Projection

I never understood “projection,” in the psychiatric sense, until the last year of my marriage.

Why would anyone project? It just didn’t seem intuitive to me. Just because I like ska or kimchi, I reasoned, doesn’t mean everyone else likes ska or kimchi, or that I’d approach people with the mysterious assumption that they do.

But it isn’t like that. Per a Healthline article, projection is “unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and attributing them to someone else.” And per my experience, it’s not a disconnected belief about random, isolated activities. It comes from the person’s very worldview. It comes from his inability to imagine that others don’t share the same worldview, and the resulting assumption that others can naturally be expected to do what he, himself, does.

For example, my ex told all of our mutual friends, several times over the course of several years, that I was stalking him.

He thought I was stalking him because he was stalking me. Once, when we were still married, he walked behind my chair, took notes, chased down my online activities, complained about them (and admitted to finding them via snooping). After we divorced, he performed advanced searches to find posts on various forums and blogs I’d made with completely anonymous screen names and profiles. Once, he actually made a software bot (it’s still out there) to find out when I came up on a popular message board service. That’s stalking!

By contrast, I saw public posts he made on Facebook while we were still “Facebook friends.” Not stalking.

Stalking is not like ska or kimchi. Stalking comes from a deeply engrained, very entitled, very male way of looking at the world. To him, wondering what your ex is doing, and feeling entitled to find out, and getting mad about whatever that is, is the most natural thing in the world. Of course it is. Men are raised with the belief that they own women–however subconscious, however modern liberalism thinks it’s stamping this out. Men find it infuriating when their “property,” or “ex-property,” isn’t where and how they left it. They want to know it. They want to protect their reputation–for men, it’s embarrassing when you’re disobeyed. They want to correct the infraction.

This isn’t a woman’s thing, bruh.

At least three of my other exes (all male) have stalked me. Often for years, just as my ex is doing.

My ex also tells people I abused him. I don’t know what he’s referring to–probably “misgendering,” which I didn’t even do while we were married. Probably disagreeing with him. That sort of thing.

To the class of people who always gets their way, not getting your way feels like abuse.

I don’t really like to say my ex abused me, because I don’t have a victim complex. In general, I tend to consider it partly my fault if I’m putting up with bullshit. Maybe that’s a failure to protect my own boundaries. Maybe that’s female socialization.

But when I read about the signs of emotional abuse, I see it clearly. Stalking is one of the classic ones, for example. So is accusing the other person of being the abuser. Actively working to turn others against you–wow. The evidence of this last one is piled to the sky. His social media history since the divorce. The ultimatums he dropped on our mutual friends–they could be friends with him or me, but not both. The blatant lies about me, right down to putting words in my mouth I didn’t, and wouldn’t, say.

Shutting down communication. For the transgender person, there are lots of socially-sanctioned ways to do this one: claiming to feel “unsafe.” Claiming to feel “triggered.” Declaring a whole host of topics off limits–transition plans, motivations, surgery, pronouns, women’s rights, feminism.

Outbursts, feigned helplessness, dismissiveness, using people, separating the partner from her friends. Check. He even undermined my attempts to make friends before the final meltdown and divorce.

Anyway, projection. Yet another way in which this male person shows his male socialization and male worldview.

Postmodern Sex

Articles keep popping up advising people (especially lesbians) on how to “have sex” with trans women. Among the creative acts recommended are “muffing” (fingering the inguinal canals, which are the indentations in the pelvis bone from which the testicles descended at puberty) and “eating ass.”

These ideas are usually proffered when people (especially lesbians) assert that they are not attracted to male bodies or penises. Well! goes the argument. That’s ok. Because sex with trans women doesn’t have to involve penises. It can involve, say, pelvis indentations and asses.

The problem with these recommendations is twofold. Problem one: people aren’t interested in becoming physically intimate with people they aren’t attracted to, notwithstanding the availability of previously-unimagined orifices.

Problem two: these acts aren’t all that enjoyable, especially to the performer. Arguably, they aren’t even sex.

Perhaps it’s intrinsically pleasurable to have your inguinal canal fingered. I wouldn’t know–I don’t have inguinal canals. However, I’m going to openly doubt it. I think it’s more likely that it’s validating–it allows trans women to imagine that they’re having some sort of sex, especially in a receptive (read “feminine”) way, especially with someone (i.e. a lesbian) who typically enjoys fingering and licking the bodies of actual females.

