Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Thoughts from a Former Dysphoric

 

When I was a little girl, I wanted badly to be a boy. Boys got to play the games I wanted to play and had an exclusive claim on the adjectives I hoped to apply to my adult self, such as courageous, honorable and adventurous. I was in the wrong body to be what I wanted to be.

I shudder now to think what would have happened to me had my parents been encouraged, by childrearing experts and the general culture, to take me seriously when I vociferously and persistently declared my desire to be a boy.

My discovery of feminism cured my gender dysphoria. The problem, as the ’70s-era feminists defined it, wasn’t that my female body and individual personality were mismatched, but that the definitions of female and male were unnecessarily and irrationally narrow and pinched.

Feminism declared that I could play baseball and cops ‘n’ robbers, dream of any number of interesting and noble futures, be completely myself, and yet be a completely normal female too. This was liberating.

Naturally, feminist theory didn’t solve all the problems of embodied female life. Biology is what it is: I still had to endure menstruation; rape was a seemingly omnipresent threat (the statistics are a whole lot better now, FYI), and, when the time came, the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and childrearing definitely got in the way of my becoming a rodeo rider, relief pitcher for the Orioles, or an FBI agent.

Well, that’s life.

Which is to say; that’s biology. And it is biology that the transgendered are struggling so desperately against, which essentially means they are mad at life itself. Or, specifically, that part of life that is most relentlessly gendered because genitals=genesis=genes=generation=regeneration … the original and still the best explanation for why little boys have lingams and little girls have yonis.

Yes, we humans are astonishingly plastic but remain, nonetheless, sexually dimorphic mammalian creatures. Just like chimpanzees, chipmunks, and Chihuahuas, we reproduce by means of sexual intercourse as it is enacted by persons defined as male and female by anatomy and chromosomes.

Clearly, human beings can decide not to reproduce — traditionally, by refraining from heterosexual intercourse but also by using our minds to invent workarounds. We can be involuntarily sterile, for that matter, but the essential anatomy and physiology that distinguishes — absolutely — male from female, and the purpose for that distinction remains. Celibate nuns and lesbians still menstruate and ovulate; gay men and men who believe themselves to be women nonetheless produce sperm.

As a little girl, I wanted to be what I imagined a boy was. Having never been a boy, I didn’t really know. And, I would posit — with all due respect and much, much sympathy — that a man cannot be or become a woman, or genuinely experience life as a woman. He can only experience life as he imagines a woman experiences it.

Why, though, can he do this? Why can the impression that a man — Caitlyn Jenner, say — actually is a woman be so incredibly powerful?

As a working hypothesis, the disorders of our minds arise out of our mental capabilities. There has to be an ability that precedes the disability. I nominate empathetic imagination as the ability gone awry in the transgendered mind.

During the Olympics, I watched a figure skater fly around the ice and leap into the air, spinning then landing lightly on one blade and swirling away: I didn’t just apprehend it with my eyes and mind, I felt it in my body. For long seconds, it was as if all I’d have to do is leap up from my comfy chair, throw on a pair of skates and my limbs would know how to do that magical thing.

Indeed, this may be why we are capable of finding joy in watching sports (or, for that matter, porn) because we can imagine ourselves into other bodies. Heck, we can imagine ourselves into the bodies of animals: the best equestriennes, dog trainers, and lion whisperers are surely those who teeter on the edge of identifying “as” rather than merely “with” their animals.

As an adult, I am a happily female mother of six adult children who looks forward with stereotypical eagerness to being a grandmother. And yet, I work primarily and gladly with men — specifically the courageous, honorable, adventurous men who work as game wardens in the Maine woods. I am frequently, and very comfortably, the only woman in a roomful of people and often the only woman for miles of snowy, woodland “around.”

The imaginative empathy that allows me to be with them might be on the continuum with that which once demanded I be them, no?

Activists who scornfully declare that a white, straight, middle-class man cannot possibly understand what it is like to be black, gay, poor, or female … are wrong.

That’s what the transgenderism “movement” demonstrates — not that we can or should determine our own gender (or race or whatever) “identity,” but that human beings are indeed capable of profound empathetic imagination. Because we can imagine ourselves into our neighbor’s lives, God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is difficult … but it’s not actually impossible.

The transgendered provide perhaps extreme demonstrations of what is our common and sacred gift. Tyrants of various stripes urge us to suppress that talent — don’t feel sympathy for the deported Jews! Don’t imagine yourself an occupant of that basket of deplorables! Christ, however, asked us to nurture and encourage our capacity to truly see, truly understand and in some sense, at least for a long second, be and therefore truly love: it is the gift of which he was both giver and exemplar.

