Based on my personal experiences and background in psychology, Madeline Wyndzen offers some thoughts and questions to help others also struggling with gender dysphoria issues.
Chances are, if you're reading this page, you probably have some kind of gender-related issue. This page is a list of questions and thoughts I have put together to help you clarify your feelings. The page also explains various options other than transitioning and offers a caution against transitioning. Before you begin, I just would like to make a few clarifications that are basically just so you don't take anything I say too seriously. In the end you will have to choose for yourself whatever path is best for you. These are only my thoughts, feelings, and opinions. These questions are based on my personal experiences with transitioning. They're also based on all I've seen among other people who have transitioned or have considered transitioning.
These are just questions. This in not a validated psychological measure!! That is, this is not a 'test' for transsexuality. There is no psychological valid test which can say who is and who is not a transsexual.
These questions are just to help you consider many different aspects of transitioning. Your responses are not right or wrong answers. I'm not giving an "answer key" to "grade" your answers. There is no "perfect score." When I give personal examples as answers that only to help make clear what I mean by the question. I don't mean I feel my answers are the 'right' answers.
This is just some thoughts from a transsexual to her "gender-questioning" brothers and sisters. Though some of my questions come out of reading the psychological literature about us, this is NOT therapy! I'm not even a helping-profession psychologist. I'm a scientific psychologist, which means I design experiments to try and understand how people are. I have no particular therapeutic skills and I certainly should not be thought of as an "authority" on if you should transition. Actually, I don't even feel a therapist can be a true authority on if you should transition. It's something that only you can be the authority about.
These questions are for anybody who is questioning their gender identity. In order to write the questions for everybody, I need to use some psychological terms. Two that you should know are "biological sex" and "target sex." Your biological sex is based on the sex organs you were born with. Your target sex is the sex you are considering you might be. For example, if you might be a male to female transsexual then your biological sex is "male" and your target sex is "female."
I'm assuming that you spend most of your time presenting as your biological sex. For example, if you might be a female to male transsexual, then most of the time you present yourself as female (even if you present as a very masculine woman). If you already spend the majority of your life as your target sex, especially if you can't deal with being your biological sex, it's already probably pretty clear that you're a transsexual!
Imagine you could start life over, right from the moment you were born. Knowing everything you know now, you get to choose which sex you are born. What choice would you make? Why did you make that choice? What might be better about your life as the sex you chose? What might be worse about your life as the sex you chose?
Now try a slight twist on your hypothetical: Imagine you could start life over, right from the moment you were born. Knowing everything you know now, you get to choose to change one and only one of two things. (1) you can change the sex you're born as or (2) you can change your feelings so you never have any gender identity issues. That is, if you might be a Female-to-Male transsexual you can choose to be been boy or be born as a girl without ever feeling you are or should be a boy.
Most people are gender-schematic. That's a psychology term for people's tendency to divide people into boys and girls. Thinking back, try to remember a time where somebody of your target sex said, "Oh you just think/feel that way because you're a man/woman." How do you feel about being grouped that way? Did this cause you any hurt feelings? How did you respond? In general, how gender schematic are you? That is, do you often say things like "boys are É and girls are É" or do you try to minimize the groupings others make by saying things like, "maybe boys and girls are different like you say but it's not a very big difference."
Have you ever purposely dressed as or purposely behaved like your target sex? Did you do this in a 'big' way or a 'small' way, or both at different times? For an example take on of my personal 'small' ways like I wore big poofy schrunchies to hold back my long hair for several years before I ever considered transitioning. An example of a 'big' way is to go out for the day (or longer) presenting as your target sex. What motivated you to do these things? If you haven't done anything like this, why not?
Have you ever been accused of purposely dressing or purposely behaving like your target sex even though you weren't intentionally doing that? Also, has somebody ever pointed out how an aspect of your behavior is like your target sex even though you weren't aware of that? How did that make you feel? What did you think? Have you ever taken steps not to have traits like your target sex? For example, I used to keep my hands folded behind my back once somebody explicitly told me how girlish my hand gestures are.
