So you know you’re transgender: the feeling that your ‘inner gender’ is misaligned with you body is very strong — too strong to be merely a wish, a desire, a dream, a fad. It’s there; it’s real — and you have been suppressing it for far too long. You’ve read pretty much everything about the subject on the Internet, and possibly confirmed it with a doctor or a therapist: you know you have gender dysphoria. You also know that there is nothing that medical science can do to ‘cure’ you. There is only one choice left, for you to regain your mental health and lead a successful, fulfilling life: transition.
But… unfortunately, you can’t do that.
In other words, you’re most likely what my friend Libertino calls a type D2 crossdreamer — someone who clearly identifies with a gender that is not aligned with the one that was assigned at birth, but who, for any reason (personal, social, financial…), is unable to go through transition.
This poses a challenge for what doctors can do for you. On one hand, they might treat you for other conditions that come with gender dysphoria, such as anxiety, depression, trauma, obsessive behaviour, and so forth. But at the core there will always be gender dysphoria to deal with, and there is nothing they can do for you about that — except for recommending transition. If that is not an option, what can you do?
The complexity of non-binary sex and gender
Not surprisingly, this scenario is hardly a rarity. Indeed, researchers believe that a vast number of transgender people, suffering from gender dysphoria, never consult a doctor in their lives, but try to live as best as they can, keeping their silence. They totally escape the statistics and we can only guess at how large that number might be. But it’s very likely that it’s far larger than most people imagine it to be. When we read comments made by transphobic people, or even just those who are slightly intolerant, the usual argument is that transgender people — if they exist at all — are so rare that their case is worthless to worry about. Sex and gender go hand in hand, and the vast, overwhelming majority of human beings has just one of two possible genders — the rest being statistical anomalies not worthy of serious consideration.
Recent studies, as always, tend to contradict that popular theory. We have had plenty of proof that gender is a vast and complex spectrum of possibilities, but ‘gender’ is essentially tied to things like ‘gender identity’, ‘gender role’, and ‘gender presentation’, and, as such, those aspects are mostly tied to mental processes — therefore allowing transphobic people to claim that they are just imagination, delusion, a sexual deviation or fetish, or simply adhering to a fad. Because gender happens in the mind — or mostly in the mind — it’s easy to see how such arguments carry some weight, at least among the intolerants.
But now we also have researchers having strong evidence that even what we commonly call ‘biological sex’ (or eventually ‘genetic sex’, if you prefer) is by no means something as simple as having XX or XY chromosomes. A relatively recent study published on the prestigious scientific magazine Nature shows that sex is also a spectrum, and not binary whatsoever. Not surprisingly, earlier theories explaining how sexual attributes and differentiation occurred on our species were far too simplified — they hardly took into account the vast amount of possible ‘anomalies’ when sexual attributes either fail to develop according to the genetic makeup, or develop according to the ‘wrong’ sex, or a mix of both (or none whatsoever) — not to mention the possibility of having cells all over our bodies that have differently sexed DNA (yes, that would make us all genetic chimaeras to a certain degree) So many possibilities exist that clearly earlier models of sexual development were too incomplete and superficial to account for them. Now we see that what we call ‘sex’ (male/female) is mostly a state of dynamic equilibrium, where a lot of factors contribute to the ‘overall’ sexual development of the organism. Such an equilibrium is harder to maintain (especially throughout the comparatively long life — measured in millions of chemical interactions over our lifetime!) than it was previously claimed. Needless to say, recent research is really questioning a lot of previous assumptions, and there will be a time in the near future when we learn at school that biological sex is not merely a question of having the ‘right’ chromosomes, but a complex biochemical ‘soup’ with many contributing factors, of which the DNA naturally plays an important role, but is by far not the only one. We ought just to look at how humans, as they get older, start losing their sexual attributes to understand that sex cannot be ‘written in stone’ — after all, our DNA will still be pretty much the same, but after a certain age, the other factors disturb the equilibrium, and we cannot maintain the sexual differentiation (at least at the biochemical level) as strongly as we can during our fertile years.
There goes another nail in the coffin of those who still pretend that gender and sex are binary and permanently fixed at birth.
That’s all very nice and encouraging to know, of course, and I’m sure that further research in this field will provide us with lots of interesting things to read — and tell our intolerant friends and family about — but how exactly can that help those transgender people who are unable to transition but still suffer from gender dysphoria?
To be honest, not much. Although we might in the near future understand better how this ‘sexual equilibrium’ works at the biochemical level, and potentially tweak it (beyond merely pumping us with sexual hormones), such things are still in the realm of science fiction as I write this article. We have no clue if there is a biological marker of some sort that ‘produces’ gender dysphoria, and that the intensity or acuteness of suffering related to gender dysphoria is ’caused’ by a chemical imbalance in our bodies. As far as we know, there is either no such biological marker, or, more likely, it’s a very complex interaction of markers and chains of events that ‘produce’ gender dysphoria, and at the current level of technology, we have no way of either changing or reverting such processes — in all truth, we wouldn’t even know where to start! All we know is that current techniques — hormone treatment and/or aversion therapy — do not affect gender dysphoria whatsoever, and that’s a well-established scientific fact, with decades of published research confirming the hypothesis. We can see ‘gender dysphoria’ as an epiphenomenon ’emerging’ from a complex chain of events and a vast set of biochemical interactions, triggered also by the environment and socialization, which manifests itself with a certain well-known set of symptoms. In layman’s words: we have no clue about what ’causes’ gender dysphoria (much less why some people feel it very acutely and others only mildly), but we can recognize its symptoms, even though we don’t even know how to begin to ‘cure’ it.
If medical science and psychology/psychiatry fails us in this domain, where should we look for help?
The truth about transition…
Dr. House’s character might sound to us as being very cynical, but, although being a fictional character, doctors and researchers know that asking patients how they feel is not necessarily the best way to find out about the truth. In fact, the problem of self-diagnosis (producing wrong results!) is well known in psychology, and that’s why doing Internet tests and reading about medical conditions online do not necessarily give us a better understanding of our ailments. That’s why we need trained doctors: they provide a detached, neutral, unbiased view of the symptoms, and establish a judgment without the emotional attachment that the patient has. Well, at least in theory; doctors are trained that way, but they are also human and make mistakes, as well as being subjected to their own biases and prejudices. In general, however, they can safely assume that their patients are not telling them the whole truth — either because they don’t really know what the truth is, or because they wish to somehow manipulate the truth in their favour. To add on the complexity, someone might have their perceptions subtly clouded or twisted and experience the world in a slightly different way than everybody else: their truth, therefore, might be honestly felt or even stated, but it hardly matches with what the rest of the world experiences — and those expressing such truths might not even be aware of the state of their minds, of course.
Taking again all this in account, we should have both an open mind combined with a healthy dose of skepticism. And the first question we should ask is how it is possible for so many transitioned people to be so happy after their transition. Several studies, especially those made in Sweden, show that the regret rate for surgery is exceptionally low (around the 2.2% mark, although it has been consistently falling, as surgery becomes more available and results in less complications — only 1% of the current cases show any signs of post-op complications, and the regret rate has falling accordingly. Contrast that to the 65% regret rate of cosmetic surgical procedures in the UK done on cisgender people!). The lovely Brynn Tannehill, a transgender activist who writes for — among others — the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and her own blog, has written a very thorough article debunking the myths around ‘failed surgeries’ and ‘high regret/suicide rates’ on post-op transexuals; in fact, rather the contrary is true, and her article follows up one of her earlier blog posts on the same topic. Yes, there is a lot of deliberate misinformation being spread around, and it requires a lot of hard work by the activists in the transgender community to get the message out. It is working to a certain degree, and as transgender people become more visible (on the media, on the movies/TV series where they become more accurately portrayed…), it also means that the message is coming across. On the other hand, of course, this also means that transphobes become more and more vocal as well. The battle for transgender rights is on, and it has become public.
There is, however, a nasty side issue which all these studies about successful transition do not show. Because the costs of transition are so very high — and I don’t mean the actual money paid for surgeries & hormones, but most especially the emotional costs — and they are pretty much a one-way street (you can detransition, but after all the surgeries and hormonal treatments, you won’t be your ‘original self’ any more — but someone physically different from the outside). In such cases, it is much more likely for people to self-report an increased degree of happiness that they actually feel — because any other answer seemed like they would be ‘betraying’ the doctors, the community, and all those who supported their transition. This is not to say that ‘all post-op transexuals lie’ about their happiness! Rather, it only opens the possibility that the extremely high success rates are also correlated with a higher level of fear of publicly showing some regret, and, therefore, the self-evaluation is more positive than it ought to be.
In other words, when we read about success stories of post-op transexuals, in most cases, we just hear them mentioning how horrible their previous life had been and how so much better they are feeling now. You rarely get accounts on the weeks spent in spasms and pain during the recovery stage — most of them just drop out of the public view for a few months, and emerge as their healed, healthy selves again. And except for a very tiny minority which is vocal about the regrets, the vast majority of those who detransition are silent.
As said, there are good, solid, psychological reasons for that. The overall investment — in time, money, emotions, etc. — and the severance with the past has given most post-op transexuals a completely new life, the life they always dreamed about. They start from scratch and show no regrets. They have re-invented themselves, leaving the past behind (and this often means even abandoning those from the community who supported them…) and wish to forget it as quickly as possible. As a consequence, yes, they feel they are much better than before, and this is exactly what they report.
In effect, the ‘worst’ part of their lives might actually be during the last moments before the transition (i.e. when they finally decide to do something about it!), the struggle to get some acceptance, tolerance and respect while they do their transition, aided with therapy — and this is very often the stage where they are most vocal about it — and finally the first months of painful recovery and the first contacts with the ‘outside world’ as a new person. After that period — which can last several years — things pretty much go back to a semblance of normality. It’s just a different life — one without suffering from gender dysphoria and associated conditions like anxiety and depression — with different challenges, different problems, different issues. It’s not necessarily ‘bad’ by itself, and it certainly is ‘better’ than before. But not everything is as rosy as many tend to suggest; we just never get to hear all of the bad things. We just get a black and white picture of transexual reality: it’s all black before transition, and all white afterwards.