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  1. Manny Member

    Kate, I caught a great interview with Dr. Ryan Anderson the author of “When Harry Became Sally” on The Drew Mariani Show, which is a Catholic radio show. Here is the link to it. I think it would be well worth your while to listen. You may have to skip ahead for the start of Dr. Anderson’s part of the show.

    • #1
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:19 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Manny Member

    Dr. Anderson’s point is that most of these childhood cases of gender disphoria are passing phases and can easily be corrected as children. If I were really interested I’d get the book, but I guess I have other priorities on my reading list.

    • #2
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:22 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Mate De Inactive

    I’ve heard Camille Paglia talk about what she calls her “transgender identity”. I wonder if it was because she grew up in the 50’s when gender roles were much more defined and restrictive if you didn’t fit into them. I was a tom boy as a kid, I like to climb trees, play in the dirt, play sports. Most of my friends were boys. However, I never felt that I wanted to be a boy and I wonder if that is because I grew up in the 80’s when gender roles weren’t as defined. Also, I’m glad I was a kid then and that my parents weren’t progressive and just let me be a kid.

    I just wonder if your dysphoria may be similar to Ms Paglia’s in that she was more a tom boy but because that wasn’t as acceptable during the time she was growing up she thinks of it as a transgender thing.

    The real danger with, I think all of this “wokeness” of these progressive parents is that it doesn’t let kids be kids. I think so much of this transgenderism as it pertains to kids is evil and the fact that the medical community is complicit is a real stain on our society. 6 year olds are NOT trans… Period. They are kids, just because your son likes Barbie’s doesn’t mean he wants to be a girl, perhaps these Woke parents should maybe look at how they are treating their kids to see if maybe that is contributing to them wanting to be the opposite sex.

    • #3
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:26 AM PST
    • 12 likes
  4. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    Yes to both your points, Mate De—I grew up in the early sixties, just before the “Free to Be…You and Me” thing emerged out of feminism and allowed the next few generations (my kids included) to inhabit less confining gender roles. Ironically, it is now the progressive left who emphasizes what are recognizably traditional definitions of “male” and “female,” even as it claims to be erasing them. So incoherent, and impossible for a child to negotiate. Let kids be kids. Among other things, they are —through play—developing the empathetic imagination I describe in the OP.

    • #4
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:34 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  5. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Social contagion and fad-following seem to be involved in many perceived gender mismatch cases among adolescents.

    • #5
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:44 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  6. Seawriter Contributor

    Janet (Quilter) was a “boy’s girl.” She was interested in wargaming, electronics, car repair, and woodworking. (We worked on cars together, and she did a lot of soldering stuff with her dad.) She separated her interests from being female, however. She simply did not understand why being interested in auto mechanics meant she could not be a woman.

    The result was I found a mate who shared my interests, but was also delightfully different than my guy friends when that mattered. I wish more women took that sensible view. The world would be a better place.

    • #6
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:45 AM PST
    • 31 likes
  7. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    • #7
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:46 AM PST
    • 18 likes
  8. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    David Foster (View Comment):
    Social contagion and fad-following seem to be involved in many perceived gender mismatch cases among adolescents.

    Yes…and when this gets “discovered” by the media, my reaction is “duh. Of course!” Think of all the ridiculous (and dangerous) fads that teenagers take up, from anorexia to suicide to school shootings to navel piercing to punk to … It is the signature trait of their kind, and it’s the job of adults to exhibit a deliberate, obvious, obnoxious but ultimately salutary tolerance toward the non-lethal manifestations of it.

    • #8
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:55 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  9. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Janet (Quilter) was a “boy’s girl.” She was interested in wargaming, electronics, car repair, and woodworking. (We worked on cars together, and she did a lot of soldering stuff with her dad.) She separated her interests from being female, however. She simply did not understand why being interested in auto mechanics meant she could not be a woman.

    The result was I found a mate who shared my interests, but was also delightfully different than my guy friends when that mattered. I wish more women took that sensible view. The world would be a better place.

    I’m glad it was a good place for you two, Seawriter.

    As for the bold line: yes, exactly.

    • #9
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:58 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  10. Mate De Inactive

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    Yes to both your points, Mate De—I grew up in the early sixties, just before the “Free to Be…You and Me” thing emerged out of feminism and allowed the next few generations (my kids included) to inhabit less confining gender roles. Ironically, it is now the progressive left who emphasizes what are recognizably traditional definitions of “male” and “female,” even as it claims to be erasing them. So incoherent, and impossible for a child to negotiate. Let kids be kids. Among other things, they are —through play—developing the empathetic imagination I describe in the OP.

