5. Emasculation trauma and autogynephilia
Upfront, it must be stressed that autogynephilic proclivity is not necessarily present in all people seeking gender reassignment, and when it is present it presents in widely varying degrees; there are a number of different rationales and motivations behind a decision to change sex, as discussed later.
Harking back to the effect of trauma on individuals, again taking the example
of masochists, you will generally see elements of pain, fear and humiliation
in their desired mix of "therapy". For autogynephiles the focus is on humiliation.
The crucial point to understand here is that the trauma of humiliation does not need to come from abuse (although it may do), but from a person's sense of self.
Therefore, both highly feminine and fairly masculine transsexuals can experience similar levels of emasculation trauma as children.
A number of factors may cause this feeling of emasculation. Again, it must
be stressed that it is not the young person's reality but the perception
of their reality that matters in this context.
There is no doubt that young males can be traumatized when their sense of emasculation is intense enough; when they feel they are irrevocably unable to measure up as males. This depends as much on "where the line is drawn" in what constitutes acceptable masculine behavior in their environment as their actual levels of actual masculinity or femininity.
Due to continuing patriarchal attitudes it is still a serious social "crime"
in many modern societies for a male to fail to "measure up" as such,
with punishments consisting of ridicule, abuse, exclusion, rejection, assault
and, in extreme cases, murder.
So what causes these feelings of emasculation?
Hyper-feminine boys and emasculation trauma
Emasculation trauma can, of course, be the result of as the boy being, in fact, hyper-feminine - but in denial, or feeling negatively, about the way he is. One could say that such a boy feels emasculated for good reason - he really does not measure up to the typical male standards he encounters.
"Hyper-feminine" in this context refers to boys whose feminine qualities are obvious enough to be noticed by others, generally in a negative manner. Those feminine qualities may include androgynous appearance, girlish voice and manner of speaking, feminine mannerisms, typically feminine interests, crossdressing, dislike of rough behavior, preference for girls' company, high levels of sensitivity / emotionality, romantic interest in boys, and so on. These attributes may be present in varying degrees in individuals. By the same token, many boys who are targeted as overly feminine by parents and/or their peers may only possess some, or just one, of those attributes.
Not that hyper-feminine boys will necessarily feel traumatized by their lack of masculinity. Several factors may insulate them, such as support from understanding parents, relatives or peers (ie. a non-phobic and/or cosmopolitan environment), strong self-belief or confidence, insulating philosophical belief systems and advanced social skills.
Nor will the nature of the trauma necessarily be emasculatory. For example, a hyper-feminine boy who is bolstered by some of the above insulating factors, may still be traumatized by violence, rejection and/or bullying he experiences. In this case, the trauma may lead to other disorders, such as PTSD, anxiety/depression and disorders related to poor self-esteem such as hysterical, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders.
Emasculation trauma will generally occur if the boy is in denial about his femininity; he will be especially be susceptible to such denial if his parents suffer from denial, that is, see him "though rose colored glasses". Without the benefit of an accurate "mirror", the child may develop a distorted self-image.
Certain personality types may also hope (realistically or otherwise) that they can change themselves (to "fool them all"), and will attempt to change themselves in order to better fit in. Such individuals may well experience mid-life crises, as is common with many non-transsexual people who profoundly shape themselves in youth to societal or other expectations at the expense of genuine self-expression.
A number of pertinent articles in this regard written by Dr Daniel Wegner examine the effects of denial and thought suppression (but in a general sense, not related to transsexualism), in particular, note his treatise on "The hidden costs of hidden stigma".
Non-feminine boys and emasculation trauma
Boys whose characteristics and behavior lie within the normal range of masculinity may also experience intense feelings of emasculation. How could this happen? Some possibilities are:
- He is surrounded by homophobia and macho worship, where the idealized image of masculinity around him is so strong that he feels he can never live up to it. He may feel unable to safely and honestly express himself in any aspect of his life.
