Non Stereotypical Adjustment Is Important For a Complete Personality - Be Yourself

Alice Purnell

BSC, RGN, PGDC, Counsellor, Researcher, Poet. Administrator, Sussex, GENDYS. Beaumont Trust
Gendys Conference, 2004


As an advocate of Karl Rogers philosophy described in his work "On becoming a Person", and as something of an existentialist, I may have a somewhat biassed view.

I admit to a philosophical position of personal liberation, but I base this paper on the experiences and stories of clients and friends in the gender and trans and lesbian communities over the last 40 years.

For all people it seems important to fit, to be a member of their society, rather than a complete outsider. There is a tendency to form groups if you do not belong in the majority.

The culture of the group develops as a flag to others who are members.

Groups tend to exclude outsiders, which may to an extent explain the history of in-fighting between the various trans groups, together with the apparent misunderstanding between TV, TS, TG and I/S people.

There has been a similar dialogue of mistrust between gays and bisexuals, and among for example lesbians, who form sub groups, lipsticks, superdykes, lesbian mothers, S and M groups and older lesbians (Wrinklies).

Inclusivity is in vogue these days, but some do not want others to be included.

To stereotype is defined, among other things, as to characterise too simplistically.

There is a danger in being or portraying oneself as a one, or even a two- dimensional facsimile, to drift into being a pastiche of a woman or man. It can result in an impersonation; a caricature or it can be frankly camp and obvious. It is also something of an insult to the rest of your gender, and very restricting for oneself.

Women's liberation, and a place outside the home, has opened up a very wide range of acceptable and desirable behaviours and interests, so take note of this and be a real person, be yourself.

Society has stereotyped views of what a real man or woman should look like.

There is a body fascism, which suggests men are tall, have big hands and feet, are strong, tough, hairy, deep voiced. It dictates that women are small, have little hands and feet, are weak, gentle, smooth, high voiced. If the trans-man or trans- woman does not conform to these stereotypes they are at a disadvantage, but look around and you will find millions of "ordinary" women and men who encounter the same prejudices, because they too do not fit this daft generalisation

Trans men are placed in a difficult position since they have often had to fight hard to be accepted as short men in a world of male competitiveness, where height, physical strength and hardness is a virtue. But to be a "real man" does not mean it is important to be a Rambo clone.

Equally the trans woman, often has had to fight inappropriate secondary sexual characteristics imposed on her at puberty such as voice, body and facial hair, or a large frame. She seems to be more challenged in "passing" than the trans man. She has also joined the "wrong side" in the gender divide.

Why after all should a boy want to join the so-called weaker sex?

To defend against being "read", against the age old ridicule and cruelty of some others, an attempt to purge all traces of so called masculinity, some trans women go over the top, and exclude large areas of their interests and skills.

We have all heard the joke that the most important part of gender reassignment male to female, is to have half the brain removed. This is a slur on women and the advancement women have made in challenging the gender restrictions of the past.

It is sexist to portray a woman as a bimbo, with nothing on her mind but appearance, clothes, cosmetics, hairdo, and housework, shopping, and utter femininity.

One criticism of trans-women we hear, is how obvious people often are, not only in how they look, but behave, talk and socialise. Apart from deep voice, height or the physical disadvantages, some try too hard, resulting in being self-conscious and affected. Women do not always wear makeup, dress to the nines, and spend their time preening, shopping, or doing "girly things". Nor do we only talk of shopping, frocks, "housewifely things", defer always to men, pretend we have no brain. Enjoying ironing is not a prerequisite of being a female.

Asking why some trans-women do try to present as stereotypical women, at least at first, there appear to be a number of possible reasons:

  • Because of a total focus on becoming a woman.
  • As a reaction against the hated male role.
  • Because it is a happy change from pretending to be a man.
  • To convince others that they are women, especially the psychiatrists at the G.I.C.'s who often appear to have a stereotypical view of womanhood - for example ftm's always should wear skirts, makeup, show revulsion for all "masculine" interests. If not, the trans- woman might fail the gate-keeping role of the clinics towards getting hormones and eventual surgery.

There is a game played by many clients of the psychiatrists, where they say what they are supposed to say. For example "I always played with dolls etc". This is counter productive and silly. This ideal of womanhood betrays the G.I.C.'s view as stereotypical and outdated.

