February 11, 2017

Waking Up the Anima – Jung Applied to Transgender Women

Guest writer Jocelyn Muchilinski takes a new approach to using Jung's theory of the subconscious to explain transgender experiences.  

The anima represents the female
side of the male psyche
Painting by Indra Grušaitė 
Guest Post by Jocelyn Muchlinski

The Anima and the Animus

Carl Jung introduced a new vocabulary into psychology. Among the most important words in this vocabulary are anima, animus, and projection.

In this essay, I will commandeer these words and twist them to suit my meanings. Perhaps Jung will forgive me for perverting his language so freely.

The anima is the female soul in every human. The animus is the male soul.

I want to encourage readers to understand the anima and animus as two entirely different people living in the same body. I also want to suggest that the animus, in cisgender men, is one and the same with the man himself.

That is to say, the animus has the reigns of the ego. The animus is expressed and brought to life in the words, thoughts, and actions of the man. The anima, on the other hand, gains life by projecting itself onto female figures in the man’s life.

In this way, both anima and animus take an essential and substantial role in the life of the cisgender man.

Conversely, the anima is the soul and person of the cisgender woman. This woman, who is the anima incarnate, experiences her animus by projecting it onto male figures in her life. Projection of anima and animus occurs naturally first on the parents of a child.

Thus, for a boy, his first experience of his own anima is vis-à-vis his mother. For a girl, she sees her own animus—her male soul—in her father.

To a lesser extent, the boy will project himself (his animus) onto his father, and consequently identify with the father. The girl does the same with her mother. This explains why fatherless boys will often hypermasculinize or otherwise develop a distorted, caricaturized version of manliness. And motherless girls will look feverishly to magazines, TV shows, music, and books for women to identify with—to help them understand themselves.

Ray Blanchard's typology

Let’s set aside this pseudo-Jung theorizing for a bit and talk about something entirely different. Namely, let’s talk about Ray Blanchard’s bilateral classification of transgender women.

Blanchard suggested that transgender women may be sorted into two distinct types: "the homosexual transsexual" (i.e. trans women who are attracted to men: androphilic transsexual women), and the autogynephilic transsexual (according to Blanchard those who are gynephilic -- attracted to women -- or bisexual).

The "homosexual" or androphilic transsexual is the trans woman who begins life behaving like a girl—effeminate and interested in girls’ toys and activities. Seeing this predisposition, parents will usually presume their son is gay. When the “son” later comes out as a daughter, it is nary a surprise.

Contrariwise, the autogynephilic transsexual is the trans woman who begins life behaving like a boy. Accordingly, it is much more shocking and unexpected when she reveals herself to be a she.

Parents tend to feel like the revelation came out of nowhere, and may believe that perhaps their son is just confused. What they never understood, all these years, was that their daughter was real and was growing—through surrogates.

Alchemical print.
The twist is this. The androphilic transsexual embodied her anima from day one. She lived her true self directly and, like normal girls, projected her smaller animus on the men around her.

Meanwhile, the autogynephilic transsexual gripped and embodied her animus, projecting her true self (her anima) on the women around her.

Thus arose a bizarre arrangement, whereby the autogynephile’s central essence—her bulky anima—was dissociated away from her own ego and placed in others for safekeeping. The animus, smaller and weaker, took the reigns of the ego.

This arrangement is much like that of the cisgender man, who embodies his animus and projects his anima onto other people. The key difference is that, in these enigmatic transsexuals, the projected anima is in fact the much stronger force and the rightful owner of the ego. But something went wrong—and that thing is biological sex.

In androphilic transsexuals, their anima was powerful enough to retain control of the ego despite masculine sexual differentiation. It didn’t matter how much testosterone was pumped through that fetus; the anima was hanging on.

In autogynephilic transsexuals, the anima was thwarted by these biological forces. Masculine physiological development, probably in concert with postnatal treatment as male, led the child to identify with the animus rather than the anima.

