Welcome to the another installment of READER Q&A on the darahoffmanfox.com | Transgender Education & Resources website.
This is a regularly featured segment in which I share with you conversations I’ve had with readers (as well as watchers of my YouTube series ASK A GENDER THERAPIST) in which they ask questions and I do my best to answer them.
Let’s get to the question…
Hi Mx. Hoffman-Fox, (Note from Dara: I changed it from “Ms.” to “Mx.”)
I have recently been reading/watching your work, on your website and on YouTube. I find your insights incredibly helpful and easy to understand, so thank you for the resources and time you’ve dedicated to helping out the trans community.
I am a biological female, but have never really felt like I fit in with most females (in terms of interests, personality, etc) and my outward appearance and style is masculine. I find the male body much more appealing than the female, and wish that I could live and act as per male gender norms (being perceived as strong, respected, etc). This may lead me to believe that I am transgender, but there are some confounding variables, so to speak.
I have always been a very staunch feminist (in an attempt to stop people from seeing women as weak), and I see most aspects of life through a gender lens. As such, I am acutely aware of male privilege, and on the flip side, the struggles, discrimination and woes that come with being female in today’s world.
With the above being said, this is my question/point of confusion. I’m not sure whether I wish to be a male because I understand that there are so many upsides (or if I don’t want to be a woman because we are perceived as the weaker sex) and therefore am trying to match my outward appearance to fit this need, or if I feel like I am more male than female because I don’t seem to feel/want the things like most other women do. Does this make me transgender and where do I make the distinction between wishing to be a man and feeling like I am a man?
I hope that made sense! Thanks again!
This is a great question, and one that has come up for several of my clients as they begin to question their gender identity, as well as whether or not they should transition. It demonstrates just how complex and multi-layered the question of gender can be, especially when someone is willing to take as deep of a look at it as you are.
The first point I want to make is to remind you that you are multi-layered as well. Therefore, it can be of benefit to peel apart each layer of who you are an examine it separately. Then, you can bring it all back together again to get a fuller picture of yourself.
For instance, let’s break down your email and the various ways you described yourself:
The “Masculine and Feminine Energy” Layer
“I am a biological female, but have never really felt like I fit in with most females (in terms of interests, personality, etc) and my outward appearance and style is masculine.”
“…or if I feel like I am more male than female because I don’t seem to feel/want the things like most other women do.”
This “Masculine and Feminine Energy” layer has to do with taking a look at your interests, personality, appearance, likes and dislikes, etc. and taking gender completely out of the conversation.
We need to take gender out of it because our society thinks we have to assign “male” and “female” to things that shouldn’t have gender assignments.
It sounds like you are very aware that you have more masculine energy than feminine energy. However, there are plenty of self-identified women who have a lot of masculine energy, as well as self-identified men who have a lot of feminine energy.
For further reading I suggest you take a look at this blog post I wrote called The Pitfalls & Alternatives to Trying to Become “Real Men” and “Real Women”. There’s a Yin-Yang worksheet you can fill out to help you categorize things about yourself into the masculine (Yang) and feminine (Yin) sides of the diagram and see where you end up falling on it.
Also keep in mind that it’s important to be aware of the balance we all need to have between masculine and feminine energies within us (in other words one does not have 100% of one or the other, but a blending of both, as represented in the Yin-Yang sign).
Remember, this is a separate question to explore from, “Am I male or female? Or both? Or neither?”
The “Body Dysphoria” Layer
“I find the male body much more appealing than the female…”
Based on your phrasing of this I am curious as to what you meant by “appealing.” I would encourage you to explore that further. Is the male body more appealing, such as you “admire” male bodies as an observer? Or is it more like a yearning for wanting to have a male body instead of the one you have? Or a combination of both?
For further reading I suggest you read the Reader Q&A post Do I or Do I Not Have Gender Dysphoria? Included in that article is this quiz, where you rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10 in regards to body dysphoria, social dysphoria, and mind dysphoria:
Looking at this layer separately will help you examine how much discomfort you feel being perceived as a female in this world, how much discomfort you experience in having a female body, and how much discomfort you feel when it comes to how your thoughts and emotions are at odds with your assigned gender.
The “Feminism” Layer (aka the “How Do I Define ‘Weak’ and ‘Strong’” Layer)
Let me clarify what we’re getting ready to do here. This won’t be an analysis of feminism, or why it is that you are a feminist.
This is going to be about specific words you used: “weakness” and “strength,” and taking a look at how you define these words in the context of gender, and also outside of that context.
“I have always been a very staunch feminist (in an attempt to stop people from seeing women as weak)… I am acutely aware of male privilege, and on the flip side, the struggles, discrimination and woes that come with being female in today’s world.”
“…or if I don’t want to be a woman because we are perceived as the weaker sex.”
Since I’m breaking your comments about feminism up into two different layers let’s call this one, “How I Define ‘Weak’.”
Get out a piece of paper and divide it in half. Write down the answers to these questions on one side of the page, taking gender completely out of it:
- What qualities/characteristics/behaviors do you believe to be “weak”?
- When have you judged yourself as being weak?
- What qualities/characteristics/behaviors do you think others see as being “weak”?
- When have you been perceived, and then treated, as being weak?
Next, think about your growing up years in regards to the females in your life. Were your main female role models ever seen as weak? If so, what behaviors and characteristics were seen as such? Did any of the males in your life have judgement about what it means to be weak, and did they associate it with being female? How did you react to this?
Then, go through the questions again and, on the other side of the paper, indicate whether or not you (as well as others in your life) associate your examples of weakness with being female.
Now we’re going to do the same exercise in regards to comments you made about males and strength (so this is the “How Do I Define ‘Strength’” Layer).
“I’m not sure whether I wish to be a male because I understand that there are so many upsides…and therefore am trying to match my outward appearance to fit this need…”
“…and wish that I could live and act as per male gender norms (being perceived as strong, respected, etc).”
The questions are similar but, instead, focus on “strength”:
- What qualities/characteristics/behaviors do you believe to be ones of “strength”?
- When do you feel you are being “strong”?
- What qualities/characteristics/behaviors do you think others see as being “strong”?
- When have you been perceived, and then treated, as being “strong”?
Again, think about your growing up years. Were your main male role models seen as being “strong”? If so, what behaviors and characteristics were seen as such? How did the females in your life react to this? How did you react to this?
Then, go through the questions again and, on the other side of the paper, indicate whether or not you (as well as others in your life) associate your examples of weakness with being male.
This point of these exercises is to see if your definitions of “weak” and “strong,” in relation to gender, are truly your own or if they have been influenced by your formative years.
Also revisit the conversation above about masculine and feminine energy, especially in regards to your own mix of this. Instead of seeing certain qualities in yourself as “weak” or “strong,” think of them in the context of “active” and “passive” energy that both have their uses in your life.
Lastly, after exploring all of this, ask yourself again, “Do I truly believe I want to transition to male only because I want to be seen as ‘strong’ and to avoid being seen as ‘weak’?”
The more you understand yourself, as well as your motivations, the more likely you will be to make the right decisions about where to go next on your life path.
One final thought to leave you with… Keep in mind that there are options besides being “male” or “female.” It’s possible you might feel comfortable identifying as being non-binary, gender fluid, agender, etc. Check out the image below to see what I’m talking about.
Sorry, one more thing! Here are a couple of suggestions for additional reading:
Good luck T—, hope that helps!