The Pitfalls & Alternatives to Trying to Become “Real Men” and “Real Women”

Revised August 2017

Recently I came across a flyer at one of my favorite coffeehouses for a “Women’s Drum Circle.” I was curious, as I do have a drum and try to find opportunities to put it to use when I can. And then, as I expect of myself by now, I began to re-read the flyer through the eyes of my trans female.

I’m thinking that more than a few of them would wonder, “If I went to that group, would I be welcomed?” I also could imagine some of my trans male clients thinking, “That sounds kinda fun, I wish I could go too.” Additionally, my nonbinary clients (as well as myself) would have mixed feelings about this flyer as well.

My thoughts then went to the notion of men’s and women’s groups and why they exist. The purpose of this post isn’t to get into that – it’s a complicated issue with many different sides to it.

What I did want to share with you was this idea that came to me that, if I had the time and energy to do so, I would create a “Feminine Energy Drum Circle” and a “Masculine Energy Drum Circle.” The flyer would look something like this:


Feminine Energy Drum Circle!

Meets every 3rd Sunday at 6pm
at a groovy location in town

Who can come?
Women, Men, and any Human who:
Feel like their feminine energy needs a place to come out and play.
Feel like honoring their feminine energy.
Feel like the have a more feminine energy than masculine energy, and would like to be around similar energy to theirs.

Masculine Energy Drum Circle!

Meets every 4th Sunday at 6pm
at a groovy location in town

Who can come?
Women, Men, and any Human who:
Feel like their masculine energy needs a place to come out and play.
Feel like honoring their masculine energy.
Feel like the have a more masculine energy than masculine energy, and would like to be around similar energy to theirs.



I’ve lost count of how many clients have struggled with the concept of what it means to be a man, or what it means to be a women. Trans female clients who ask, “Am I really a woman if I like to shoot guns? Watch football? Wear jeans instead of dresses?” Trans male clients who ask, “Am I really a man if I enjoying cooking? Clothes shopping? Reading a good book instead of going to a strip club with the guys?”

Introducing…Kate Bornstein

The first thing I recommend is that they read as many of Kate Borstein’s books as they can get their hands on.  This includes Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely, and My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Anarchy and Sex Positivity. Her award-winning work de-constructs the notion of what it means to be a man or a woman, noting it is a “cultural” phenomenon as opposed to a natural one. Doing so frees us, all of us, to become our true selves without the constraints of our gender assignment.

Yin, Yang, and Gender

The next idea I introduce my clients to is that of Yin and Yang. I challenge them to use, for the rest of our session, the word “Yin” to describe their feminine energy and traits and “Yang” to describe their masculine energy and traits. This enables them to explore their inner world without having to assign these behaviors, interests, and personality traits as “my guy self” or “my girl self.”

The philosophy of Yin and Yang has been around for centuries. It is found in nature, animals, and our galaxy as well.  Therefore it isn’t such a stretch to apply this notion to human beings as well, and especially to those who are trans*.

This point is supported nicely by this quote I came across in a blog post entitled Yin-Yang GenderEvolution from Gender Evolve:

“It is a symbol representing the harmony of balanced duality, and the meaning goes further to include all points on the spectrum in between.  There is no such thing as ‘100% pure Yang’ or ‘100% pure Yin’, as each side must contain at least a grain or more of the other in order for any balance to exist.  The entire spectrum of gender possibilities can be fully described by continual transforming flow of feminine/masculine energies in the Yin-Yang symbol.”

Although this quote was written with a transgender audience in mind, I believe its message speaks to something that cisgender persons (especially those in the United States) are struggling with far more than many want to admit.

I have male clients who are not transgender who have been ridiculed for being “too sensitive.” I have female clients who are not transgender who are called “bitch” for being assertive. Even if progress has been made over the years, this is still happening far too often in our society.

Both trans and cis people are repressing qualities about themselves because they’ve been shamed into doing so, all because they do not fit the gender expectation set forth on their birth day when a doctor proclaimed “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!”

Is this a prison you want to stay in? That you’d want others to have to stay in?