Unstable identity

This mistaken identification is unstable, and it eventually collapses. With collapse (whether it be at age 23 or 67) comes crisis of gender identity and, eventually, complete re-identification with the anima.

In the years or months leading up to crisis, the autogynephile will experience a gradual and subconscious process of relocating her anima from other women to her own ego. In the beginning, the autogynephile will be sexually attracted to women. As Jung would explain, sexual attraction is the most primitive form of identification with anima or animus.

Over time, the anima will shift from other women to the autogynephile’s own ego, and she will become sexually attracted to herself as a woman. This is the autogynephile identifying herself with her own anima for the first time. It is no surprise the identification begins in its most primitive form.

Gender crisis begins when the conscious mind realizes what’s happening. The animus-as-ego is under threat. The animus-driven ego tries desperately to cognize and categorize what is going on. All the while, the anima is knocking at the front door of the ego, bracing to reclaim the throne.

Surrendering the male-mind

At this point in the process, the autogynephile may resolve to transition. This is natural, and is the correct move. But the story does not end there. It is possible to come out as transgender, take hormones, get surgeries, and live as a woman without fully letting go of the animus-as-ego. Complete transition and self-actualization requires the trans woman to surrender her man-mind. Only then can the anima totally claim the ego and become one with the woman.
Carl Gustav Jung

How does one go about surrendering her man-mind? It’s not easy. Old habits die hard. Here I suggest a spiritual (or deep psyche) experience is needed. A man-mind cannot think itself away. That would be like a snake biting its own tail and trying to eat itself out of existence.

The best one can do is to employ certain techniques that will set the stage for a deep cognitive shift. Biological and social transition are a couple such techniques.

Another technique is to—by reading essays like this and hearing others’ experiences—develop an understanding of what must happen. And pray. Not necessarily to a god, but to your own subconscious and unconscious mind.

Create the imperative and rely on unconscious processes to do the heavy lifting. Perhaps you will find that your dreams change; or you start feeling different as you go about your day.

Voice feminization

A final technique, and the one that wound up being most useful to me, is voice feminization. This is not necessarily surgery. For me, it was simply training my voice and thereby “finding” my female voice.

To a great extent, the essence of a person is manifested in their speech. Accordingly, a new voice can be a new person. Maybe your male voice is weighty and sets out facts, while your female voice is light and playful, and concerns itself more with feelings. Maybe your male voice is short and to-the-point, while your female voice is more meandering and eager to engage in light conversation.

For the time being, this is all I have to say on the subject. I was roused from sleep at 4:15 this morning brimming with these ideas, and I had no choice but to boot up my laptop and write them down. It is 6:50 now, and I suppose I ought to return to bed. I hope you have found this essay to be interesting and maybe even insightful, dear reader, and I wish you the best of luck in all your affairs.

See also: How Jungian psychology can be used to understand gender variance and transgender lives.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Jocelyn!

    I think this observation is key: "Meanwhile, the autogynephilic transsexual gripped and embodied her animus, projecting her true self (her anima) on the women around her." I think this approach is much more to the point than Blanchard's theory, which basically says that the "autogynephile" projects the women out there onto "his" inner soul.

    But why is it, do you think, that those transgender kids who will come to love men are more likely to be able to embody their female side so early? And why would the gynephilic ones be more likely to suppress this side of them?

    And one more thing: Since you start with Jung's two-polar dynamics of gender identity and gender expression, you end up in a pretty binary understanding of gender. Do you think that there could be intermediary, non-binary, ways of combing the anima and animus in real life?

