The Case of Ms. Taken Identity
As a fully transitioned transsexual I have often heard the phrase “Gender Identity”, in fact it is contained within the name of the disorder with which I was diagnosed, but never have I ever stopped to consider the validity or accuracy of this term until recently. In a recent comments thread on a Youtube video where a somewhat vocal and clearly autogynephilic trans activist was constantly making the argument for her validity as a “real woman” based upon the existence of her self-declared “female identity”. The question “Do you have a gender identity?” was posited to me by another HSTS woman on the thread.
My initial response was to say “No or if I do I am unaware of it”. However, on reflection it seemed to me that question required a deeper examination rather than just a cursory dismissal. Also it raised the question for me that, if I do have a gender identity, what if any part did it play in my decision to transition?
Childhood Gender Awareness
Most people it seems are usually unaware most of the time at a conscious level of their own gender, which is for these purposes, at least for me, is just another name for biological sex and I shall for this article use the term sex and gender as interchangeable. I am not concerned here with gender role or expression (cloths, makeup etc.) which is social and cultural in origin and nature. While we all seem aware of other people’s gender, it’s usually the first thing we note about another person, it is only where there is a perceived discrepancy between the reality of one’s own biological sex and the physical development or the behaviours expected of that sex, where an individual seems to pay any particular notice to the issue of their own gender.
Historically as a young child I became distinctly aware of my own sex from the time I first learned to communicate. I was born male but from the time I first began to express myself and interact with others I was told constantly that my behaviours were not those expected of a boy. Being a child and wanting to placate those around me I did my best to modify my behaviour and fit in to the expectations placed upon me. This took what seemed to be a tremendous amount of effort on my part and try as I might I never quite managed to pull it off.
As I began to mix with other young males it was made very clear to me that the way I behaved was disconcerting to them. Indeed I myself noticed that the other boys around me were so different in their demeanour, play and other interactions with each other than I was. When I interacted with girls they never seemed to notice any problem with me nor I with them, this bothered me as I liked boys and wanted to be around them but I did not want to join in rough games or team sports which they seemed to relish, it made me very conscious of the fact that while I was male I didn’t “fit in”, and while I thought that my life would have been more simple if I had been born a girl or that I perhaps should have been born a girl, I cannot say that I thought I actually was a girl. I was fully and painfully aware that I was male but could not shake off the feeling that something was wrong. What then led me to later transition?
Other than my issues with my gender I have always been very rational and analytical in the rest of my life even at a very young age and when I started to feel that this issue was causing me problems socially I examined why I should feel so different from other boys. From the time I was old enough and able to reason, something had always felt “off” or uncomfortable about being a boy but I could not quite put my finger on it. I grew up with only brothers so there were no dolls for me to play with at home or dresses for me to envy or try on. I could not say I “felt like a girl” as I had no concept of what a girl felt like. In fact that whole issue of feeling like something else is a nonsense. How can one know what somebody else feels like? The reverse though is also true how can anybody else know that you don’t feel exactly like the thing you say you do? It is a circular and unprovable argument. That said, from my discussions and life experience with females over 50+ years it seems that I view and experience the world in similar ways to them in many respects and this is not true of any men I have known, gay or straight, but that takes the argument no further.
I was around 6 or 7 years old the first time I heard the term “sex change”. The appeal court decision in the case of Corbett –v- Corbett (the April Ashley case) had just been handed down and I overheard my Farther reading a tabloid newspaper article about it aloud to my mother. I immediately thought “that must be what is wrong with me”! But being a child I misunderstood the concept and thought I must have been born a girl but my parents have had me changed into a boy and this was why being a boy felt so wrong and why I was so bad at it! It took some surreptitious questioning of my mother over the next few weeks before “the penny finally dropped” and I actually understood the truth of it. My Father, a typical working class man who loved me dearly but was struggling coming to terms with his obviously feminine son, had been, shall we say, less than complimentary in his description of April Ashley and the thought that I might have to suffer that same derision from a parent who loved me disturbed me. So I resolved I would put it to the back of my mind and just get on with life as best as I could, however the awareness of my male gender was ever present and was causing me mounting discomfort.
I managed to repress this to a limited degree but my early school years were difficult as I didn’t fit in with the other boys no matter how hard I tried and I had to become very adept at avoiding bullies and negotiating my way out of physical confrontations with other kids, skills which served me well later in my life.
I went through male puberty and this is where things took a turn for the worse. Puberty had a negligible physical effect upon me, with the exception of some very light and limited body hair and some genital development little about me changed. I had always been a small child and puberty brought no noticeable skeletal development as I never grew so much as an inch past my 14th birthday, my shoulders did not broaden, my hands and feet are tiny and my face did not masculinise at all. My voice barely altered and I did not develop an Adam’s apple. So not only did I just not behave like other boys, now I didn’t even look or sound like them either. As a teenager growing up on a council estate in the north of England in the 1970’s I may as well have just painted a target on my back and carried a sign saying please hit me.
