What’s the distinction between gender dysphoria and normal insecurities?

I was recently reading an article in the New York Times about a young woman’s struggle with her boyfriend leaving her and dating a transgender woman (e.g. someone born a man and now living as a woman).  The young woman writing the article is a progressive who believes that the man-turned-woman her boyfriend is now dating is indeed a woman.

She doesn’t ask factual questions about whether or not a man can become a woman, or about whether or not the evidence suggests that sartorial changes, hormone treatments, and surgeries to alter sex organs are the right treatment for those experiencing gender dysphoria.  She doesn’t even ask how anyone knows about their gender aside from their physiology or socially constructed gender roles.

She is not some reactionary against the nouvelle régime which governs acceptable thoughts on the matter of human sexuality.  Indeed, she fully complies with it and does not even bother making an argument against the Ancien Régime which governed human sexuality prior to the new sexual order.  For her, it is a given that the new woman in her ex-boyfriend’s life is indeed a woman.

She has no childish insecurities about being replaced by a man.  Many people would, but that isn’t her concern.  Her concern is introspective, and to her credit, that’s a much healthier way to go than the usual blame game.  Instead, she wonders about her own gender.  She explains that she was not very feminine growing up, and describes behaviors that would have caused her to be given the label “tomboy” under the old gender nomenclature.

But under the new gender nomenclature, the situation is more difficult.  She’s not just a woman who doesn’t like the stereotypically girly things; she has to consider seriously that maybe she’s not a woman at all.  She can’t just write her insecurities (which are perfectly understandable in light of our culture’s hypersexualized and hyperfeminine ideal for women) off as mere passing insecurities and forget them.

No.  Under the new order, each and every little bit of our sexual attractions or insecurities or experiences of dysphoria has profound ontological implications.  We aren’t free to just be somewhat less stereotypically masculine men or somewhat less stereotypically feminine women anymore.  We now have to wrestle with the question of whether or not we might actually be a woman in a man’s body or a man in a woman’s body.

And wrestle with this question the author does.  She concludes that her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend made the transition better than she had.  And this is an interesting conclusion which raises interesting questions.  Is it better to accept one’s lack of stereotypical femininity and accept one’s physiology, or is it better to embrace stereotypical femininity and reject one’s physiology?

I suspect that the answer to that question depends a great deal on one’s values and philosophical assumptions.  The correct answer to another question is less dependent on those things: the question of how we can properly distinguish between what the DSM currently calls gender identity disorder and perfectly normal insecurities to have in a culture that insists that hypermasculinity and hyperfemininity are the ideal ways to express masculinity or femininity.

Psychiatrists and psychologists have a pretty useful answer to this question, but they are no longer the ones responsible for confronting it.  That has now fallen to every individual, who alone bears the weight of answering the question of whether they fit into the socially constructed masculinity box or the socially constructed femininity box.

I wish the author and everyone else the best of luck in answering the question, but I don’t suggest relying on luck alone.  Talk to a mental health professional to make sure you’re not doing a perfectly normal thing for a human being to do: turning a minor insecurity into a full-blown crisis.  We do this in many areas of our life, and the area of sexuality and gender is one in which there are very serious consequences if we get it wrong.

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2 Responses to What’s the distinction between gender dysphoria and normal insecurities?

  1. Jack D. says:

    Could it be that we measure our own being too much in terms of feelings rather than in verifiable facts. I know I am a man because I have obvious male characteristics and I have reached the age of maturity. It matters very little to me what being a man is supposed to feel like…I have not found such questions helpful to me in my journey of life. I do have certain traits which many would call feminine, and some which people would call masculine, but I don’t sit around and measure them on a scale and see how they balance out. I don’t worry that I have too many “feminine” traits, or not enough “masculine” ones. I think that awareness of such categories is useful when we are talking about males or females in general, but these categories shouldn’t necessarily be hard-and-fast rules that men or women have to always follow. After all, we want to raise girls and boys to be authentic women and men, not cardboard cutouts. I think many of use have the experience of not “feeling” like an adult or some such, but this is unlikely to convince any judge to try us in juvenile court.

    • Well put, Jack. I have also not found it helpful in my own life to worry about fitting some sort of hyper-masculine ideal. It’s enough to just be me. Sadly, most people are not raised to just be them. Whether the ideal proposed to them is the hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine or the ideal of rejecting the masculine/feminine dichotomy in favor of gender non-conformance, they seem very inclined to try to live up the ideals proposed to them rather than letting go of them.

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