Category Archives: books

That Thing Called Gender Dysphoria

I haven’t written much about this before, but I’ve had gender dysphoria since about age four. A recent book I read describes gender dysphoria in its simplest terms as “a persistent desire to have a female body.” At that age I can remember being aware of the differences between boys and girls and a feeling of loss and dissatisfaction over being a boy. Obviously, I’ve always had a lot of fetishism mixed in with my experience of gender, so it’s always been hard for me to say where exactly I fit in. Am I transgender? (I would say so.) Am I also a flaming fetishist and bondage nut? (Also true and not something that invalidates being transgender or at the very least being on the trans spectrum).

The thing is, though, I’ve never strongly identified with the word transgender itself and have never felt that I really fit in that well with the trans community. Some would probably agree with me that you can sometimes find an anti-crossdresser bias within the trans community, or at least a hierarchy of who is more authentically trans and who is less so – those who transition and pass effortlessly being at the very top. And there’s also often a bias against fetishes such as bondage, which is unfortunate though I can understand why. Some people feel – I would say erroneously – that anything sexual could undercut the validity of the trans experience, and therefore there’s sometimes a tendency to minimize or deny anything sexual or of a fetish nature. “Move along! Nothing sexual going on here!”

I remember going to a transgender support group about two decades ago and just having a sense of not really being welcomed by the trans woman in charge. Maybe it was just me and my low self-esteem, or maybe our personalities didn’t click – or maybe I was just projecting – but I don’t think so. I was never specifically called out but the overall feeling I got from her was, “You’re not one of us.” I did however attend a similar group when I lived in Colorado Springs a few years earlier and at that one I felt enthusiastically welcomed. Obviously it depends on the group and the group leaders, but that one experience left a bad taste in my mouth and made me cautious about sharing my fetishism in support groups.

Recently I read an interesting ebook for the Kindle that got me thinking about all this again. I’d never heard of Felix Conrad before, but he wrote a book a few years ago called, “How to Jedi Mindtrick Your Gender Dysphoria.” I don’t believe Felix has any professional credentials, but he deals with gender dysphoria himself, and he’s a pretty good writer. I found the book interesting and helpful though on Reddit I found some really harsh criticisms. I’ll grant that some might find the title dismissive or overly clever for a condition that causes a lot of pain. But I really didn’t find the book deserving of the degree of criticism once I actually read it. Of course, the comments were on Reddit, so you have to take them with a grain of salt. And again, I want to stress that this is just my own reaction to the book filtered through my own experiences.

What I like about Felix’s approach is that at the start he stresses that no one knows what causes transgenderism. There’s a lot of speculation and interesting data but there are no theories that have been scientifically proven as to the cause of the condition. I think it’s a point worth making. We simply don’t know.

One very interesting distinction that Felix makes is between early-onset trans people and late-onset trans people. He points out some trans people are so effortlessly feminine from such an early age that it’s just obvious that they’re girls and that they should transition. And then there are many more of us for whom things aren’t so clear cut, and who also often have some fetishism mixed in with their transgender feelings. Again, this is controversial, but I think the distinction makes sense. The woman who cuts my hair, for example, transitioned at a young age, and she’s just obviously a woman. I can’t really imagine her ever having been a guy. For myself though it’s always been much less clear to me where I fit in and what my path should be. And the dysphoria I feel is probably more on the moderate end rather than severe. While having dysphoria sucks, for me anyway it’s not all consuming. It’s more like an itch or a repetitive thought or feeling that’s almost always there, though mostly in the background.

The part of the book that is the most controversial is how Felix approaches the question of whether or not to transition. The issue of “passing” is controversial in the trans community but the book argues that in deciding whether to transition one really should take an honest assessment of one’s own body and consider how successful one would be at transitioning. This includes asking the question, “Will I pass successfully?” For myself the main reasons I’ve never transitioned (and I’ve thought about it dozens of times) is that I don’t really feel like I’m “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” I have that persistent desire, but I’ve never felt in my core that I really am a woman. Nor am I naturally feminine in my mannerisms or speech. And probably more importantly, I just don’t think I’d be able to pull off transition effortlessly day after day, the way that some early-onset trans people seem to – though I know it’s not as effortless as it appears. I’m well aware of how much work it is to be a girl!