Notice that almost all successful case stories of transitioned transexuals show the most ravishing and beautiful people after their transition? No matter how ugly they started, after their transition, they all look gorgeous afterwards. Even in casual clothing, like in so many selfies posted on transgender support groups, they look fresh and like a much younger version of themselves. And there is an endless supply of such pictures and videos. A gross estimate says that up to 25,000 people transition every year, world-wide, although those numbers do not account for countries like Thailand, where not all surgeries are officially reported — there might be more!
Here and there, of course, we can see some slight traces of their former gender; as time passes, and HRT does its job, as well as the many corrective surgeries, those traces fade in the background. Transgender men are pictured as bodybuilders or athletes, covered in hair, with well-grown beards and perfect abs; transgender women could have walked out of the catwalk, with their slim bodies and delicate figures. This often contrasts with their former selves on before/after pictures — we are amazed at how medical technology can transform people so much.
The sad truth is that this is just the surface of the iceberg.
Let’s face it: most people in the world are not physically attractive. Sure, they can always improve their appearance, lead a healthy lifestyle which will give them better bodies, take good care of their skin, hair, nails, and teeth (and that applies to both genders, of course), and that will always contribute to better looks. They can dress fashionably and in a stylish manner, while still keeping a personal touch which is unique to them. A typical example is Lady Gaga: she is not a particularly attractive female, no matter what criteria we use. But she overcompensates by reinventing herself with crazy looks which distract us from her physical appearance — and I’m sure that hordes of teenagers are deeply in love with her, claiming that she’s the most beautiful person in the world. But she clearly isn’t. She’s just clever enough to distract her audience from her physical appearance and keep them focused elsewhere.
If we spend some time observing people in, say, the subway during rush hour, we can notice how many people are truly beautiful — using whatever criteria we wish — without needing any ‘enhancements’, either from apparel, accessories, or makeup/hairdressing. We’ll see that the actual number is very low — perhaps not more than 1% — although a reasonably high number will do plenty of efforts to disguise their appearance. An ugly man, for instance, just needs to regularly go to the gym, sport a well-muscled body, dress fashionable, get a modern haircut, and wear a three-day beard to cover most of their facial features — and they will ‘pass’ as ‘handsome’. Sylvester Stallone, in his 30s, was a very ugly man — but he managed to distract people away from his facial features by improving the body. Women, of course, have a much vaster arsenal of tricks to improve their looks artificially, from simply selecting clothes with the ‘right’ cut for their figure, to focus on a few attractive features (there will always be a few — like having wonderful hair, for instance), and disguise the rest.
And, of course, there is the remaining population who doesn’t care in the least about how they look. These, however, will slowly become a minority, as our society gives so much importance to appearance.
So, back to transexuality… it is highly unlikely that the majority of post-op transexuals will become gorgeous members of the gender they identify with. Hormones can change the fat distribution, and give some secondary sexual attributes (for example: facial/body hair and more muscles for transmen; breasts and a softening of facial features for trans women). It won’t make miracles, though, and turn an ugly person into a beautiful one — not even with a lot of surgery.
That means that all those pictures and movies featuring very attractive transexuals induce others to think that they can effectively achieve such looks as well. And this, obviously, will lead to a great deal of frustration, because expectations have been set way too high. This is naturally much more dramatic for those who put a lot of importance on appearance — and this is often the case with some transgender people who have come out as crossdressers and are now considering the ‘next step’, in the (deluded) hope that it will finally give them the body they have dreamed of — that of a gorgeous young woman.
For those who do not consider appearance very important, transition will be much smoother and easier. My wife, for instance, is always shocked to see FtM transexuals who end up looking like flabby truck drivers — and she wonders why they bothered to end like this (especially because many have started as rather attractive women). Well, I try to explain that at the end of the day it’s all about having good or bad genes, hormones and surgery can correct things a bit, but I believe that those trans men are not really worried about how they look like, the only thing they want is to have a body that matches the gender they identify with — and the rest is secondary.
Similarly, I know of many cases of MtF transexuals who will simply never pass in their lives, no matter how much surgeries they do and hormones they take. They simply have completely wrong bodies for that. Some of those have not even ever put on a dress or makeup, and it’s only after transition that they ask for advice about their appearance. But they are quite realistic and pragmatic about their looks: they know they will never look like a cisgender woman. The important bit here is that they are perfectly fine with the way they look: it matters little, so long as their body is aligned with their gender.
These are, of course, those who are part of the success stories: the ones who have no unrealistic expectations about their transition. They might have had exceptionally good counsellors and doctors, or they might simply be pragmatic persons, knowing very well what they ought to expect. As a consequence, they don’t believe in miracles. They don’t want miracles. They just want their bodies to be in alignment with their gender — and that’s all they need for being ultimately happy.
As you can imagine, there is a huge gap between both extremes: those who do have wonderful genes and start with an extremely good-looking, androgynous body, and need little to push it in either direction; and those who know they do not have ‘good-looking genes’ and will never look like those supermodels on the catwalk — but because they very wisely place little importance on appearances, they will have no problems after transition.
All those in-between will eventually get frustrated, at least anxious to some degree, or start to doubt themselves after their transition; and this is something which ought to be avoided at all costs.
So, effectively, there is an issue here that requires some thought, and possibly even a new model of behaviour. On one hand, we have males who identify as males and crossdress; for them, crossdressing is a ‘relaxing’ activity (or an erotic one), but it doesn’t affect in the least their male identity. They mostly crossdress because there is a strong urge to manifest the contact with their inner female selves, no matter how ‘strong’ that inner self might be. In other words, most of them, although they identify as male, also recognize that there is ‘something female’ inside of them (which, by the way, is true for all males, even if they refuse to admit it to themselves). And that ‘something female’ drives them to express themselves in that way — occasionally. Or often. That depends on the person, of course. But they don’t truly wish anything more than that, and they are more than happy to identify as male, present themselves as male, and lead a life as a member of the male gender.
On the other extreme of the MtF spectrum are those who are absolutely sure that they have been born with the wrong body, and this drives them to attempts of suicide because they cannot continue to bear the thought that they will not be accepted as the gender they so strongly identify with, because their body is all wrong. These are clearly transexual — or, more precisely, they have absolutely no doubts that they are female, have been born female, and have always been female, but something went terribly wrong with their genetic makeup, producing a physical body that has nothing to do with what they really are. Being ‘forced’ to accept what Nature has given them in terms of a physical body drives them to utter despair. These cases are quite clearly marked for transition, and the sooner they go through it, the sooner they can start to live their normal lives as women again.
For the latter group, things like appearance, looks, being fashionable, or even ‘be feminine’ (whatever that means in a social context) are not really fundamental. What matters is that they body has a terrible deformity, it has grown totally wrong thanks to a genetic defect, and they need to fix it to regain their sanity in this crazy world. That’s why we now have names as ‘Gender Affirmation Surgery’ instead of ‘Sex Reassignment Surgery’: those people are really not changing their bodies to become a ‘different’ gender or sex, but rather correcting a mistake in their genetic makeup which made their bodies go all wrong. In a sense, the surgeries they go through are not much different from all kinds of corrective surgery that are done for all possible reasons, thus allowing people to go on with their lives.
Those two extremes can be very easily spotted and separated from each other. It helps if one thinks of both as something ‘binary’ as well — you either are male and identify as male (and therefore you are ‘merely a crossdresser’) or you identify as female but have been born with a genetic defect that turned your body mistakenly into a male one, which requires surgical intervention to correct (and in this case you are clearly transexual and need urgent treatment to get on with your life).
But we all know that there is a vast spectrum between both extremes. This makes things pretty much confusing for all purposes — not in the least for those who are somewhere in the middle, and have no idea what is best for them. And they certainly also need guidance and eventual therapy to help them deal with their situation. The question is, which direction should they be pointed at? Should they remain as ‘merely crossdressers’ and suffer for that, or should they be pointed towards transition, with unknown results? The issue is very problematic and not easy to answer. And current models don’t easily explain how ‘those in the middle’ think.
So we need to turn to some answers from the community. By sheer coincidence, I have read two approaches within the same week, from two completely different persons — who never were in touch with each other — and who have described the same issues exactly in the same way. Their terminology differs, and I’m going to use both definitions, since the explanations are pretty much the same. And both also have considered very thoroughly how to deal with their situation — and came to the same results. Such independent discoveries, made by deep thinkers, tell me that we’re finally moving towards a clearer idea of how the mind of these people work.
Without further ado, let me present the core concepts.
Cristy’s ‘Pink Fog’
Ana Cristina García, known by her friends as Cristy, is a decades-long crossdresser who has been very active on almost all popular social media. I believe I’ve started following her on Flickr a decade ago; she moved to YouTube and Facebook, among others, and we certainly have kept in touch irregularly over the years. If you take some time to read her ‘lucubrations‘ (on Facebook or Flickr), she is currently sharing her thoughts about the differences between crossdressers and transexuals, writing mostly from her experience.
To summarise her ideas, she gives her own history as background — one that is so common and so familiar to many crossdreamers. We start by having some episodes in our infancy and early youth, where we play with women’s clothes. Then, later on in our lives, we might actually start feeling the thrill of wearing lingerie, and revelling in the eroticism of the silky touch of women’s clothes. Although we might have very mixed feelings about this — wondering what is wrong with us, why women’s clothes create that thrill, and so forth — we start ‘dressing up’, first perhaps with just some underwear, later progressing to full attire, learning how to do makeup… and the thrill never ceases to amaze us. We might go through several purges, trying to get rid of our wishes and desires, especially if we start our own families and necessarily need to keep our ‘interests’ in secret from our wives and children… but ultimately we will return, over and over again, to ‘dressing up’.
Cristy gives an example which is perhaps not so common with all crossdreamers: she got some encouragement from her girlfriend (currently her wife) to dress up. This meant that she had more freedom than most to be able to dress up much more frequently, even going out with her wife dressed as a woman, and so forth. She also has extremely good looks and an exquisite taste in clothing, as you can see from the pictures — so she passes quite easily. The consequence of all these factors put together is that Cristy naturally started to wonder about her own gender identity — because she so often went out fully dressed as a woman, behaving like one, and being accepted in her role as a woman, she naturally questioned if she wasn’t transexual.
