August 29, 2021

Why are Trans People Trans? (Part 3): Psychoanalysis and the Inversion Model

Thomas Ernest Boulton and Frederick William Park, androphilic female impersonators and crossdressers living in Victorian London (1869). I do not know their real gender identity. Photo colorized by Crossdreamers.

In part 2 of this article  I discussed the most popular ways of explaining what makes trans people trans today. In this final part I will discuss  psychological explanations for transgender identities, as well as the debunked two type model.


The Psychodynamic Model

Sigmund Freud was wrong about most things, but that does not stop him from being the most important psychiatrist of all time. His study of the subconscious helped debunk the quasi-rationalistic idea that what we are consciously aware of is all there is to the psyche. 

These days practically all psychologists and psychiatrists accept the notion that there are parts of our psyche we are not consciously aware of, and that what is hidden there does influence our "ego" (the conscious side of our mind.) 

Indeed, the concept of the unconscious is necessary if you want to make sense of the life journeys of many trans people, as social and cultural oppression makes they hide their transgender side deep down in their own minds, to the point where they can no longer recognize it for what it is. Crossdreaming and gender dysphoria are ways for the mind to bring that side up in the light of day again.

Unfortunately, Freud's thinking did not really help queer and trans people in the long run. His psychoanalysis (which is part of the broader psychodynamic tradition) became instead a tool for oppression. 

August 28, 2021

Why are trans people trans? Part 2 ( A Look at Well Known Narratives)

In part 1 of this article I explained why we need to look into what makes transgender people trans. In this part I discuss some of the most influential theories and explain why I think one of them is better than all the others.

The theories attempting to explain trans identities

 I will focus on the four of the most dominant scientific models found during the last 150 years or so:

  1. The Rainbow Model
  2. The Body Trap Model
  3. The Psychodynamic Model
  4. The Two Type Inversion Model
There is also a wide research field addressing gender roles and gender identities in the social sciences and the humanities. Gender studies have, for instance, contributed greatly to our understanding of gender variance. 

But that tradition is most often based on a given acceptance of transgender identities, and is more interested in explaining the way social systems lead to oppression based on gender. It rarely considers the interplay between biology, culture and psychology, which I suspect is the primary concern of Tailcalled, who invited me to this discussion, so I will not describe it here. 

That sort of thinking has greatly influenced my reading of the science of gender and transgender identities, though.

The Rainbow Model

The dominant model for explaining transgender identities these days is what I will call the Rainbow Model. It is a non-reductionistic model, in the sense that it does not reduce sex and gender to a simplistic biological sex binary or one single factor of origin.

Modern research has uncovered a mind-boggling complexity as regards  the development of biological sex, both as applies to the development of the body (both prenatally and after birth) and the formation of a conscious gender identity.

August 26, 2021

Why are Trans People Trans?

What makes trans people trans? A lot of theories have been presented, and few of them survive the test of time. Currently the dominant model is what I have called the Rainbow Model, where a transgender identity is seen as the end product of a complex interplay of factors, some of them biological. In this three parter, I look at several approaches to explaining what makes trans people trans.

Tailcalled, who has been taken active part in the "autogynhephilia" debate over at reddit, has invited me to an online debate about what makes trans people trans. I can do that. We have agreed that we will both publish a blog post giving some pointers as to how see the "etiology" (cause) of transgender identities, as starting points for our discussion.

This is my blog post. Tailcalled's one can be found here.

So the question is: What makes trans people trans?

Sounds easy, doesn't it? All we have to do is to find some relevant scientific papers and take it from there. But it is not that easy. Not that I am dismissing the role of science in such a debate. I have been writing about this kind of research since 2009. 

The problem is that science is not a kind of platform where you can look at transgender lives with purely objective and disinterested eyes. Scientists are as human as the rest of us, and their preconceptions and prejudices directs their research questions and the way they conceptualize what makes trans people trans. 

Even the terms we use are fluid and ambiguous, because they have to be as we move through a cultural shift where traditional ideas about sexuality and gender are being questioned along a wide front. That is, as I see it, a very good thing, but it makes it harder for people to discuss this topic, as people from different communities have different life experiences and understand the relevant words in different ways.

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