But for me – and again I’m only talking about my own experience here – it would be a source of frustration to look in the mirror and still see Robert rather than Sandra – and inevitably there would be lots of days like that since I have a tall and masculine body – and a deep voice. I’m well aware of the arguments that there are tall women out there (I know, but they’re still genetic women) and that hormones do make significant changes – yes, they do indeed. But they’re not going to magically give me the body I’d really like to have. To be blunt, I know a few trans women who have transitioned who still have strong masculine features in their bodies, even with the hormones. And I know that reality causes them pain. Sometimes you’ll see incredibly cute young trans girls on Twitter and they’ll tweet, “The dysphoria is really bad today.” And these are girls who look absolutely stunning! Transition, as Felix points out, doesn’t necessarily cure dysphoria, but it can help lessen it, sometimes significantly. And for some trans people who have very strong dysphoria there really is no other choice but to transition. And just to clarify, I’m not anti-transition at all. I think it’s an awesome path for some people. I’ve just never been convinced that I would be wholly satisfied with the results if I were to try to follow that path myself. If I change my mind in a couple years, I’ll be sure to post an update!

So it’s been a long time since I decided not to transition and not to take hormones, and in some ways the decision was made by default just by not acting on it. And I’m mostly at peace with the decision. It feels right. At the same time I still meet friends and new acquaintances who are transitioning and going on hormones and I always have a reaction of, “Oh, really? Very interesting! Do let me know how it goes as you progress!” There’s still always a part of me that gets intrigued about the possibility, though I’ve basically made my decision.

In many ways, reading Felix’s book just got me reflecting on things I’ve thought about for years, and it helped put into words things that I hadn’t completely thought through. Some won’t agree with or like the analysis in the book – and some will hate the book – but I think he makes a lot of good points, and in the end it didn’t really seem that controversial. I think the problem the author ran into is that just by questioning whether transition is right for everyone he’s inviting some strong reactions from some very loud online voices – online voices usually being the loudest. My impression is that he’s really just examining the practical questions of how to best live one’s life and how to carry on and minimize the pain that inevitably goes with gender dysphoria, especially as it relates to non-transitioners and those of us for whom the question has never been clear cut. I found the book interesting and for me, helpful. It’s not the final answer by any means, but I’d recommend it for a clear-eyed approach to a complicated subject.

Lacey Leigh’s “Out & About: The Emancipated Crossdresser”

I’ve been re-reading Lacey Leigh’s “Out & About: The Emancipated Crossdresser,” and can really relate to a lot of what she says about being more out and visible. Her main argument is that to be happier we need to dump the guilt and shame over crossdressing and let people out there see us and know about us, and that if we carry ourselves with an air of self-worth and self-love that people will generally respond in a tolerant manner most of the time, although there are always going to be some who will disapprove regardless of what we do. It’s very common sense but something that’s worth being reminded of, as I still often grapple with that ol’ fear and self doubt when I go out.

Overall I think the book is very good and has lots of good practical advice for things like shopping and dealing with difficult people, or even with the police – it’s always good to remember that there’s nothing illegal about going out crossdressed. I have to admit, though, that I don’t agree with everything she says. For example, she makes it pretty clear that she doesn’t really approve of BDSM, and I certainly get her point about not going to the mall wearing a dog collar or a tiny miniskirt with fishnets. I would never do that anyway – heck, I love business suits as much as she does! There is, though, a certain dismissive tone to the book about certain kinds of crossdressers – and again I do get what she means about presenting oneself in a dignified manner in public. But at the same time it’s probably fairly likely that if she ever saw my website she’d probably regard me as one of “those crossdressers.”

I also question some other statements, such as that crossdressing is all about gender and not about sex. Really? I certainly understand the distinction, but also know from my own experiences and from the many crossdressers I’ve met over the years that quite often there’s a big sexual component to it, and quite often it’s some of both. Part of the reason we do it is because it’s sexy. I know in Tri-Ess they often argue the same thing – it’s all about gender, not sex – and yes, as we get older and the sex drive decreases, it often does become much less of a sexual thing, but completely denying the sexual angle feels a bit like propaganda and an attempt to make us seem more acceptable and “normal.” I understand the desire to do that, but I sometimes wonder if there’s a certain amount of shading of the truth when I hear that argument.

So with some quibbles, I do want to emphasize that I like Lacey Leigh’s book quite a lot and would definitely recommend it. I first read it almost ten years ago and have been enjoying it again. We certainly benefit from being seen and from being more out there, and we can take a cue from gays and lesbians who have done so much for themselves by just being visible. Of course no one should be forced to be out if they aren’t ready for it but the more of us who are – and I consider myself mostly out but not always – the better it will be for everyone.

One short chapter that I really enjoyed was the discussion on Deuteronomy 22:5, which is the standard passage for arguing that we’d better stop our sinful ways of wearing women’s clothes (“A man shall not put on a woman’s garment…”) She points out the other strange passages in that same chapter about not mixing wool and linen, the requirements to wear a garment with four tassels on the corners, and of course the cheery admonition to stone to death any bride who isn’t a virgin. And she has a great comeback for those who just can’t get beyond the scripture – to paraphrase, “As a practicing Christian I assume you’ll continue to love me as your neighbor and leave the judging to God.” My own feeling about the Bible quotes has always been that unless you’re an Orthodox Jew, which is whom those rules were written for, it really doesn’t make any difference.

So all in all, I’m really enjoying Lacey Leigh’s book again. It’s a quick read and full of encouragement about getting out there and enjoying one’s life without guilt and shame. Definitely worth checking out.

Poe Stamp

I see the post office recently released an Edgar Allan Poe stamp – very cool. I remember back in my 20s I had a beautifully printed “complete works of” volume that was just wonderful. He was such a great and tragic figure, and I always loved the walling-up themes in some of the stories ;-) Wish I still had that book; alas, somewhere over the years I lost it.

More from My Husband Betty

I just finished My Husband Betty the other night, and it’s excellent – I would say probably the best and most honest discussion of crossdressing that I’ve read so far. But some of it made me depressed as hell.

The author, Helen Boyd, was talking about how the sex lives of crossdressers and TVs are often one of the least understood areas of their lives. She talked about three common issues that she’s often heard about from couples where the husband is a TV. I’m single and haven’t dated a genetic woman in several years, but I saw a lot of myself in her comments: 1, a lot of TVs want to be seduced or submissive in bed; 2, some TVs develop more of an interest in masturbation than in sex with a partner; and 3, some TVs become asexual with their partners, especially if married, and shy away from sex altogether.

She also touched on the fear of women that some TVs have and how masturbation may feel safer than the risk of being rejected by a woman for being a “pervert.” I can relate in varying degrees to all those things. I’m definitely a masturbator and live out my sex life through my fantasies. I figure that’s why I like to take bondage pictures so much. It plays right into my sexual “thing.” And I’ve often had that feeling that it’s too much of a hassle to try to date “real” women. There’s that voice in my head that says, “Well, they’re either not going to want me because I’m a tranny, or if they do want me, they’ll smother me and demand so much time and attention that finally I’ll get tired of it and leave.” I’m such a loner and have spent so much time looking at bondage pictures, and though there’s nothing wrong with that, I sometimes get a feeling of, “Gee, is my obsession with bondage taking me away from a real relationship with another person – male or female?”

I meet a fair number of people in the L.A. kink community and get to play quite a bit. But it’s been a while since I can say I’ve had a really close girlfriend or boyfriend. Do I go out with men and other TVs because I’m too scared of real women? I wonder. Reading this book I got to thinking about such things and started getting into a groove of doubt and self pity. I have friends and family and people in my life who love me, but then I’ll get to feeling sorry for myself and that old, “Oh, I’m-all-alone” routine will come up in my head. Usually I snap out of it pretty quickly. But this book raised some interesting and troubling questions – questions that I could probably never completely answer but worth looking at. Highly recommended.