I’ve got this apparently old-fashioned view of sex, where it’s something you do with someone you’re attracted to, someone whose body you want to explore and ravish because you’re driven mad by it. For me, sex is not body parts chosen from an ala carte menu. It’s not an opportunity to signal your political alliances. It’s not when a reluctant person is pressured to rub up against another person whose body is, because of medical intervention, no longer sexually responsive.

We can keep stretching the definition of sex to its breaking point. For example, it’s pleasurable when someone rubs the inside of your elbow, too. But it isn’t sex. If it were sex, some of those who’ve experienced this pleasure would have to say they’ve had sex with their massage therapists, their doctors and their parents.

Sometimes strap-ons are defended as the “real” sex organs of trans men. Is it sex, then, if you retrieve a trans man’s dildo from her dresser drawer and stroke it when she isn’t home? With her consent, of course. I mean, if you’re attracted to men, why shouldn’t you be attracted to a trans man’s male organ?

These tortured definitions of sex become inevitable under queer theory. That’s why Judith Butler had to coin the term “post-genital sexuality.”

After all, if you’re going to defend transgender hormone use and surgery, you’re going to have to address the pesky concern that such interventions nearly always render their recipients uninterested in sex and/or unable to orgasm (don’t ask them–they lie about this. Ask their partners). And for some reason, as a transgender activist, you can’t tell the truth about this, perhaps choosing to defend transgender treatment as nonetheless worth the sacrifice. Instead, you have to pretend that hormone-using and post-op trans people have amazing and vibrant sex lives.

I get it. Any buyer’s remorse for those who have sacrificed their sexual pleasure to “gender” must be literally intolerable. As in, not to be tolerated. To be suppressed via rationalization.

Plus, “We’ll eliminate your orgasms!” is just bad PR.

Unfortunately, this defense mechanism hurts other people. Gender-questioning children and others who are being fed a lie about their future sexual and romantic prospects. Young lesbians who feel pressured to lick a man’s ass before admitting that they exclusively love, and desire, women.

Patriarchy’s always tried to get women to lick men’s asses. It’s just getting a lot more literal.

Pronouns and the Purpose of Language

The purpose of language is communication, whatever our other aspirations for it may be. Toward this end, it must be easy to use, flexible and clear.

Once in a while, someone tries to change language for idealistic purposes. A convenient example is feminists’ perennial attempts to change the word “women” to something like “womyn” to separate it, philosophically, from the word “man.” The word spellings are only related, feminists argue, because men are considered the default sex and women are defined in relation to men. We should stop spelling the words to reflect these old biases.

Admirable goal. But efforts like these have always failed. That’s because this isn’t how language works. Language is a tool, not a PR kit. Thus, it changes organically, never by decree. Trying to change it into a vehicle for propaganda, however well-intentioned, takes it further away from what it’s designed to do.  It’s for communicating, not signaling

That’s why dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. And that’s why people on all sides of the political spectrum are misguided when they petition to change dictionary definitions, as when a trans-rights group recently petitioned to expand the definition of “woman,” and then a radical feminist group, in turn, petitioned to further restrict that definition. Neither side should win. The dictionary should reflect common use. It’s a reference.

That brings us to “preferred pronouns.” Though journalists are doing a fine job of using them to signal, no one’s faring as well when trying to use them to communicate.

Let’s start with this fact: “preferred pronouns” are for people who don’t pass. People who do (though I maintain that’s rare) don’t need to tell you their pronouns. In practice, this means that to ask someone to use your pronouns is specifically to ask her to say the opposite of what she means. Then, those listening, if they’re to understand, must interpret what she says in a way that’s unintuitive. Both speaker and listener must work harder, and all this for less, rather than more clarity. That’s our first problem for communication, out of the gate.

But the problem is not just theoretical. Here are some examples of how I’ve watched this particular language prescription fail.

The first is from personal experience. At some point after a stint of light cross-dressing, my ex began to say he was “literally” a woman and that he wanted to be called “she.”

At the same time, he didn’t dress excessively “feminine.” This is something he was proud of. “Women don’t go everywhere dressed to the nines,” he said (this all changed later, but that’s another story). So he wore a lot of things like jeans with a subtle floral pattern, scarves, and high-top tennis shoes. In practice, this meant he looked a man with some flair, not a woman.