    Yes, Funny how after spending decades trying to destroy gender roles, the left wants to implement them back into society. It used to be that girls could play with trucks and boys could play with Barbie’s and it was OK, but now if you see kids doing that it must mean they want to be the opposite sex.

    Do these people ever stop to think about the ramifications of the things that they advocate? I guess they just want to progress right off a cliff.

    • #10
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:02 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  11. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    Also: in my experience, teenagers try to flout rules and conventions to find out which ones adults care enough about to enforce. Which is to say: which ones are valid and important, and which are not.

    If trusted adults in adolescent life are earnestly agreeing that a girl can have a penis and that it is both cruel and factually incorrect to claim otherwise… that’s a worry. If that—biological fact—is not the limit…what is? Inquiring minds want to know, and are likely to push until they find out.

    • #11
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:04 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  12. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    Still, I meant the OP to be at least a little hopeful…?

    • #12
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:05 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  13. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Also: One cannot know what it is to be a man or a woman until one has lived awhile as one, certainly past adolescence. A 10-year-old boy who thinks it might be cool to be a girl hasn’t experienced the Mean Girls phenomenon that is waiting for real girls a couple of years down the road, for example.

    • #13
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:17 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  14. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    As a Conservatarian who leans strongly to the Libertarian side I favor a lot of latitude to those who wish to ‘do their own thing’ as long as I am not compelled to celebrate what I find undesirable. This attitude not only separates me from many of my local church fellowship as marking me as too ‘accepting’ but it also does so from many of those agitating for ‘acceptance’ of ever changing standards, by which is meant I must not only provide space for things I find objectionable but must declare them to be equal in societal value and even exemplary whether I agree or not. That is a bridge too far for me. My libertarian bent leads me to come very close to ‘different strokes for different folks’ and while I oppose having legal conscription against many behaviors I personally find distasteful, I also abhor legal and societal measures to proscribe those who disdain various life choices from being able to express their personal beliefs without being in danger of loss of employment and such things (not including loss of friendships which is a matter to be left to individuals).
    I come to this stance mostly because I understand that when either side of these debates gains the ability to punish others for what they believe and wish to perform that also can and probably will at some point be turned to my disadvantage. That makes it both a selfish and, possibly, an empathetic motivation. Which is dominant may be important to one’s spiritual well-being but has little or no impact on the temporal aspect and impact of the question.
    I’m interested in pursuing improvement in both realms but having a utilitarian mindset I tend to focus, perhaps too intensely, on what works in the here and now and view spiritual improvement largely through that lens, partly because I’m unconvinced that any of us knows enough about the hereafter to do much postulating about it. That is not a slam against you or your profession but a confession of my own shortcomings.
    Jesus was so ultimately empathetic that He was willing to pay the debt I couldn’t pay and have that payment transferred to me if/when I acknowledge His lordship (according to the teaching of my denomination). That is a measure of empathy I can appreciate but could never fully comprehend much less emulate. I can admire and appreciate it but could never hope to attain such a selfless level while occupying this earthen vessel. So I would not presume to hold others to a like standard.

    • #14
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:31 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  15. Mate De Inactive

    The interesting thing about the trans-movement is that in it is connecting some feminists with conservative women. A good amount of feminist are not down with the trans movement as they believe that men are starting to infringe into their space and that there aren’t any female only spaces anymore. Which is true, but oh the irony of these radical feminists. There is a group of women called Hands across the aisle and it is an alliance of radical feminists and conservative Christian women.

    I found out about this group and was fascinated. Leave it to the left to progress so far that now radical lesbian feminist, and conservative Christian mom’s are forming alliances.

    https://handsacrosstheaislewomen.com/home/

    • #15
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:31 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  16. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    I’m unconvinced that any of us knows enough about the hereafter to do much postulating about it. That is not a slam against you or your profession but a confession of my own shortcomings.
    Jesus was so ultimately empathetic that He was willing to pay the debt I couldn’t pay and have that payment transferred to me if/when I acknowledge His lordship (according to the teaching of my denomination).

    Not to worry—I slam my own profession all the time.

    Personally, the second of these points is why I don’t worry all that much about the first: I don’t worry a whole lot about the afterlife because that’s God’s problem. My problem (or opportunity?), God-given, is to be the best occupant of my earthen vessel I can be!