During your early childhood (before puberty) what were your friends like? Describe your best friends. Were they boys or girls? What were you favorite types of play? When you played with toys 'meant' for your biological sex, did you play with them in the typical way? For example, I used to have matchbox cars (a stereotypically boyish toy) which I played with in a way that personified them as friends and family. It was only in the last few years when studying developmental psychology that I found out fantasy play like this is more typical of girls. What do your friend choices and activity choices from youth tell you about whom you are. Were there activities you were forbidden to do, that you really wanted to do? Why were you forbidden to do that? How did you respond?
Do you say things to yourself like, I'm not really a transsexual because I can't identify with the definition: "man trapped in a woman's body" or "woman trapped in a man's body." If you're saying that, you might consider the possibility that these are just pop-culture cliches, not definitions. There definitely are transsexual who say things like there's something "deep inside" them that tells them that they are a boy or girl. But there are also transsexuals who don't feel that way. You might consider finding out how other people think or feel about their transsexuality. One place to start is my introspective transsexual links page.
Do you say things to yourself like, "It's too late for me to transition", "I'm too old", or "If only I could go back to (some earlier point in my life) then I would transition." If you say things like that you might consider the possibility that you're making a classic reasoning error called "the fallacy of sunk cost." I wrote another essay on this topic which you can read in my "living life" section.
Everybody has lots of identities and gender identity is only one of them. For example, I have very strong feelings about being a scientist. I feel there's something scientists share in common and it's different form the way non-scientists usually are. "Scientist" is one of my identities. What are your identities? Which ones are most important to you. Are you willing to change your sex to affirm your gender identity? How might a sex change influence your other identities? For example, I was scared I might not be able to become a scientist anymore if I transitioned.
Do you really want to be the opposite sex or do you want to be a 'fantasy' of the opposite sex? Everybody has fantasies about what their life might be like if they make different decisions but often reality turns out to be a lot more mundane than we imagine. Have you considered realistically what you'll gain and lose by transitioning? Try this exercise: fold a sheet of paper into four sections and label them "pro-male", "con-male", "pro-female", and "con-female." Now write as many things as you can think of for each group. For example, under "con-female" write all the things you can think of that might be bad about being thought of as female.
Do you have "gender dysphoria" (i.e. you feel there's something really bad about you being perceived as your biological sex) or do you have "gender euphoria" (i.e. you feel there's something really great about you being perceived as your target sex). You might have both. If you don't honestly have gender dysphoria you might be a bit more cautious about the possibility you're not being realistic about your fantasies.
Do you feel there's anything wrong with being a gay man, lesbian woman, or a cross-dresser? If you do, consider if you're trying to cope with your fears about which you really are by believing you might be a transsexual. It's completely okay if you have secret fears of any of these groups. Most people do because of the way societies stigmatize these groups. I just hope you'll take some time to explore each of these groups. You'll probably find that all parts of the queer community include people you'll like and people you won't. You'll find people in each of these groups her are unbelievably nice and others who are completely obnoxious. If you spend enough time with any of these groups, you might see how diverse each group is and how they're just like everybody else.
Have you considered a less 'extreme' steps to deal with your gender identity issues. In my opinion, there are two broad ways you can take less extreme steps. One way is creating a 'secondary' life as your target sex. You might cross-dress on weekends or vacations or other occasions. Or you might get more involved in the trans, gender queers, drag, bigender, etc communities as just one aspect of your life.
Another broad less 'extreme' step to deal with your gender identity issues is to bring you closer to your target sex. You might tuck, bind, or pack. You might dress more androgynously. You might get optional surgeries like breast reduction or reductions of the adams apple. You might take other steps for your body like hormones or electrolysis. If you've been trying to act like you're biological sex, you might stop!!!!! You might just let yourself be a girlish boy or a boyish girl because you might discover that you could still have lots of friends and a life while still presenting as your biological sex. In fact, you might have much better relationships simply because you will no longer occupy so much of your time trying to be hide something! You might even start telling people you identify far more with your target sex than your biological sex.
You might consider therapy because it can help with many aspects of our life. I never actually had therapy to help me with gender issues because I didn't go to therapy until after I was presenting as female a large part of the time and I went to therapy presenting as female and requesting help with HRT and SRS. But even so therapy has been very valuable for me in dealing with my self-esteem issues. You can read more about my experiences in therapy in my psychology section. Transitioning helped me a great deal with self-esteem and other issues, but therapy helped me a great deal too. Remember you don't need to go to therapy to transition; you can go to therapy just to improve the quality of your life. You don't even need a specialist in gender identity issues to get a lot of help from a therapist.