One time we met another couple (a man and a woman) at a bar. The three of them arrived before me, and my spouse started a tab. At this particular bar, one opened a tab without providing a credit card. The bartenders just remembered your face. The three of them got their drinks and took a seat in a booth not far from the bar.

When I arrived, the spouse informed me of the tab. So I went to the bar and ordered a drink. Mind you, this was a bar, so it was loud–people talking, TVs playing. At the same time, my party was in a booth nearby, within earshot of the bar–especially if I talked loud, which I had to do to be heard.

“Are you on someone’s tab?” the bartender asked.

“Yes,” I said, and pointed toward my party.

“Whose tab?” the bartender asked.

And here’s where, in order to please my spouse, I needed to point at him and say: “hers.” Remember, he was within earshot.

But if I had done that, the bartender would have assumed that I was talking about the only woman at the table. That’s what “hers” means, for communication purposes–the tab belonging to the woman. Signaling is another story. But signaling doesn’t get the job done, especially when the conversation is loud and fast-paced and casual.

So I had to say something else, and “that person’s” sounds a bit objectifying (as well as unexpected, and thus unclear). How about “I am on the tab belonging to the person in the t-shirt with the mermaid on it?” Too long. The bartender is in a hurry. He wants to know the answer to his question. He does not want to participate in a signaling song-and-dance that helps me hide reality from my insecure partner.

“Her” can be used in an article about a “trans woman,” where there’s plenty of space and time to tweak for clarity. “Her” can’t be used in this way to communicate in practice.

My second example is from personal experience, too. I’ll soon be speaking on a panel at a conference with three other graduates, and we’re coordinating our plans on an email thread, with our professor. Only one male person is involved. Let’s call him Richard. The other students, and the professor, are female.

One young woman on the thread has printed “preferred pronouns” in her email signature. She’s listed “she/her,” “he/him,” and “they/them.” Because she wants all the queer cred. By the way, she’s a thin, pretty young woman with long blonde hair, a helium voice, and delicate skin, who primarily wears dresses. She also has a very feminine name. Let’s call her Alyssa.

If I started to refer to Alyssa as “he” on the thread, do you suppose anyone would know what I was talking about?

If what I said could in any way be applied to Richard, they’d assume I was talking about Richard. If it couldn’t, they’d assume they’d missed something or that I was simply making zero sense. Under no circumstance would people assume I was talking about Alyssa.

In fact, it would be so clearly absurd for me to do so, that they might think I was making fun of Alyssa’s pronoun request.

My third example is from a non-fiction audiobook I recently listened to. The author had interviewed a person named “Julie” who preferred the pronouns “they” and “them.”

Note that before the author can proceed, he must forewarn and explain the use of these pronouns. Simply using them, as though the goal were communication, is not an option. Here’s how the author opened. I’m paraphrasing:

“Julie is an expert in this field. They–Julie prefers the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’–have been studying this topic for many years.”

Great for signaling. We can tell the author is probably a liberal and an LGBT ally. But less great for communicating. As you’ll see, we can no longer follow what’s going on with Julie  once we abandon language as communication tool. Check out some of the statements that follow:

“Julie comes from a big Catholic family who lives in a small town, and they always wanted to move to the city.”

The family wants to move to the city, right? “They” is plural, and that’s what a sentence like this has always meant. No, actually Julie wants to move to the city, to get away from her family. The big Catholic family loves the country!

But the author didn’t write that sentence, he wrote this one:

“Julie comes from a big Catholic family who lives in a small town, and Julie always wanted to move to the city.”

Why? Because “they” doesn’t convey the intended meaning. Pronouns haven’t been swapped, here. They’ve been rendered useless.

Then he writes this:

“Julie joined a sorority and Julie started taking Spanish lessons.”

You can see why. Because the sorority, despite containing a plurality of members, is not who took those lessons. And the author can’t signal his allyship to Julie and communicate effectively at the same time.

Twice, now, Julie’s pronoun demands have inhibited the author’s ability to be clear. Rather than figure out how to make “they” work, he’s had to abandon pronouns altogether–an entire part of speech. And he’s writing, so he has time to figure something out. What happens when he’s talking, he’s in a hurry, and the person he’s referring to is named Sharmishtha?

Might as well wrap a hammer in six yards of plush fake fur, on the grounds that we want safer hammers, then ask a construction crew to build a house with it.