Consider what so many of us feel when dressing up as the woman we create in our minds. It’s a liberating experience; it is so totally different from anything else we have done. It marks a sharp contrast to the rest of our life — dealing with a job, annoying customers, the burden of being the pater familias of a horde of unruly children and their constant demands, getting tired back at home, sleeping little, having no time to go out with some friends… it quickly becomes a boring routine, from which there is no escape. It’s ‘life’, everybody goes through it, we have to get used to it like everybody else.
But then we see that this boring world fades completely away when we crossdress, and a brave new world, in full colour, replaces our daily routine. Everything is the absolute opposite — it’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it makes us more than happy — it makes us euphoric — and we can finally relax a little and forget the daily chores and the problems affecting our lives. It’s only natural that we want to feel that way more and more. Cristy very well designates such a state as being equivalent to an addiction (although I have to disagree with her in some points): we might start crossdressing merely for the thrill of the new sensations, then it becomes a gateway to escapism, later it becomes our only source of happiness (or, more precisely, of euphoria), and when that happens, our ‘normal’ life seems to be worthless and pointless, while everything that makes us happy is connected to crossdressing. We want to do it more and more, and, like an addict, we spend our time thinking about the next time we go out, what we will wear next, what friends we will meet once again, and so forth. Crossdressing — more than crossdreaming in general — becomes our obsession, and not necessarily a healthy one.
Cristy, like so many others, decided at that stage that her future was to fully become a woman, 24h/7, and signed up for the required therapy and doctor appointments. In her case, however, she quickly figured out that she didn’t really want to become a woman. She explains it much better in her Lucubrations: consulting with specialists gave her the necessary detachment to look at what she was doing and see what her future would be, and decide that she was simply going ‘too far’ with her desires, mixing up the euphoria felt when dressed and behaving like a woman with becoming a woman full-time.
The consequence of her decision was a deep and thorough thinking about her condition. Was she really gender dysphoric or not? She prefers to use the word ‘recreational crossdresser’ and call her activity when crossdressing ‘a hobby’. But she warns her readers that one does not pick up crossdressing as a hobby; we’re born with that desire, it’s nothing that we can choose or make a decision about — crossdreamers are born with the desire to look and dress like women, and that desire, once manifested (either through crossdressing or other ways), is thrilling, even erotic, and produces a state of euphoria. We cannot change any of that. What we can do is to be rational about our desires: we either can go the way of ‘addiction’ — and that can, in fact, lead to the belief that we are in fact transexual and ought to transition — or we can step back a little, understand that we are special, not really ‘stereotypically male’ but neither are we ‘female’, just transgender, and we can have the best of both worlds by crossdressing as much as possible, without, however, getting ‘addicted’ to it.
Cristy calls this urge to turn crossdressing into an addiction ‘the Pink Fog’. This is when we start mixing up our inner feelings as crossdreamers (the thrill we get from imagining ourselves as women) with something else, something different, that pulls us strongly towards an obsessive way of thinking about wanting to become women full-time — and before that happens, we simply get stuck with being obsessed about everything female, from clothes to cosmetic surgery, and feel tremendously unhappy during all the time we cannot turn that obsession into reality. In other words, when we’re under the spell of the Pink Fog, we cannot really think of anything else. And by contrast the rest of our mundane activities lose all interest — Cristy doesn’t say this explicitly, but externally (I mean from the perspective of a psychologist) we might manifest symptoms of obsession, anxiety, depression — all typically connected to gender dysphoria — because all we can think of is to be a woman for as long as we can, ideally 24h per day, 7 days per week.
Now compare this to what ‘gender dysphoria’ is supposed to be. Although gender dysphoria can go from mild to severe (like most mental conditions), it produces very similar symptoms. However, the origin of those is quite of a different nature! MtF transexuals don’t want to ‘become’ women (because they might feel better and happier that way); they are women, they were never anything but women, they just have a genetic defect that made their bodies develop with a different gender. I hope you can see the tremendous difference between both scenarios. Yes, it’s true that only transition can provide relief to transexuals, but it’s for a completely different reason. Those affected by the ‘Pink Fog’ have fallen prey to an obsession about becoming a woman (which can quickly become unhealthy, like an addiction), an obsession that tells them that only transition will provide them happiness, and they shut themselves out from the whole world while indulging in their obsession. This naturally produces a lot of symptoms common to gender dysphoria. Transexuals, by contrast, technically don’t suffer from an ‘obsession’. It’s not something they somehow ‘acquire’. Most transexuals do not start crossdressing and feel good about it; in fact, a large number of transexuals never crossdressed at all, or tried to crossdress at the beginning, but felt it to be completely unsatisfactory, since their bodies were not aligned with their gender — and clothes do not make the gender. They need much more than that.
So, again, to make it more clear: crossdreamers suffering from the ‘Pink Fog’ require crossdressing (as much as possible) to feel a certain degree of happiness (or euphoria), and they get obsessed with the idea of transitioning, in the misguided belief that becoming women full-time will provide them constant happiness. Transexuals, by contrast, rarely — if ever — feel any ‘thrill’ when crossdressing. They might wear clothes from the gender they identify with merely as a form of affirmation, but it’s not something that will truly make them happy, or even reduce any of the symptoms of gender dysphoria — because, for them, it’s not about clothes, appearance, behaviour. It’s about fixing a genetic error that gave them the wrong body. Once they correct that error — through hormones and surgery — then, yes, they can enjoy dressing as a member of the gender they identify with, but it’s not really a ‘thrilling’ or ‘exciting’ experience as it is for crossdreamers. It’s just wearing the appropriate clothes for their gender, nothing more. What they feel is intense relief from finally having a body that is consistently aligned with their gender — that’s what matters.
However, as you can see, both cases produce some similar external symptoms, and it would be quite easy to confuse both. Therefore Cristy warns crossdreamers to be wary of the Pink Fog: make sure you continue to crossdress, as much as you can, for your pleasure, for relieving stress, even for sexual thrills (why not?), but don’t confuse the desire to crossdress and present yourself as a woman with the need of becoming a woman, because that’s not what transexuality is about — MtF transexuals are women, they do not become women, and that’s the big, big difference between both.
On the same week I read Cristy’s thoughts, I read an article written by Jack Molay, who coined the term ‘crossdreamer’ and has both a blog and a forum to promote the interchange of ideas around the concept of crossdreaming. I don’t read Jack sequentially; rather, I get attracted to whatever catches my attention, and this means I often miss the lastest news! Jack had made a short review on Felix Conrad’s latest book, and I was intrigued, as I had not heard from Felix ever before (my fault!!). Although the review itself was interesting, what actually caught my attention was one of Felix’s earlier books, who, in spite of the name (Felix admits that he put
the word ‘autogynephilia’ in the title because that’s a keyword that most transgender people search for; ‘crossdreaming’ is still not popular enough), is a handbook for those who suffer from (mild) gender dysphoria but cannot transition. I immediately bought the book and read it eagerly 🙂
Felix Conrad has established his own online community website, also to promote crossdreaming, three years ago (see how out of date I am? I must pay more attention to what’s going on), and he is very prolific in writing, podcasts, videos, and even public presentations. Felix is an oddity in the transgender movement — he’s not very politically correct, he has a keen sense of humour and irony (he considers transgender people far too serious about their issues!), and is rather controversial with his views and opinions. As such, he’s definitely sidestepping the groupthink that unfortunately is so common inside the transgender community. As you might have gathered from my own blog, although I’m quite soft in the way I write, I align myself with those who also believe that we’re stuck with so much political correctness that we tend to forget what the real issues are — not discussing pronouns, labels and access to toilets, but fighting transphobia, reaching out for those who need help to deal with their issues, making sure that we all get the mental and physical health we need to live rich, fulfilling lives.
Felix goes deeper than Cristy in analysing the whole issue. Although he is constantly claiming that he only uses the word ‘autogynephilia’ to make sure that Google searches find his website, and he has published an extensive essay debunking the whole Blanchard theory (he has a novel approach; even if you have read many articles and papers debunking the autogynephilia theory, Felix will surprise — and amuse — you with his own approach), the truth is that he also starts with ‘autogynephilia’, but he frames things into context.
Let’s set the clock back some 30 years or so. Transition becomes acceptable in the vast majority of the Western countries, and there are established guidelines for figuring out what to do with transexuals requiring hormonal treatments and surgery. Technology is advanced enough to make both be as smooth as possible. There is, however, a nagging problem: a lot of people talking to their doctors don’t fit in the classic definitions of transexuality.
Remember that back then, there were only transvestites and transexuals. The first group might dress clothes for the opposite gender, either for sexual pleasure or for stress relief, but they do not require any sort of therapy and/or surgery. Some, of course, might suffer from the constant desire and urge to dress like a woman, and would therefore seek a doctor to get some relief for their anxiety, but that would be all.
Transexuals, by contrast, were those who had no doubts since their birth that they had the wrong body for their gender. They tended to come to the doctors relatively young — most had to wait until they came of age to escape the house where they lived with their parents — and had an easy way to get profiled. A very small fraction of them might have been intersex, and had their genitalia incorrectly changed to the ‘wrong’ gender at birth, so they seeked a way to correct that. All this was pretty much known, well-established, with lots of published research.
But a new kind of ‘transexual’ started to become more and more common (in fact, nowadays we admit that they outnumber the first kind of transexuals). They usually were middle-aged men (but the truth is that the age they came to the doctors to seek some help varied quite a lot) who had somehow ‘discovered’ that they had been born in the wrong body for the gender they identify with — after spending a few decades in frustration, trying to cope with being the ‘wrong’ gender as best as they could. Most had established families and worked at stereotypically male jobs (like the military or as a construction worker or lorry driver). They suppressed and repressed this ‘newly-found’ femininity for quite a long time, but now they cannot hold on any longer, and want to do something about it. They have read about transexuality; many might have been secret crossdressers for years, always living in fear of getting discovered, but after some time, just putting on women’s clothes was simply not enough. They wanted more: they wanted to become women. Or else they would simply commit suicide; they couldn’t handle their lives as males any longer.