  • Because there is rarely the experience of having teenage years as a girl there is a consequent lack of peer group advice, pressure and models.
  • Because of a fear that any sign of cross- gender remnants may compromise their ability to "pass". This can develop into a neurotic or paranoid self- obsession.
  • There is often an old fashioned, idealised concept about what it is to be a woman, which does not take into account the cultural advances that occurred in the twentieth century. To find an appropriate modern personal style takes time.

To be effeminate, exaggerated or camp is a real give away. Women are not effeminate; some are not even obviously feminine.

Drag is of course the ultimate in portraying a stereotype and does not imply a gender identity "change", but rather exaggerates the fact of it being a man underneath all the frills.

Transvestites often enjoy portraying a particular type of woman or girl: for example glamour girl, bride, maid, schoolgirl etc. This is not the same as being a woman; it is for them a trip into a sort of fantasy, a relief from being a man (there is often little actual gender identity problem, but are varying degrees of effort to pass).

The clothes seem to matter far more than the gender, as does an ability to "pass".

Some transvestites are very convincing, but may let the man inside show by body language or in the topics they discuss.

Dual role transvestites can sometimes be convincing, by developing two distinct personalities, names, and social groups. But it must be hard to remember not to let one drift into the other. To take off the nail varnish before getting to work is a good idea. There must be an element of stress and danger and acting involved in this mode of life, but some seem to relish this risk.

This paper really is addressed to those who have confirmed their gender identity by it becoming a reality, not by visits to the so-called other gender.

Gender is a continuum, it is not dipolar.

Transgenderists who live full-time as members of the "opposite sex" need to have similar concerns as trans-woman. They may not have suffered dismorphophobia, that is to say they did not need, or could not get their body to conform as far as possible to their body map. In some cases they could not get surgery because of financial, family or medical reasons, age or other considerations.

They may have had beard removal, toyed with hormones, and conceded some male characteristics in order to "pass", but do not seek genital surgery.

To live as a woman will mean they also need to consider what sort of woman they are as well as issues about passing as one.

We live in an age of liberation of celebration of diversity, of a realisation that people are not identical, need not fit a particular, uniform model.

Outsiders are created in the playground. It is time for Society to grow up. I do not advocate anarchy, but I do believe that a person has rights, among which are to be themselves in terms, among other things, of identity, gender behaviour, sexual preference, and religious freedom, as defined by the United Nations Charter.

The sacrifice of the rights of individuals for what was perceived "as the greater good" gave rise to so many ghastly "isms": Fascism, Communism and the wicked oppression of minorities. Religious conformity also made dubious demands on individual ways of being. Conformity, uniformity even among non-conformists meant that the group was more significant than the person. Sadly some in the Great Religions are often hide bound by Bible or the Koran, and zealots (bigots) still use quotes from these great books to beat up those who do not conform to their personal patriarchal primitive unforgiving view of what "should" be.

They forget "Judge not that ye be not judged".

As a Counselling Psychologist, I have met hundreds of Trans-people, many of whom have suffered dreadful discrimination, with which sadly they themselves often collude. Self-hatred and guilt are far too common.

Thought Police, body-fascists, bigots and the ignorant have for so many years felt justified in trying to prevent any drift from the two stereotypical extremes of male and female, masculine and feminine behaviours or presentations. Cannon fodder or wailing wives was the rule. This disregards natural diversity. It is surely obvious that gender is as much a continuum as is sexuality.

If we examine sexuality there is the "normal", that is to say heterosexual, or the "opt-outers" the celibate. Then there are bisexual, homosexual and asexual people. Once a cure was sought for these so called deviancies or aberrations.

Those who were different were suspect, were sinners, became the object of punishment, hate, ridicule or damnation.

In these more enlightened times it was realised, as early as in the studies of Kinsey, that it is clear that we are talking about a very large minority of people who are not exclusively attracted to the opposite sex. There is no cure; there is no role for medicine, psychology or psychiatry in trying to prevent this diversity. There is no moral reason to prescribe this natural behaviour. Homosexuality and lesbianism is demedicalised now, as should be gender variability.

Sexuality seems to be genetic, is natural. I suggest that gender identity is similar, with some less significant input from nurture.

The pressure towards being "normal" is reinforced by a muddled social vocabulary, whereby normal (average) is good. Unusual, is abnormal, so is considered bad.

War is normal, but is it always right? People confuse average or acceptable with normal, so that normal sounds proper, good, right, morally justified.