Everybody who transitions is not happy with their decision! I even know several post-op transsexuals who, though they say they're happier, that's not so easy to tell. I have met several post-op transsexuals who are filled with anger and hate and never move passed it. I have met several transsexuals who live in a 'transgender' sub-culture rather than being a part of the larger world. I've seen people who once had families and careers that give up everything and 'fortunately' have a huge divorce settlement. I've seen people who quit their jobs (with some rationalization about why they couldn't possibly transition while there) and move into a small apartment. Others are fired. I've seen people use their life savings to stay hidden in the 'transgender' sub-culture for years but be able to transition because they would spend their life-savings. I've asked a transsexual who had plenty of money but hid why she didn't get a job so she could explore what it's like to live as a woman. Why not get a job as a waitress to interact with other people who aren't transsexuals? I was worried about her because she became reclusive and she didn't act anything like what most women act like. But being a waitress was "beneath her" and getting a job in her field was "obviously" not possible because no women could have her resume. I've seen people who say I just "had" to transition. They're "happier: now but all they ever talk about is their past. They never seem to have hopes and dreams for their future. They dwell in anger at religious institutions or ex-spouses, or family members, or somebody else who's to blame. I've even had to stop talking to some transsexuals because it was just too much for me to hear their same angry stories over and over again. They couldn't stop and they couldn't change their stories because their stories were all about the past. Though how could they change? They had no life except their past as their biological sex.
I'm not the only one who notices this. When I mentioned it to my therapist, she said she saw the same thing. She said there are transsexuals who "rather than coming out of the closet, merely come out into a bigger closet." I don't mean to suggest that this is inherently bad. You might really love a life as part of a 'transgender' subculture. But that's very different from a life as a man or woman. Please be clear about what you're trying to achieve when you transition. Some people really are transgenderists. Overall I feel they're pretty cool even though I don't personally identify with them. Transgenderists really are happy and self-confident with their choice to challenge a binary gender system. But there are also other people who live outside of their real culture because they're too scared or angry or lack the confidence to join the world. Throwing out powerful rhetoric of "thwarting the binary gender system" means nothing if it comes from somebody who hates the world, loses his or her confidence to face life, and doesn't like himself or herself as a person. Sometimes "transgenderism" is just big fancy words for hiding a big mistake.
I don't mean to say you have to come-out one day and be completely self-confident and happy as your target sex. Like, even after being full-time over a year I was nervous about teaching my own class for the first time as a girl. I taught before as a boy. But being nervous didn't mean I gave up on teaching. I love teaching! And teaching those classes was an awesome experience! I love how I got to relate to my students as myself! That just gives me more confidence to face all aspects of life and be myself! Every moment I live as a girl, even when bad things happen, helps empower me to live and grow and be happy. I used to pour myself entirely into academic stuff. I became reclusive to the world and more and more socially awkward. And I could rationalize it to myself in all sorts of ways including how much more successful I was going to be than all those average people wasting their time in social things are. And in some ways I was right. I'm probably not going to be this amazing scientist I could be if I put everything of my spirit into that. But I hated people. I hated life. I considered suicide constantly since third grade. But I haven't even considered committing suicide once since going full-time. Every day I learn more about myself. I take more risks. I assert myself. I really live. And I'm happy.
The irony is that I see some people whom transition in the opposite way. I know what it's like to hate the world and hate everybody. And I can feel it in some people I've met in the 'transgender' community. That they have intellectual sounding ways to justify hating themselves means nothing to me because hating yourself isn't happiness no matter how intellectual it sounds.
As you've read my questions and comments to help you clarify your choices, you may have decided you really are a transsexual or you really aren't a transsexual. But I hope you'll consider rethinking about your decision in another way. It's doesn't really matter if you are or aren't a transsexual. You are you! And people can redefine transsexual so it means just about anything! There are even many psychologists who define transsexual solely as somebody who transitions. That's it. And it's possible for people to get caught up in debates about if they "really are a transsexual." But the real question, and the only question, you need to answer is this: what path for your life will let you be happy?
Best wishes in your personal journey and finding your personal happiness.