- Teasing and bullying at school or in the home. In regard to school bullying, this will be exacerbated if he has undeveloped social skills.
- Slow physical development. If a boy remains small and soft and late in passing developmental milestones such as growing male body hair voice breaking, he may be perceived as "feminine" and adopt that self image. Even as an adult, this sense of self may persist even if he grows up to be stall, strong, hirsute and deep-voiced.
- A direct sexual or gender-based humiliation, such as sexual molestation, being crossdressed by a mother who wished for a girl, or the use of crossdressing as punishment.
- Any combination of the above.
The more sensitive the boy, the less negative stimuli is needed to evoke intense feelings of emasculation. Further, other traumas may sensitize a child whose sensitivity would otherwise be in the normal range. Family conflict, deaths in the family, separation of parents, abuse and so on may lead to anxiety and a hair-trigger reaction to stress. In these cases, emasculating experiences which would be seen as relatively mild may be experienced as traumatic.
It should be noted that, logically, there is no definite line to be drawn between feminine and non-feminine boys; there are no objective measures in relation to masculinity and femininity.
For example, which boy is more feminine? A small, slender, pretty, high voiced
boy with feminine mannerisms who is athletic, has a forceful nature, and prefers
playing with other boys - or a larger, physically masculine boy who is soft,
bookish, emotional, relationship-oriented and who eschews the rough and tumble
of typical boys' games? Clearly this is a rhetorical question with no clear-cut
Coping with emasculation trauma
Many boys feel inadequate as males at some stage during their formative years,
experiencing embarrassment when they fail to live up to some exaggerated standard
of masculinity they may encounter. It is all a matter of degree - how intense
the feelings are and how long they persist.
So how does a boy cope with feeling emasculated to the point of trauma - be it due to a traumatic event or because of regular experiences occurring over an extended period? Importantly, in many cases he will feel this not something he can talk about - with anyone at any time - so he is on his own. This is especially the case for those who were children before the advent of the Internet.
Lacking in life experience, he may wonder if everyone feels as he does, so he may overcompensate, trying to be as rough and tough as he can be - just like his peers. Many transsexuals report that, in earlier years, they deliberately embarked on hyper-masculine careers like the military in order to normalize themselves.
Whether the boy feels it is possible or feasible to attempt to be masculine and "fit in" not only depends on his actual level of masculinity or femininity, but also on how realistically he perceives himself, how fearful he is of stigma, and his resilience and hopefulness. Parents play an important part in this equation, for if they are uninvolved, neurotic/psychotic or in denial, they may hinder their child's ability to realistically understand himself.
One means of relieving trauma is to repeat it, to embrace it, to own it, to control it - just like the masochist who seeks out abuse or the molested girl who becomes promiscuous.
A boy suffering emasculation trauma may give up the masculine ideal as a lost
cause. Some may behave in an exaggeratedly camp manner as a form of rebellion.
Ironically, while this approach may create more problems socially in the short
term, the act of relinquishing any attempt at masculinity will ease a child's
internal pressure, reducing the incidence of ironic effects caused by denial
On the other hand, the boy may believe he can "fool" others in personal interactions. This will be the case if he is, in fact, capable of "passing" as a normal boy, or if he is denial about his levels of femininity. If he is in denial, he may "gloss over" repeated "hints" from others as to his true nature.
However, it is then likely that he will still be driven to embrace his perceived femininity (control his trauma) in private. This approach may involve crossdressing, thoughts of physical feminization or homo-erotic fantasy.
Dynamics such as these are the most likely roots of autogynephilia or, as it was known before the "A-word" became trendy, transvestic fetishism.
In short, whether a boy experiences emasculation trauma publicly or privately may well decide his level of fetishism.
This explains why the most extreme hyper-feminine boys tend to be less autogynephilic than other boys who experience emasculation trauma, because - if they are realistic - they realize that there is little chance of them being able to appear "normal" as males in the public arena.
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