Doctors were baffled at this, because it didn’t fit into their model. In other words: the MtF transexuals they were used to would say that they were women from birth, they simply had somehow developed the wrong body for the gender they identify with, and now they want to correct it. These were labeled as ‘primary transexuals’ back then — those who, since birth, always affirmed to be of a different gender than the one assigned at birth. This new group of transgender individuals — at that time, dubbed ‘secondary transexuals’ (today we call them ‘late onset transexuals’) — seemed to suffer from the same symptoms than the ‘primary transexuals’, i.e. depression, anxiety, apathy (lack of interest in anything except their change of gender), stress, and, of course, suicidal thoughts. But they were somehow different. They remember isolated episodes in their youth when they played with women’s clothes, or preferred the company of girls to the company of boys. They might have been bullied, isolated, deeply interested in books and not in rough-and-tumble activities like ‘the rest of the boys’, but they weren’t especially effeminate. They would mostly be heterosexual, that is, physically and romantically attracted to females. And for the rest of their lives they would have lead a ‘normal’ life as a male, according to society’s stereotypes of what a male ought to be and ought to do.
Doctors really didn’t know what to do with them, so, at first, their application for transition was rejected. Although it was a well-established fact by then that you cannot ‘cure’ transexuality, these ‘secondary transexuals’ were thought to be ‘something else’ — maybe delusionary thoughts caused by trauma, for instance — and referred to therapy. Not exactly ‘aversion therapy’, but rather trying to understand why these people thought they were ‘women inside’ when they clearly managed to lead a life as males. Many, unfortunately, listening to the bad news that they were not allowed to transition, committed suicide. This made doctors start to rethink about their theories, and try to fit the so-called ‘secondary transexuals’ in a category where they could be accurately diagnosed, and try to find a cure for them.
Blanchard started to find this group rather interesting — because it was undeniable that it was a large group. He noticed that a lot of them would gather in support communities, and, in order to get access to the desired hormonal treatments and surgery, they would simply lie to their doctors. They would by then know that one’s application for HRT and SRS would be rejected if the transexual didn’t feel to be a ‘woman trapped in man’s body’ since childbirth; so they prolifically ‘invented’ a childhood where they had always been ‘girls’ inside, but forced to do ‘boy stuff’ which they hated, but they had no choice to go on with their lives trying to ‘be male’ as much as they could. In fact — as we know today — late onset transexuals tend to have less memories from their early childhood than the average population (and this is explained partially because our brain discards unhappy memories before happy ones, and transexuals, no matter if they are early onset or late onset, simply hated the childhood they went through, since they always desired to be ‘the opposite gender’). Blanchard didn’t know that, but he quickly figured out that transexuals would tell their doctors what they wanted to hear.
However, his studies uncovered a curiosity: almost all of those ‘secondary transexuals’ had something in common — they would have erotic dreams of themselves as women. This, in turn, drove them to believe that they were (and had always been) women from the very start. Blanchard silently disagreed — ‘primary transexuals’ had no such dreams — and he saw that there was a little more than that. In effect, he postulated that these ‘secondary transexuals’ had actually developed a sexual paraphilia (that means an abnormal sexual desire) towards their self-image as women, and he dubbed this condition ‘autogynephilia’ (literally, ‘loving yourself as a woman’), a mixture of narcissism (a well-known condition) and a fetish (similar, but not quite, to transvestic fetishism, where the objects of desire/lust are women’s clothes & behaviour).
So far, this was not a terrible insight, especially because Blanchard also figured out that so-called ‘autogynephiliac transexuals’ would not respond to either therapy or medication; like ‘homosexual transexualism’ (a typical Blanchardian term for early onset transexuals…), there was no hope for a ‘cure’, but transition apparently provided relief similarly to the other kind of transexuals. So Blanchard recommended that both ought to be treated the same way.
If Blanchard had stopped at this point, all would be well (probably…), but as we all know, he continued to argue that somehow a large group of transexuals were nothing more than sexual fetishists and deviants, and this, of course, did not please the community much. Later research showed that Blanchard’s methodology and data were all wrong, and his own conclusions don’t even fit the data he published, so the Blanchard theory was pretty much debunked and abandoned — even though Blanchard continues to have his followers. After all, for right-wing conservatives, it is quite easy to believe that transexuals are nothing more than abherrations, and that the only reason for them to transition is to get better sex… a picture which sadly distorted completely the mainstream view of transexuality and Blanchard, instead of fighting transphobia and exclusion (after all, his early findings might have actually been positive — he proposed transition for all transexuals, no matter if they were ‘early onset’ or ‘late onset’), actually fueled the flames of hatred and intolerance, by giving them ‘scientific’ grounds for discrimination.
No matter how wrong Blanchard ultimately was (or still is, since he hasn’t given up his theories yet), there remains a point worthy of analysis. There are some people, assigned male at birth, who do have erotic dreams of themselves as women — and this is definitely not what happens with the majority of people assigned male at birth. What should we do with them?
Jack Molay preferred to coin the word ‘crossdreamer’ to describe them, because it is neutral, and it allows a vast spectrum of possibilities. What we call ‘erotic’ or ‘sexual’ has different meanings; I’ve used in the early part of this article the word ‘thrill’. We get ‘thrilled’ by adrenaline rushes; some of those are sexual in nature, some are not. So when a crossdresser claims that s/he gets ‘excited’ by wearing women’s clothes, that ‘excitement’ may be erotic in nature — but it may also not be. Kids get excited to go to the zoo, and that’s most certainly not a sexual response. But on the other hand we can get erotically aroused by objects, images, ideas, concepts, and so forth — and the idea of ‘being a woman’ can, indeed, provoke erotic arousal in some men.
Felix goes a little deeper and prefers to separate the waters. After all, any theory trying to explain the transgender spectrum has to take into account that the vast majority are, indeed, transvestic fetishists, i.e. men that dress as women purely for sexual pleasure — either for self-pleasing, or for the benefit of sexual partners. We cannot discount the fact that these are, indeed, the vast majority of ‘crossdressers’ out there.
Felix uses therefore a different approach: he considers that there is a first stage, or level, of loving femininity (as opposed to the male heterosexual love of a female). This means getting erotically aroused by everything feminine, from clothes to behaviour, and, of course, by women themselves — such men are almost exclusively attracted by women, because they see them as the embodiment of ‘everything feminine’ which they find so erotically arousing. It also means that such people will very likely find their self-image as women as powerfully erotic as well, and crossdressing, partially or fully, just enhances that pleasure. For those, Felix reserves the word ‘femephilia’ — the love of everything feminine — and shows that this goes beyond Blanchard’s hypothesis of the ‘love of the self-image as a woman’. As said, femephiles actually love (most) women as well, not only their self-image. And they might be fetishistically attracted to women’s clothes — again, not only the self-image wearing the clothes, but the clothes themselves. So we can fit into this group a rather large spectrum of reasons why people crossdress.
Among those will be a group that is willing to undergo bodily modifications to create that self-image as a woman, and yes, this means hormones and surgery. Some of them knock on the doctor’s door. As we’ll see later on, this case constitutes a serious problem.
The next step is to go beyond femephilia and move into the realm of identity. Here things become more abstract; it’s not merely being attracted by the self-image as a woman, but actually by the idea of being a woman, or even by the idea of becoming a woman. We shift towards a more subtle sphere of ‘attraction’ that goes also beyond the merely erotic or sexual; it’s more a question of wishful thinking, of dreaming, of imagining what could have been, or what could actually be, if the person actually ‘becomes a woman’. Jack Molay, accordingly, because the issue of dreaming is so present, called these people ‘crossdreamers’. The concept was presented and discussed around 2007 or so, and continues to evolve and expand — although I have yet to see it used on research papers — but it provides an alternative theory to Blanchard’s to explain certain kinds of late onset transexuals — as well as explaining those who, although in a way identifying as women, never actually take any (physical) steps to become one. We see them doing creative things — writing fiction using a female nom de plume, doing art, playing role-playing games as gender-benders, and so forth — which show that their innate sense of ‘becoming a woman’ can be manifested in several different ways. Some, of course, opt for crossdressing; and some eventually enter transition. The majority, however, will never go that far — they find a creative outlet to engage in the self-exploration of their identities.
So, to recap… Felix Conrad’s model (which expands Jack Molay’s in a certain sense) tries to explain what Blanchard has seen in his studies in a different way. There are people who clearly identify with a gender which is different from the gender of their physical body. Such people are clearly early onset transexuals and ought to transition as early as possible — these days we try to spot them before their adolescence, to be able to stop puberty in time and give them a better chance to decide what they ultimately want to be.
There is also a certain class of late onset transexuals who have been repressing their identity for decades, and are at the end of the road — they can’t handle it any longer, and it’s either transition or suicide. No matter at what age this happens, such people should also be immediately sent to transition.
Then we come to transvestic fetishists, or crossdressing fetishists. These are by far the vast majority. Some entertain the idea of transitioning — especially those who have come in contact with the world of sex workers, and have had some success in that area, and wish to modify their bodies to be more pleasing to their customers. Here doctors trace a red line and say ‘no’ — we’re talking mostly about cosmetic surgery to improve sexual performance in some way. While anyone has the right to cosmetic surgery, doctors are very reluctant to cut perfectly healthy bits of one’s body, and therefore the consensus is that such transvestic fetishists who want some body modifications should do them on their own — except for SRS, which is excluded — and bear the costs (and the consequences) of their choices.
Next come the femephiles. They are quite different from transvestic fetishists — even though at the core both are driven by sexuality. Felix Conrad says that there is nothing wrong with that: sexuality is a very powerful drive, it overrides logic and reason in exchange for pleasure, and we should not discard it lightly. Sexuality is part of all of us (even those who are asexual — they define themselves as excluding themselves from certain aspects of sexuality), and there’s nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with it. However, femephiles are not ‘women trapped in men’s bodies’, no matter how strongly they make that claim. The major difference between a MtF transexual and a femephile is that the former will claim that they have always been women, they just have been born with the wrong genes; while the latter will want to ‘become women’. No matter how much they emulate certain aspects of femininity — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, either! — there is always the feeling that it’s an act, something they wish to learn, or that they wish to become, not something that they have always been.
