Friday Philosophy: The most self-aware people I know

In her essay earlier today, Allison’s Story told us about her “friend” who told her he thought she was psychotic because she chose to treat her gender dysphoria.

That’s too much of a constant in our lives.  Because we don’t believe that chromosomes, or even genitalia, are destiny, people tell us they think we are insane…and then use that conclusion in attempts to drive us from our professions.

To some people, the options we have are being thought to be insane or having a moral defect.  The truth is, in my opinion, that we are some of the more sane people around.  On the other hand, what is moral is in the mind of the beholder.

I’ve met hundreds of transfolk since I began my transition in 1992.  I actually came out on September 30, 1992, which would have been my father’s birthday if he had still been alive.  From my years of knowing him, I can assure you that informing him of my plans for the future would not have gone down well.

See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You

Having already spent years locked inside my own brain pan, I already had a pretty good grip on who I was.  Self-awareness is not something that arrives overnight for transfolk.  It comes from years of digging…often into the parts of ourselves which are most painful to explore.

Cogito ergo sum.  I think, therefore I am.

But more importantly, I can analyze my thoughts and reassemble them into a cohesive mind.  As Locke wrote:

This being premised, to find wherein personal identity consists, we must consider what person stands for;- which, I think, is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it: it being impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive. When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will anything, we know that we do so. Thus it is always as to our present sensations and perceptions: and by this every one is to himself that which he calls self: it not being considered, in this case, whether the same self be continued in the same or divers substances. For, since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which makes every one to be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself from all other thinking things, in this alone consists personal identity, i.e. the sameness of a rational being: and as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self with this present one that now reflects on it, that that action was done.

–John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II:  Of Ideas: Chapter XXVII: Of Identity and Diversity, part 9.  Personal identity

Learning to Fly

What happens when one transitions is that one has to go through a process of justifying oneself to another…a therapist (usually two) to ascertain that one is indeed sane as well as to learn to justify oneself to society at large by living as the self one has discovered within.

This is not a matter of learning how to “fool” other people.  This is about becoming comfortable enough with ourselves that how we used to portray ourselves to the world no longer matters.  Please see Rei‘s diary, On Wearing a Scarlett ‘T’ from Wednesday.

The transitioning process must take at least a year…and most often takes at least two, before any irreversible body altering events will take place.  Personally, I had my surgery on August 9, 1994, as described in the two-part series, My Wisconsin Adventure.  The month leading up to that was described in Diary: retrospective, which were joined together and presented in online diary form long before there was anything formally called a blog.


In other words, one could view 4 days ago as being my 16th re-birthday.  Or one could look at this coming September 30 at the day I come of age in this part of my life.  Chacun à son goût.

It does bother me to be considered mentally or morally unsound by people who worship a book that says, if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out on the one hand, but judge anyone to be insane on the basis of going though the body modification part of a sex-change process.

Truth?  My body had become an offense to me…especially the testosterone part.  When I changed to my hormone of choice, my suit of skin finally started to feel like a comfortable fit for me.  It’s possible that could have been enough for me personally,  but the battle for dominance between artificial estrogen, testosterone suppressants,  and natural testosterone production is not good for the liver.  Plus I just don’t think I was brave enough to fight the legal, social and medical battles that would have come up if I had not had sex reassignment surgery, or as is becoming more fashionable:  gender confirmation surgery.

And, for anyone interested, such as the people in Texas who define marriage as

a legal and moral commitment only between a natural man and a natural woman

my body now feels natural for me.  It did not do so before my surgery.

Part of the problem is, of course that our condition is labeled gender identity disorder (GID) in the DSM IV.  We are hoping to fix that.

Death Sound Blues

There are two prevailing views of gender diversity in American psychiatry and psychology. The emerging view is affirming and accepting. The older view is punitive, judging difference as disorder, something to be ashamed of. The current diagnostic categories of Gender Identity Disorder and Transvestic Fetishism in the DSM-IV and revision IV-TR predominantly reflect the punitive view of gender diversity. They go so far as to disrespect transitioned adults and youth with inappropriate pronouns and gender terms in the diagnostic criteria and supporting text.

Some of us prefer the label gender dysphoria, which avoids the judgmental word “disorder”.

There is always someone who brings up the subject of regret.  The literature indicates that less than 1% of female-to-male transitions end in regret.  For male-to-female transitions, the percentage is 1-1.5%.  In many of those regretful circumstances, there was either drug addiction, alcoholism or unrelated psychosis involved.  In those without those concerns, the three major causes of regrets were poor differential diagnostic procedures, failure to carry out the real life test, and/or disappointing surgical outcome.

I like these words:

If we allow people to unfold and give them the freedom to be who they really are, we engender health. And if we try and constrict it, or bend the twig, we engender poor mental health.

Dr. Diane Ehrensaft


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    • Robyn on August 14, 2010 at 00:03

    …was an interview of Daniel Radcliffe by his friend, transwoman Our Lady J.  If you just want to see the photo spread, click here.  I know it’s a bad idea to send people out on a link at this point, but I hope you do come back.

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