Transgenderism’s Test of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

The United States is losing its mind. Dishonesty permeates every facet of life here, from academia’s illicit courtship with postmodernism to corporate buzzspeak to a journalism dominated by clickbait–to say nothing of political discourse. What has been going on since long before “I didn’t inhale” has culminated in “there is no pandemic” and since we accepted it then, we have little excuse to stop accepting it now. “Trans women are literally women” is but a symptom of this disease.

While the entire Western world is fucked in its own ways, I’ve come to understand–through travels abroad, conversations with international friends and now my experiences with presses and agents overseas–that much of the world is not as fucked as we are. Even in nations where the local conservative parties are more liberal than our liberal parties, people do not feel compelled to pretend that “trans women are women.” 

Many have noted the similarities between the language of modern transgender activism and the truth-obfuscating “Ministry of Truth” in George Orwell’s 1984. Conversion therapy has come to mean not turning gay kids into straight ones. Taking on a practiced and purchased persona has come to mean becoming your “true, authentic self.” A surgery to remove body parts is described as a way to make someone feel “whole.” “Trans women are women” is the new two plus two equals five. And whole news stories, WordPress blogs, Reddit forums, and even inconvenient scientific studies have gone straight down the “memory hole,” lest someone get exposed to the wrong thoughts. 

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a linguistic theory that has gone in and out of favor over time, argues that language influences or even dictates thought. Like other feminists, I’ve observed the erasure of the word “woman” and watched that translate to an inability to speak about an entire class of people, leading directly to an inability to pursue activism on behalf of that class. This isn’t hypothetical; it’s playing out in the real world. Male activists are infiltrating and shutting down rape support groups, crisis centers, feminist consciousness-raising spaces, reproductive rights campaigns and even resources for pregnant women in the name of reducing their feelings of “exclusion.”

What I hadn’t thought as much about was how language might foster delusion in mentally-ill trans people themselves.

A recent conversation with a native Japanese speaker showed me that the English language presents the “perfect storm” for the transgender lobby’s insistence upon “preferred pronouns.”  In her language, she said, it isn’t possible to demand that others use particular pronouns because pronouns don’t exist.

The romance languages, like French and Spanish, also muddle the pronoun issue, but for the opposite reason. They have pronouns for everything. People have genders, objects have genders, concepts have genders, and even adjectives reflect the gender of other parts of speech. The word for “it” sometimes means “he” or “they” but not “she”–how would you affirm a non-binary femme in such a language? Choosing a pronoun isn’t straightforward; it’s subject to myriad and complex rules. The person being referred to is but one factor and not always the most important one.

In English, however, pronouns exist and they refer primarily to people. It’s easy to insist that others call you “she,” because “she” is a word and it isn’t being used so indiscriminately that it loses its “affirming” potency. When someone calls you she, they must think you’re a woman!

Though there’s a widespread belief that late-transitioning, primarily-straight men are “faking it,” my ex does believe that he is a woman. Yes, it’s hard to imagine the cognitive dissonance. And yes, the carefully-curated selfies, the cries of “exclusion” and the frequent identity-related meltdowns reveal a deep insecurity around identity. But delusions are a thing, however little sense they sometimes make. He also experienced delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution (more in my book–coming soon!).

And here’s the thing–as he received more and more “affirmation” from others–from friends using “preferred pronouns” to social media accolades–his delusions grew worse, not better. 

Suppose the idea that one is the opposite sex is a straightforward break with reality, not qualitatively different from other types of delusions. Perhaps, then, it doesn’t promote the health of a transgender person to “affirm” his gender, any more than it promotes the health of a schizophrenic to “affirm” the microchip a foreign government implanted in his brain.

Statistically, the numbers of transgender people are climbing exponentially in the U.S. and the U.K., both English-speaking countries. Anecdotally, though we don’t have sufficient studies, that isn’t happening in Japan or much of Western Europe. Are English-speaking people with gender dysphoria sicker than their counterparts who speak other languages? Could we be watching the power of language to influence thought, particularly in the vulnerable?

When Your Values Are at Odds with Transition

One thing that happens when you write a memoir is that your values become abundantly clear.

A memoir, even when it’s about the author’s encounter with a difficult person, is about the author herself. It won’t resonate with readers if it’s a just list of complaints about someone else.

If you’re doing your job while you’re composing a memoir, you’re asking yourself:

  • Why did that one incident, in particular, bother me?
  • What was it I found odd about the other person’s stance that I couldn’t quite put my finger on?
  • What was I trying to say in that argument we had?
  • What couldn’t I abide, in the end, and why?
  • What final straw broke the camel’s back?

What’s become clear is that my values were at odds with my ex’s. Specifically, my values were at odds with the values he acquired as he became involved in transgender activism.

My ex likes to twist any value difference between us into “transphobia” on my part. For him, it simply isn’t possible to hold legitimate values at odds with his own. There are only illegitimate ones, namely, conservatism and aversion to difference. Thus, if I’m not on board I must be a conservative and a person who was “disgusted” with his presentation.

It’s a bald-faced lie. I vote democrat. I’m 100% pro-choice (unlike my ex, who once said pregnant minors should have to consult their parents before getting an abortion). I recognize and sympathize with the oppression of minorities. I’m in a same-sex relationship. I support the right of everyone to love who they love and wear what they want. I’ve dated “girly” boys and “manly” women (for lack of better terms). I supported my ex’s identity in many ways, before he lost his mind, from buying him clothes and manicures to role-playing in bed.

So no.

I am not a conservative and never have been. My ex’s values changed, not mine. The values I hold, which I’m about to share, were once his, too. Or at least he said they were.

These are the values I hold that interfered with our relationship after he began to pursue transition:

  • Honesty. I couldn’t keep lying to someone and for someone. I couldn’t keep moving my mouth in the service of dishonesty without feeling dirty and compromising my soul. I couldn’t keep biting my tongue and censoring myself to keep from blowing over someone else’s house of cards. I intend to live and speak the truth, however inconvenient for others.
  • Body-positivity. It’s kind of a dumb modern phrase, but the concept is sound. It’s better to love your body than to hate it. It’s better to treat it kindly than to harm it.  It’s better to age gracefully than to pursue youth and beauty. A person’s value comes from his mind and his ethics, not in the conformity of his body to some standard. Physicality is superficial. A failure to come to terms with one’s physicality is a failure of mental health because it’s unsustainable: our bodies deteriorate and forever move toward an undesirable state. There is no a way to “support” a transitioning person without encouraging or condoning his bodily hatred. And because I’m not religious, bodily hatred is self-hatred. There aren’t “good” reasons to hate your body, and I can’t, in good conscience, support someone’s idea that there are and watch him injure himself in the service of that self-hatred.
  • Emotional intimacy. You aren’t being emotionally intimate when you’re lying or being lied to. You can’t become close when you’re evading topics because you don’t want to hurt feelings or you fear increasingly frequent outbursts of temper. When calm and rational discussions must end because of thought-terminating phrases about “triggering” and “feeling safe,” real communication has been lost.
  • Physical intimacy. This is threatened when one partner’s addiction to role-playing supersedes normal sex. It’s threatened when one partner removes and suppresses the sex characteristics that turn the other partner on. It’s threatened when one partner’s self-centeredness precludes his interest in pleasing his partner.  It’s threatened by the decreased sexual response that are a side-effect of hormones. It’s threatened by surgery.
  • A tremendous respect for female people. It is simply not possible to value women in all our uniqueness while defending or accepting the idea that we are nothing but a collection of indistinct traits, indistinguishable from kangaroos, smoke and mirrors, and men who play Grand Theft Auto and jack off to tranny porn. Women are people who are shaped by intense shared experiences from childhood sexualization to the need to subdue rivers of blood to the knowledge that a new human being can emerge from our bodies if we’re not careful. This is not trivial.  One cannot respect women while subordinating women to whichever men utter the right incantations.

I won’t apologize for valuing honesty, body-positivity, intimacy and a respect for female people.

Instead, opponents need to explain why dishonesty, self-hatred, a compromised ability to participate intimately with a partner and a hatred of women must become a necessary consequence of gender dysphoria.

Is it Kind to Lie to a Transgender Person?

Being in a relationship with a “trans woman,” under the currently popular ideology, means telling an extraordinary number of lies. The most obvious of these is “you are a woman.” I’ll get to some of the others in a moment.

The transgender person thinks this particular lie is true and doesn’t know that his friends are telling him a story. The transgender person’s friends think this is a polite lie for the sake of kindness or a purely semantic concession and don’t know that the transgender person genuinely believes otherwise (such a level of delusion seems unlikely to many). The fact that neither side knows what the other is thinking is one of the hazards of choosing to lie.

I think a case can be made for never lying in any arena of lie.  It’s a goal I work toward every day. Starting from a place of sound ethics and bravery can make it possible to tell the truth in a compassionate way.  Sure, you can tell your friend that you like her ugly haircut and probably never suffer any consequences. Or you can say nothing, which is my recommendation in this situation. Or you can learn to say, if directly asked, something honest: “It’s awfully short, isn’t it? I have to say I preferred it when you wore it a little longer. But if you like it, that’s all that matters. That’s a popular style now. A lot of people like it!”

But let’s put aside the question of whether one can live without lying, ever, and focus on the question of lying to a transgender person.

Is it really kind?

A detransitioned female I’ve met, who sometimes writes under the name Maria Catt, says it isn’t. I’m paraphrasing from memory, because the post has been made private, but she said there’s “no respect” in simply acquiescing to your friends’ demands instead of treating them like capable adults who can handle the truth.

Here are some of the lies we tell to transgender people. My examples are skewed toward male-to-females, as that’s where my experience lies.

Lie #1: You Pass

During the time I spent heavily involved in the transgender community I met hundreds of transgender people. Some used cosmetic enhancements or prosthetics only, some took hormones, some had undergone a few surgeries, and some had undergone every surgery you can think of.  General (but very reliable) rule: these people do not pass. By and large it’s just not a thing. And importantly, when someone comes close to passing, the event is wholly unrelated to the interventions they’ve done. Skinny young dudes with good skin sometimes come close with no interventions whatsoever. People who’ve had every surgery known to man sometimes still look like guys in drag. 

But we tell transgender people they pass and we further we imply it via “gendering” and insincere compliments about their beauty.

Lie #2: You Can Pass

As mentioned above, interventions generally do not increase the chance of passing. So why does society perpetuate the myth that they do?

Suppose there was a line representing appearance as indicated below. “Masculine” looking people are at the left end, at the value 1. “Feminine” looking people are at the right end, at 200. As it turns out, looking masculine versus looking feminine correlate quite well to sex. Numbers 1 to 100 are men and the average man sits at 50. Numbers 100 to 200 are women, and the average woman sits at 150.

Transgender males who take hormones see themselves move from 50 to 52 . It’s an actual change. There are A-cup boobs there when there weren’t before. There’s a softening of the skin. And because transgender people, like people with other forms of body dysmorphic disorder,  spend a lot of time evaluating themselves in the mirror, this difference is heightened to them. They think it’s a 130. But the rest of us see a 52. To the rest of us, a 52 comes nowhere near approaching the most masculine female we know. Strangers who aren’t attuned to the political culture are unlikely to even notice in some cases.

Transgender people think their interventions are working. Everyone else knows better. Neither side knows what the other is thinking.

Consider the hazards of perpetuating the myth “you can pass.” Not only does it encourage the transgender person down the path of hormones and surgery, and the attendant health problems with that, but it does so for literally no objective benefit. That’s just sad.

Cognitive dissonance is a fickle thing and it sometimes wanes (I’ve seen it happen). It’s a hard wake-up call when that waning accompanies a realization that one’s finances, relationships and health have been compromised in the service of a lie.

Lie #3: Sex Isn’t Real

Because of that aforementioned mirror-gazing, transgender people are legitimately under the impression that bolt-on tits and eyeliner create a reasonable facsimile of a woman.

Recently I vacationed on the coast. About a mile away from me a beach security vehicle stopped and the driver opened the door. I expected the driver to be male because, you know, unconscious bias. But the driver was female. She wasn’t especially curvy and I couldn’t see her tits or her eyeliner (if any) from that distance. In fact, she was in a shapeless uniform and had short hair. But it was clear she was female. She started a slow walk toward me and eventually crossed my path, where I could confirm, though it wasn’t necessary, that she was in fact a woman.

People can tell females from males, even at great distances. It’s more than tits and eyeliner. It’s the tilt of a pelvis, the shape of a back, the curve of an ankle, the length of a forearm. Even a female’s cough sounds different from a male’s. There aren’t enough interventions to override this incredibly pervasive cellular information.

People (including children) know what sex other people are because it’s an innate and necessary skill. It matters when evaluating threat, choosing allies, maintaining family relationships, and evaluating sexual partners.

That brings us to the next lie.

Lie #4 Straight Men and Lesbians Want to Date You

My ex once posted that straight men were “too cowardly” to date him. I don’t engage with him but I wanted to scream, for his benefit more than anyone else’s, the much simpler explanation:  Straight men like pussy!

There’s a huge amount of propaganda out there about the dating prospects of trans people, especially post-op. The LGBT world promotes the lie that lesbians are attracted not to female bodies or female people, but to invisible female-identification occurring in the other person’s brain and/or to female-impersonating bodily modifications. It doesn’t work that way. Lesbians are attracted to females, not to disembodied tits. Otherwise they could glue a bra to a robot and never leave the house.

The medical community perpetuates another set of myths: that hormones won’t interfere with erections and surgery won’t interfere with orgasm. Finally, the mainstream news is full of stories about trans people with supportive partners or vibrant dating lives. The rare reportage of breakups and divorces places the blame on the partner’s failure to adapt.

Everyone ignores the elephant in the room: people who prefer men prefer unaltered men, and people who prefer women are not satisfied by facsimiles of women.

In an illumination of the two-facedness of this lie, everyone pretends it’s someone else’s job to step up and date trans people. I wish I had a nickel for every person who criticized the way I was managing my relationship, despite telling me they would have bailed after the first confession.

Meanwhile, trans people themselves are all over social media posting, “So weird and utterly inexplicable, but I can’t find anyone to date!”

People care about the sex organs of their partner. They care what they are, whether they work, and whether they can be named and enjoyed without a meltdown on the part of their owner. People care very much. People want to enjoy sex, not ineffectually stroke non-functioning and/or simulated organs.

This may sound mean. But it’s even meaner to wait until transgender people have undergone these interventions before letting the harsh truth sink in.

Pretending that hormones, surgery and a rejection of one’s own sex has no effect on dating prospects is nothing short of cruel.

I Think of You As a Woman

No, you don’t.

You’re not trying to fix him up with your dad. You’re not asking him for advice on natural childbirth techniques. You’re not inviting him to ladies night at the wine bar.

And he has noticed. But he’s choosing to cling to the pleasant lies you tell instead of the unpleasant reality you represent.

Lying isn’t a good thing. I couldn’t keep doing it. I couldn’t keep doing it for the sake of my own soul and I couldn’t keep doing it for the sake of his.

Lying to yourself is even more pernicious than lying to others, because it makes you ill-equipped to handle life. I couldn’t enable that any longer. Enabling a person’s self-deception is harmful to their survival.

This is intuitive–we don’t tell anorexics they need lipo or Michael Jackson he needs another nose job. But it’s more than philosophical. It was my experience in direct practice, as well. The more my ex pursued the comfort of lies, the sicker he became, the more he hated himself, and the more depressed he became–until he was contemplating suicide.

There’s no easy answer. But being honest and ethical has to be a start.

“Listen to Trans People’s Stories”

“Listen to trans people’s stories!” is a common response when women hint at the possibility that being trans is not exactly the same thing as being female.

As someone who was married to a “trans woman” and tried to make it work, I can’t be accused of not listening to trans people’s stories. I heard them in the most honest, most intimate setting possible, over and over again for more than a year.

As someone who has attended trans support groups, I can’t be accused of not listening to trans people’s stories. I heard them straight from the source: trans people in trans spaces.

As someone who has attended trans spouses’ support groups, I’ve heard more intimate, honest, letting-the-guard-down “trans stories” than anyone else I know, from women who wanted to stay married to trans people–the people who are most invested in hearing and understanding trans stories.

And as it turns out, the “trans story,” or at least the “trans woman story,” is overwhelmingly a story about sexual paraphilia.

A paraphilia is an “experience of intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations, fantasies, or behaviors.”

The majority of “trans women,” especially the ones who did not consider themselves gay at a young age, are sexually attracted to feminine clothing and to themselves in it.  Most started with erotic cross-dressing. At some point later they became more interested in looking in the mirror than looking at their partner. For people born male, the line between “transgender” and “transvestic fetishist” is by no means a clear one.

Some are also turned on by acting “girly,” by the bodily functions of women such as menstruation, by the idea or reality of having breasts and constructed sex organs via hormones or surgery, or by several of these in conjunction.

Their marriages break down in large part because fetishism, by definition, is an interest that takes over and pushes out other, normal, partner-centered intimate activities.

This is hard for some to believe because we spouses of “trans women” often stay silent, lest we get mowed down by an angry mob with torches on social media. Over something we’ve experienced directly, and they’re merely guessing about!

It’s also hard to believe because “trans women,” my ex included, are out there marching on the platform that the sexual component is a dirty lie (all the while at home asking me to pull down his lace panties and call him a bitch). 

