Dysphoria Sucks



I’ve been dysphoric all week-end. I wanted to write about it a little, but when I went looking for an appropriate image, I couldn’t find one – instead I found a ton of images for “Gender Dysphoria”, a term I’d never heard of.

‘Dysphoria’, as I use the term, is basically the opposite of ‘euphoria’:  a profound unease or dissatisfaction with life.  I often say it’s being manic and depressed simultaneously – all the feverish energy of a manic phase, combined with the sadness, negative thoughts, and compulsion to think and rethink them over and over, that goes with depression.  Psychiatrists now call this a “mixed state”, and the DSM-V, the new ‘Bible’ of mental illness, has appropriated the term dysphoria to apply to “Gender Dysphoria”: a profound sense of unease and dissatisfaction with one’s body – most specifically with one’s gender.

As with many aspects of our society, it’s difficult to know if this is something new, or if it is simply being more reported and recognized.  A conversation about sexuality and gender has been getting louder and louder in recent years. On the one side the LGBT community is finally gaining some societal acceptance, and are pushing to bring other people, who don’t fit neatly into society’s gender pigeon-holes, into the open to claim their rights.  On the other side is the conservative right, who maintain that homosexuality is ‘an abomination’ and ‘a disease’ and a ‘threat to the family’.

It’s a little hard for me to speak of that latter group without visualizing the most extreme elements of their point of view (the Westboro Baptists) – but the simple truth is that many, if not most, of the conservative right isn’t so cartoonish in their beliefs.  There are loads of people who feel that homosexuality is, at best, a confusion, and point out that the practice is treated as disgraceful in the Old Testament – and these people cling to the infallibility, and literalness  of the Bible. They maintain that allowing Gay Marriage poses a threat to the institution of marriage (even if they can’t explain what form that threat takes.) They are concerned that if Gays become openly accepted, that children will be tempted to give it a try (that they’ll be ‘infected’ by the ‘disease’ of homosexuality.)

I can understand their point of view. I consider it based in ignorance and intolerance, and I certainly don’t share that point of view, but I can understand it.

I’m not a homosexual – but I only know that for certain, because I’ve tried gay sex, and didn’t find it particularly enjoyable. It just didn’t do anything for me. I was happy to have given pleasure to my partners (yes, I gave it a try on several occasions), but simply didn’t get anything out of the experience myself. By contrast, I’ve had plenty of heterosexual sex, and I enjoyed the hell out of that! When I look at an attractive man, I feel no stirring of sexual attraction, just the academic acknowledgment that he has pleasing features, or a well-maintained body. When I look at almost any woman, I find myself appreciating her curves, her countenance, her eyes – and sometimes (not always) I feel desire. It doesn’t go beyond that; I don’t mentally undress every woman I see. I don’t picture sex with every woman, or wonder what she’d be like in bed – the stirrings of desire don’t include such things, at least not for me. It’s just that where I have an academic appreciation of a handsome man’s looks, I have an enthusiastic appreciation of a handsome woman’s looks!

Therein lies the truth of human sexuality:  it’s not a matter of what stories are a turn-on, or forbidden fruit, or the practice of gay sex – it’s a matter of what a person finds attractive and satisfying.  I find looking at a lovely woman intensely satisfying, but have no enthusiasm for looking at men – even very attractive men. The most I might feel for a man would be envy:  I’m tubby, and would give almost anything to have a flat belly again (and even more to be tall, and even more to have a full head of hair) – but that’s because I think it’d make me more attractive to women.

There’s a continuum – a scale of sexuality, not pigeon holes. There are people who are wholly and completely satisfied by their own gender, and totally indifferent to the opposite one – these people are truly Gay or Lesbian.  There are people who are wholly and completely satisfied by the opposite gender, and totally indifferent to their own – these people are totally heterosexual. In between is a huge degree of diversity, from a little curiosity about homo-, or heterosexual, relations, to a complete parity of attraction to both genders (these would be the truly bi-sexuals.)

