Part of the autobiography of a transsexual psychology graduate student.

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Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Case Study: an Autobiography of a Transsexual Psychology Graduate Student

Transvestite or Transsexual?

By the time I started high school I was this funny mixture of complete chaos and absolute order. On the surface I was so calm. I wasn't acting girlish anymore but I wasn't acting boyish either. I was just there, like a calm systematic robot would just be there. Under the surface I still constantly considered committing suicide and didn't know who I was. It's like the patchwork of repressing emotions and the patchwork of using cross-dressing just covered everything so I could barely recognize myself. And maybe it's somewhat funny that at the time I was least true to myself I was the most intent on figuring out the truth about me.

In the beginning of high school I learned the Sigmund Freud was the "Father of Psychology." That was a possible source of information and it wasn't very hard to find Freud's books in the library! But that was the most disturbing thing I've ever read. I couldn't, and still can't, accept that people are as impulsively drive-oriented as he describes. But I read lots of it and understood a little of it. Very little specifically addressed my questions until I read his developmental theories: castration anxiety and penis envy. How ridiculous! Why would any girl want a penis and why would any boy care if he didn't have one? When I reflect on this, I'm really perplexed by my feelings. On one hand I was very aware that as a boy I shouldn't want to be a girl. But, to me, that was very different from the physical body where I never was convinced a boy's body was better to have than a girl's body.

I took a Mass Media in ninth grade and we watched some classic movies. We saw Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." At the end of the film a police officer asks a question using the word "transvestite." The word's meaning had something to do with dressing like the 'opposite' sex. "Transvestite" ... "Transvestite" ... "Transvestite" ... I kept reciting it to myself until the classroom lights went on. Then, completely paranoid that everybody knew what I was doing, I wrote it down. Finally, a word.

But did the word fit me? Did I dress "for sexual pleasure?" Well, I felt a lot better and I did sometimes touch myself sexually while dressed as a girl? It seemed to fit! So I looked for the word in the index of every psychology book I could find. The unfortunate part is everything I found was from a Freudian perspective and that just doesn't make any sense to me. There's been a research from empirical perspectives for decades, but it wasn't in the outdated library books I had access to. That was in journals. Nothing in those books did anything but confuse me. I guess the most understandable part was vignettes of case-studies with transvestites and transsexuals. And even though I didn't like what I read, I still felt some connection to each profile. My thoughts and feelings typically fell into the 'transsexual' category but my cross-dressing behaviors fell into the 'transvestite' category. So where was I? Overall I felt like I fit the transsexual category but cross-dressing definitely never happened among transsexuals. At least that's what the textbooks said. Even if I couldn't be sure if I was a transsexual or transvestite, there was one thing the books made very clear: I am deeply disturbed.

So I went on to try and figure out who I am. At least if I'm crazy I should still be happy. I was starting to realize that I needed my emotions to give some meaning and value to my life. One way I tried to understand my emotions was by taking a psychology class on emotion. It was one of the best undergraduate classes I've ever taken! It was a substantive psychology class where we read the original journal articles rather than a watered-down textbook. I learned so many theories! The one that most profoundly affected me is Singer-Schacter's idea that emotions arise from a cognitive appraisal of physiological arousal. That is, when we have physical sensations we think about what might be causing those sensations. How we label the sensations is how we experience our emotions.

In a classic experiment a woman asks men to fill out a survey as they crossed either a high anxiety-provoking rickety bridge or a low non-anxiety-arousing bridge. The men didn't know this was part of the study, but she would give each guy her phone number after they completed the survey! If each man called her or not showed how sexually attracted each man felt towards her. The prediction was that men going across the high bridge would call more often; they had more fear-driven sensations but they would misinterpret them as attraction to the experimenter. Social psychology has some of the most incredibly cool studies! This particular version is flawed because the men weren't randomly assigned to cross each bridge. Maybe the men who were more daring in crossing the top bridge are also more willing to risk rejection by calling the experimenter? But there are many other versions of this experiment that fix this problem. It's been replicated over and over again so it's a pretty well established theory. Anyway, the important part for me is that I could be misinterpreting my feelings of relief from repressing my emotions as though they were sexual. To me, this was enough to feel like it was okay for me to ask for treatment to become a woman. But it still wasn't that easy. I was terrified at the idea of telling my parents. And something else also stopped me, I found feminist writings about transsexuals.

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