Thursday, February 07, 2013

The curious incident of the trans feelings

There's an ugly bit of misinformation going around the Internet, that feelings of gender discomfort always get worse with age. I discovered it the other day in the comments to a New York Tines "Ethicist"column responding to an older trans person. The first comment was by a post-transition woman named Zoe Brain: "Gender Dysphoria varies in intensity, and is also progressive."

It was echoed by another woman, Julie C. from Bala Cynwyd: "Trans is progressive, getting worse as the trans person gets older."

The gist of this argument is that even if you're not one of the "transition or die" trans people, if you don't transition now you'll eventually find yourself in that category. There's also an idea (which I generally agree with) that if you're going to transition the earlier the better. Put the two together, and you get an argument that every trans person should transition as soon as possible.

(I’m still not sure how you get from there to “anyone who doesn’t want to transition must not be trans,” but we can deal with that at some other point.)

For some people, feelings of gender discomfort and the desire to be the other gender definitely do get stronger over time. I've heard this from many trans people, and I don't want to discount their experiences. But it's not necessarily true, and it's not automatically true.

Again we come back to the principle that no one really knows what's going on with trans people, and no one will know until we get some kind of representative sample. Generalizations with "all" and "always" are simply not appropriate.

I personally find that my discomfort with being a man, and my desire to be a woman, are not even perfectly correlated with each other, much less constant over time. They both have their ups and downs, and I can connect some of those ups and downs to particular circumstances in my life, but not all of them. Brain and "Julie C." are right in that both feelings keep coming back, even after thirty years or so, but she's wrong in that on average they haven't gotten more intense or more frequent.

This is again the problem of negative evidence: we can see that for some trans people it gets harder over time, but we don't necessarily notice that for other people it doesn't get harder. For every person who transitions or commits suicide, or even hangs on in quiet desperation, there may be one, or many, who lead relatively happy lives without transitioning, until they die. We just don't know.

What we do know is that there are some people like me, for whom it hasn't gotten harder. And that's the thing about generalizations: they can be invalidated by even one counterexample.

6 comments:

julie c. said...

Your well written comment does state a fact and my statement was likely an overstatement. Trans is and should be an inclusive world, and -- aside for navel gazing -- there are few mental exercises, I think, as worthless as defining "trans" or the trans community.

In the "Ethicist" column, I deliberately overstated the case, because the Ethicist himself overstated his case, in providing such a simple answer. So I was annoyed too. (Of course, the original asker probably was naive in herself writing to what is really no more that an upscale Dear Abby with such a difficult question about her life...but to me that shows her lack of anywhere else to turn, her distress, rather than anything else.)

So thank you for properly stating I likely did exaggerate trans progression. Trans is and should be inclusive.

julie c. said...

Your well written comment does state a fact and my statement was likely an overstatement. Trans is and should be an inclusive world, and -- aside for navel gazing -- there are few mental exercises, I think, as worthless as defining "trans" or the trans community.

In the "Ethicist" column, I deliberately overstated the case, because the Ethicist himself overstated his case, in providing such a simple answer. So I was annoyed too. (Of course, the original asker probably was naive in herself writing to what is really no more that an upscale Dear Abby with such a difficult question about her life...but to me that shows her lack of anywhere else to turn, her distress, rather than anything else.)

So thank you for properly stating I likely did exaggerate trans progression. Trans is and should be inclusive.

(and if this is a duplicate I apologize - Google didn't work the way it should when I signed in)

grvsmth said...

Here's what I wrote in response to the same comment that Julie left on my personal blog:

Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Julie! Sadly, these definitions have real effects, including who gets what resources and who gets to speak for others. If they were worthless, I wouldn’t get involved.

Dojo-Shop geek said...

When you say transition, do you include social transition, or in this case do you just mean physical transition? Sorry if I missed something, not sure it was clear from the article.

grvsmth said...

I mean social transition, but it could include physical transition as well. I mean that most of my friends, neighbors and family know me as a guy with transgender feelings. Those transgender feelings are no stronger than they were fifteen years ago.

Karla Allen said...

At least this makes me feel better with lacking a label, or at least having trouble finding one (and frustrating those around me).

The only time I have not been a woman, is when I was a little girl. Society thought otherwise. Now I'm in my late '40s and i can tell you firmly that the transition train has been gathering steam for a long time now... what i feel is beyond words.