Para Kindred Blog Hop – Day 4

We’ve arrived on Day 5 (ignore the headline!) of the Para Kindred: Enigmas of Wraeththu “blog hop” and it’s my turn to post!

For anyone reading who hasn’t the faintest idea what a “blog hop” is (and I admit it’s new to me too), here are the details as from the Immanion Press blog:

“Welcome to the Immanion Press blog hop for the new Wraeththu anthology, Para Kindred. Every day until 25th June the PK authors will be posting a blog post about their story in the collection. Read every contribution to the blog hop, answer all the secret questions about the posts, and you will be entered into a prize draw to win an item from the New section of our Café Press store.”

So, now…

Gender Dysphoria

I contributed two stories to the anthology and while I already went over some of the background for them in an online interview, for the blog hop I wanted to talk more about the shorter of the two stories, “Dysphoria,” because it has personal significance.

Hopefully I don’t wreck anyone’s world too terribly by spoiling the surprise and announcing that the story is about gender dysphoria, the condition whereby a person feels, often from birth, that their physical sex does not match their gender — how they want to look, how they feel, what they want to do, who they are.

Often the shorthand for this is to say that such a person feels that are “trapped in the wrong body” or “born in the wrong body,” but that is a trite over-simplification of a condition which at this point has a fairly precise clinical definition agreed upon by psychiatrists. Gender dysphoria is something that’s not a phase or a fetish or — it must be said - the same thing as wanting to cross-dress or do drag. (Many cross-dressers and drag performers are quite adamant that they are men and are just “playing” women for enjoyment. Which is not what someone with gender dysphoria, either towards being a man or a woman, is doing.)

While today there is growing awareness of gender dysphoria, including the widespread use of the term “transgender,” transgender fashion models and beauty pageant contestants, and media coverage, of course the world still presents many challenges. These range from workplace discrimination to hate crimes, including murder. In the past, psychiatry classified people with gender dysphoria as abnormal and would try to correct it or conflate it with homosexuality or a problem with parent figures. Treatment would consist of everything from electric shock therapy to religious “therapy” in the form of prayer.

It was not until the past 30 years that psychiatrists began to embrace the idea that the best way to treat dysphoria was to validate the person’s feelings and to help them bridge the gap between their physical gender and the way they would like to be. This means providing assistance with transition into life as another gender. Many people assume that this means “sex change,” with a physical operation, but that is not always the case, and from what I have heard, that is less and less the case.

A man can transform into a woman in various ways, from yes, the most drastic, but in many other ways, chiefly hormones, electrolysis (hair removal), breast augmentation (if hormones don’t help enough), hair work (styling or wig), sometimes shaving of the Adam’s apple (to appear less masculine), and outwardly and obviously, switching to female clothes, makeup, etc., all according to personal preference.

For women moving in the other direction, again there are a couple of drastic surgeries that are available, and hormones, but again there are varying degrees of other changes that can be undertaken. Some women may not even look that “different” after they have “transitioned,” but with a new name, changes to keys elements of outward appearance, etc., they are transformed into the person they have felt they have always been, inside.

In “Dysphoria” (again, spoiler alert!) I tell the story of a harling named Amber who discovers, over time, that unlike most “normal” hare, he has a gender preference. It’s not even that he is a “soume” har or would prefer that role sexually, but that he connects to human women — single-sexed, rather than hermaphrodite. His parents take years to come to term with this, thinking, as human parents do when dealing with transgender children, that it’s a phase or a misunderstanding or an act of rebellion. In stages they do the same thing that counselors, psychiatrists, and healthcare providers would in many cases do today — allow their child to grow up and become the individual he wants to be, in this case, a “she.” Will it be easy? No. But it’s what Amber wants and what makes her happy.

I mentioned at start of this essay that this story has a personal angle for me, and it does, in that for many years, and to some extent still today, I experienced gender dysphoria, wanting to be, and feeling like I was, a man.

These feeling manifested in a host of ways, from the fact that when I playacted or wrote stories, I always took a male role, to a rather sweeping dismissal, even hatred, of women — and thus myself. I had an alter-ego name, which was Daniel, and he was like me, but also unlike me. I liked him better. All of these feeling crested in me during the first couple of years in college, while I was also grappling with being bisexual, and there was a period where I agonized over whether I might be happier if I somehow could be a man. My best friend was gay, so if I were a man, we could be a couple! I could wear all these amazing suits! But at the same time, I felt conflicted, realizing that there was some misogyny and self-hatred behind my attitudes. And besides, I would never transition to a man while my parents were alive! Plus, thinking about options as far as surgery, nothing would ever (in my my mind) "really" make me a man. And so like many who go down this road, I was getting pretty unhappy, feeling stuck.

Luckily for me, this conflict was resolved when I came into contact with a book by Kate Bornstein, and later Bornstein herself. The book was Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us and in it she told the story of her life, her many years of denying who/what she was, and finally her transformation (including a physical operation) to Kate Bornstein. The book also ventured into reflections of what things had been like since and lessons she had learned. It was these lessons, and Kate’s thoughts on gender, that helped me when I was struggling. One of her points was that, if she had to do it over again, knowing what she does now, she might not have been so insistent on a physical operation. (Except for one thing: she really likes her vagina.) Too many people are fixated on that. Why not break new ground by being yourself and adorning yourself outside gender stereotypes? And why must you be either male or female? What about middle? Both? What about be you inside and consider what others see on the outside to be their problem and their prejudice?

It might sound esoteric and like something out of a gender theory class, but in fact Kate presented this (in books, workshops, theater appearances I was lucky enough to attend) in such a way that it felt like “tools” to me — tools with which I could strengthen myself and be happy with my identity. I decided that I could and would just be Wendy. I would keep the female body I was born with, and which actually was pretty nice, and just push onward and upward. Why mold myself into a man? For privilege? To find a man? Why not inside let people deal with and accept (or not) me as me?

Kate Bornstein

Since those revelatory days in college, I have stayed true to this attitude, though even today I would say that while I don’t have gender dysphoria to the extent I once did, there are still twinges of it, and I certainly relate to transgender people, including those who unlike me, decided that yes, they did want to make some changes, change their name, and so on.

Speaking of which, I have the pleasure of knowing several, all of whom have been a wonder and a joy to watch as they inhabit identities that for a long time existed only in their minds. I’ve also watched with excitement as a growing number of parents are recognizing their children’s gender dysphoria at a young age and allowing them to “transition” at young ages, changing their name, getting a haircut (or growing one out), etc., then starting hormones in their teen years so that they don’t have to become what they are sure, in their bones, they don’t want to be. I met one young woman who had done this and thought to myself what a life of pain she would have had had she been born just a decade or two earlier.

So, while there are the ugly hate crimes, discrimination, and misunderstandings around gender dysphoria, I think we are making progress and hopefully in ten years all the present struggles and arguments will seem silly to us. And when the Wraeththu come (he he) we will be ready!


Secret question: What was my alter-ego’s name?
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Published on June 18, 2014 17:40 • 747 views • Tags: gender, gender-dysphoria, immanion-press, kate-bornstein, para-kindred, transgender
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