In our society it is very slightly more acceptable for women to admit to a curiosity about lesbian sex, than for a man to admit to curiosity about gay sex. On sex sites like swinglifestyle or adultfriendfinder, roughly six times as many women identify themselves as bi, or bi-curious, than men.  It could be argued from that, that maybe curiosity is higher among women – but take a look at Craig’s List:  in the causal encounters section. This morning there are two women, so far, seeking a lesbian encounter – and twenty-three men seeking gay sex! That ratio is pretty consistent, from day to day, and can lead to one of two conclusions: either men are eleven times more likely to be bi-curious than women (which I very much doubt), or men are eleven times more likely to seek a gay encounter, on the down-low.  The latter is my opinion:  I think men are just as likely to be bi-curious as women – but far more men try to turn that curiosity into an actual encounter.

It’s been said (and I believe it fully) that women need a reason to have sex – men just need a place.

If you look at swinging activity, again in Craig’s List, in the category MW4M (Man and Woman looking for a Man), you’ll find a large number of men looking for another guy to join his wife and him for sex – many of them older couples, looking to explore a long-term fantasy. About one in eight of those ads is openly seeking male to male contact (often claiming that this is the wife’s fantasy). In the category of MW4W (Man and Woman looking for a Woman), there are fewer postings – but these are much more insistent that the extra woman is there for the wife’s enjoyment, not the husband’s, and many make a point of saying the man will not participate.

What does all of this mean? Maybe nothing – but maybe the reason LGBT rights are making progress, is that more people are comfortable admitting, if only in private, that they share some of these fantasies. Does that mean the conservatives are right? Is the “disease” spreading? I don’t believe so:  I think men and women have always had these curiosities – and it’s now becoming easier to admit to them, or at least openly sympathize with people who’ve given it a try.

In the ancient world, Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia, China, and Japan (I haven’t studied Indian history, so I can make no statements about them,) homosexuality was common, openly practiced, and bore little if any stigma. In the Bible, there are plenty of stories of barren women sending substitutes into their husband’s bed – and many stories of polygamous men. A close reading of the story of Sodom and Gomorra strongly hints that the wrath of God was for the crime of rape, rather than sodomy. (As a side note, haven’t you ever wondered what the hell they were doing in Gomorra?  I mean, the word ‘sodomy’ has come down to us as an indication of the favorite pastime of the Sodomites – but what the hell was the main pastime in Gomorra?)

I’ve gotten a little off-track, but I’m getting back to it:  a close reading of ancient history will also reveal effeminate men, and masculine women. Japan, which has always been exceedingly frank about sexuality, had plenty of male prostitutes in their teahouses (the up-scale brothels of medieval Japanese society) – and, since the teahouses were almost exclusively for the enjoyment of men, it strongly hints not only that plenty of gay sex was going on – but that plenty of men chose prostitution.  By the same token, men and women were equally samurai, and many women joined their male counterparts on the battlefield. The style of Japanese warfare was also somewhat telling:  it was traditional to begin battles, not with a rush of troops, but with individual samurai on one side, challenging opposing samurai to duels – and there is no record that being defeated by a female warrior was any more shameful than being defeated by a man. Indeed, in that society, the fact of defeat was the source of shame – and not the gender of the person dishing it out!

I mention this to bring things back to the original point of this post:  in one of the very, very few improvements in the DSM, the compilation of mental and emotional illnesses recognized by psychiatry, the previous characterization of “Gender Identity Disorder” has been replaced with “Gender Dysphoria”.  It is a recognition that a person’s identity being at odds with the gender they were born with is notdisorder – but the condition of distress associated with it is still significant, and may require treatment. More and more people, emboldened by the slight lessening of stigma, are coming forward with this complaint – the majority of them men, it seems, though this may be another artifact of our society, which has very rigid definitions of ‘masculine’ and considerably less rigid definitions of ‘feminine’.

(If you doubt this, I invite you to consider two comic-book superheroes:  Captain America is almost the definition of ‘masculine’ – but is Black-Widow in any way un-feminine? Almost any adjective that could be applied to Scarlett Johansen’s character in the Avenger’s movies, with the exception of ‘pretty’ and ‘curvy’, could be applied to any of her male co-stars – but she’s not considered ‘masculine’ in any way! Welcome to the double-standards of our society.)

It leads one to wonder just exactly how much of their distress is generated by the expectations of society. Not all of it, I’m certain:  anyone who feels him or herself a member of the opposite gender trapped in an unmatching body is going to feel a certain amount of distress, regardless of society’s definitions. Society’s definitions are changing, as well, albeit slowly – but the trouble is not, strictly speaking, one of harassment:  the discomfort these people feel is, to a fair extent, a product of their own biology at work!

