfed by his unconscious: The sub-conscious parts of his own psyche is dominating his life.


The inner woman of a crossdreamer and crossdresser may become a hulder or a feminine elf. She may take over his life in  ways that are destructive.

What happens is often that the crossdressing or crossdreaming becomes the focal point of a man's life. He will let the dressing or the fantasies come before anything else, being that family, friends, job or other social responsibilities. He will, in effect, become very much like an addict, constantly seeking the next exotic or erotic endorphin fix. His emotional and intellectual growth will  be stunted.

There is one important difference between the alcoholic and crossdreamer addict, though: As many crossdreamers and  crossdressers will tell you: It is possible for a male bodied person to integrate the female side in a constructive manner.

To use fairy tale terminology: If you treat the witch standing by the roadside with respect and courtesy, she will reward you with useful advice and powerful magic.

In psychological terms this means that if you accept the inner woman completely and recognize that she is an essential part of yourself, the spell is broken. She is still there, but you are no longer in her power. She is now a loved part of your own being.

Mental illness

I know that a lot of people think of crossdressing and crossdreaming as mental illnesses.

And -- of course -- if you become addicted to silk stockings or feminization porn, you are in a way mentally ill. This condition is often followed by anxiety and depression, which are also -- in some ways -- diseases.

But the suffering is the effect, not the cause, of the transgender condition. I am pretty much convinced that the sexual fantasies and the urge to crossdress is the psyche's way of trying to rebalance the mind. There is a part that has been suppressed, by family, friends and society, a part that will not be denied and that needs to find a voice.

To the extent the inner woman represents the need to express stereotypical "feminine" personality traits, she is like the ensnaring elf. To the extent she represents the need to express female sexual instincts, she is like the hulder. Women are, like men, highly sexually charged beings. The fact that the female side is expressed through sexual dreams should therefore come as no surprise.

Female to male transformations

So far I have focused on images helping the male to female crossdreamer.

Kittelsen has also a painting that for me at least can be used to illustrate the dilemma of the female to male transgender person. This is an illustration of the Norwegian fairy tale Kvitbjørn Kong Valemon (White Bear King Valemon).

Kvitbjørn King Valemon has its roots in the ancient Roman fairy tale about Eros and Psyche, and is also related to the story about the Beauty and the Beast.

King Valemon has been changed into a white bear by an evil witch. Out heroine agrees to marry him in order to get his magic garland of gold. Her acceptance of his animalistic masculine side finally breaks the spell.

The wreath -- i.e. the circle -- is a symbol of wholeness or completeness. The masculine and feminine side of the psyche has been reconciled, and I think Kittelsen's painting expresses this in a wonderful way.

Crossgender vs. transgender

I guess some of you will argue that these fairy tales are not really about the transgender condition, but rather about some kind of "crossgender" condition that is common to all human beings. All men should accept and embrace their "feminine" side. That does not make them transgender, and definitely not transsexual.

This is correct. Like all myths, fairy tales and great works of art, these stories and these images speak on many levels. I still think they can be of great value to those of us who struggle with our sex and gender identities, though. And they definitely tell us something about the power of the unconscious.

If you are truly transsexual, your transsexual condition cannot be overcome through myths, arts or psychotherapy. But I am sure the symbols can be used by you to make sense of the life you are living.

This is why I will start a new series looking at the psychodynamics of crossdreaming. Those of you who want to follow me on this quest, should take a look at the following movie: Ponyo.

That is right: I am going to make use of a wonderful Japanese animated movie made for children to discuss crossdreaming and the transgender conditions. I assure you: It is going to make sense in the end.

(And if it doesn't, you have at least had the chance to share a great movie experience with your friends or your family.)


  1. "To the extent the inner woman represents the need to express stereotypical "feminine" personality traits, she is like the ensnaring elf. To the extent she represents the need to express female sexual instincts, she is like the hulder. Women are, like men, highly sexually charged beings."

    You need to illustrate the meaning of the stereotypical feminine traits. Do you mean being sexually passive or coy is a feminine trait? Or the urge to have a female body?
    Or the desire to be masochistic?

  2. There seems to be at least two dimensions to this, as far as I can see. One is the desire to have a female body. There is not reliable data on how many crossdreamers and crossdressers dream about having a female body. I suspect that a majority of them do - may be all to some degree.

    It is interesting to note that crossdresser guress Virginia Prince, who vehemently denied that she was a transsexual and who argued that bodily changes was not necessary for a man (her term, not mine) to express a feminine gender, nevertheless changed her own body by means of hormones. She wanted a woman's body after all.

    So I think that the longing for a female body is common both for those ensnared by the elf and those taken over by the hulder.

    However, I found it useful to make use of the two types of "otherworldly" creatures as they point to two different expressions of the inner woman.

    One is found in the need to express stereotypical feminine personality traits, often through cross dressing. The other is more focused on the desire to have sex as a woman. These two are, of course, often overlapping.

    As for stereotypical traits: In the Western world these are often expressed in the following female/male dichotomies:

    passive/agressive, weak/strong, empathic/analytical, submissive/dominant, verbal/spatial, introvert/extrovert, and sexual/asexual.

    In the real world women and men share all these traits, as do crossdreamers, but sometimes a male to female crossdreamer with a "feminine" personality profile may use his crossdressing/crossdreaming to express traits that is forbidden in his cultural context. Likewise a female bodied person may dress up and act like a man to allow herself to express her "masculine" personality.

    The terms "masculine" and "feminine" have to be put within quotation marks as it makes no sense to say that all men are extrovert etc.

  3. Thanks for this interesting essay, Jack. I love fairy tales (and this kind of artwork), and I am interested in the fundamental truths about our natures that fairy tales express.

    You write: 'I am pretty much convinced that the sexual fantasies and the urge to crossdress is the psyche's way of trying to rebalance the mind. There is a part that has been suppressed, by family, friends and society, a part that will not be denied and that needs to find a voice.'

    Yes, I like to think so too. Well put. x

  4. What a very enjoyable read Jack! You have suggested a new and personally challenging perspective on mythology and art. Thank you.

    I have featured it on T-Central.

  5. One very interesting aspect of our relationship with these beings is that it takes us to release them from their spellbound state. In the context in which you have framed your essay this could be a conversation. This act of releasing cures their spell and moves them from the position of power, ensnaring and submerging to a position of foundation. I am grateful you raised this though your writing.

  6. @Kathryn

    That was the method of Carl Gustav Jung. He decided to talk to his inner "complexes" and through those conversations he managed to get a better understanding of who they were (i.e what these parts of his psyche represented).


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