Homework Assignment

Download these Yin and Yang worksheets I created. What behaviors, interests, personality traits, and “outward appearance” descriptions do you put on the Yin side? Which ones on the Yang side? Explore how comfortable or uncomfortable you feel about doing this exercise.

Step out of your comfort zone and order at least one of Kate Bornstein’s books. Allow yourself think about gender in ways you never have before – your true self will thank you.





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  • The Weird Kid

    June 22, 2013 at 9:28 PM Reply

    I really like this post. I’ve found that the further down the path of my transition I go, the less I hold to gender stereotypes. When I first started transitioning almost 5 years ago no, I was hyper-feminine, because, well, I was a girl, and so therefore had to act like one… Then I got tired of it, and started trying to find some sort of middle ground with being hyper feminine, and doing some of the “boy things” I liked to do. At this point, I just kind of don’t care. I still have my days where I freak out about gender roles, but you know, as long as 5 years seems, its also not very long! This kind of puts it into perspective, and there is definitely a path to travel to figure out yourself, and I think a big part of the problem is the presentation by society of either or. Yin and Yang when used as a relative balance of sexes makes a lot of sense! Thank you for the post 🙂

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      June 23, 2013 at 3:25 PM Reply

      Thank you for your comment! Yes, I hope we can continue to educate the masses around this. Just you being you helps this along, so keep it up!

  • katharinehepcat

    June 24, 2013 at 3:58 AM Reply

    My feminine side was quashed at a very young age (born bio-male). As a result, I went too far in the other direction and it sent me into an unbalanced, increasingly negative spiral that I’m only now coming out of, forty years later. It’s crucial to our well-being that we honor all aspects of who we are.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      June 26, 2013 at 8:29 PM Reply

      Indeed, the longer the pieces of one’s self as quashed, the harder it is to bring them back to the surface. Well worth the effort of doing so though, keep at it sweetie!

  • Lin

    October 24, 2014 at 1:17 AM Reply

    Is it possible to describe “masculine” and “feminine” without regurgitating traditional gender roles, even a slightly toned-down version? I am masculine-of-center and I’ve always associated open aggression with masculinity, and passive aggression with femininity. I feel like I’ve always been too forward of a person to be considered feminine. but I’ve seen enough openly aggressive women in my life to realize tendency towards aggressive behavior is independent of gender. It’s always awkward for me to tell people why I identify as mostly masculine when I don’t even have a clear definition of what masculinity is, besides a feeling of confidence and liberation I had never felt as a girl.

    I really liked the yin-yang analogy and how everyone was a mix of both “masculine” and “feminine” energies. It makes me glad to know that identifying more strongly with the yang side of the gender spectrum does not mean that I need to feel obliged to get rid of my yin parts too. Thank you for writing this article.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      October 24, 2014 at 4:38 PM Reply

      Sounds like we are on the same page, for sure. 🙂 I have noticed how bringing in the yin/yang aspects into conversations helps people feel more freedom in their gender exploration.

  • Riley Thompson

    March 6, 2015 at 10:16 PM Reply

    I think it’s really wonderful how you are using Yin and yang energy in working with your clients and dealing with gender issues. I suffered from gender disphoria my entire life, and went very deep into Taoism, the root of the ying yang and Taichi, the martial art based on those philosophical ideas as a way to deal with my disphoria. I always believed that transition would be going against nature and therefore the wrong thing to do but when I trully accepted myself I realised that by transitioning I would actual be going with the flow of who I intrinsically am.
    I spent time studying Taichi in a Taoist temple in China which is where i learned a lot about the nature of yin and yang. I would like to point out to others exploring gender that it is not a fix and solid thing. The nature of yin and and yang is that it is constantly changing,evolving,shifting, becoming everything and nothing. It is not flat and 2dimensional it is 3d and sperical, moving in and around and between. Anyway sorry if this all sounds silly but in my mind gender is more complex and beautiful than a spectrum of male to female, it is a beautiful spherical dance of colour and energy and we sacrifice pieces of ourselves when we see a linear or binary system.

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