Transsexual Analysis: 6. Trauma and sexuality

Transsexual Analysis

Nature vs nurture: humans are diverse  |   Diversity in society  |   Woman in a man's body?  |   Trauma can shape us  |   Emasculation trauma

Trauma and sexuality  |   Perversion or lifestyle choice?  |   How to treat?  |   Superficiality  |   Problems and reversion  |   In summary

6. Trauma and sexuality

By now it should be clear that Dr Blanchard's heavy emphasis on autogynephilia as an attribute of late-onset transsexuals misses the point - that emasculation trauma is at the root of most transsexualism and that autogynephila is merely the sexual resonse to that trauma.

It stands to reason that individuals need to experience extreme problems - be they external or internal - in regard to their gender to choose to undergo gender reassignment, with the attendant stigma, personal upheaval and medically invasive surgery. So it is safe to assume that at least some events (or self perceptions) leading up to transition were traumatic to those individuals. The only issue open to debate is the nature of that trauma.

However, a question yet to be addressed in this analysis is how a repeated trauma can become a sexual turn on. Extreme events capable of causing trauma (and the accompanying fear) and sex are things that arguably trigger more intense feelings within us than anything else.
Somehow they get mixed up. Both trauma and sex get our hearts beating, our blood rushing. Each can stimulate and sensitize us, awaken and arouse us, and remind us that we are alive; they are enervating. The link between trauma and sexuality is a well-discussed topic in academic and psychiatric circles. A Google search for educational institutions with the keywords "trauma" and "sexuality" yields over 15,000 pages in the search results.

As discussed earlier, it is likely that the translation of trauma to sexual stimulant is a natural desensitizer to aid in our survival. That is, our survival instincts may follow this form of logic:

If an event occurs that is highly disturbing, then it's a good idea to prepare (desensitize) just in case it happens again. That way, the blow will be less extreme.

So sexual and/or emotional arousal and attachment is the "bait" which coerces us to behave in ways that, on the face of it, would otherwise appear to be abhorrent, or at least undesirable, wasteful or senseless. Nature's use of sexual and emotional arousal to induce us to pursue inconvenient or seemingly pointless activities which facilitate our survival is an hardly a new concept [sic].

Excitement generally is a common thread between the two, in other words, a strong ailment requires strong medicine because the stakes are high. There is a sense of danger in breaking taboos, which only serves to make it all the more exciting. The more intensely a taboo is felt, the more exciting it is. "Look at me!", an autogynephile may say (internally). "I really am a girly freak and a part of me enjoys being that way (even if another part of me may hate it). So there!"

It could be said that what the autogynephile is really saying is, "I have a vulnerability that greatly disturbs me so I am desensitizing myself as a protection from possible future hurt".

There are some well-known, less dramatic, examples of this dynamic of desensitizing - in the way the gay community took ownership of the word "queer", and how American negroes now often affectionately call each other "nigger". As a result these words have lost much of their power to hurt. What was once traumatizing becomes less hurtful through repetition and re-enactment - as long as it remains within the affected people's control.

Problems with "self-medication"

However, the desensitizer - the insulation - carries its own problems. If behavior patterns are reinforced though repetition often enough they can become habitual. While gays and negroes now commonly take public ownership of their traumas, this is less often the case for those with autogynephilic orientation; self-feminization is often a furtive activity. Therefore an autogynephile's feelings remain unexpressed publicly, festering unhealthily within over long periods of time, without the benefit of the "sunlight and oxygen of openness", and ultimately becoming psychically poisonous.

Therefore autogynephilic (and transvestic) people frequently endure intense periods of guilt and self-loathing. Yet they cannot push the desires out of their minds because of the way it cushions their feelings of gender inadequacy. Dr Wegner's insightful articles on suppression clearly spell out these dynamics.

Repeated emotional and/or sexual experiences reinforce our relationships, so in time transvestites and autogynephiles can develop a form of "relationship" with the "other", cross-gendered self - be it actualized or in fantasy.

Denial of this arousal in the trans-community is rife, and with good reason. Why would anyone want to admit that they are, or have been, sexually and/or emotionally aroused by something as seemingly ridiculous and childish as cross-gender presentation while almost everyone else appears to be exclusively aroused by healthy intimacy with others?

It is far more respectable and mature-sounding to say "I am expressing my femininity", even if that femininity is not apparent to others (although this may or may not be due to suppression). As mentioned earlier, such femininity may or may not be real, or may only exist in the person's past, but who can question what a person thinks and feels in private without extensive (and expensive) individual psychoanalysis?