This reinforces the mob in their persecution of the different, and makes those who are different feel bad about themselves. People are brainwashed to conform.

So many have lived lonely, secret lives or committed suicide rather than accept who and what they are. Because many trans people still retain a sense of shame or guilt about their being different, they collude with the thought-police by defining themselves as freaks or monsters.

If we look at sex, it is as diverse as is sexuality.

Nobody is entirely male or female, and I do mean body. The hermaphrodite, the intersex person, those with chromosome anomalies, or so-called birth defects, will attest to that.

There are polarities and it surely makes for an easier life if you are born a perfect baby boy or girl. There is so much parental guilt and shame if you are not a perfect baby; life is far from easy in these circumstances. What do we call a child with ambiguous genitals or chromosomes? Even if we ignored the medical problems, a condition, or so-called birth defect in this respect, causes so much anxiety because of the social consequences. It becomes a medical emergency to spare the parent's feelings.

It seems clear that gender is also a continuum, with a range between masculine and feminine behaviours and presentations by the individual and expectations within the society involved. Almost all societies untouched by the Great Patriarchal religions recognise this, as a study of anthropology will show. Some cultures celebrate gender ambiguity or "trans" as a sign that the transgendered person is often a shaman, a holy person, with a foot in the supernatural because of this gift.

Crossing the gender divide is seen as also crossing from this world to the supernatural.

Yin and yang are in all of us and need to be integrated, celebrated and explored.

Society is dipolar in its black-and-white view of gender. To an extent gender in terms of "acceptable gender based behaviour" is a social construct and operates in all cultures in one way or another. It is the boundaries that vary from place to place and time to time. But a sense of personal identity tends to be gendered and can be independent of physiology.

In Western Society and in the Muslim world, with their patriarchal view of a male God, people are programmed to find gender challenges as uncomfortable, ridiculous, dangerous, sinful, a matter of choice, sick, sad, bad or mad.

A Post-Darwinian view is that when we see, hear, sense, read the body language, smell, encounter any other person, hidden judgements are made as to their sex, gender, and safety. If messages are given out or received that are confusing, there is a personal challenge, particularly if we are not secure or mature enough to cope with "difference".

If we are not attracted to another person or we are, but feel confused by them or our own feelings, we do, or "should", feel repelled, or defensive if so confused. I would hope that in the 21st century we can engage our brains rather than our loins, or at least as well as feel, or express, these basic instincts.

Gender confusion, oscillation or migration can confuse others who might normally tolerate or even celebrate difference, although in a sense it aspires to personal freedom, autonomy and self expression.

Even those who have fought their own liberation battles, women, gay, coloured or disabled people, racial or religious minorities, often find gender freedom to be hard to accept gender variability.

In a sense to challenge the (prescribed- at-birth) gender, is to be a genuine gender warrior and to become the new lepers in this critical, fearful, restricted society.

Sex and gender are assigned so as to fit in with the appearance of an infant's genitals, not necessarily their identity or sense of self.

Your genes are your destiny only reinforces phallocracy in this patriarchal society.

Those who wish to deconstruct the gender binary may feel they work towards gender equality, without taking into account those who actually feel they belong to a particular gender, or do not belong to the one they were stuck with. Where do those who feel genderless fit in?

The two schools of thought: those seeking gender equality and those seeking personal liberation, seek different forms of equality, autonomy or freedom, one political the other personal.

Both have suffered oppression, both deserve respect, neither has the right to tell the other what they ought to or should do about it.

A trans woman need not only aspire to be a housewife, secretary or cleaner if she has talents. She does herself and other women a disservice if she introduces her own glass ceiling.

You do not have to be a lesbian if you wear sensible shoes. Indeed lesbians do not have to divide into fem and butch types any longer. Gay men do not have to be camp, or speak polare.

Other subcultures are coming of age and learning to include diversity among their sisters and brothers.

It seems especially important to develop interests other than being trans, or becoming a woman or a man.

All too often there is a change of or loss of employment around transition time. Frequently partner, family, friends, location are also lost. There is also the question of sexuality; is someone who never was sexually attracted to men going to switch?

It is a confusing time. There are great losses as well as gains. The price of freedom always was high. Gender dysphoria gathers little understanding, although it is a social disability.

Personal history is also a problem if stealth is adopted as a way of avoiding the stigma of being trans. Do children lose their father once she is a woman?