Boy is that statement going to get me in trouble.  Before anyone goes ballistic, let me explain, please.

Humans, however special I believe our species to be, are, nevertheless animals.  Our full taxonomic description is Animalia Chordata Mammalia Primate Haplorhini Hominidae Homo Sapiens Sapiens.  We bear a huge number of things in common with other animals on this planet – vastly more things, in fact, than there are differences. One of those many things is the manner in which the brain matures:  for all higher animals, there are instincts, programmed at the genetic level, which represent tried and proven methods of succeeding in life. Beyond instincts are the fundamental processes of development: one of which is the assignment of gender. For each species of animal, there are instincts encoded for the generation, care, education, and protection of offspring. These instincts include such things as “how to choose a mate”, “Will that mating be for life?”, “Who will look after the young?”, “Who will provide sustenance?”, “How should the offspring be trained?”

Each of those roles is predicated on gender. Humans, for instance, mate for life (in theory, anyway), women initially care for the young, while men, initially, provide for the family, and each plays a role in instruction of the child. In other species, those rules are different, but the genetic coding of those roles is the same. And, because everything depends on gender, confusion of gender identity has devastating psychological consequences.

I don’t know how it is for other animals, but for humans it strongly appears that children are born with an innate sense of their gender – and they are provided with prototypes for those genders.  The concept of prototypes is a component of one theory of how memory works … think of a bird, for instance:  it has wings, two legs, a beak, and feathers. Now tell me, which of these are birds: eagles, badgers, penguins, dogs, horses, robins, ostriches?

This test, performed with precision measuring equipment demonstrated that test subjects identified eagles and robins as birds much more quickly than they identified penguins and ostriches. The experiment strongly implies we have one ideal bird stored in our minds – a prototype that typifies this class of object. As we learn more examples of the class, they are stored closer, or farther from the prototype (or allied with it by stronger or weaker connections), depending on how closely they resemble the prototype. Eagles, Falcons, Robins, Crows, are all very close to the prototypical bird. Penguins, Emus, and Ostriches, while still being birds, are very unusual birds, and their connection with the prototype is much weaker.

If this theory is true (and there’s lots of evidence that this is one important way we store information) then we also have a prototype of Man and Woman. For most children, that’s mom and dad. Children are programmed to seek a mate close to the characteristics of the opposite gendered parent – which is why girls tend be like their mothers, and find guys who are like their fathers, and boys tend to act like their fathers, and seek to find girls similar to their mothers. The trouble is, the prototype of man and woman is constructed by a very young child – likely well before age six. So the prototype of man may be “gets drunk”, “beats the woman”, “is selfish”. The prototype of the woman in that relationship may be “takes abuse”, “pacifies the man”, etc.

It’s been noted again and again and again that spousal abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence occur in generational cycles. If little Johnny’s father is abusive, it is extremely likely that he will be, too. If little Jane’s mother allows herself to be abused, and remains in a codependent relationship, Jane likely will, too – and each will seek a mate that matches the other side of that coin. Johnny will find a woman who accepts abuse; Jane will find a man who’s an abuser. Not always of course, but often enough for people to recognize the pattern.

There’s another set of phenomena, though:  those rules tend to apply to firstborn male and female only – each subsequent child has more males and females to choose from, and composes his or her prototypes more liberally. If a Man or Woman is missing from the family, the children will seek a different person to base a prototype on.

All of that applies adequately to children who feel comfortable with their gender – those who do not, though, are going to encounter massive confusion. A big part of that confusion is the fact that they recognize they bear little in common with the prototype for their gender. They still, however, come complete with a full set of human instincts – and as time goes by they’ll realize that their instincts are inappropriate to their gender, generating more pain and confusion!  Human instincts are somewhat degraded compared to those of other animals – but they aren’t gone, and the child will grow into an adult that sees him or herself as being inadequate:  ill-cast for the roles they’re expected to conform to.

So far, every bit of that pain and confusion is inherent to that person, and self-inflicted – but it won’t be that way for long! Other people will soon recognize and point out their differences – children are awesome at detecting a person’s weak spots, and utterly ruthless at exploiting them. Adults do little to help, because they have their own prototypes to deal with.  Mom or Dad may say “It’s not your fault …” but the unspoken addition is always there “that you’re weird“. They might indignantly claim that that wasn’t in their minds – but it’s what the child will perceive – and I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that there isn’t a person reading this that doesn’t know what the perceived disapproval of a parent feels like!

