Welcome to Gender Analysis

Gender Analysis is a web series launched in 2014 exploring transgender science and life experiences in depth, and revealing the many insights to be found at their intersection. We take a closer look at fields such as sociology, public health, psychiatry, cognitive science, and more, weaving these diverse perspectives into a deeper understanding of gender-related phenomena. Gender Analysis goes beyond the 101s to educate both trans and cis viewers on some of the most fascinating dimensions of our lives – and the pressing issues we face in society.

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New episodes of Gender Analysis are published several times a month and are backed by our generous supporters on Patreon. Want to learn more? Check out our instant index for a quick introduction to the wide range of topics we cover:

Curious about…?

Gender dysphoria Self-discovery
How hormones work Bathroom bills
Finding a doctor Treatments for trans youth
Passing Sexuality
Transness and autism Paul McHugh
Regret and detransition Sex chromosomes
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Medical professionals increasingly agree: Trans women are female, trans men are male

Zinnia Jones

“Trans women are male” is one of the most well-worn attacks leveled against trans women – a straightforward assertion that gender-variant identity itself is not possible, and by extension neither are we. It is delivered with the self-assured smugness that this truth is so obvious as to need no explanation, grounded as it is in the particulars of sexed anatomy, X and Y chromosomes, or some simplified folk notion of “biology”.

 

Words, labels, and concepts

Taken straightforwardly and purely in terms of content, such statements are tautologies that prove nothing. What they do illustrate is that this is not a disagreement about physical facts or the state of the world in reality. This is a dispute over the application of labels like “male” and “female”, and in this case, the recognition of trans people’s genders as valid. For example: If “male” is construed to mean “has a prostate” and “female” is construed to mean “has a uterus”, the statement “Trans women are male” simply communicates the fact “Trans women have prostates” or “Trans women don’t have uteruses”. Those facts are not disputed by anyone, so the statement is simply redundant.
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September 2017 State of the Gender Address

Heather McNamaraBy Heather McNamara

September has been a hell of a month here in the United States and abroad; if you survived it, count yourself lucky. That’s a good start. Most of the news roll I share here will be gender politics related, but it would be impossible to discuss any situation without taking into account the surreal volume of natural disasters to hit North America this month, so I will include those as well. Continue reading

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Depersonalization in transgender autobiographies: Jamison Green, Imogen Binnie, and more

Zinnia Jones

(Depersonalization is a dissociative symptom experienced as sensations of feeling “unreal”, distant from one’s emotions, separated from the real world, and robotically going through the motions of life as if acting out a script. Learn more about depersonalization in part 1.)

 

“Much closer to the surface”: In search of Eve

In the 1988 book In Search of Eve: Transsexual Rites of Passage, several trans women who were interviewed about their medical transition reported changes in their emotions upon starting hormone therapy (Bolin, 1988). One described estrogen as “a tranquilizer”, but only in the sense of a “quieter” to her nerves, without being sedating.

All cited evidence of the tranquilizing effects of the hormonal therapy. In this regard, Eunice, a preoperative transsexual who had been taking hormones for six years, stated,

“From the beginning I’ve noticed that estrogen acts as a tranquilizer, not to the point of a soporific, but merely a quieter to my nervous system. I do not become agitated as easily as before. Of course I assume part of the effect is psychosomatic. Also, my emotions are much closer to the surface.” (p. 130)

This sense of being closer to one’s emotions was shared by other trans women, who felt their emotions became much more prominent than before and that they had “increased access to feelings”. These women were not disturbed by this, but rather appreciated these new emotional changes.

While hormones may have a tranquilizing effect by reducing anxiety, transsexuals noticed increased emotionality, “crying at the drop of a hat,” and the prevalence of feelings to a far greater degree than before hormonal therapy. It is difficult to sort out the biological from the cultural because women’s emotionality is an obvious cultural stereotype. Transsexuals, however, did not regard this negatively but rather took a positive stance on increased access to feelings. (p. 130)

These reported symptoms – a sense of getting closer to one’s emotions soon after starting HRT with easier access to their feelings, which they regarded as a favorable change – are consistent with numerous other transgender accounts of the remission of depersonalization following hormone therapy.

This is a real psychic experience that cannot be confused with some merely performative conformance to cultural gender stereotypes. If anything, depersonalization is what feels like acting out a constructed role – the absence of depersonalization feels like freedom from that constricting role. When trans women express their feelings, when trans women cry, we are doing this out of a genuine experience of emotion, and sometimes the intensity and sheer reality of this experience is still novel to us. Often, we’re gracious even to be able to experience emotions such depth, when our feelings seemed so flat and dim and false before now.