    • #16
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:52 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  17. Stad Thatcher

    Kate Braestrup: Activists who scornfully declare that a white, straight, middle-class man cannot possibly understand what it is like to be black, gay, poor or female…are wrong.

    Yep. Theses days, you can’t even take a walk in someone’s else’s shoes because you’d never understand.

    • #17
    • March 6, 2018, at 9:15 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  18. MarciN Member

    A wonderful essay, Kate. I agree with all of it.

    I think that the gender dysphoria, although it may be an actual physiological issue in a handful of cases, may be arising from our amazing imaginations.

    I keep thinking of Henrik Ibsen, the playwright whose women were so varied in personality and temperament yet so real to women themselves that many people suggested he was gay. They couldn’t come up with a better explanation for how completely believable his women characters were. I think he simply had a writer’s intense imagination that was fueled by his friendships and other relationships with girls and women.

    Whatever part of the brain that ability comes from, for men to relate so perfectly to women and women to relate so perfectly to men, may be causing trouble for some people. I’d love to see brain scans compared for people who are feeling this dysphoria and those who are not.

    There is a nugget of darkness in all people, and it is that nugget that enables us as human beings to defend ourselves against people with outsize darkness. That nugget of darkness, which enables us to write about and describe and imagine the darkness, does not overwhelm us and make us completely dark. It’s just there, as a teacher standing in the shadows at the back of our consciousness. It warns us and informs us, but it is not us.

    I think the gender dysphoria is that same type of nugget, but it is overactive for some people. I can’t help thinking the reason is really simple–it’s the power of suggestion. Suddenly it is being noisy because gender dysphoria is in the press and entertainment media so frequently these days, and a few people are having trouble tuning it out. Sort of like physician’s disease. :)

    Kids who have some tiny knowledge of the reproductive system–women have babies, men do not–play with all sex roles. It’s how they are coping with their developing empathy. It should be ignored. It is not an illness. It is part of normal child development.

    • #18
    • March 6, 2018, at 9:53 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  19. Columbo Member

    • #19
    • March 6, 2018, at 10:12 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  20. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    I find feminism to be an astonishingly toxic ideology, though perhaps this only applies to the “third wave” and thereafter. But I think that there were serious problems in the “second wave,” as well. I support the idea that women (and men) should be allowed to do almost any job they want, but even “second wave” feminism seems, at least to me, to include an overwhelming denigration of the role of wife and mother, and an extraordinary hostility to strong, assertive masculinity.

    I suspect that I’m not alone in these observations, and wonder how much this contributes to the trans/dysphoria phenomenon. When masculinity is under such relentless attack, it is no wonder that some boys will fantasize about being women. When motherhood is despised, it is no wonder that some girls will fantasize about being men. I do not say that this is always the explanation, but it may be a big part of it.

    • #20
    • March 6, 2018, at 11:51 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  21. Nanda Panjandrum Inactive

    Brava, Kate! Thanks for “empathic imagination”; a wonderful descriptor of how I live much of my daily life, gladly.

    • #21
    • March 6, 2018, at 12:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  22. MarciN Member

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I find feminism to be an astonishingly toxic ideology, though perhaps this only applies to the “third wave” and thereafter. But I think that there were serious problems in the “second wave,” as well. I support the idea that women (and men) should be allowed to do almost any job they want, but even “second wave” feminism seems, at least to me, to include an overwhelming denigration of the role of wife and mother, and an extraordinary hostility to strong, assertive masculinity.

    I suspect that I’m not alone in these observations, and wonder how much this contributes to the trans/dysphoria phenomenon. When masculinity is under such relentless attack, it is no wonder that some boys will fantasize about being women. When motherhood is despised, it is no wonder that some girls will fantasize about being men. I do not say that this is always the explanation, but it may be a big part of it.

    I agree completely. I’m sure these phenomena are affecting people negatively in the ways you’ve described so well.

    • #22
    • March 6, 2018, at 12:29 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  23. Stad Thatcher

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I find feminism to be an astonishingly toxic ideology, though perhaps this only applies to the “third wave” and thereafter. But I think that there were serious problems in the “second wave,” as well. I support the idea that women (and men) should be allowed to do almost any job they want, but even “second wave” feminism seems, at least to me, to include an overwhelming denigration of the role of wife and mother, and an extraordinary hostility to strong, assertive masculinity.

    I suspect that I’m not alone in these observations, and wonder how much this contributes to the trans/dysphoria phenomenon. When masculinity is under such relentless attack, it is no wonder that some boys will fantasize about being women. When motherhood is despised, it is no wonder that some girls will fantasize about being men. I do not say that this is always the explanation, but it may be a big part of it.

    You might want to look at Christina Hoff Sommers’ book Freedom Feminism. I believe it’s a well-thought-out piece on what modern feminism should be. BTW, I thanked her personally for writing it on a National Review cruise. [insert shameless plug here]

    • #23
    • March 6, 2018, at 1:32 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  24. Henry Castaigne Member

    Mate De (View Comment):
    Mate De

    I’ve heard Camille Paglia talk about what she calls her “transgender identity”. I wonder if it was because she grew up in the 50’s when gender roles were much more defined and restrictive if you didn’t fit into them. I was a tom boy as a kid, I like to climb trees, play in the dirt, play sports. Most of my friends were boys. However, I never felt that I wanted to be a boy and I wonder if that is because I grew up in the 80’s when gender roles weren’t as defined. Also, I’m glad I was a kid then and that my parents weren’t progressive and just let me be a kid.

    If Camille Paglia has never had the urge to dress like a man or seriously consider undergoing surgery to get fake genitalia I would not classify her as trans.

    • #24
    • March 6, 2018, at 2:30 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  25. Henry Castaigne Member

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I keep thinking of Henrik Ibsen, the playwright whose women were so varied in personality and temperament yet so real to women themselves that many people suggested he was gay. They couldn’t come up with a better explanation for how completely believable his women characters were. I think he simply had a writer’s intense imagination that was fueled by his friendships and other relationships with girls and women.

    I always kinda hoped that Frodo and Samwise weren’t gay. Not because I have any moral qualms with homosexuality. I just find the idea that Sam would be that caring and self-sacrificing out of the sake of platonic friendship more moving. More of the world of forms and less of the world of shadows and flesh.

    • #25
    • March 6, 2018, at 2:34 PM PST
    • 11 likes
  26. Mate De Inactive

    Henry Castaigne (View Comment):

    Mate De (View Comment):
    Mate De

    I’ve heard Camille Paglia talk about what she calls her “transgender identity”. I wonder if it was because she grew up in the 50’s when gender roles were much more defined and restrictive if you didn’t fit into them. I was a tom boy as a kid, I like to climb trees, play in the dirt, play sports. Most of my friends were boys. However, I never felt that I wanted to be a boy and I wonder if that is because I grew up in the 80’s when gender roles weren’t as defined. Also, I’m glad I was a kid then and that my parents weren’t progressive and just let me be a kid.

    If Camille Paglia has never had the urge to dress like a man or seriously consider undergoing surgery to get fake genitalia I would not classify her as trans.

    Yes, I’ve thought the same. I figure if she grew up in the 80’s like me she wouldn’t identify that way.

    • #26
    • March 6, 2018, at 4:19 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. GrannyDude Member
    GrannyDude

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I support the idea that women (and men) should be allowed to do almost any job they want, but even “second wave” feminism seems, at least to me, to include an overwhelming denigration of the role of wife and mother, and an extraordinary hostility to strong, assertive masculinity.

    I agree, at least to the extent that by the time I was a young mother, I’d imbibed enough to be more discontented with the role than I otherwise might have been, and less appreciative of my husband.

    • #27
    • March 6, 2018, at 5:48 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Thank you for this beautiful and informative post, @katebraestrup. I have written here on this subject a couple of times, and every time I do, it breaks my heart. The topic of gender dysphoria has become, for some, the battlefield to die on, and they are destroying the lives of so many to meet their goals. I am so glad that you found your way.

    I wasn’t drawn to “boy things,” but I have some male characteristics (some would say) in my temperament. It took a long time for me to learn to listen, instead of “fixing” others lives. I can have a direct, sometimes harsh edge, not mincing words and coming on strong (rarely seen here, but it would be easy for me to do). Sometimes that kind of energy is needed, though, so I can draw on it rather than being subdued. I think everyone should be encouraged to explore fully the whole of themselves, rather than their parents, teachers or society trying to squeeze them into a gender for which they are likely not suited.

    • #28
    • March 6, 2018, at 5:55 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  29. Tim H. Member

    These are some insights worth pondering deeply. I don’t have much to say right now, but I should think over what you’ve written.

    • #29
    • March 6, 2018, at 7:02 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  30. Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    Jimmy Kimmel said at the Oscars he wants to be woman. But I’m not sure he’s serious. Because he’s a comedian, you know.

    • #30
    • March 6, 2018, at 8:25 PM PST
    • 1 like

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