The worst of it all is, since this isn’t a disorder, it cannot be cured – and treatment has to consist of training a person to ignore some of the most fundamental instincts they possess – because even if the person has the resources for sexual reassignment surgery, at the very best they can only be made to resemble the gender they identify with, and simulate the sexuality of that gender. The financial cost is enormous, the pain of the surgical procedures considerable, and even when it’s done, society still will have difficulty viewing them as members of their new gender – as the recent tribulations of Caitlyn Jenner show.

I hadn’t intended to extend this into a discussion of the Law – but I find I really cannot write an article about Gender and Sexuality without addressing the legal ramifications.

Let’s begin with my own beliefs, just to make it clear where I’m coming from:  I believe people are people, regardless of their gender or sexual preferences, and all should enjoy equal rights under our laws.  That includes the right to marry as they see fit – and I don’t mean only same-sex marriage: polygamy, and polyamory should be permitted as well. I don’t think either of the latter is a particularly good idea – and I know such relationships are difficult to manage to everyone’s satisfaction – but I can’t think of any good reason why they should’t be on the table.

In America, a person is innocent till proven guilty;  in exactly the same way, it shouldn’t be necessary to declare it ok to have same-sex marriages – rather, it ought to be necessary to prove that something should not be allowed!

As for the “Threat to the Family”, I don’t see one.  Not as regards same-sex marriages, anyway.  Most such unions are between people who’ve been lovers in a stable relationship for years.  Two men calling one another “husband” or “partner” or two women calling one another “wife” poses no threat to the family that I can see. What does pose a threat to the family are men or women who decide to cheat on their spouse, people who marry and divorce every few years, people who have children they aren’t prepared to raise!

Of course, I’m not using the word ‘Family’ the way the conservative right does:  they define a family as a man, his wife, and their children.  If those are your definitions, then same-sex does threaten the family – it threatens to broaden the definition.

The conservative right has another argument, that’s not so easily dismissed. Many claim that same-sex marriage forces them to accept things that they believe their religion condemns.  I suppose that’s true in one way:  they will be forced to accord gays the same rights as anyone else – but they aren’t being forced to agree with the practice of homosexuality, just to regard homosexuals as people.  When they come out declaring that God, himself, condemns this, I’m forced to ask, where???

It’s not in the ten commandments, which were dictated directly by God.  It is in Leviticus – the extended compilation of Judaic law – but those laws were enacted by people not dictated by God, and referred to the culture of the time! In those days, homosexual relations were generally between a man and a slave – a catamite, or slave specifically intended as a sex-toy.  It was considered an obligation for Jewish men to either be a) Holy and chaste, or b) married.  For the first of these, using a catamite would be a violation of their oath of chastity – and for the second it would be adultery! (And that one IS in the ten commandments!)

Even if you claim my interpretation to be incorrect, Leviticus won’t help you at all – because Paul declares Jesus to be the end of the law!  It’s why Christians wear clothing of more than one material, why we eat pork and shellfish, why we can play football (there’s a law about not touching a dead pig’s skin), and why we do not sell our daughters into slavery (a sale which Leviticus says is ok.)

Then there’s Paul. The Paul. The compiler and codifier of Christianity’s earliest dogma – whose words are still more influential than anyone’s but Christ. In Corinthians, and Timothy, Paul makes some statements about who is damned well not going to make it into the kingdom of heaven.  In those books the words Malakoi and Arsenokoitai are often translated as referring to homosexuals. Some translators, though, feel that a better translation would be “pervert” or “Dirty Old Man”.  Still, it cannot be argued that Paul clearly did take a very dim view of gay sex.  He also felt that long hair on a man was “unnatural” (he’d almost certainly spin in his grave at the way Jesus is normally depicted), and that women should keep their mouths shut in church.

Oh, well.

Look, I can go on all day, but the simple point is, no one on the Christian Right is harmed by gay sex – unless they engage in it, get caught, and are cast out of their church, marriage, family, etc.  It is completely irrelevant to my life who you sleep with, and totally irrelevant to your life who I sleep with.  Jesus gave us two laws, and only two:  Love God, and  love everyone else at least as much as you love yourself.

Curious that the Christian Right so frequently forgets that.


~ by dourscot on February 16, 2016.

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