Hello Ladles and Germs,
Today we’re going to talk about transphobia and sexual orientation and how they’re not the same thing. Ever. No matter what.
I’ll start with a Relatable Story. When I was around 12-13 years old, I had a crush on a boy. I really big crush. We’re talking diary We were friends and I liked his personality. This was my first full-blown, pubertal crush on a real-life boy who wasn’t an actor or a fictional character. He picked me up once, bridal-style, for just a minute, and I remember how much I didn’t want him to put me down.
He also happened to be gay. So a teen romance wasn’t in the cards. I knew that, but the crush happened anyway because these things aren’t rational, especially in children. It started out as “I wish he liked girls” pining and ended up as “If only I were a boy”. If only I were a boy, he would fall in love with me and… well, I wasn’t sure what happened after that. All I knew was that it would be perfect. Because Love. I can’t overstate how infatuated little-me was with this boy. I thought he was the only one for me. But I wasn’t a boy, so my True Love would never love me. I wasn’t a boy, so I was unloveable. I wasn’t a boy, so I was destined to be… alone.
Dude! That’s a TERRIFYING thing for a 13 year old to think!
Another interesting piece of information about me: I felt intense shame about having romantic feelings. Not just embarrassment, but severe anxiety. I don’t know the reason, but I suspect it’s not anything nice. So I kept my feelings to myself, meanwhile dealing with other ordinary adolescent problems and some not so ordinary ones. (I have a high ACES score.) There wasn’t really anyone around who I would have felt comfortable talking with- not about love or sexuality or “gender”. That’s a big deal! It’s probably something that should have been discussed in my pre-transition therapy, but it wasn’t.
Once my mixture of feelings had coalesced into the big, bad Sex Dysphoria that we all know and love, my brain rewrote this story to fit the narrative- to make some sense of it all. I was attracted to a gay boy because I was actually a gay boy too- I just… didn’t look like one. I had felt somehow “different” from my peers for a long time. I didn’t quite relate to my idea of a heterosexual girl, to what I saw in many of the girls around me. Maybe this was why! I mean, for a long time, even after starting to experiment, I didn’t realize females had vaginas- no, I mean the actual literal organ. I thought it was just the outer parts and then BAM- uterus. I had no idea that penetrative sex existed. I thought rubbing together was The Thing To Do. Clearly this meant that my body map was wrong, since I hadn’t managed to find that part of my body on my own.I’m going to be kind to myself here and say that I don’t blame myself for making the mistake of thinking I was a gay boy. I was in a bad environment and was not well.
Anyhow, this is all to say that the problem was never sex-based attraction. Sexuality isn’t transphobic. (No, not even that person who called your reproductive system icky. That’s a personality problem, not a sexuality problem lol.) The problem was with my perception. As with “male” and “female”, I was overcomplicating the words “heterosexual” and “homosexual”. They weren’t just words to describe something about people, they had certain connotations to them. When I identified as a trans man, it hurt knowing that the people who I regarded as “like me” would most likely not be interested in me in a romantic way, and it’s obvious to me now why it hurt so much. These feelings were old, festering wounds.
De-fanging words- concepts even- stripping them of all but their most basic meaning, has been comforting and necessary. Homosexual males not being attracted to females doesn’t need to hurt. Gay men go from “gay men who will never love me because my body is disgusting and wrong” to “uninterested people”. No need for more information because when it comes right down to it, that’s all that matters. Straight men go from “straight men who like the disgusting body I’d love to escape” to “people who might be interested”. Shockingly, there are bi/heterosexual males who actually LIKE androgynous or masculine females! Boyish women. And there are women who like willowy bald men with zero body hair and glasses. (It might be me.) Because men and women aren’t that different- it’s literally just your reproductive business. And if someone isn’t interested in your reproductive business, that’s fine, because someone else probably is.
The hard part is finding someone who likes your stunning personality. 😉
If it’s not already obvious, dysphorics tend to read into eeeeverything.
To use a personal example: “Oh yeah, I was always the dad when I played house in Pre-K. I’ve always thought of myself as a boy, really.”
Nevermind that I also played the dog or the (apparently sexless) “baby”. Anyway, we’re thorough. We like having all of the information available… despite what our particular beliefs surrounding sex and gender would suggest lol. So that’s why I feel I should write this post- this entire blog, really. Although I don’t think I’m ultimately saying anything *Brand Spanking New*, I wanted to really break it down into steps, because steps are easier for me to understand than abstract ideas. “Accept your natural body” is an excellent sentiment, but it didn’t make sense to me when I thought my natural body was wrong.
The information I wanted from other dysphoric people was how they thought– how their very brains worked. How they rationalized their feelings, how they came to certain conclusions, how they perceived reality, what dysphoria felt like to them. Similarly, what I wanted from detransitioners was a literal guide to reframing your own thoughts. Some people phrased this as “unlearning internalized misogyny”, but that was too vague for me at the time. It also didn’t cover male detransitioners, with whom I felt (and feel) a kinship because I don’t think we’re really all that different.