Therefore, with a lack of any objective means of uncovering the truth, gender transgressors can easily fall into denial because they so often take on board the unsympathetic scorn they believe would be poured on them by most people if they discovered the truth.

This response is quite understandable within a phobic environment. Self-loathing is as common in the trans and crossdressing populations as is denial; the two go hand-in-hand. Fetishists of all stripes often report that they feel guilty about the self-centeredness of it all, believing that regularly indulging their sexual fantasies is pointless, selfish and unproductive. Such people are often torn between their realities and what they believe should be.

However, if the habituated behavior successfully acts as a pressure valve, then it could be argued that those behaviors do in fact have a productive aspect in allowing such individuals to function better in society.

On the other hand, a self-feminization habit may also lead to a further sense of emasculation. An example of this could be where boy who is considered unmasculine due to late development, and experiences emasculation trauma. Even if he grows up to be an apparently normal man, his furtive self-feminization activities may prevent him from being able to adjust his self image. In this sense his sense of emasculation becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Sexual experiences need not be physically expressed

In this context it is important to draw a distinction between the term "sexual experiences" and sexual arousal. Sexual arousal is only one type of sexual experience. Again, our materialistic society's emphasis on the physical over the psychological creates confusion in analysis.

"Sexual experience" in this context refers to an experience that serves to arouse or enliven or stimulate but at the every least contains some sexual undertones. This can be felt mentally and emotionally. It does not necessarily include genital arousal, stimulation or orgasm, although it often does.

There are a number of reasons why a person may not take their arousal into the physical realm.

Private vs public

An autogynephilic person who does not seek physical relief will experience repressed sexuality and/or emotional tension. All this person knows is that cross-gender activities give him comfort and relaxation, just like a partner in an established marriage. You may not be excited every time you are with your partner, but if your partner is away for an extended period you will feel a sense of loss.

The point here is that youths and teenagers who engage in of emasculating / feminizing behaviors in private (crossdressing, penis-hiding, use of prosthetics, sex change fantasy, etc) will necessarily gain some level of satisfaction from it - a payoff. It may be physical or it may be emotional. Often it is both, at least at first, but in time the emotional aspect often takes greater prominence, as as the case in most relationships.

Obviously, if it was not satisfying in some way, they would not do it. Nonetheless, it is not a cut-and-dried situation because there may also at times be elements of genuine feminine self-expression mixed in with the trauma-based undertones.

The emphasis on the word "private" is important. If a young person (in adulthood, the dynamics are generally somewhat different) is willing to engage in cross-gender behavior in public, then s/he clearly does not feel highly oppressed by a sense of emasculation. Lacking a critical level of crushing fear or traumatic stress in relation to his/her gender identity, s/he would be expected to be less autogynephilic than a more stressed peer.

This is often the case with transsexuals who are classically termed the primary type but can also the case with less feminine boys who feel the quest for being accepted as a "proper male" is a lost cause due to their social environment. So both feminine and masculine males may decide that they are really girls trapped in male bodies. Some of the more feminine types may find that they receive less rejection from others when cross-presented than in the male role (ie. "better to be a desired 'girl' than a weak guy").

This relative lack of fear in regard to cross-gender activities is essentially a lack of fear of authority. Perhaps their parents were relatively tolerant of gender-transgressive behavior, or they may be so neglectful or abusive (perhaps as a result of their male child being too feminine for their liking) that their opinion ceases to matter and approval becomes impossible to achieve. In this context, parental upset may be seen as a bonus (as in aggravating their protagonists), or even a raison d'tere.

The parents could also be lassez faire and/or democratic in their approach, and the young person knows that any disapproval will be expressed safely, if at all, allowing them to just be themselves.

In the case of transsexuals who display strong overt feminine psychology and physiology, this fear, or lack of fear, of (parental) authority may well mark the difference between the so-called "homosexual type" transsexual and the "autogynephilic type" transsexual.

In fact, it is possible that having a close relationship with dominant and/or sexually conservative parents is a common thread amongst those with autogynephilic desires, although this idea is only based on anecdotal observation and has not been tested.

As mentioned earlier, there will inevitably be a gray area between "homosexual types" and "autogynephilic types", and this zone is populated with autogynephilic types with feminine/androgynous physical and mental traits or, conversely, androphilic (homosexual) types with autogynephilic tendencies.

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