Leap of Faith
Guest post on dysphoria, by Lauren Black
Lauren Black is a butch lesbian who lives with dysphoria. She chooses not to transition, instead campaigning under the banner “love the skin you’re in.” She writes here about the difference between gender and sex dysphoria, and about the religion of gender identity ideology. She also writes frankly about negotiating a sexual relationship whilst dysphoric, and why testosterone is not a solution to the difficulties she has. She writes about grounding herself in her womanhood and her lesbian identity, and about the solidarity and sisterhood she finds there.
Gender vs Sex dysphoria
Gender dysphoria is defined in the DSM5 as a “persistent and consistent discomfort” with your gender. People with this condition experience a “marked incongruence between their experienced or expressed gender and the one they were assigned at birth.” This definition smuggles in many things I do not believe; gender is not assigned at birth, sex is observed; gender is just another way to say “stereotypes” and is an unhelpful concept. In fact, “gender dysphoria” as it appears in the DSM 5 is not a definition but a profession of faith.
When I was a little girl, I had no “gender dysphoria” as described above. I was a tomboy, and comfortably so. I wore boy’s clothes and climbed trees, and if I fell off my skateboard I got right back on and raced down the same hill at twice the speed. Nobody thought that made me a boy. As an adult, I wear what the hell I like, I buzz my hair off, I work in a warehouse, and I provide for my family. I hold my own amongst men, and I respect other women.
If gender was the real issue, there would be no need for hormones or surgeries to treat dysphoria. Instead, we could keep our bodies intact, work to rid the world of harmful stereotypes about men and women, and live our lives as we choose. We would soon recognise “gender” as what it is; a profession of faith in regressive stereotypes about men and women and how we should behave, and a red herring that distracts from the real issues of dysphoria. It is not my “gender” with which I have difficulty, but my sex.
Leap of faith
I developed sex dysphoria when I started to develop an obviously sexed, female body. I had breasts at ten and was sexualised by adult men from that age. My breasts hurt me and stopped me fully participating in the sports I loved. My periods were painful and embarrassing. The physical markers of my sex are what caused me consistent and persistent discomfort. I can understand, then, why so many people seem to think that changing their bodies would be an answer to the problem of dysphoria; if you hate the markers of your femaleness and the unwanted attention they attract, isn’t it an obvious next step to try to alter them?
What is not a logical next step is the assumption that appearing more “male” would be of any help at all.
To put this another way, you might think about transition as being a leap of faith. To make that leap, you would have to believe some or all of the following: that hormones and surgeries would make you the opposite sex; that you possess some sort of inner, gendered essence; that the mismatch between this and your sexed body is the problem; that taking wrong sex hormones and having plastic surgery would resolve that mismatch, and; that all this would ease your dysphoria. You may go as far as to recite sections of the Apostles’ Creed of the gender religion, and profess that “transwomen are women, transmen are men.” This extreme and radical belief is not that hormones and surgeries can turn women into men, but that some women were always men and some men were always women.
I am not a man. I have never been a man and I cannot become one. I will never know what it is to be a man from the inside. Hormones, surgeries, and gendered feelings cannot bring about miracles of transubstantiation, literally turning women into men and men into women. To believe that they could is not a fact-based position, but a faith based one. And even if there were mountains of evidence that such miracles were possible, where is the proof that any of this would make me feel any better about myself or my body?
My sex dysphoria has to do with my discomfort in my female body, not with anything about being a man. The narrative that somehow “becoming a man” is the solution is based in the gender religion. “Being a man” has nothing to do with my discomfort, and “becoming a man” should have nothing to do with how I resolve my difficulties.
But in this brave new world, young women are being told that feeling how I feel means that they “want to be a man.” Young women are being told that they “are men,” or that they want to be in another body. It’s enshrined in the gender religion bible of the DSM 5. It’s certainly what people think lesbians want. Homophobes ask, “who’s the man” of lesbian relationships all the time.
It isn’t a natural or predetermined part of my identity to want to be a man; those desires are at the meeting point of homophobia and sexism. It isn’t my “identity,” or who I am; it is situated, social, and always in the context of my own history. None of this can be effectively treated by a syringe full of testosterone and a “congratulations, sir.” It can only be masked.
Transition as treatment
Some butch lesbians, particularly those with dysphoria, find that they are to some degree or another, “stone” butch. That is, they have a range of difficulties with “receiving” sexually. The transmen I have spoken to on this topic have found that testosterone affected their experience of sex and sexuality at a deep level. For a start, testosterone makes sexual desire go through the roof. Some transmen find that this alone resolves their difficulties around receiving pleasure and makes them less “stone.”
Alright, good. That could be a positive thing. So why is it not a tempting option for me? As well as making me less stony, transmen tell me that testosterone would likely make me less discriminating in my choice of sexual partners, less boundaried, less selfless in bed, less likely to be faithful, more likely to want to sleep with men, and generally more stereotypically “male” in my sexual desires.
I don’t want that for me, or for my relationship. My wife is beautiful, she’s hilarious, she’s smart and silly. She’s changed me for the better. She knows me, all of me, and she loves me as I am. She respects my boundaries. She understands my difficulties around my body and is sensitive to them. When I let my stone melt, it melts on my terms and that holds meaning for me. In short, I know where my bread is buttered. Nothing else looks tempting to me. Pardon me, then, if transition holds no appeal; I prefer the authenticity of my lesbian relationship over a hormonally induced “cure.”
The personal is political
In reality, there is no way to escape my female anatomy or the way that I'm treated because of it, even if I flee it like a house on fire. Transwomen end up in the news for securing positions on boards, winning sports, becoming generals and winning women's prizes. Transmen end up in the news for getting pregnant. Biological sex, after transition, remains real, immutable and important. All transitioning would do is divide me from other women and exclude me from exploring and understanding the causes of my distress. It would effectively exclude me from the things that are unique and wonderful about womanhood, and about lesbian sexuality, without giving me access to any of the advantages biological males enjoy.
Throughout history, girls and women have been restricted in ways that boys and men are not. Within those restrictions, societal discontents are written on our bodies. At the meeting point of control over women, social and religious belief systems, and our discomfort in our own bodies, can be found a set of physical practices which harm women and restrict our activities. These practices include foot-binding in China, Ndbele neck rings, corsets, high heels, anorexia, hysteria, the patriarchal obsession with virginity and its preservation, and BDSM.
Women are often persuaded to participate “voluntarily” by a variety of belief systems imposed on us, and by the pleasure and rewards sometimes inherent in these often-awful practices. Gender identity ideology is just the latest belief system, and transition is just the latest harm that women are being persuaded to perform on ourselves.
Well, I say no. Rather than make a dissociative leap of faith towards transition, I choose to live in reality. I choose to stand my ground against any faith that seeks to change people like me rather than accepting us as we are. I am proud of who I am. I am a woman. I am a lesbian. I embrace my female body, even when it is a difficult place to live. I embrace my wife and bring her the best of myself, and I love the skin I’m in.
Sometimes people ask me if I’m ever tempted to transition. I prefer to frame that question differently. I ask myself, “would you rather believe the tempting lies of the gender religion, or would you rather live authentically, in the truth?”
I know the answer to that question. Every. Single. Time.