 

“A potential ‘life'”: Claudine Griggs

In her 1998 book S/he: Changing Sex and Changing Clothes, Claudine Griggs points out that starting hormone therapy is often accompanied by a rapid feeling of relief (Griggs, 1998).

…HRT often provides immediate psychological relief, though it may be weeks or months before the first noticeable physical response…. (p. 13)

Her experience also reflects the lack of agency feelings commonly experienced by sufferers of depersonalization, as well as their social and occupational impairment. Griggs soon finds that since transitioning, she’s taken much more of an interest in her education, her career, and her future.

An interesting change occurred once I opted for sex reassignment. I began to worry not solely about becoming a woman, but what kind of woman I was to become. I contemplated vaguely a potential “life.”

For the first time, I bought clothes that were appealing to me and wondered: How will I appear in that dress or blouse? What kind of makeup is best? Is that nail polish too dark? Which hairstyle will be complimentary? What work should I do? What should I study in college? I asked other women for advice on dress and manner, practicing their instructions. (p. 13)

 

“This is what normal feels like”: Jamison Green

Jamison Green, a trans man and past president of WPATH, wrote in his 2004 memoir Becoming a Visible Man that his first injection of testosterone was accompanied by emotional effects that set in within a matter of days (Green, 2004). His descriptions reflect other trans accounts of coming out of depersonalization: Green is astonished to realize “what normal feels like”.

Samantha and I drove home the next day. I still felt nothing. Michael had given me some syringes and told me to give myself another injection in two weeks. I regarded my body with some trepidation, as if I expected it to go out of control, to surprise me with its Mr. Hyde transformation. Still nothing. About three days later, as I was walking down the hall at work on an interdepartmental errand it suddenly hit me, but in an unexpected way. I found myself thinking: “So this is what normal feels like.” I had to stop moving and just sense myself from the inside out. Anyone seeing me there would have thought I had forgotten something, would have imagined that I was recreating my previous steps in my mind to remember where I had left something. It was true thast something was gone, but an invisible something new was in its place. I felt centered and balanced and whole for the first time in my life. I had never realized before that I didn’t know what this felt like. “Wow,” I whispered. “This is what normal feels like.” (pp. 96-97)

 

“Without any real investment”: Imogen Binnie

In a 2014 Lambda Literary feature, Nevada author Imogen Binnie described the emotional impact of discontinuing estrogen for fertility reasons (Binnie, 2014). She notes the unpleasant effects on her mood, and describes her emotions as a “pain body”, explicitly stating that she once again feels “emotionally numb” and “going through the motions” of being a person. Again, these experiences of feeling numbed, robotic, emotionless, and scripted are characteristic of depersonalization.

I give up on the Internet and read Hellblazer comics on my tablet computer thing. It’s getting late. We Do Science, which means I come into a teacup and then Alex uses midwife tools to look at gametes under a microscope. I’ve been off hormones for six months: modern parthenogenetic science aside, we’re lucky as two women to be able to make babies together without help. Being off hormones is the worst though. It’s the reason I’ve been in a bad mood since last June and it’s the reason I’ve had too much anxiety to check my email or even think about working on my thesis for two months. If the hormone profile in your body feels good to you, I don’t recommend fucking around with it unless you have a pretty good reason. Which I do! But that doesn’t make it easier to feel like my emotional body- my “Pain Body,” to use a term from an Eckhart Tolle book I haven’t read–has reverted to what it was when I was twenty-two, in the closet, emotionally numb and going through the motions of being a human being without any real investment.

 

“Nothing ever fixes that”: Juliet Jacques

Guardian columnist Juliet Jacques is best known for her coverage of the experience of transitioning in the U.K. In her 2015 book Trans: A Memoir, she describes her disinvestment from life, feeling it all to be “pointless” as she is “always bored”. She feels isolated, with a lack of connection binding her to the rest of the world, and has become so used to experiencing this that she “can’t tell anymore” whether she’s feeling depressed or not.

I took a deep breath.

‘Ever since school, I’ve felt that life is pointless,’ I said. ‘It may be depression, I can’t tell any more. I’m always bored, tired, unable to enjoy anything. Nothing ever fixes that. I don’t fit in anywhere, especially work, and it’d be better if I left, but I can’t afford to. I’m never satisfied with anything I do and always feel I have to justify myself.’

‘To other people?’

‘And to myself. I feel so isolated, so rootless.’ (p. 113)

 

The resonance of history

As someone who spent decades suffering depersonalization before making the connection with my transness, I found it deeply validating to discover so many stories throughout history of trans people who experienced gender dysphoria in the way I did. Finding the words for these emotional symptoms has challenged me for years, and it was so affirming to see that other trans people were similarly trying to untangle this experience 60 years ago and beyond. From the rise of color photography to the first summit of Everest to the advent of WPATH, long before any alleged contemporary “trend”, depersonalization has been a symptom of gender dysphoria for a substantial number of trans people.