There are still great gaps in full womanhood which some feel deeply. A trans woman can not bear children yet; although in Israel I gather one twin had her sister's egg implanted and had an ectopic pregnancy and Caesarean birth. This has yet to be authenticated. The trans man can not inseminate his lover. Adoption is the only answer until a great deal more is known about genetics and obstetrics.

To adopt the role of the tragedian, who has suffered, is no way to go through life.

Of course there are others with far worse lives and problems. This argument does not help anyone feel better. It is a mistake to be disabled by the effect you have on an intolerant society. We all hold up the sky and are made of stardust.

Suffering often starts in childhood, not simply shame and guilt about being different. Teenage years and the development of inappropriate secondary sexual characteristics were a nightmare for many. For example the trans man hating menstruation, the trans woman loathing the facial hair.

Trans can be a gift; it comes at a price and must not dominate a life 24/7.

Whatever a person is, she or he is not a condition, a diagnosis.

There is more to life than gender and if it be stereotyped, it can not be as full as it might.

I looked over the lists of interests of members of GENDYS and GEMS over the last years and it becomes apparent that things have improved with the passing years as to what members listed as interests.

In the past many mtf people would list fashion, cooking, reading, clubbing, dressmaking, music, theatre, writing, television, poetry, computers (the physically passive or genderless activities).

In recent years football, canoeing, keyboard, cycling, fishing, classic cars, travel, climbing, wildlife etc. are included.

I guess what I am trying to say is that people seem to be more relaxed about admitting their interests and activities, and are not so gender specific in stated choices.

In counselling there are fewer clients who ask "Will I have to give up liking football?" They will not, but may find that their strength diminishes, and there remain issues in competitive sport about the position of trans women.

Rene Richards is one of many who suffered because of this problem.

Some traditional radical, often man hating, feminists talk of an "invasion of women's space" by trans-women, of them having experienced "male privilege".

They fail entirely to comprehend the oppression experienced by the transsexual person who has had to suffer living in a "male space" and way of being, when she is not a man, to remain invisible or suffer the consequences.

Perhaps there is this lack of understanding because brain sex, or gender identity, is rarely seen in a context of natural variation. Identity is invisible; we give clues to it by the uniforms that we wear.

Even among the various types of gender diverse, or people challenging sexual identity (the transsexual, the transgendered, the transvestite persons and those who are intersexed people), there is suspicion, mistrust and often a lack of understanding, compassion or respect. They all in some way have suffered at the hands of "Normal" society.

Jean Paul Sartre in his "Intimacy - The Boyhood of a Leader" reveals something of the isolation felt in not being "normal".

It is true that someone blessed with mind and body, which has always been in harmony, has a great gift, and may feel perplexed and find it hard to understand dysphoria or gender mutability. Just as men do not understand a woman's mind and women often see men as large immature boys.

A word or a glance from another reinforces the loss of self worth and can hurt like a sword; ask anyone with a facial disfigurement. How you feel about yourself then kicks in as another oppressor.

It is time the persecutors were put in their place. The law should now help to do this, instead of standing aside and pretending those who suffered somehow were themselves to blame for being thus different, that they have chosen to be "that way".

To some extent there may be more sympathy for people with so called "intersex" conditions. But trans is still seen by many as a matter of personal choice.

Perhaps our society is at last coming of age in recognising the individual has rights to respect, equality, a voice and freedom.

At a time when personal involvement and knowledge in medical decision making has increased, it is difficult for some medics to hand over some of the responsibility for informed decision making to his patient. A doctor is not a god, is not always right, is not entitled to make decisions on our behalf without informed consent; hopefully he simply does his best.

But there are issues regarding medicalisation regarding gender identity as there were about sexuality. There are severe issues about surgery on children with indeterminate or intermediate body forms or chromosome configurations, without their informed consent, unless there be a life threatening condition.

In our litigious society it does not seem reasonable to attempt to sue a psychiatrist who has supported a path towards gender confirmation surgery, when the patient has not fully explored the reality of their gender.

Surely there is a matter of personal responsibility in deciding to go for surgery, unless you are mentally incapable of such a decision. It is a case of "Beware what you wish for", when someone gets it into his head that life on the other side of the "gender divide" is easier or better. It is simply different.

Any vital, irreversible, decision is a matter which takes time, thought, and Counselling. Sometimes people do make unwise decisions, but they are their decisions and their own responsibility as rational adults.

Gender still fascinates many people and there are a plethora of new publications in which it plays a main thesis. In a post-feminist society perhaps this is to be expected.

