By Anne Vitale Ph.D.
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T NOTE #7
October 16, 1997
One of the most interesting aspects I have found in my work with genetic males struggling with deep seated gender dysphoria is ingrained sexism. Although it would seem to be completely out of place in this population, the fact that it is present and present almost exclusively in genetic males tells us a great deal about how some men feel about femininity and about aspects of the nature of gender dysphoria.
As a general rule, the men I am speaking about present for therapy appearing decidedly male, often to the point of wearing full beards. In addition, they are more often then non-sexist males who present to be married, to have children, and to have never considered having a homosexual experience. Outside of a certain bravado ("I should be above all of this."), they are insecure in virtually all aspects of their gender identity.
In contrast, genetic females who present for therapy with gender issues are far more certain about who they are and what they want to do. I have never had a genetic female presenting with a gender issue have any reservation about her intentions -- that is, to have me help her change her sex. These people universally present with a male haircut, no makeup, and an androgynous appearance. They typically have their social roots in the lesbian community and have a history of maintaining a long standing relationship with at least one female partner.
Contrary to popular belief, many of the men who crossdress and are concerned with their gender identity who come to see me want to be told that they are NOT transsexual. That would be understandable if they were simply confused and wanted to get to the bottom of their problem. Unfortunately, I believe their stated preference here is more a form of avoidance behavior than it is an honest desire to remain men. For example, I have seen genetic males who desperately want to have breasts but don't want them to show. There are others who wince at the thought of having a real name like Janice or Mary or Linda. There are those that think that what women do -- those social behaviors that differentiate them from men -- are frivolous and unimportant. Indeed, there are those who take this belief to the point where they feel that women are less than men and are embarrassed over wanting to be like them. Interestingly, these people have no trouble at all with wearing very feminine apparel -- as long as they can do it in complete privacy or with the above mentioned male bravado.
Perhaps the most insidious form of sexism resides in the gender dysphoric male who has attained a highly respected position in a male dominated profession. These people routinely tell me that although women are now allowed a certain professional tolerance, the real players are still men. As the number of people who transition on the job grows, they get to see firsthand how public respect between men can quickly turn into private ridicule. Some individuals have even confessed to having participated in sexist jokes as a way to divert even the remotest suspicion from themselves. These people face the very real prospect of becoming outsiders, left to wither on the corporate vine. Given these seemingly unacceptable obstacles, many gender dysphoric males unconsciously accept certain male driven notions about women in an effort to purge the need to be female out of their mind.
When these individuals are questioned further, it is common to see that they have a deep-seated, love/hate relationship with their gender dysphoria. While they apparently need do nothing to keep the love side of that dichotomy alive, the hate side seems to need constant care and feeding. The danger is obvious: in their minds, if they don't continuously think negatively about women, they might have to face the reality of their gender dysphoria. In essence, the purpose of sexism in this group is to provide a convenient way to maintain denial. Unfortunately, maintaining a negative attitude about women is still all too easy. All one has to do is tap into the prevailing "male superiority" attitude embedded in virtually every society.
Sexism, like any other prejudice, is self serving and needs to be placed in perspective. By devaluing others, one can artificially raise the value placed on the self and one's actions. Ironically, the devaluation of women by the male-to-female transgendered or crossdresser is used to protect the individual from the woman within. This attitude may comfort the gender dysphoric individual for a time, but like all self serving notions, it will not stand the test of time. To make matters worse, when the sexist thoughts break down, as they certainly must, the individual must play catch up in gaining self esteem.
In the end, everyone suffering with gender dysphoria must confront the psycho-physical aspects of the dysphoria itself. An honest confrontation of gender identity boils down to searching for and if necessary, defining a new authentic existence. Fortunately, the uncertainty of how one may fare upon making such a search can be lessened by listening to those who have gone before. As it turns out most people, even those who started off with sexist notions, who have completed the search not only live to tell about it, they often thrive. The reason is obvious: life without a nagging problem is inherently easier than life with one.
Copyright, 1997 by Anne Vitale, Ph.D. Dr. Vitale is a Licensed Psychologist specializing in gender related issues. Her office is located at 610 D Street, San Rafael CA 94901, (415) 456-4452. This Note may be reprinted in any non-profit organization's newsletter if Dr. Vitale's name and address appears with it. Other publications must obtain written permission from Dr. Vitale. A copy of any reprints must be sent to Dr. Vitale.