Crossdreamers are a more difficult example, because their identification with women goes beyond the sexuality — even though obviously the sexuality is not discarded, but rather is part of an ensemble of thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc. that ‘make up’ a female identity. When crossdreamers crossdress — and many do so, because they see it as a valid expression of their ‘inner self’ (more on that later!) — it will be hard to distinguish them from femephiles or even transvestic fetishists. They don’t ‘dress differently’. It’s just the reason why they dress that is quite different. And while it’s very possible for them to discover that they were crossdreamers at a stage when it was mostly the erotic arousal from their self-image as women, as they get older and express their innermost feelings (either through creative means or by crossdressing — which can also be an art form!), they evolve and change their attitudes, and their ‘attraction’ (or shall we say ‘thrill’?) towards their self-image as women may not be what we would call ‘erotic’ or ‘sexual’ in nature. This is one of the reasons why many crossdressers, to distinguish themselves from transvestic fetishists, are very keen in saying that there is ‘nothing erotic in the reasons for crossdressing’. There might have been some erotic roots for their crossdressing, but they have evolved beyond pure sexuality. Felix Conrad gives the following analogy: the way crossdreamers express their ‘thrill’ with their inner self-image as women is comparable to the way a husband is attracted to his wife — of course there might be some erotic and sexual undertones to the relationship (and there should be some!), but the wife is supposed to be much, much more than merely a sex object.
There is, of course, a lot of fluidity between those types. Someone might start as a femephile and later evolve to become a crossdreamer instead… and eventually desire transition. Others might want to jump directly from femephilia to transition. Those late onset transexuals who are at their wit’s end and wish transition or death have very likely been crossdreamers almost all their lives. It is much more rare for someone to go from transvestic fetishism to, say, crossdreaming, but we shouldn’t discount that possibility, either. One huge flaw with Blanchard’s theory is that it’s bipolar: you’re either a ‘homosexual transexual’ (an early onset transexual) or a ‘autogynephiliac transexual’. For Blanchard there is no middle ground (Anne Lawrence expanded Blanchard’s theories to allow for a small spectrum between the two extremes, but her assumptions are still as wrong as Blanchard’s). Felix Conrad and Jack Molay, by contrast, are all about spectrums and variations among all types — the world is not black and white, but shades of grey.
Caveats of femephilia/crossdreaming
Felix Conrad is very straightforward in his seminars, workshops and books: he states at the very beginning that if someone sees that the only alternative to transition is suicide, then they shouldn’t hesitate — they should transition. ‘Suicide’ might not be an option (say, for religious reasons, or lack of courage, etc.), but any very strong compulsion to go ahead should not be disregarded; such individuals, be they early onset or late onset, that makes little different — they are most definitely transexual, and their road ahead is clear.
With crossdreamers, things may be a little different. Again, there is a spectrum of possibilities, and depending on where exactly you fit, transition may not be an option. And here Felix Conrad proposes a new model to explain how things work inside the crossdreamers’ mind — and this is where he is aligned with Cristy’s ideas — which I find extremely interesting, and it certainly applies to me. Unfortunately, it also applies to some of my friends who maybe have ‘gone too far’…
Felix suggests that inside crossdreamers there are two opposing forces competing for attention. The first he calls the ‘female inner self’. Not unlike Cristy, he suggests that there is a core element of the crossdreamer’s personality that has definitely female characteristics. Obviously, we can only label ‘male’ and ‘female’ characteristics as stereotypes imposed socially; but, on the other hand, we can see that, on average (and this is important: when talking about statistical results, we tend to ‘forget’ the edge cases), there are certain qualities and characteristics that we immediately label as ‘male’ or ‘female’, when, in reality, both males and females share them — but not in equal amounts.
A typical example: men also cry and show their emotions in public. This was common before the 19th century; there was nothing ‘unmanly’ to show one’s emotions. But the Victorian era changed all that, and, at least in the Western world, men were conditioned never to show their emotions, especially not the negative ones (sadness, depression, and so forth). They’re supposed to be ‘strong’ and keep a stiff upper lip, like the Brits say. As a consequence, we tend to attribute the free expression of emotions as being something ‘female’ simply because we’re socially conditioned to have men suppressing their emotions.
Clearly, a crossdreamer will feel the need of expressing their emotions, and such a ‘need’ will be attributed to the ‘inner female self’.
But we can go on. In the 18th century and before that, men would wear silky clothing, and frilly and lacey outfits in all sorts of colours. After the Victorian age, however, fashion for men changed completely. Today, we still believe that women’s clothing — from underwear to outer garments — are supposed to be silky and lacey, soft to the touch, and available in all colours, while men’s clothing is supposed to be rough and tough in boring colours. Again, there is nothing inherently ‘female’ in loving soft, silky clothing in bright colours; it’s just that fashion changed for men in the past two centuries; so we also tend to push the urge to wear silky clothing into the ‘inner female self’.
If this sounds superficial and vain… well, it isn’t. It’s just that MtF crossdreamers are not happy with the way ‘males’ are depicted in the society of the 21st century, and they identify with characteristics and qualities that we usually assign to female gender roles. We can even go further: thanks to the efforts made by feminists, women are today able to express themselves in more ways, breaking their own stereotypes, if they so wish. There is nothing wrong with a woman who is aggressive, good at maths (women and men are equally good at maths, in spite of all stereotypes), dominating, a born leader, charismatic, and so forth. Women can display all those ‘manly’ attributes and characteristics and they are not ‘lesser women’ because of that. But, of course, they are still free to adhere to ‘female stereotypes’ if they so wish. A woman that shows her emotions in public or that represses them all the time is equally accepted as a woman — it makes no difference, both roles are ‘allowed’ in our society.
Males, by contrast, have to stick to much more limited stereotypes. If you’re not aggressive, don’t like sports, can’t bother much to talk about cars, and don’t have a profession as an engineer or rocket scientist or something physical like being a construction worker or security officer, then, well, you’re ‘not very manly’; you’re a softie, a lesser kind of male, and will probably be (wrongly) called ‘gay’ by your colleagues — especially if you take good care of your skin, hair and nails…
So what happens with the MtF crossdreamer is that they rebel against these constraints put upon male gender roles. Instead, all they see that they share with what our society considers a female gender role is projected towards the ‘inner female self’. This ‘inner female self’ is also pretty reasonable, in the sense that — like any good mother! — it keeps some checks and balances upon the crossdreamer; in other words, it refrains the crossdreamer for taking unnecessary risks and jumping to conclusions. Women, in general, are more cautious when making decisions (something that males wrongly see as ‘hesitation’ or ‘not being able to make up their minds’ — in reality, males take risks gladly, while females tend to be more careful, that’s all, and such a difference is more evolutionary conditioned than socially). So the crossdreamer, while strongly identifying with this ‘inner female self’ — which, at some point, will require some sort of manifestation, either creatively or even by crossdressing — is also a reasonable person, so long as they keep in touch with the ‘inner female self’.
But the ‘inner female self’ also causes a problem: the crossdreamer is never happy about their own role in society. There is a longing — or even an urge — to ‘let the inner female self out’. Keeping those urges in check will be something the crossdreamer will do for all their lives. Sometimes the constant repression and supression is simply too much, and this can lead to anxiety and depression. And sometimes they ‘give up’ on pretending that the ‘inner female self’ doesn’t exist and eventually ‘come out’ as late onset transexuals. Between the two extremes there is, again, a vast amount of shades of grey.
Now we come to the biggest issue: on many crossdreamers, the tender balance is destroyed by a powerful force that Felix Conrad calls ‘the Glamourpuss’. This is precisely the same thing that Cristy describes as the ‘Pink Fog’. Felix is just a bit more precise in his description, but both are essentially talking about the same thing, and warning crossdreamers about its dangers.
The Glamourpuss is a very strong force indeed, because, according to Felix, it’s rooted into our sexuality — one of the most powerful forces driving (or even compelling) us to think and act. The Glamourpuss is what tells the crossdreamer that they can also be astonishingly good-looking women, so long as they buy the right clothes, do their makeup properly, have the correct wig for their body figure, and start going out with friends similarly driven by their own inner Glamourpussies. Because crossdreamers find their self-image as women erotic, the Glamourpuss builds on that aspect of our personality, and pushes us to manifest that self-image. When we ‘give in’ to the Glamourpuss, we start buying apparel, accessories, and makeup, well beyond our needs (and means), and we give constant thought to when we will be able to go out again. The Glamourpuss makes us hungry for dressing up as women and behaving as women; it is a very strong urge, which throws us into despair and frustration if we cannot do that for some reason. And why? Remember, the Glamourpuss is anchored on our sexuality. The frustration we feel from ‘not giving in’ to the Glamourpuss is not much different from being sexually frustrated (not having a partner, not having enough sex, not having fulfilling sex, and so forth).
At this point I will have some crossdreamers jumping up and down and yelling ‘no! no! this has nothing to do with sexuality!’ but I think that Felix is ultimately right. We forget that ‘sexuality’ is also a broad, vague term that encompasses a lot of emotions, conflicts, drives, and so forth; and that it acts on our system, pushing hormones here and there, exchanging chemicals between the many glands, even affecting how the brain works. That is all part of our genetic makeup; we inherited all those traits through evolution, since naturally all species are compelled to reproduce — and therefore we have no choice but to have our sexuality as the main driving force in our own organism.
However, because we are also rational beings, we can turn these drives and emotions away from ‘reproductive activity’ and channel it into something else, and that doesn’t automatically mean ‘fetish’. Some people do sports to deal with a certain sexual frustration, for example; others simply view porn 🙂 The important thing here to understand is that the sexual drive is behind Felix’s Glamourpuss, even if the way it manifests itself might have nothing to do with ‘sexuality’, at least not in the form and the way we usually talk about it. More specifically, the Glamourpuss might only push us to buy more clothes, to become obsessed with what we will wear on the next night out, to worry if we’re going to look good in the new wig, and so forth.
So, the trick here is to keep the Glamourpuss in check. As long as it is ‘reined in’, and kept at bay, it cannot affect us — we can still enjoy buying clothes and going out with friends, and indeed it might become the activity where we have more fun and pleasure, but we will not be obsessive and anxious about it. More importantly, we will also not get ‘pushed over the border’ and start to become delusional, about ourselves, our lives, and… our identity.
Where does ‘gender identity’ fit into this model?