By this time I had developed a full on dissociative disorder with my with my own biological sex, I rejected and hated it with a passion. This was very odd because puberty had kick started my sexuality and I was quite obviously homosexual. I had always had little crushes on boys before but now I was sexually attracted to them, craving an emotional connection with certain boys and finding their physical masculinity desirable but at the same time hating my own male body. I recognised that I was developing what I now know to be body dysmorphia and having read everything I could access in the central city library (no internet in those days) realised that I was as feared transsexual. Still though I did not think of myself as a girl trapped inside a boy’s body, I was just me and I had never known any different.
I had no issue with being homosexual, it made perfect sense to me but this would bring further problems later in my teens as I became sexually active, as potential partners desired physical male bodies. I tried to embrace just being gay but it became very clear that most gay men (me included) do not desire feminine little boys and those who do (ephebophiles) are extremely disturbing in nature and I learned to stay well away from them very quickly!
I was really struggling with my gender by the time I was 19 years old and was becoming clinically depressed as a result. I sought out psychiatric help and was officially diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID). I’d known it was the case long before the diagnosis but I was not at all happy about it. I was living as a young gay male, and I used to go to gay bars and clubs where I had seen “Trannies” and as far as I could tell they were mostly delusional middle age men in dresses who couldn’t pass as a woman in a blackout. Either that or they were prostitutes, tragic and a little too flamboyant for anyone to actually ever accept them as women. Is this what the future held for me? I had never seen a transsexual who differed from these stereotypes and I was terrified. I went for a second opinion and got exactly the same answer but I resisted it and so I got referred for a series of counselling and androgen treatments in an attempt to avoid transition, but both failed to have any impact on my condition in fact they made things much worse.
The Turning Point
By the time I was 21 I had started to explore living as a woman. I had lots of female friends and they thought it was hilarious when their gay friend would go out with them dressed as a girl on the weekend and get hit on by straight men in bars because I passed as female. Though for obvious reasons I never reciprocated the attention these men paid me for fear of being beaten or worse. When I lived socially as a girl the relief from the anxiety caused by my GID was palpable and instant. It was like somebody had turned the noise down in my head and I could just get on with life. Nobody read me and so nobody reinforced the fact that I was male. Other males were no longer antagonistic towards me, in fact they were quite the opposite. I could also ignore the fact I was male too and so I had no awareness of my gender most of the time. I began effectively living a double life, living socially as a woman and sneaking out of the house dressed as a somewhat androgynous/feminine boy with a long ponytail to go to work. This though had a price, the anxiety and depression I experienced every time I had to face going back to being a male at work was mounting, until one Sunday evening at the thought of returning to that sense of isolation and rejection the next day I had a full on nervous breakdown. I was sobbing and shaking uncontrollably and in real danger of harming myself, something I never shared with anyone including my therapists for fear they would think me crazy.
As I said above, luckily I am a very capable and rational person in all other aspects of my life and so managed to get myself under control and examine my options. Seriously I thought, what was the point of me being male if I was stuck at 5’2”looking like pre-pubertal teenager, when being male made me miserable, when nobody took me seriously professionally, gay men did not want me and straight men wanted to threaten or beat me up? Staying male would have just meant a life of mediocrity, loneliness and mounting depression. I already had a thriving social life and a part time job as a woman and so I knew I could blend in to society well enough and so I sought out another psychiatrist who was a specialist psycho-sexual therapist. She helped me to see how different I was from the other gay men she treated, who it seemed had no problem with actually being male and she arranged a referral to a specialist gender clinic. Within a few weeks I had given notice at my job, sold my house, paid off the mortgage and put the proceeds in the bank, changed my name, rented a flat in a new city and got a new job as a woman while I waited for my appointment. The rest, as they say, is history and I have never regretted that decision for even a nanosecond. Still I could not say that I was ever consciously aware of a latent “female gender identity”, who I was as a person, my behaviour or demeanour didn’t change, only my physical appearance to the outside world.
Gender Awareness After Transition
From practically the moment I completed my transition I hardly ever thought about my gender one way or the other, I am just me, and it was effortless. Other than the obvious physical sex characteristics nothing much changed about me. Now though I no longer had the issues I had with being male because I was never reminded of it, either by those around me or by myself when I would look in a mirror and this has helped me to cope with the reality of it. The only time I am ever really aware of my biological sex these days is when I force myself to examine it as I have in this text.