This understanding of depersonalization as a distressing symptom common among gender-dysphoric people lends a moral urgency to transgender awareness efforts and access to affirming healthcare. This is an experience of gender dysphoria that is different and less widely recognized than the conventional experience of obvious discomfort with gendered features of the body and clear desire to present as another gender. But it’s an experience that countless trans people across decades have shared: transitioning and finding unexpected relief from lifelong suffering. Gender-affirming treatment is associated with a measurable reduction in depersonalization symptoms, and it’s easy to see why. For many of us, this isn’t about becoming a different person – it’s about becoming a person for the first time. 

Have you had experiences similar to these? Tell your story in the comments!

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References

  • Binnie, I. (2014, February 9). The Banal and the Profane. Lambda Literary. Retrieved from https://www.lambdaliterary.org/
  • Bolin, A. (1988). In search of Eve: Transsexual rites of passage. Westport, CT: Praeger.
  • Green, J. (2004). Becoming a visible man. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
  • Griggs, C. (1998). S/he: Changing sex and changing clothes. Oxford, UK: Berg.
  • Jacques, J. (2015). Trans: A memoir. London, UK: Verso Books.
Posted in Awareness building, Depersonalization, Gender dysphoria, Psychology and psychiatry, Transgender medicine | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Depersonalization in transgender autobiographies: Christine Jorgensen

Zinnia Jones

(Depersonalization is a dissociative symptom experienced as sensations of feeling “unreal”, distant from one’s emotions, separated from the real world, and robotically going through the motions of life as if acting out a script. Learn more about depersonalization in part 1.)

 

“I have never been such a real person”: Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen transitioned in 1951, making tabloid headlines the following year as one of the first trans women to come out about her transition.Her 1967 autobiography features extensive notes on how her feelings changed when starting and stopping hormone therapy, as she discovers greater self-confidence and a feeling of finally being “a real person” (Jorgensen, 1967). Continue reading

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Themes of depersonalization in transgender autobiographies: Jan Morris

The nature and impact of depersonalization

Zinnia Jones

Depersonalization is a dissociative symptom that encompasses certain feelings and experiences of oneself or the world as “unreal”. While the perception of reality remains intact, it is subjectively felt to take on a distinct character of flatness or lifelessness. The world is experienced as having a “dreamlike” quality, blunted and drained of vividness, and separated from oneself as if by a skin, veil, glass, or fog (symptoms collectively known as derealization). A sense of distance from one’s emotions is a core feature of depersonalization: sufferers are aware of their feelings, but may not experience them as “real” (emotional numbing – “I know I have feelings but I don’t feel them”). They may describe themselves as emotionally “dead” or feeling like a “zombie”, and perceive themselves as having a lack of agency in their own lives. There is a feeling of existing as a detached observer of one’s own thoughts, emotions, and actions, with a sense of “going through the motions” of life (detachment from self). For some, this is perceived as a kind of disembodiment, such as a feeling of seeing oneself externally in a kind of “out-of-body” experience (anomalous body experience) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Steinberg, Cicchetti, Buchanan, Hall, & Rounsaville, 1993; Sierra & David, 2011).

These feelings and sensations are noted to be particularly difficult to describe or convey to others; this fundamental alteration in the “texture” of conscious experience can generally be explained only by metaphors or “as if” statements. Some may not necessarily realize that they are experiencing a distinct and genuine symptom, believing that this is simply the normal feeling of life. For many, they’ve never experienced anything else.

This is not an innocuous condition. Sufferers find depersonalization to be highly distressing, not in spite of their alienation from their emotions, but because of their alienation from their emotions: “the distress is described as arising from the unpleasantness of the depersonalization experience itself” (Medford, 2012). The pervasive sense of disengagement from one’s life can result in what might be expected from perpetually feeling that life has little purpose. Those who experience depersonalization have elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and social and occupational impairment: they may feel that there is no point to career or academic pursuits. They are more likely to be unemployed, more often single, and more likely to live with their parents (Michal et al., 2016). Students with depersonalization show greater rates of academic underachievement and unhealthy avoidant coping strategies (Michal et al., 2015). Most worryingly, sufferers of depersonalization show a highly increased rate of suicidal ideation, active suicidal desire, suicide planning, and previous suicide attempts (Michal et al., 2010; Tosić-Golubović, Žikić, Slavković, Nikolić, & Simonović, 2017).

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Posted in Depersonalization, Gender dysphoria, History, Psychology and psychiatry, Transgender medicine | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments