Sunday, March 6, 2011

Seeking an Integral and Inclusive Model of Non-Freudian Psychosexual Development [One image NSFW]

I met with my co-author and mentor today (it's strange to say "mentor" about someone younger than I am, but he has way more education, research experience, and knowledge than I possess). We checked in with our reading and research and began discussing questions for the project - the question(s) we ask will determine the structure of the assessment tool we will need to construct.

While I think we narrowed the focus for this preliminary stage of the project to transmen who identify as men, no matter the surgeries or hormones they have taken, we also raised some other important questions for future research. Surprisingly, this does narrow down our prospective pool of respondents - some transmen do not identify as men, but prefer to reside in the space between male and female (gender queers) and some maintain the transmen identity - and there are a whole lot of variations within those communities.

Since we are interested in the construction of masculinity, we will limit this first project to those transmen who prefer to be seen simply as men - they are male people. For some, I suspect there is an essentialist position - I am male-bodied (give or take) so I am male, and being male makes me masculine. On the other hand, there will undoubtedly be men who are still female-bodied (give or take) but who have always identified as male in their own experience and have socially constructed a masculine identity based on that internal sense of self.

And of course, there will be a lot of variations in between the essentialist mode and the social constructionist mode (this is the interesting area for exploration from an integral perspective).

That is a very brief sketch of where we are at the moment - now we are trying to refine the questions we want to ask (which may narrow or widen the population pool).

* * * * *

During our discussion, one of the questions that came up is how to take an integral and inclusive approach to psychosexual development (beyond Freud) that does not see LGBT individuals as aberrant?

Another way into this idea is that we can socially construct gender all we want - and we should, it is a socially created label attached to human beings, so we should define it in ways that are inclusive of all variations, not just male- and female-bodied people who are masculine and feminine.

BUT - and this is the real "hard question" to be answered - we are all embodied beings, so how does the reality of intersex and trans people (and all their variations) alter our understanding of embodied gender, and even more fundamentally, embodied sex (not sexuality, which involves with whom one wants to be physically intimate)?

When children - at around the ages of three to five - discover that the world is divided into different kinds of bodies (mostly male and female sexed), they also begin to become aware of the expectations and norms for each sex. Boys play rough and like guns and trucks - girls play house and like dresses and dolls. Kids learn the gendered stereotypes very early.

So this is the emergence of psychosexual development (although it is happening long before children become aware of it in terms of sex and gender identity - It's worth noting that they can tell the difference between male and female faces and voices by the age of one) - and we have pretty basic models for how this works in hegemonic gender roles for heterocentric culture.

What we don't have is a model that adequately explains and does not pathologize those young boys and girls who at around three to five years of age KNOW, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that their bodies do not match their sense of core gender identity (the deep inner feeling a child has about whether he or she is a male or female).

In every trans person I have met and talked with, that was the age at which they became aware of the dissonance - but most were able to ignore it or play it off until puberty hit. When a female-bodied male starts growing breasts and menstruating, it's no longer possible to hide that mismatch. Same for male-bodied women - chest hair, an Adams apple, and a deep voice are hard to ignore.

OK, so let's confuse it even more.

Suppose you are a female-bodied male who knows this from an early age, grows up as a tomboy and sexually becomes identified as a butch lesbian, being attracted to women. You have a niche, feel accepted and loved, but it's still not quite right. The body you wear feels foreign - you hate your breasts, hate having to go to the gyncologist and explain that, yes, you are there for your pap smear, that, yes, you are female-bodied.

So you decide to transition. You find a helpful doctor and begin testosterone shots. You do some research and decide to have top surgery with full reconstruction. Everything is going pretty well at first. You're feeling frisky, your body is beginning to slowly change its muscle and fat distribution, a few stray hairs are sprouting on your chin.

And your partner wants to leave you.

Uh, hold on. Yes, she says she is a lesbian, which means loving and sleeping with women, while you on the other hand, are now well on your way to being a man. That does not work for her, so she is leaving you.

OK, you've been dumped before, you'll survive. So you spend more time at the gym, and the muscle begins to grow, the fat melts away - the weights and the diet are paying off. In fact, a couple of cute gay men were checking you out today. They probably would not be interested if they found out who you really are, but hmmm . . . they are cute. The one with the short choppy hair and big chest was actually kind of hot.

But, uh, wait a minute. I like women, don't I? Why would my sexual preference change with my body? But, damn, every time I think of that guy I get turned on.

How is that for confusing?

That story is a composite of a few different stories, all similar in many ways - but each man discovered himself to be gay after transitioning from a female body to being the man they always knew themselves to be. How do we explain this in social constructionist terms, or better yet in essentialist terms.

The essentialist model would likely just call it gender identity disorder and write it off. Yet the social constructionist model does not account for the biological element - the fact that we are embodied and we cannot escape the body and its desires.

We have a lot of work to do still to sort all this out in a way that honors the differences and is still able to offer an explanatory model.


Anonymous said...

"They probably would not be interested if they found out who you really are, but hmmm . . . they are cute."

You'd be surprised how many still would be.

WH said...

that was actually a near quote from one of the books I am reading - he felt that being "penis challenged" made him not very attractive in the gay community - not all trans guys feel that way I hope

Sage said...

This is absolutely great Bill. You and I, it seems, are thinking along very similar lines, though we are expressing that similarity in somewhat different ways. i am currently writing a book that can best be described as a spiritual autobiography. It is taking up most of my writing focus right now. However, for the last 12 years, I have been working, off and on, on a very different writing project; one that is probably considerably more ambitious.

Twelve years ago I was engaged in a spiritual pilgrimage that ended up lasting 18 months. Prior to the pilgrimage I quite my job, gave up all my possessions, gave away all my savings and prepared to go to India for an undetermined amount of time. Two weeks before leaving for Rishikesh, I received the guidance that I in fact was not supposed to go to India. I was guided to stay here in the Americas.

Soon I was invited to come stay with a friend here in Tucson. At the time this friend was getting a masters degree in Native American studies at U of A. For 18 months I ended up traveling around the country and into Mexico for 18 months studying with Zen and other Buddhist teachers, American Indian Shamans and medicine men and women. I however, was based in Tucson during those 18 months.

I had become a Reiki Master three years prior. I taught Reiki here in Tucson whenever I was here, as a way to make some extra money. Once, to my complete and happy surprise, nothing but men showed up for the Reiki class--straight, gay and bisexually identified men. After the class all of us men ended up talking for several hours well into the early morning talking about each of our understandings the state of men and masculinity. This is when my book, "Being Male: Remembering and Reclaiming the Sacred Masculine" was birthed. I have been working on it now for 12 years. The format for the book has changed over the years. About four years ago I settled on a final format. The book is going to be a series of interviews with all types of men throughout the world. Before each interview will be a brief explanation an analysis of a Jungian inspired description of a male archetype that corresponds with the information given in the interview by the man who will be featured in the following interview. I have made the decision to include FTM transgenders who identify as "male" in this book. I have received a relatively small "grant" of sorts by several friends who are very excited about this project. This and additional money will be used to travel to places around the world to interview men from different cultures so that the book will truly have a multicultural and very diverse foundation.

Once I complete the book I am currently working on, I will devote my time to this book project in earnest.

I have a masters degree in clinical psychology (I went to graduate school with Dr. Chris Blazina, in the masters program we were in. He then went on to a PhD program in counseling psych in Texas). I worked as a social scientist/researcher for 5 years in San Francisco at UCSF as a Project Director for social research looking primarily at gay male couples who were both sero concordantcy and sero discordantcy and how they made or did not make decisions related to seo-sorting withing the context of the relationship. We accepted both MTF (pre-op) and FTM transgenders as research participants in the study.

BTW, here is my email address: