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

Overcoming Internalized Sexism

Heather was one of my friends in first and second grade. My favorite memory with her, of all things, was how we sat in lunch and did our math homework together. We were both really good at math so she did half, I did half, and we copied each others work! But then I was sent to another elementary school across town. My hometown has one middle school that all elementary school students go to. I was so looking forward to meeting Heather again! But she had completely changed. She wasn't a math geek; she was a ditz. Which might make you think she was dumb. But she was very popular and had guys always around her. I had so many mixed feelings about it at the time. I was annoyed at her for acting dumb and, I guess, also jealous of her. I'm not sure why? Maybe because she chose to emphasize her girlishness above intellectual things and that made her happy. But if I emphasized my girlishness above intellectual things I would just be more unhappy. And now I look back and feel guilty both for being angry at her and for my own advantage from being a boy. Being analytical is a masculine trait so for a girl to emphasize it in herself is to distance herself from girlishness. It's very understandable that Heather would choose her gender identity. I probably would have too if people would have responded so positively to my expression. Anyway, I was a boy and I wasn't going to be like all the boys around her. So Heather and I were never friends again.

But just as Heather had reached puberty and changed, so did I. For years I was 60 pounds and suddenly I was gaining weight so fast .... 65, 70, 80 ... It terrified me! I was becoming more and more of a man and I couldn't stop it! Some of my girl friends had once joked about putting their fingers down their throats to throw up as a way to not gain weight. Maybe I could do that? Maybe it would stop me from growing and stop me from becoming a man? Forcing yourself to throw up is a lot harder to do than it sounds like. Or maybe it's just really hard psychologically? I found it a lot easier to just stop eating much. And I did eventually succeed in purging; it gets easier after the first few times. Sometimes when I here people talk about eating disorders it sounds like they believe you're losing control. I don't really know if I ever reached 'clinical criteria' for an eating disorder, but I never felt out of control. I was gaining control. I was trying to stop my body from changing this horribly wrong thing that wasn't under my control.

I didn't know I was doing anything bad until sometime a high school health class. We were taught about anorexia and bulimia and we were taught the usual things about turning in friends so they can be helped. We were also taught it was a girl's disease (it's not really that absolute, but teachers sometimes oversimplify). Oh my gosh! Not only am I a sicko who needs to be turned in, but I'm sick with something only girls have! I was mortified somebody would find out and they'd put me away for an eating disorder and delusions of wanting to be a girl! It was so hard to make myself eat and I freaked out each time I started gaining pound after pound. But I was more scared I'd get caught with a girl's mental illness.

Recently I started hormones (I was full-time for awhile before I started hormones) and my weight is rising again. I'm very much intellectually aware that this should be happening and I know I'm not overweight. I'm still underweight to normal weight for my height and frame. But even being intellectually aware doesn't stop me from getting a bit apprehensive. And I don't know why because now my new puberty is helping me become a woman. I'm eating healthfully and I haven't purged in many, many years so I don't have an eating disorder now.

What's ironic is I'm not even thankful for that. I was only saved from an eating disorder because I was scared of being caught behaving like a girl. That means I was only saved because I had internalized this view of women as less than men. Girls with anorexia and bulimia have also internalized a ridiculous social norm about how women are 'suppose' to be in this world. I feel very guilty that I got to survive without being committed and without dying when so many girls have died because of the very same internalized values that kept me alive. Sometimes this and my relationship with Heather make me feel like I don't deserve womanhood. But I would die before considering going back to being perceived as man. And so this is the last remaining guilt that I still feel over transitioning.

And it wasn't only from inside me that I developed doubts about if I should transition. Some feminists also felt there was something wrong with me transitioning. I stumbled upon an essay by gopher (an early text version of what's now the web) about "gender slumming." It characterized the whole male to female transsexuals as men who can't 'cut it' in the patriarchy so they assume they must be of lower status, woman. Many things I had read about transsexuality from a psychological perspective made me feel like a freak. But this and other feminist writings left me feeling like such an evil person.

And I completely understood where the feminist perspective came from. Like, when I took a year off before graduate school and worked for an affirmative action program. I watched as woman were ignored when they would say insightful things but if one of the men said the same thing he was paid attention to. I saw men act on subtle assumptions that woman were incompetent. I still wonder how much I could have internalized those values? I've watched as woman are given attention for how closely they fit men's ideals of beauty. I have probably observed, without experiencing it, a lot more sexism than most women because guys would say the most despicably sexists things to me as though I was part of their group and would 'obviously' agree.

But sexism never made me feel happier to be a guy. It just made me feel more estranged from men and made me identify more with woman. But now I was reading feminists essays and I was learning how I'm not really a woman. Instead I'm the most despicable form of sexist man there is! Transsexuals are worse than rapists because transitioning is raping all woman! Now I was crazy but if I transitioned I would be crazy and evil! It was all completely overwhelming and I wasn't eager to lose my family and any chance of a normal life. Even though I accepted my transsexuality it was years before I could accept that it was okay for me to transition.

My department has a women's seminar and somebody even added me to the mailing list! But I still don't feel comfortable attending because I feel like that would be invading women (born women) space. But I no longer feel like I am really so evil. Though I am very feminine, probably a lot more than many other women, I still feel like a project a positive view of women with the way I show competence in my field, with the way I express myself, and with the way I relate to other people. And in some ways transsexual women and women born women share many of the same problems. We grow up in a patriarchial culture that devalues us. And, though our experiences of the devaluation are at times very differnet, those experiences are also something we share. And perhaps learning from each other, from those differences, is something that can help all of us?

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