Nor do I walk around with a constant “I am a woman, I am a woman, I am a woman” mantra playing in my head. I barely give it a second’s thought. That said, the only time I am acutely aware in any conscious meaningful way that I “feel like a woman”, is during sex (the act), and I wonder if this could be anything akin to what others call their gender identity? It only becomes apparent to me when I am confronted with my male partner who obviously is the physical antithesis of me and with all the sensory input which accompanies that and when my sexuality and sex drive effectively go into “autopilot” mode. It is difficult to appreciate this and what is actually going on at the moment in time, as I am focused primarily on my partner rather than on myself or any form of self-examination, but when you take a mental step back after the fact and deconstruct it carefully it becomes clear. It may be that this is a typical evolutionary female response but present in a genetic male and it does not make any sense that this could simply be attributed to the taking of oestrogen as HRT. There is it seems to me something more to this than simply homosexuality.
Sex as a gay man (even a bottom) is very different than sex as a straight woman. Male libido plays a very strong part in sex as a male, gay or straight, but different factors come into play as a woman when you no longer have that overpowering influence of high levels of testosterone present in your body, which lessens your perception of risk.
Heterosexual sex for a woman requires a fair degree of trust in a new partner. You are after all, placing yourself in a very vulnerable position, with somebody bigger and much stronger than you are and this goes against every self-preservation instinct hard wired into your subconscious brain. Consequently the evolutionary “fight or flight” response is ticking away at the back of your mind causing your adrenalin levels to rise, while at the same time your sexual desire response (which despite the fact that we as a species may have diverted it for recreation, is based solidly in reproductive function) is working overtime to overwrite this by flooding your system with dopamine and additionally the physical stimuli you are experiencing are causing the release of endorphins. It is only at this point, under the influence of this heady hormonal cocktail where one is no longer fully in control because the reproductive instinct has dominance and it would take a stronger conscious effort to pull back from this, only then do I seem acutely aware that I “feel like a woman”.
Even once the relationship has been established a while and the threat response is gone the remaining influences are still firmly in play and it is difficult to ratify this sexual response with the knowledge that I am biologically male.
There is absolutely no evolutionary or biological reason for a genetic male to have this sexual response, but I have it and boy how! It makes me wonder where this comes from knowing as I do that I am not a biological female. This though was something of which I was unaware until after I transitioned and so was not a factor in my decision to do so.
This then is obviously not then the mystical “gender identity” some other trans women refer to, as it seems that so many of them parrot the notion of a constant awareness of their “identity as a female” despite not actually being one, and as so many of them are not sexually attracted to men at all, theirs, as they describe it, is certainly not something which is specifically related to an evolutionary necessary process in females.
I have since I was asked the principal question in that You Tube thread, asked some of my female friends (those who know of my transsexuality) if they have a “gender identity” and while many of them reported that they enjoy the social aspects of being a woman they all say that don’t have a constant feeling of being anything specifically. The only things which they recount actually make them “feel like a woman” are reproductive functions, which for them included menstruation, sex, gestation, birth and motherhood, only one of which could be open to trans women.
What I experience then is not this constant awareness of a notable female “identity” and my answer to the question posed remains no, I don’t believe I have a female gender identity as others describe it. What is it then or where is it, if it even exists, this other form gender identity so many trans people claim to experience? I have yet to hear a plausible scientific theory for its existence.
As always, the views of guest authors are their own and not necessarily shared by me, but in this essay, Amanda has hit the nail on the head. ‘Gender Identity’ is a canard. We do not have a constant sense of being masculine or feminine, outside of behaviour.
This essay is also a fascinating rebuttal firstly, of the ‘female essence’ trope, which suggests the condition of ‘woman born in man’s body’. Yet this relies entirely on a sense of ‘Gender Identity’ that is itself obscure.
Secondly, and once again, it rebuts the ridiculous assertion that gender and sexuality are not related. Of course they are. That is why HSTS such as Amanda, and her female counterparts, exist at all. Sexuality is such a powerful agent over our lives that it can even change our gender; and I am not talking about some ephemeral, internal sense of ‘Gender Identity’ but our real gender, which is our primary vehicle for interaction with those around us.
For decades, since the late 1950s, Homosexual transsexuals, whom I consider to be the only true transsexuals, have been pilloried, ridiculed, suppressed and intimidated by ‘gay men’; they have been colonised, silenced and their voices stolen by transvestic autogynephilic men, who are not transsexual at all and never will be, no matter how many surgeries they may have. These two forces are united in their attempt to prove the lie that gender and sexuality are not related, and if they must throw HSTS to the wolves to persuade the public of that, then so they will, and so they have done. Well they are related; they are two sides of the same coin.
Rod Fleming’s World is happy to give platform to HSTS, the living proof that it is.
Also published on Medium.