Ever since I have been a child I have felt uncomfortable with my gender identity. As a boy it wasn’t too intense and I did the things other boys did like play football and climb trees.
However when puberty struck I was forced to confront the issue. I found myself looking at women’s bodies in an envious way. What I mean by this is this I found myself wishing I had their body. I found myself repulsed by the masculine male body.
I absolutely detested any muscular body shape and I was horrified and disgusted by body hair. Luckily I was quite slender and boyish in my physique and so this helped me psychologically to live with my own masculinity to a certain degree.
Moreover I was highly conflicted as I am sexually attracted to women and so I am not gay. There are huge obstacles in transitioning ones gender such as financial cost, losing ones family, finding employment, and treatment by society.
So I sat on my feelings and did nothing. Now I am getting older but the feelings remain.
I have come to a point in my life where I need to bury these feelings for once and for all or else do something about them. What should I do?
Hello and thank you so much for asking this question, as it is an important one to ask, and one that will bring up some issues in psychology that are important to me!
I don’t honestly think you will be able to bury the feelings. What you can do however, is make an informed decision based on a realistic appraisal of your life to date and the world in which we live in. In that light, I will help you to tease out all the psychological stumbling blocks that may present themselves to you along the way.
When I read your email, you took me back to when I was studying in the University of Surrey. The theoretical backdrop to much of my research was looking at what constitutes as a ‘threat to identity.’ I’m a psychologist from the North of Ireland, of course I studied identity! I should warn you that this answer might wander a bit and become long winded as I try to tease out some points that will be useful for you, and help us both to answer “what should I do.”
Threats to Identity
I am going to start by talking about Identity, but maybe not in the way you would expect. Let’s start with an example, and then I can narrow it down to the points you have made in your question.
Imagine I woke up this morning and sat down at a piano (having no skills whatsoever in this area), and discovered that I played like a well seasoned concert pianist. I would be delighted. I would be answering your question, but telling you every paragraph or so, about my new found musical talent.
I am afraid that I would not wear this new found talent with a lightness of touch, at first. I would be more brash, and broadcast it at every available opportunity due to my immense excitement. Over time though, I would find my lightness of touch, and wear it, as just another part of me. I would have assimilated and accommodated it into my identity structure.
This would be quite an easy thing for me to do, as
- I value my new skills as a pianist, and
- I assume society values them too
I’m going to take this a little further and use the information from your question. I have to guess at some things here though, I hope that is okay.
We lay down the foundations for our identity (amongst other things) when we are growing up. We like to ‘fit in’ and ‘belong.’ To all those current teenagers that believe they are different and doing their own thing, no matter what they look like, they are trying to fit in somewhere.
At the start of your question you were saying that during puberty, you disliked your body, the male form. Puberty is hard enough, going through the physical and emotional changes, but if you were disliking what you were becoming, I am guessing there would have been quite a ‘jolt,’ a mismatch in what was happening.
What I mean by that is, we kind of grow into ourselves, getting used to our body as it develops, we don’t wear it with a lightness of touch at the start, it can be paraded for all to see. Eventually we get used to the changes, and settle in.
For you, this is what I mean by a jolt. Not everything is a psychological struggle, but I am guessing it was hard. Your identity may have taken a knock there. If it did, you might have done the following.
Passing: You might have tried to pass as ‘feeling okay in a developing man’s body’ although internally you were clearly not happy with this. This would mean just getting on with what you thought you should do, and how you should behave.
This mismatch can then affect internally how you feel about yourself. Again, I am guessing based on the information you gave, but I thought it more useful to outline things that could cause problems as opposed to assuming everything was plain sailing.
Your self esteem may have been affected growing up, as we all feel a need to develop our own individual identity in addition to a social identity. This may have been problematic, as possibly your developing body was seen by you as something that you did not want or feel comfortable in. The male social identity could also have been problematic as it would have felt hard or possibly wrong.
The above would be what I could see as a first knock, growing up.
Now as an adult, I think we need a realistic look at what you said in terms, of job, family and treatment by society. If you get to a stage (and I dearly hope you do) that you are comfortable to live whatever way seems most congruent to you, then we need to flesh this out.
I do not think it is a question at this stage of hormones or surgery, as for many people, they do not need or want this. It is a question of when you feel comfortable in your own mind, you could be faced with yet another threat to identity. But if you are prepared, you can navigate your way through this.
Fast forward a bit. If you hit the day, when you want to live your life your own way, without any hiding, you will be presented with new information that has to be assimilated and accommodated into your identity structure (remember when I was talking about me and the piano?)
The smoothness of this process depends a lot on
- how you value yourself, and
- how you perceive society will value who you are.
How you value yourself
If anything I said above about growing up resonated with you, it might be a good idea to make sure you value yourself. I shall try to explain my thinking around that. If you externally tried to bury how you were feeling when growing up, you might have been denied the benefits of getting feedback that you are okay the way you. That said, I do not live in some sort of utopian vacuum 🙂 and understand that as a teenager, you probably hid what you were feeling, I imagine I would have done that, as the feedback may or may not have been helpful.
I guess I am trying to nudge you in the direction of ‘acceptance.’ That might sound a bit vague, but acceptance will carry you through most things, and also help you meet Number 1 above; value yourself.
To help with acceptance, I always recommend mindfulness, you can do a class, or I always tell people just get an App called Headspace.
To help with Number 2, how society values this. Keep in mind, most people are okay, and too wrapped up in their own lives and problems to even think about other people. Regardless of what attitudes exist out there, it is more important how you perceive these attitudes.
Have a think about your own perceptions and sound them out if they are true or not. As I said, I am not in a vacuum, and you will more than likely encounter something or someone difficult, but if you are okay with yourself, and have the support of people around you, you will weather this.
Going through this is where you will not wear it with a lightness of touch, you will feel every worry you have, and run through all possible scenarios in your head. In all the work that I have done over the years, regardless of what the issue is, it is the worry and imagination, before people do something for real, that causes most pain. The reality, is usually easier.
If you do decide to live life according to who you are as a person, remember everything normalizes.
At the moment, I guess it can feel all consuming, but it is only bumpy during the assimilation and accommodation period. Then you wear this part of your identity for what it is, just one part of your identity.