At last after 38 years a legal injustice and limbo should have ended in this country with the progress of the Gender Recognition Bill. The problems resulting from the April Ashley Case has left a sorry tale of personal suffering and frustrations. This resulted in, among other things, that the transition provided by medical recognition of actual gender by surgery, hormones and further procedures was incomplete. It allowed those who had suffered dysphoria to still be faced with being "different", discriminated against, ridiculed and reviled.

One wonders how much suffering, how many suicides resulted from that situation?

One paradox resulting from the Birth Certificate fiasco was that two women or men, if one was a trans-person, could marry! Let's face it the Law is an ass. It will never fairly address all types of people all of the time.

Law and justice are not identical. Law is based on a consensus among the lawmakers, but here, with the GERBIL an injustice has at last been undone.

The Partnership Bill may soon address the inequalities and injustices of those in Civil Partnerships.

We do not expect a tidal wave of folk wanting to try the "other side" of the gender divide. Recently it was shown that men earn, on average, 24% more than women in the U.K. - so much for equality! It shows women still continue to be undervalued.

Prior to living full time (I hate the expression real life test) it is easy to adopt a stereotype and unformed personality, to simply have to find out who you really are. Many people post surgery regard their surgery as a new birth and celebrate that date. Once there is no turning back, the only way is forward.

There is a problem in ascribing all emotions and plans towards the surgery. It can be a disaster if all thoughts are focused on becoming, rather than being.

It seems to be a breakthrough when a trans woman drops the trans label and feels confident enough to go out in jeans, with no makeup, like most other women. Permission to be a modern woman is there if you look around.

It is a shame that gender plays such a prominent role in defining identity, as does to a lesser extent sexuality. We are in a time now that supposedly celebrates diversity.

No longer need a Trans-person feel like an outsider in our society.

The Standards of Care have promoted the idea of a "standard transsexual". There is no such thing; they are as diverse as any group of people.

The trans-person is in a position to highlight the whole absurdity of stereotypical views of people.

It is important not to be synthetic, or stereotypical, for the sake of safety, but to be a synthesis of all the elements of what makes a person an individual, true to herself, or himself, or even themselves.

In the early sixties Dr Virginia Prince founded a Society (which she called a Sorority) "Phi Pi Epsilon", FPE, that is to say "Full Personality Expression", to try to provide inclusion for those millions of folk who felt themselves to be outsiders in the gendered Western world. Sadly the sort of women the early transpeople portrayed were often a fantasy view of femininity, a sort of magical trip into a forbidden world. Transvestism was thought to be very rare, and as Benjamin described, transsexualism was even more rare. Now we realise TV and TS are not that rare.

It has been estimated that world-wide there are at least sixty million transsexed people (A figure quoted at the 1993 Amsterdam Gender Dysphoria Conference "Transsexualism, Medicine and the Law").

As there are so many from all over the world it makes one wonder if there is a natural mutation for describing a sense of gender identity? The study of Genomics is in its infancy in seeking AIMS, Ancestral Informative Markers. It is an interesting speculation that the answer to a sense of personal gender identity may be found in linking "brain sex", and body map to a genetic variable.

As I wrote this talk I realise it is somewhat polemic, but I do believe society is due for challenges to the shackles of a gendered, binary, view of people.

It saddens me that so many trans people are so brainwashed by the ignorant, as to often conspire with them in feeling not good enough, and attempting to become a stereotype. Big Brother is not always kind to the trannie!

Sadly we are all defined by the way we look. There are not a majority of beautiful men or women; they are rather the exception. Nor are we all young, fit, the ideal media created "designer person". In fact we all inhabit a wonderful real world, full of variety.

A personality is not simply being a man or a woman, but is a composite of sense of self, of self worth, experience, gifts and is multidimensional. To stereotype oneself is to paint yourself into a small corner, rather than being a fully developed person, that is to say a happy person.

Remember there is an enormous world between the two poles, and polar regions tend to be very cold.

Identity is so strong it outlives the body in some ways. Appropriate surgery has greatly improved many lives, but what does it take to improve Society?

With advances in medicine, psychiatry and improved laws, it is more than ever the responsibility of each of us to live life to the full.

Remember happiness is infectious.

Citation: Purnell, A., (2004),Non Stereotypical Adjustment Is Important For a Complete Personality - Be Yourself, GENDYS 2004, The Eighth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 29.12.06