Book Signing Last Night

Last night I went out to Threshold for a talk / book signing with Joan Kelly, whose book, “The Pleasure’s All Mine” just came out. It’s about her experiences working as a professional submissive in the bdsm scene. It was a really great evening. At first the turnout was very small but it picked up as it went on. Joan was thoughtful, charming and funny. I had to buy a copy and just started it, and it’s really good.

I could relate to a lot of what she says about the difficulties in finding a kinky relationship that works for her, and some of her discomfort with “The Scene” in general – for example, guys who wanted her to address them as “Master” and how it made her feel silly. Or trying to find a relationship that would leave her satisfied but not feeling personally abused or diminished as a person. She’s a really good writer too and it’s a fast and enjoyable read. I’d highly recommend it for anyone with any interest in alternative sexuality.

I saw some familiar faces and had a nice time, and I wore my tight red spandex jeans that always make me feel sexy.

What’s on my Nightstand

I just started reading Helen Boyd’s book, “My Husband Betty,” and have really been enjoying it. She takes a really clear-eyed look at her experiences being married to a crossdresser. She’s very honest about her mixed and complex feelings on the subject, both good and bad. (Betty’s really cute too, by the way.)

I appreciated her comments about how some crossdressing groups, in particular Tri-Ess, seem to deny that there’s any sexual element to crossdressing, which has always seemed to me to be ignoring reality. She makes the point that if that’s so, then “Why do crossdressers spend so much time looking at lingerie catalogs?” Pretty funny and so true.

Now I don’t want to slam Tri-Ess. I think it’s a helpful organization for many people and some of my good friends are members. I’ve even been to a couple meetings, but being bisexual and definitely having a sexual thing for the dressing left me feeling like I didn’t really belong there. Sure, as I’ve grown older, dressing isn’t only about getting off sexually anymore, but I can’t deny the roots of it, which for me is certainly a sexual fetish. I remember being eight years old and getting an erection thinking about girls’ clothes and being tied up in them.

Now that I’m in my forties I have pierced ears and wear a purple watch that’s obviously pretty girly, even when I’m in boy mode. And there’s no sexual thrill there. But I do have a hard time figuring out where the fetish ends and the transgenderism begins. It all seems so mixed together. And it seems to become more of an obsession as I get older – not in a red-hot “Oh my god” I-have-to-jack-off sort of way – but rather as a quieter but fairly constant thing that’s so often on my mind as I go about my day. It can really be a pain in the ass sometimes to constantly be checking out what women are wearing and so often daydreaming about ways to bring more and more of the femme presentation into my life, and just generally being self-absorbed with the subject. Would I be a happier person if I wasn’t a crossdresser? I don’t know.

The Girl in the Box

I was taking care of a neighbor’s cat and while hanging out I found a true crime book on her bookshelf called “Perfect Victim,” about the kidnapping of a young woman, Carol Smith, in 1977. She was picked up by a couple while hitchhiking and ended up being bound, gagged, blindfolded, with her head locked inside a specially-constructed wooden box that the man, Cameron Hooker, had built in hopes of finding a girl he could kidnap and enslave. She was kept by this guy and his wife for the next seven years, being used as his sex slave and suffering all kinds of horrible abuse, and spending much of the time locked in a sealed wooden box underneath their bed.

So I was petting the cat and reading the book, and found myself feeling horrified by it and also really turned on. I always feel guilty getting turned on by stories of horrible kidnappings and crimes that actually happened to someone. This was a real person who suffered terrible terrible things. And yet I was totally drawn into it. There were descriptions of how he restrained her and locked her up that really got to me. I read for about the next hour and half, like I was obsessed, turning the pages and skipping forward to “the good parts.” The reality was awful but I found myself reading it like it was a fantasy. I don’t know whether to feel bad about that or not.