Why is the Glamourpuss or the Pink Fog so dangerous? If we don’t keep it in check, it will trick us by making us believe that the ‘inner female self’ needs somehow to ‘take over’ our identity. This, for a crossdreamer, is the most confusing part. As said, on one hand we have Cristy’s ‘recreational crossdressers’ — those that clearly identify themselves as male, but who enjoy, for whatever reason, to dress and behave like women. On the other hand we have those who suffer from gender dysphoria and require transition from male to female. Between the two extremes we have a vast spectrum of possibilities.
What if you’re not a ‘recreational crossdresser’ but… ‘something more’? In this case, this means that there is indeed something inside us that tells us that we are, somehow, female. It might just be some traits of personality; some qualities we admire; a rejection of some male characteristics… whatever it is, or however we perceive it, there is ‘something more’. And this is clearly seen among those crossdreamers who talk with ‘recreational crossdressers’: at some point, they can clearly see the barrier that divides them: ‘recreational crossdressers’ identify as male, they don’t. They are not sure about their identity.
Here lies the problem: the Glamoupuss/Pink Fog, because it’s so overwhelming, might push those crossdreamers into believing that their ‘inner female self’ is their true identity. In other words, they start to believe that they should identify with the female gender. That, of course, creates a lot of other problems as well; the late onset transexual is definitely a very confused human being! What is happening here is that the Glamourpuss is ‘taking over’ and this will definitely have consequences. It will create a rupture in one’s identity, a switch from being ‘probably-a-weak-male-but-with-an-inner-female-self’ to ‘a woman trapped in a man’s body’. This is not easy to deal with; neither it’s easy to accept. So the struggle continues and is very powerful; to the point that the mental health can deteriorate, as the crossdreamer jumps between extremes in order to figure out what their ‘true identity’ is. In other words, they experience — literally — an identity crisis.
Other crossdreamers friends (or, worse, transexuals who have completed their transition) are not necessarily the best help they can get at this stage — because they will only reinforce the Glamourpuss. Some, indeed, might already have been ‘taken over’ by the Glamourpuss and identify with women, and start planning their transition. All this will influence the way the crossdreamer relates to their environment; they will get more feedback regarding what they believe to be their ‘inner female self’ (i.e. being praised about how good they look, how tasteful their fashion choices are, and so forth).
We’re treading on thin ice here. How do we know that we’re merely under the influence of the Glamourpuss — and not really transexual? How big is the difference anyway? Remember, being under the influence of the Glamourpuss also creates similar symptoms to what we call ‘gender dysphoria’, and things like anxiety, stress, compulsive-obsessive behaviour, etc. are common to both.
There is, however, a relatively simple test to apply here, which is to imagine one’s life as a woman — not merely during the glamorous nights out, but riding a bus to work, being on a queue at the supermarket, washing clothes, taking the dog out for a walk, and so forth. Essentially these are the things that people in transition will need to deal with. However, none of those actions are very glamorous; the Glamourpuss will not really enjoy doing them. Someone who is a transexual will have no problem with any of those chores; in fact, some transexuals might not even think much about ‘nights out’ (at least, that’s my experience) during their transition, but worry more with going on with their lives.
In any case, Felix correctly identifies one big issue: crossdreamers are desperately searching for an ‘identity’. This sounds a bit strange, since ‘identity’ is something you’re supposed to have, not to search for; however, almost every crossdreamer will, at some point in their lives, question their identity. And if they are active crossdressers, having at least overcome their fear of expressing themselves as a gender that they have not been assigned at birth, they will at least question that assigned gender — e.g. if they have been assigned male, why do they feel so good when dressed as females? (and, conversely, in some cases at least, why do they feel so unhappy about sticking to a strictly male role?)
Clearly, MtF crossdreamers do not ‘fully’ identify as males. They recognize the existence of their ‘inner female self’ — repressed or not, it is there. Thanks to the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog, they also feel excitement and thrill, sometimes with erotic overtones, when expressing themselves as females. Such feelings are not typical of stereotypical gender males. So if they refuse to identify as ‘stereotypical males’ — because they clearly aren’t — and they are warned by Cristy and Felix that they are not ‘really’ women (but just get pushed by the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog to think they are)… what is left for them to identify with?
Felix actually proposes a very simple solution. His own methodology to deal with the issue is called by him as ‘fusion’, and it is not exactly a novel idea, he just presents it in a different way, and with some concrete steps to take. ‘Fusion’, in his context, means fully accepting that a crossdreamer is neither a stereotypical male nor a stereotypical female. Instead, they are both… they are transgender.
Now this sounds a bit confusing. Of course, crossdreamers are part of the transgender spectrum, but… we see that more as a description of someone who does not ‘fit’ in the traditional gender roles. Felix, by contrast, suggests that it is taken as a new kind of identity. In other words, he proposes that crossdreamers who question their identity along the binary gender model imposed by society simply accept that they are neither, and, instead, that they are a different identity, one that does not ‘fit’ to either gender role, but instead has characteristics of its own — some of which shared by the male gender role, others shared by the female gender role, and a lot that is not shared by either. This is what it means to ‘identify with transgender as an identity’ (pardon the pleonasm).
His book and lectures actually describe some steps to help a crossdreamer to identify themselves as transgender (and some of them are not obvious and quite interesting; it’s worth buying the book just to learn it; I’m not going to spoil the reading for you telling what they are!). Although obviously there might be many ways to accomplish the same thing, and possibly experts in clinical sexuality might know about more methods, the point here that Felix makes is that a crossdreamer who is not transexual — by the common definition of the term, i.e. suffering from severe gender dysphoria that makes transition literally a question of life or death (by suicide, if the transition is denied) — should simply accept that they are neither ‘men’ nor ‘women’ but merely ‘transgender as an identity’ (and not simply as a description of a condition).
While this ought to sound obvious, so far, it’s true that the problem of a crossdreamer’s identity is not so clearly explained elsewhere. ‘Coercing’ a crossdreamer to stop thinking about the binary male/female identity (‘if I’m obviously not 100% male, I must be female’) and pushing them to start identifying with ‘transgender’ as a ‘new’ gender identity is a clever approach. It also means that some kinds of crossdreamers, eternally swinging between the two binary genders, and unsure if they should transition or not, might be directed towards a new approach: accepting that they have a very special gift, the ability to have an identity where both male and female aspects co-exist, to a certain degree, and that they should celebrate that gift by expressing themselves as they wish — either as male or female, or even a mixture of both, depending on the occasion and the people they are with. Such a ‘transgender identity’ should be a pretext for rejoicing and not a trigger for anxiety and depression. Therefore, Felix advocates a ‘mind shift’: instead of endlessly saying to themselves ‘I’m a MtF transgender, should I remain as a male, or transition to female?’, MtF crossdreamers should simply accept that being transgender is what their identity is — and there is no ‘need’ to stick to either of the binary genders or ‘move’ towards either of them through surgery, hormones, radical change of lifestyle, and so forth. A transgender crossdreamer can be both genders, and, accepting that, they can express themselves pretty much as they wish — without anxiety or depression.
Felix (and Cristy) are very careful to explain that their approaches and explanations are not meant for those suffering from severe gender dysphoria — ‘severe’, in this context, meaning that the person cannot continue to live as their assigned gender, and their only alternative to transition is suicide. Such cases ought to be screened out, preferably as early as possible (ideally, before puberty), and dealt with using hormonal treatments and/or surgery — the only established means of ‘treatment’ of severe gender dysphoria, and which is appropriate for early onset transexuals.
They also apply the same reasoning and logic to so-called late onset transexuals. Here we usually deal with people who have been repressing their gender identity for decades and trying very hard to ‘fit’ to a gender role that they don’t identify with in the least. While late onset transexuals might not have been always depressed and anxious, it’s clear that they led a life of suffering, of repression, of suppressing their innermost feelings, and have done so for decades. At some point in their lives, this will simply ‘blow up’ — they cannot continue to ‘pretend’ any longer. They might nevertheless continue to play their assigned role because of children, a job, and so forth, but once they feel that there is no ‘need’ to continue the pretense, they wish to transition. Again, the diagnosis of severe gender dysphoria ought to be established before the transition is made.
Then there are those crossdreamers who are under the influence of the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog. Let’s not minimise those effects; no matter how ‘funny’ those names sound, they are no laughing matter. The urge to become a woman can be so strong that it does, indeed, trigger gender dysphoria with all its symptoms, often at the same time as depression, anxiety, compulsive-obsessive behaviour, and so forth. At that stage, it all becomes a question of wordplay: is such an individual gender dysphoric and requires treatment, or did that individual develop gender dysphoria, and now requires treatment?
As we know, Blanchard had the same issue as well. The difference here is that we got rid of the whole baggage of trying to ‘fit’ those late onset transexuals into some kind of paraphiliac nonsense. In fact, Felix believes that it’s silly to even make a difference between ‘early onset transexuals’ and ‘late onset transexuals’ — transexuals are transexuals, no matter what, and the diagnosis and treatment is exactly the same for both; so why bother labeling them differently? In effect, these days, psychologists prefer to simply diagnose ‘a certain degree of gender dysphoria’, no matter when exactly those symptoms became apparent, and people with gender dysphoria are treated according to the severity of the symptoms they have (and what they are willing to do) — each case being a case, all different, even if they might share the same symptoms.
We don’t have a word, or a label, or a category to place those people who do, indeed, exhibit many (or all) the symptoms of gender dysphoria, but in a milder way, in the sense that they might be able to cope with the idea that they will be ‘stuck’ in their current bodies for the rest of their lives. We can say that they are non-transitioning transexuals, if we wish. Felix and Cristy, however, believe that they are not transexual as well; it’s the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog that makes them ‘believe’ to be transexual, while in reality they aren’t.
It’s hard to counter their arguments, because, indeed, most of us who are in touch with that ‘inner female self’, and finally are able to express that ‘inner female self’ — and that means ‘coming out’ — the result is an intense feeling of freedom, of liberty from constraints set upon ourselves for so many decades. Finally things ‘feel right’, for a change. And… it’s also exciting, thrilling, even erotic.
It’s very easy, therefore, to be so thoroughly immersed in that sense of well-being, in that euphoric state of enjoying manifesting one’s femininity, that we might become prey to the Pink Fog. Cristy says that it works almost like an addiction: because it makes us feel good, we wish to do it more and more — and at some point, we might truly and utterly believe that we’d be much better off if we simply transitioned.
