Internalized homophobia & teen dysphoria: More reader comments

This week, I’ve been featuring comments submitted to this blog. Today, there are two selections: a commenter asking what the solution is (if not transition) for a female who is sexually attracted to other females, but cannot tolerate the idea of being a woman herself; and a 15-year-old who identifies as trans male. This teen feels angered by what I and others write here, believing we don’t understand.

First, from Dagis:

What if the sexual preference for a natal female is for a female, but only if the natal female were male? That is, what if the natal female does not self-identify as lesbian, could not conceive of being a female having an intimate sexual relationship with a female, but desires an intimate sexual relationship with a female as a male? I’ve yet to see this addressed by critics of “transition,” and yet I have seen this expressed by those considering FtM transition. Perhaps this is generally dismissed as “oh this person is just a ‘closet lesbian/gay,’ and therefore it’s not actually examined. But if it is a real issue for someone who identifies in anyway as having difficulty with their birth assigned sex, and such a person does indeed express desire for intimate sexual relationship (not homosexual), then what is a compassionate and logically sound response to such a person?

“I am attracted to women but I’m actually not a lesbian, I’m a straight man.” This assertion is a key part of nearly every transition account I’ve seen–including from women like Aydian Dowling, who lived happily as a lesbian before deciding she was a man.  (I always wonder why the prior lesbian life is presented as somehow less real than the subsequent life as a heterosexual man).

Trans-identified natal females stringently deny that their desire to convert to heterosexual males is in the least motivated by internalized homophobia.  But why else, then, would a woman be unable to “conceive of being a female having an intimate sexual relationship with a female”?

The accounts of female-to-male transitioners often revolve around a feeling of disgust for one’s own female body.  Transition vloggers are careful not to use anatomically accurate words that might “trigger” their viewers; euphemisms like “down there” and “junk” are substituted for the rejected body parts.  But clearly, for these women who desire to be heterosexual men, it’s not a generalized revulsion for female bodies;  they want to be intimate with other women.  Yet dis-identifying with and speaking disparagingly about one’s own female body, and taking comfort in the thought that they can be transformed, via hormones and surgery, into straight men–how is that not, at base,  a form of internalized homophobia?

As I’ve said many times, I have no difficulty acknowledging that some trans-identified people do feel intense dysphoria or dissociation from their bodies. That is an experience, and as such, it is subjectively real.  What right would I have to deny the feelings and thoughts of another person?

So as Dagis asks, what’s the compassionate and “logically sound” response (apart from simply agreeing that transition is the answer) to same-sex attracted women who are adamant that they cannot stand the thought of being sexually involved with someone of their own sex? I hate to say it, but I suspect most of them are just going to cover their ears if all they hear is feminist analysis.


Next, there is this comment from Kenneth, a 15-year-old who identifies as trans male.

This blog absolutely has pissed me off. To the people who have been saying that this whole Transgender thing is wrong and that people who identify as trans are only going through a phase, you have no idea about it. There are are thirty year olds who have identified as trans since they were old enough to understand that the gender of the their body did not match the one inside their head. I have identified myself as male before I barely knew what Internet was, I’d like to see you calling me ‘brainwashed’ by the internet. But at the age of twelve I was mildly obsessed over YouTube, I enjoyed watching YouTubers such as Smosh and Annoying Orange and etc. but I soon found a YouTuber that goes by the name of Alex Bertie, who has been identifying as male since he was fourteen; as of now he is 21 and personally goes and makes his appointments for his gender needs and hasn’t once had any doubts his doings.

I’m currently fifteen, I do identify as male regardless of what my body is. Could I possibly change my mind in a couple years or even months? Possibly, I’m not going to say it’s impossible but you sure as hell aren’t going to find me doing it right now; wearing girls clothes or mildly looking like a girl? No, that sounds like absolute hell and feel sorry for the children who have to go through that now. Normally children go back to their birth gender because society says that what they’re doing is wrong, some children even commit suicide because of this horrible issue. It isn’t wrong. I’d like to see your reaction if you were somehow ‘magically’ put into a male/female body but were born male/female. Would you like that? Would you try your hardest to become the gender you know yourself as?

Children also do not wish to tell their parent they are trans because the fact they feel like they’re going to be rejected. Many children of the LGBT+ community are thrown into the streets or are still allowed at home but are abused because of this ‘issue’.

I don’t doubt that Kenneth decided s/he was stereotypically male as a child, before being exposed to the Internet–although Kenneth’s subsequent experiences watching other trans-identified  people (like Alex, one of the many “YouTube famous” transitioners) had an impact in cementing that identity, no doubt.

But notice what Kenneth defines as being female: to “wear girls’ clothes or mildly look like a girl.” Because what is it to be a 15-year-old girl, apart  from clothes and looks and–what? Which video games you prefer? What does “girl” even mean to a teen like Kenneth?

I have never once heard an adult trans-identified person actually answer the question: What is a man? What is a woman?  apart from saying “it’s whatever I feel I am.” And I sure don’t expect a teen trans-identified person to be able to respond with any more clarity. But Kenneth: Are your feelings of being the opposite sex rooted in your preferences for the activities and appearances of the boys you’ve been around? What exactly is wrong with being a “gender nonconforming” girl?

Maybe this is what’s wrong: Kenneth brings up being rejected by parents. There is no doubt that “gender nonconforming” kids are more at risk for self harm, and that some do actually kill themselves due to, as Kenneth rightly calls it, this “horrible issue.” One of the risk factors for poor self esteem in LGBT teens is lack of family support, but how much of that is down to the pressure to conform to rigid gender stereotypes and norms?

Kenneth, parents like me aren’t rejecting our kids. We want to support them in expanding what it means to be a girl (or boy).  In fact, we actually see medical transition as another, potentially very serious form of self harm–even self hate.  And transition does not appear to be a magic long-term solution for many young people; witness the rash of teen suicides in 2015, several of whom were fully supported in their transition by family, teachers, and friends.

Kenneth presents this challenge:

I’d like to see your reaction if you were somehow ‘magically’ put into a male/female body but were born male/female. Would you like that? Would you try your hardest to become the gender you know yourself as?

What Kenneth is saying is: I hate this body. I want out of it. If you hated your body as much as I hate mine, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to escape its prison?

Kenneth, I don’t know what it’s like to feel extreme dysphoria; to want to drastically alter my body, even if it means a lifetime of surgeries and doctor’s appointments. I have fantasized, on more than one occasion, about being a man–down to every anatomical detail. I can even say that I’ve mightily wished I were a man at certain times in my life. But it has not caused me the misery you are talking about here.  There are quite a few women who have been there, though, like this one. And there are several more in my blogroll (linked on the right side of the page) who have been down the same path you’re on–but returned home to realizing themselves as female.

I don’t doubt your pain, and your determination to do something to relieve that pain. Nor do I doubt that you sincerely believe your mind knows better than your body;  that you think your body is alien and wrong.

But I don’t believe the intense desire to be something you are not means you are actually male.

I wish there were more therapists and caring adults who could support  teens in exploring options apart from “transgender.” Breaking out of gender stereotypes is a good thing, a brave thing for a teen to do.  But where are the non-trans-identified role models for these young people? Where are the YouTube stars who have chosen not to transition? Wouldn’t it be great to see a series of vlogs that aren’t “one year on “T,” but “one year in my journey to reclaim myself as a strong and independent girl?”