    1. Lately I've been visualizing masculine and feminine forces as a yin-yang. So, each needs the other to be whole and has a piece of the other in itself. Those who have embodied and expressed their masculine side (yang) will seek a female partner in whom to project the feminine side of themselves (yin) and thus become whole. Transgender women who are NOT attracted to women already have their yin internalized, so their aim is to find a yang (masculine figure). Trans women who ARE attracted to women are so attracted because they are accessing their own yin vis-a-vis other women (through projection). Which is very similar to what a straight cisgender man does. To explain homosexuality outside of the transgender context, I would distort the yin-yang figure so that the yin and yang are more evenly distributed on each side (like a checkerboard with only 4 squares). So each partner in the relationship "yins" the other's yang. This would explain why gay men tend to have certain effeminate qualities, and gay women tend to exhibit certain masculine behavioral patterns. This also helps honor the old cliche that a person's partner "completes" them. Nonbinary identities may be understood as unusually even mixtures of yin and yang, with each side at least partially reconciled with the ego. I think nonbinary people may actually be gifted, because the equal strengths of their yin and yang have allowed them to quickly identify both sides with the self, rather than projecting onto others and slowly climbing up Jung's ladder of individuation, like most people must.

  2. I like the checkerboard simile. I wonder if this does not apply to cisgender straight people as well, to some degree. Masculine and feminine aren't always clear cut dichotomies. A woman may dress "masculine", but nevertheless also appear feminine. A man may look hypermasculine, but may have a gentle and compassionate soul. When people meet they may sense this complexity, and attraction may be based on a wide variety of opposites.

    There is a tendency among Jungians post-Jung to associate the anima and the animus with gender stereotypes. Jung argued that an archetype is never defined by its content, but rather by its function. I wonder if that function may also be to trigger people to orient themselves as gendered beings, regardless of what defines the masculine and the feminine.

  3. Gender roles give a sense of security through conformity. We are born into this and for everything we gain, we lose something.

    To move from yin toward yang or anima toward animus requires stepping out of ones comfort zone and embracing risk.

    For those who have had inauthenticity thrust upon them, it is the only way to find authenticity.

    It is in the end searching for the authentic and whole self in a world made up of fractured people.

  4. @Katherine

    It scares me to see how many people never come to feel their true selves, because their fear of social ostracism stops them from even looking.

    It is said that the most common regret people have on their death beds is that they did not do more of what they like and what they are, instead of constantly trying to please others.

  5. I think things are a bit more complex than presented. Each gender principal has Active and Passive side. So, the Animus has both an active and passive nature where in most cisgender males the ego associates with the Active Male half of the Animus. In cisgender females, the Ego usually associates with the Passive Female half of the Anima. However, if the Ego associates with the Passive Male side of the Animus, this is counter to societal pressure as western society doesn’t recognize the Passive Male identity. Unable to express itself as Passive Male the Ego slips to the Passive Female identity as the strongest compatible model. The same thing can happen with an Ego that associates with the Active Female principal where denied by society, it will slip to the Active Male identity as the closest compatible match. That’s a theory anyway—your mileage may vary.

  6. Interesting! I am sure you are right about modern Western culture associating being "active" with being male to the point where "passive" masculinity becomes harder to imagine. But there are relevant role models in philosophy, art, programming and more, which allows for a more "passive" or introverted and non-aggressive male role.

    The active female principle is becoming more and more accepted day by day, in spite of recent cultural setbacks, so there are role models on that side to.

    The question is: Are some people raised in an environment where these role models are looked down upon (the hyper-masculinity of rural US and Russia, comes to mind) and are they more likely to become transgender? I am not sure that this is the case.

  7. The link to this post is currently on page 40 on CDL, the last page before threads drop off the easily navigable area of the forum. I like to look at page 40 now and then to see what was happening in the past.

    Trying to understand this picture of the human psyche, the analogy I am picturing in my mind is that of a porous tank of liquid, through which the experiences of life pass by, and in that tank are various seeds of crystallization that are predisposed to seek out and collect experiences that fit certain patterns, and to build a component of awareness around that nucleus. So then 'anima' and 'animus' refer to nuclei of crystallization for experiences pertaining to what it means to be female and male, respectively. And rather than identify the ego with one or the other, perhaps better to say that yet another nucleus of crystallization collects experiences pertaining to understanding of the self, and that this includes the experience of having an anima/animus, linking them much like function calls and pointers in a computer program.

    Is that a fair paraphrase? I can see how that might be a useful analogy, though anything much beyond that is a bit too radical a paradigm for me to take in at present.


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