I know several people who are exactly like that. Some have transitioned, with mixed results. Some are planning to. And some have not, for various reasons. I believe that there is clearly a spectrum here, from ‘very mild gender dysphoria’ (we might feel that we identify with the female gender, but it doesn’t really worry us much, and we stick to ‘being male’ because it’s much easier to go through life acting a role that is expected by everybody else from a person with our kind of physical body), to ‘mild-to-serious gender dysphoria’ (when we clearly experience ‘being female’ as a much better alternative than ‘being male’, and this causes us anxiety and depression) to ‘severe gender dysphoria’ (when the option is to transition or commit suicide).
Cristy and Felix, therefore, are warning us that what we perceive as gender dysphoria might not really be ‘the real thing’, but merely our mind playing tricks because ‘being female’ is so much better for us than ‘being male’ — this is the essence of the consequences of letting the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog ‘take over’. As said, Felix proposes to keep it at bay by identifying ‘merely as a transgender person’ — not a male, nor a female, but an individual that can express both, and can create their own identity based on the assumption that they are not either male or female — they can be both, either at once, or manifested in different times, or mixing the best from each, and so forth.
Personally, I like their explanations very much. The sensation of when the Glamourpuss ‘takes over’ is real. In general, I’m not a very obsessive person — but, like everybody else (I guess), I had my moments of obsession. In most cases these were connected to romantic relationships, but I can also admit being ‘temporarily obsessed’ with a certain task I have to complete, no matter what. I can get obsessed with a topic, an idea, a book. Sometimes this is a positive kind of obsession (in the sense that we learn something from the experience, and, by keeping it in our focus, we give it our undivided attention, therefore getting more out of it), but more often obsessions are not healthy. And in this case, I have to grudgingly admit that the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog is ‘unhealthy’ for me: when I ‘give in’ to it, then I tend to spend too much money on things that I cannot afford; I tend to endlessly pine for future events where I can present myself as female, and these will be constantly on my mind; I reach out for the comfort from other crossdreamers (either ‘merely crossdressers’ or those in transition or planning to do so), which in turn reinforces the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog; and, yes, I tend to blog a lot or spend hours on Facebook discussing these things 😛
Not only it’s not healthy, but, over the years, I feel that I need more and more. Like many addictions, as soon as you reach a certain plateaux, it is never enough and you need more. At some point, when you routinely go out shopping for food in plain broadlight every day, dressed as a woman, and spend all hours away from work dressed casually as a woman at home, well, then it’s reasonable to ask why not to take the small step to become a woman 24h/7, since one might already be a woman 16h/7?
The problem is that this kind of obsession might not be realistic, in the sense that once transition is over… what now? Such people will continue to wish for more surgeries, to become ‘more female’, and they will have a sense of permanent insatisfaction all their lives — there is always another dress to buy, there is always a new diet (in order to fit in that dress!), and as the consequences of aging start to manifest themselves, it means constantly obsessing with ways to remain healthy and reasonably good-looking… but it will never be enough.
So what Cristy and Felix are saying is that someone experiencing gender dysphoria needs to be very careful about evaluating their situation, and see how much this ‘obsession with becoming a woman’ is really a consequence of gender dysphoria, or if it’s just that — an obsession, coming from addiction-like symptoms, which also produce symptoms that are the same as the ones produced by gender dysphoria. However, obsessions and addictive behaviour can be treated, while gender dysphoria cannot — that’s the huge difference!
Samuel Killermann, in his book The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender, has a chapter that asks the question: ‘How To Diagnose Someone As Transgender’. And the answer? ‘You can’t’. Killermann goes further to explain why you can’t diagnose that (and I certainly suggest that you buy his book and read it; it’s very funny to read, even though the subject is dead serious).
Therefore I see that Felix is a bit more interesting in his classifications. Cristy tends to limit the whole MtF spectrum to four kinds of people: crossdressers who do it for sexual pleasure only (therefore, outside the whole ‘gender identity’ thing), ‘recreational’ crossdressers (those who clearly identify as male but enjoy presenting themselves as female because it’s fun, entertaining, thrilling, exciting, etc. for them), ‘addicted’ crossdressers (those who are confused about their gender identity and suffer from the Pink Fog which makes them believe to be females trapped in men’s bodies and eventually attempt transition), and transexuals (those who have always identified as female since birth and just wish to make their bodies better aligned to the gender they identify with).
Felix considers all of these ‘transgender’ — simply because, at some level, they are not following the male role stereotype at 100%. A simple example: a man that dresses as a woman to have sexual pleasure is not part of the cisgender heteronormative (stereotyped) male gender role. Men simply do not do that — even if it’s just for sexual pleasure and has nothing to do with ‘identity’.
But Felix also recognises the big difference between what Cristy calls ‘recreational’ and ‘addicted’ crossdressers, and explains it the same way: it’s the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog that drives someone who might merely be a ‘recreational’ crossdresser to become ‘addicted’ to the glamour of ‘looking like a woman’, and make them believe that they ought to become women. Cristy still thinks that these people are ‘merely crossdressers’ — just misguided ones — and she considers herself to be very lucky to have ‘snapped out of it’ (my words, not hers) and avoided transitioning for the wrong reasons. Felix, by contrast, just considers ‘crossdressing’ the external manifestation — all those people are transgender. Some identify with the male gender (but still crossdress); some identify with the female gender (and might opt for transition); the problem is with those who are ‘confused’ and under the influence of the Pink Fog and are starting to believe that they should identify with the female gender instead. For those, Felix recommends a method to get them to identify with ‘being transgender’ instead of ‘being female’. That’s the main difference between Cristy and Felix.
Although I believe that both are pretty much describing the same thing, just using different words, but Felix is a bit more careful in his choice of words. That’s why he prefers to start his assumptions with ‘crossdreaming’ (which describes something related to the ‘inner self’) as opposed to ‘crossdressing’ (which is merely the act of wearing clothes of a different gender — there is no implication about how that person actually feels about it, or what kind of gender identity or sexuality they have); and, among crossdreamers, he suggests that some are really in need of transitioning (becoming legally ‘transexual’) while others are just deluded, and should remain in their current gender role — but accept that this gender role is not necessarily ‘male’ or ‘female’, just ‘transgender’, which can be expressed in several different ways. This is the main point of Felix’s assumptions: you can present yourself as female for as often as you like, without assuming that you are ‘female’, but merely by accepting that you are ‘transgender’, and that your identity and inner self is neither truly male, nor is it truly female.
It’s tough, but there is something quite persuading about this kind of explanation.
How this personally affects me
A bit like Cristy, when I started searching for things related to gender identity on the Internet, there were really just two choices in the 1990s: you were either a crossdresser, or a transexual. There was really no ‘middle term’ — or, to be more precise, you would not find many texts describing someone in the middle of those extremes.
Because by then I had no urge to commit suicide if I didn’t transition, I did opt for the ‘crossdresser’ label, since it reflected a bit more of what I actually did. On a daily basis, I would just dream of being a woman, and that certainly excited me; being able to ‘become’ the woman I dreamed about (wearing dresses, a wig, high heelsand some makeup) was very exciting, at the beginning in a clearly erotic way.
But of course I did also dream of becoming that woman I dreamed about. It was just not financially feasible yet — when I ‘discovered’ that I was a crossdresser, I still lived with my parents. So I thought that I needed to make a lot of money, not only to pay for surgeries and such, but to be able to survive without a job until the end of my days. I did actually achieve that goal (that was during the financial boom of the 1990s, of course). I did not really plan to transition — I was enjoying the relationship with my future wife by then, and it seemed ‘unfair’ to put that burden on her. Like many transgender individuals, I was hoping that having a ‘normal’ relationship would diminish the urges to crossdress and, of course, totally eliminate the urge to transition.
As we all know, it simply doesn’t work like that. The urge to crossdress (and eventually transition…) does not ‘disappear’. Using Felix’s words, we are transgender, we can just be in denial about it, and hoping that ‘it’s just a phase’ and it’ll go away. Well, it won’t. At some point, you have to deal with it. I did so, by telling my wife, and explaining that I was desperate to dress — I simply couldn’t bear a life without crossdressing any more. I labeled myself as ‘merely a crossdresser’ at the time of my ‘coming out’ to my wife, and that was it.
At some point, however, the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog started to kick in. The desire to at least have a ‘more female body’ was the first to appear — mostly because I was getting tired of having to waste so much time with complex underwear (to get a female-ish kind of figure…) and tons of makeup tricks to hide my most masculine features. It would be so much simpler if I just had a female body, period. And thanks to modern medical technology, I could have it.
So something went ‘click’ inside my head, and I thought: ‘perhaps, after all, I’m not ‘merely’ a crossdresser as I always thought; maybe the desire of wishing to be a woman has always been with me since birth, I have just been very, very good at suppressing that, repressing my feelings, and pretending to do my ‘male role’ as best as I could. Maybe I have always been ‘female inside’. And maybe I ought to be doing something about that.’
Put that way, it seems that this was a ‘sudden’ revelation after a few days of thinking, but no — it was a very long process, taking at least a decade, although I most certainly entertained those thoughts in the past. In other words: the idea of ‘becoming a woman’ was not disgusting or repulsive to me (as it is to some crossdresser friends I’ve got), but merely ‘wishful thinking’; after all those years, however, the ‘wishful thinking’ slowly became one (of many) obsessive thought. It just might be possible. Things just might get right. Sure, there were a lot of obstacles, but I might be able to overcome all of them, at least to a degree. The issue was deciding what was more important to me at the time — i.e., defining priorities.
And as you know, if you are a regular reader, my priorities (in no particular order) are to secure financial health, keep my relationship with my wife, keep my friends and my family members, and so forth. Actual transition, where I would have to ‘let go’ of all that, was actually relatively low on the priority list.
Then came anxiety and depression — not triggered by gender dysphoria, but the gender dysphoria most certainly is at the root of the problem. Too many things happened in a relatively short period of time, and something inside my head just switched to ‘depression mode’ — saying: ‘I can’t handle all of this simultaneously!’
So, working with my therapist, and also using some tools and techniques from my Buddhist background, I tried to analyse the whole issue from a detached point of view — or as detached as it is humanly possible, taking into account that someone under a depression is already working with deluded perceptions.
What I found was not really an ‘inner female self’ as Felix so nicely puts it. Unlike some transgender people, who ‘switch personalities’ depending on their gender presentation, I’m not a ‘different’ person just because I’m wearing women’s clothes. I speak and gesticulate in pretty much the same way; I think the same things, I have the same tastes (and the same sexuality), and, in general, I’m the same person, with all good and bad things. It’s just that I’m much more happy presenting as a female than as a male. And it shows — no wonder I’m almost always smiling on the pictures!
I clearly don’t fully identify with ‘male’, because I pretty much hate everything in the ‘male role’. Sure, it has a lot of privileges — most of which I take so much for granted that I don’t even see them as ‘privilege’ — but so has the ‘female role’. They’re just different kinds of privilege, and I feel much more attracted to the female gender role. And, of course, I’m aware that most males simply do not think that way, so I cannot fully identify with them.
Then, of course, comes my pragmatic side — and like I said on the very beginning, I’m aware of the difficulties for some transexuals to lead a fulfilling life in their gender of choice — because of appearances, and the plain and simple statistical fact that most people, are, well, plain to ugly. It’s tough to say that, it sounds like a gross over-generalization, but, in essence, it’s correct. So, being honest to myself, I have to conclude that my ‘wish to transition’ is just that — wishful thinking. It would require an extraordinary sequence of coincidences to pop up to allow me to transition safely, and, most importantly, happily — some might call that sequence ‘a miracle’, if you’re religious. I prefer to see them as merely a lot of interrelated issues that would just need to come about at the ‘right moment’: guaranteeing financial stability until the end of my natural life, tolerance and acceptance from my closest friends and colleagues, moving out to a different city/country, and so forth. None of these are really reasonable assumptions. ‘True’ transexuals — in the sense of suffering from severe gender dysphoria — will have no issue with all those obstacles and hurdles; they are secondary to their desperate need to adapt their bodies to the gender they identify with in order to go on with their lives.
I remember many conversations with some friends, where I was accused of being cynical in my pragmatism, regarding a completely different subject, but which shows quite well my way of thinking. They ask me why I don’t have any children. My usual first answer is that my wife, due to biological complications, cannot bear children, even if we wished them. My friends then say that I could simply adopt them, and, in fact, I’m an advocate of adoption — there are so many kids out there in desperate need of having a home with some caring parents. At that point, I tell them that we aren’t financially stable enough to raise them properly, give them a good education, and hand them the necessary tools for a fulfilling life. My friends, at that point, get shocked. They say that ‘having children’ is not something to be analysed coldly like that; having kids is a biological imperative, it’s about loving and being loved, it’s about having fun with the parent-child relationships, it’s about watching them grow and become adults on their own, it’s about having someone to take care of us when we’re old. Yes, I can agree with all that. But it’s terribly unfair for parents to egoistically put some new lives in this world just to obey their ‘biological imperatives’ but without having the means to properly raise them — and rely on others (parents, friends…) to do that. In my case, I admit there are a lot of things I would wish to have, but I simply cannot afford them. Children are just one of many of such things.
Even though many of my friends claim that it’s a question of priorities, at some point ‘it will naturally work out’, and if everybody thought like my wife and I, the human population would shrink and the species would be extinct. Perhaps — I cannot foresee such a future 🙂 Instead, I can only agree that it’s a question of priorities: having children is not so important for us that we would place their raising in jeopardy just because ‘it’s more important to have kids, no matter what’. We don’t think that way. Having kids is important, yes, but it’s far more important to have the means to successfully raise them — like our parents had.
My approach to transitioning runs along similar lines, with a big difference: not having kids don’t produce any sort of anxiety of depression, rather the contrary — the idea of having kids without the means of raising them properly does create some anxiety! Transitioning, for me, is the same thing — I cannot transition without having a solid foundation upon which to build a future life. Some would therefore argue that I’m not severely gender dysphoric, because those who are, couldn’t care less about financial sustaining, they only wish to live their lives in the ‘right’ body. I agree: my own gender dysphoria is certainly much milder than most transexuals who do transition ‘no matter what’. However, I have been in touch with many who think along similar lines than me, and, as a consequence, one would have to diagnose them all as having a ‘mild’ gender dysphoria — they did nevertheless transition. Caitlyn Jenner is perhaps the best example: she always wanted to be the woman she is now, but due to a huge amount of circumstances that prevented her to do so, she delayed her transition until it was possible for her to settle all the issues (raising kids, giving them some financial independence, assuring her own future, and so forth). She is by no means the only person I know that followed that route — I’m aware of several MtF transexuals who were crossdreamers all their lives, crossdressed as much as they could, but had their own ‘normal’ family, raised their kids ‘normally’, got on with their male roles at their jobs, and made enough money to assure them an early retirement. Then they were able to transition in peace. They are very, very happy people right now — they led a successful life, doing pretty much everything that society demanded from their ‘male’ role: loving husband, caring parent, successful businessperson, and so forth. Now they have finally time to care a little bit about living their lives, not what others ‘demanded’. Sure, many report that their families or friends have shunned them, or at least became horribly shocked, but they nevertheless went on with their transition — they could show them their legacy as a ‘male’ and be proud of what they achieved, but now it was time to deal with what they wanted, not what society wanted from them.
In a sense, it’s a bit similar to what happens in certain circles of society in India: successful businesspersons who have a thriving family at some point in their lives abandon everything and join a monastery or roam the cities as wandering mendicants, in search of a new spiritual life. Such decisions are not only tolerated, but even encouraged by society. Such people have done everything what the mundane society expected from them. But now it’s time for them to completely change their lifestyles, their lives, and go on with a ‘new’ life which is, for them, much more fulfilling. If we did the same in the West, people would be thoroughly shocked — even very religious people, these days, are shocked if a daughter wants to become a nun or a son wants to become a priest. Such choices simply don’t fit any longer in our social model.
Transitioning, of course, is much worse and more complicated than that, it’s not ‘merely’ changing one’s life, it means breaking with the gender barriers that we have built around our society, and that is naturally very hard to accept. While a nun or a priest are usually not subject to abuse and discrimination, transexuals are victims of transphobia all the time. Our society still doesn’t have a way to support them — no matter what the laws actually say, the reality is still very different — and that means that to have a successful transition, you need to plan it well ahead as best as you can. It was common to see many websites on the Internet with checklists of all you needed to do before you started your transition. They were very useful, sometimes a bit oversimplified, but the message was quite clear: transitioning is not something to be taken lightly (no matter how severe your gender dysphoria is), it’s not like getting a tattoo or a piercing, or suddenly joining the gothic lifestyle and dress in black and red. There is so much more to it.
What Cristy and Felix told me is to open my eyes, and beware of the Glamourpuss/Pink Fog. It clouds the crossdreamers’ mind so intensely that we think we’re feeling the symptoms of extreme gender dysphoria, when in truth this is truly not the case. This doesn’t mean that people under the spell of the Glamourpuss should never transition: it just means that they ought to be very, very careful about what they really want, and make sure that they have paved well their way ahead, if they opt for transition. ‘Becoming a woman’ (in the case of MtF transexuals) is not to be taken lightly; it’s not living a life of glamour and parties all the time, and worry only if your nails are painted the right colour or what height your heels should be this season. Of course, if you can afford to lead such a life, by all means go ahead. But most people will see — hopefully before it’s too late! — that the truth is that their life options will be incredibly diminished, and, on top of that, they will need to endure discrimination and ostracism from their friends and family. Having a strong mind to deal with all of that also means being rational and logic about one’s choices — and not just emotional about what ‘feels good’ — and that means taking the post-transition period very, very seriously.
Some — like myself — will at some point figure out by themselves that the risk is far too great. The eventual happiness that will be achieved by getting rid of gender dysphoria and live a life in the gender we identify with will be counter-balanced with a life subject to transphobia — which is not merely name calling on the streets, but rather encountering barriers, obstacles, and difficulties on all facets of life. Just going to the dentist to take care of a tooth becomes an overwhelming effort — but even standing in the supermarket queue can lead to violent altercations, or at least the threat of such violence. You will need to be able to endure that for the rest of your life. If you’re not prepared to do so, then, well, you ought to learn to endure the symptoms of gender dysphoria, and see how intense and strong they are and how much they affect you — contrasted to what lies ahead of you after a transition.
Cristy and Felix — and especially Felix — gives us, the transgender people who cannot transition for so many reasons, a new hope.
But I should just finish with a note of warning: their experiences are not ‘scientific research’. I did discuss the issue and their proposals with my psychologist, just to know what her qualified opinion would be. She didn’t say that the ideas didn’t have merit, and if they work out for many people and make them happy, fine! However, she warned that gender dysphoria is not something to underestimate — it is something serious not to overlook. Anyone questioning their identity, for some reason, has at least some degree of gender dysphoria. And, yes, current psychology trends (to which my psychologist also subscribes) also believe that these are a spectrum, a continuum of possible degrees of intensity: you’re merely gender dysphoric or not, but you may have a degree of gender dysphoria. We all know that extremely severe cases of gender dysphoria need to be referred to transition to allow people to go on with their lives.
Milder cases of gender dysphoria, however, can — and probably should — be evaluated differently. Felix, in his book, suggests that we use ‘happiness’ as a rule of thumb: in other words, will transition make us much more happy, and will it not make others unhappy? Taking into account all the problems, complications, and issues that arise from a transition, will the resulting happiness be worth all the effort? Again, for some people, the choice is between transition and suicide; it’s clear that, even if transition is not a ‘perfect solution’, it’s better than contemplating taking one’s own life, so, yes, in such a case, it’s more than clear that the person will be much more happier, and, by not committing suicide, will definitely also make many others happy about that. These are the clear-cut cases.
For others, unfortunately, the issue is much less simpler. There might be no question that, for some, presenting themselves as the gender they identify with gives them a sense of euphoria, of freedom, of pure bliss, and that by transitioning, they might have those feelings all the time. But it’s also true that some people only crossdress for ‘special events’, and those, naturally enough, are ‘special’ by themselves (and therefore produce that happiness). Life, however, is not a succession of parties and shopping and clubbing and so forth. There is no glamour standing at a queue in the supermarket every other day. But that’s part of life, too, after transition. If one’s not that happy with the unglamourous daily chores when presenting as the gender they identify with, well, then, they should reconsider their decision to transition…