I believe it is a misconception that people who ID as trans think male and female are the same and cannot distinguish between them. On the contrary, I’d suggest that dysphorics perceive the differences between the sexes to be even greater than they actually are.
I frequented trans subreddits for a time. A common worry was that “cis” people could tell they’re trans by the sound of their urination. Now, if you’re thinking “that’s absolutely mad, no one’s listening to you pee, and if they are, they’re probably just waiting for you to leave so they can poop in peace”, congratulations, you’re thinking rationally. But for a dysphoric person, this seems like a completely logical concern.
Neither sex is better or worse on its own- nature has no use for such value judgements- they are only different. But dysphorics are lost in analysis. We unconsciously exaggerate the strengths and weaknesses of the sexes- but particularly our own. We don’t know what being the opposite sex is like, but we definitely don’t like something about our own and perhaps see something desirable on the other side. True “Grass is Greener” style. Dysphorics are Pissed (with a capital P) that we didn’t get to choose our bodies. We assign a sort of almost-moral value to sex- to otherwise innocuous organs with no inherent meaning. For whatever reason- be it a certain type of personality, faulty thought processes, upbringing, or all of the above- we crave an explanation for something that most people understand intuitively. And being “trans” is the closest some get to The Answer.
Ultimately, sex is a physical trait like any other: short, tall, male, female. A product of nature- impartial, unfeeling, merciless nature. The result of many thousands of generations of humans and whatever creatures came before us, tracing all the way back to your most primordial ancestor.
Your biological sex is your birthright.
This is not to disparage people who resemble the bottom pair, but such people are individuals with unique personalities and traits. They should not be the default image next to the dictionary definition of “man” and “woman”. Does this make sense??
“So you think you’ve got it all figured out, eh?”
I don’t know, I’m not a Mental Health Professional. I’m not anyone noteworthy or special. I’ve just thought about this a whole awful lot. In any case, here’s my proposal:
- First, you must be honest with yourself. I know this sounds like I don’t care about your feelings, but I do. Very much so. I want to help. Acknowledge that modern medicine can only make you look like the opposite sex. It cannot actually turn you into the opposite sex, any more than bleaching your hair makes you a natural blonde. Sex dysphoria- body dysphoria, that is- is ultimately a thought. A want. A desire for something that cannot be achieved. You can try anyway, but short of a miracle, you will fail. You may imitate, but if you are not happy with surface level imitation, you will not have a good time. You need to deconstruct the way you think about sex and start from scratch. Recognizing and working with your limitations is an important part of life.
- It’s surprising how big of an impact words can have. This is why pronouns and names are such a central part of discussing trans people. (How weird is that?) Stop thinking of yourself as a man or a woman. No, not in the trans way- we’re going to come back to them later. Whenever you think “I’m a man” or look in the mirror and think “that’s a female”, STOP. These words are tainted for you at the moment. Force yourself to think “that is a person” or “I am a human”.
- Take step 3 and apply it to people who are not you. If you find your first thought about someone is related to their sex, correct yourself: Person, Human, Individual. Don’t confuse yourself or anyone else- obviously you’re still going to be calling them he/she/Bob/whatever. Just make a quick note in your head that they are, like you, human.
- Once you have a better understanding of how all humans are the same, you can then begin to form an objective understanding of how the biological sexes differ. Start by thinking in terms of gametes, which I think are probably relatively neutral for most people- big gametes, little gametes. How is this different from trans language like “people who menstruate”? Well…
- Slowly start introducing the words “male” and “female”. Think of them only in the sense that they are a concise way to label a certain category of people. “I am a person who happens to be in the female reproductive category” is a mouthful, but it’s easier for a dysphoric person to accept than “I am female”.
- Male: of or denoting the sex that produces small, typically motile gametes, especially spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring
- Female: Of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gametes
- “Man” and “woman” should come last, being that they are the most loaded terms, socially speaking. Again, these will need to be thought of only in the sense of concision. Woman: Adult human female. Man: Adult human male. Subdefine these words:
- Adult: Fully grown or developed
- Human: A bipedal primate mammal (Homo sapiens)
- Male/Female: Addressed in step 5
- Integrate these words back into your vocabulary. You don’t need to identify with them or have any particular feelings towards them. They mean only exactly what they mean and nothing more. If you like one word more than another, you’re allowing yourself to get into dicey territory. Words are just tools. If you have a particularly bad episode of dysphoria, Step 2 is where you should start. Ultimately, we are all the same species: human. As different as we can be, we all have very similar thoughts and feelings and many of us want the same things. Male and female humans are not vastly different, other than their reproductive role. Again, be honest with yourself. This is an exercise in accountability.
If you are not honest with yourself, you will fail.
Although it sucks, don’t be angry at your dysphoria. The goal is not repression. It’s a feeling, so treat it like any other negative emotion: sadness, anger, frustration. Be aware of it, understand it for what it is, try to figure out where it comes from, and remind yourself that there is a way out of it. I find a lot of comfort in simply understanding why I’m feeling a certain way. Sometimes I’m justified, sometimes I’m not, but that’s part of the Universal Human Experience.