Of course that’s the official story. The true story–the sexual one–threatens to open a real dialog on whether trans women should access women’s locker rooms and other spaces.

But the medical community is well aware of the sexual story. A phenomenon called “autogynephilia,” a “male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female,” “underlie[s] transvestism and some transsexualism.” Although activists have tried to discredit the term, a search on something like Pub Med shows it’s alive and well among medical professionals.

Here, transsexual psychologist Anne Lawrence compiles 249 first-person accounts of trans women describing sexual attraction to themselves in feminine clothing or situations.

Did you know that men with fetishes and paraphilias tend to have more than one? And that “transvestites” fit that model?

Please note that all above links are to studies or medical or legal sources, not blogs or opinion pieces.

You might ask why the medical community supports transition in light of the fetish connection. Here are some interesting facts:

1. Up until recently, they did in fact oppose transition for fetishists. That changed after pressure by transgender activists to eliminate such “gatekeeping.” It’s worth thinking about why the transgender community does not want to ferret out fetishists from their midst, nor to see them denied transgender medical services.

2. Prescribing hormones to transgender people is still an off-label use. That means hormones are not approved by the FDA for transition. Doctors who prescribe them in such a way do so in contradiction of available research.

3. Many medical professionals are sounding the alarm about the lack of “robust evidence” behind the current protocol, some calling it a “medical scandal.”

Now let me make one thing clear. I don’t necessarily think fetishists are awful people. I’m not here to make judgments on paraphilias one way or the other. I think that topic is complicated, and in any case, it’s not my area of expertise.

But I also don’t think we have to pretend that men with fetishes are women. After all, “Fetishism is seen almost exclusively in men” per the DSM.

So yes, listen to trans women’s stories. You could start with the ones where numerous “trans women” on Reddit confess getting “spontaneous boners” from wearing women’s clothes and thinking about transition. (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 +)

We can listen to trans people’s stories, be fearlessly honest, protect the rights of trans people, and protect the rights of women and girls all at the same time.

No one should be denied employment or housing over how they dress. No one should be beaten up over what they look like.

But protecting the rights of trans people doesn’t have to mean redefining “woman” as anyone who gets a hard-on while wearing a dress.

Protecting the rights of trans people doesn’t have to mean making a civil rights crisis out of a tampon fetishist’s desire to share a women’s locker room with pre-teen girls.

Listen to trans people’s real stories, not the lies that are sanctioned by the activist community.

And when you do, consider whether those stories are the stories of women.

The Emasculation Fetish versus Womanhood

My ex-husband was aroused by wearing lingerie.

I used to refrain from saying that. First, I refrained in order to be respectful of his privacy. But then he decided to make a three-year post-divorce mission of dragging my name through the mud on social media. He decided to reveal my alleged dirty laundry–like that I called him a “tranny”–without revealing his dirty laundry–like that the entire reason I called him a “tranny” was that he requested it, in the bedroom, for a sexual thrill (I had used the word zero times before that request, despite his tossing in a completely fictional story that suggests otherwise). So I’m less motivated to respect his privacy now.

Then, I refrained from saying it because  he’s a “trans woman” and it’s become strictly verboten–illegal, in some places–to say things about “trans women” that they don’t want said. Even if they’re true. Even if the “trans women” themselves said the same thing last week on transgender forums.

My ex-husband was also aroused by being called insulting names, like “bitch” and “slut” alongside the aforementioned “tranny.” He was also aroused by being tossed around and mistreated in the bedroom.

He was also aroused by “sissification” porn, a genre in which men are forced into wearing women’s clothes as a humiliating punishment for some offense.

Notice the conflation of the feminine with the demeaning.

My ex-husband went on to become a prominent transgender activist in my area who loves to repeat lines like “being transgender isn’t a sexual thing.”

A man once wrote to Dan Savage and said that he wanted his girlfriend to squeeze his testicle really hard until it popped.

Emasculation fetish is a powerful thing.

There’s a paraphilia called “cuckolding” in which men like to watch their wives have sex with other men. Judging by their posts on “cuckolding” forums, they especially enjoy it if the other man is extra masculine and virile and if he manhandles the wife. Cuckold-fetishists like being tied up and otherwise prevented from interfering with the sex they’re watching. There’s a strong element of being “shown up” by this “better,” more alpha male.

That’s reflected in the non-fetish, general dictionary definition of the term:

Cuckold: a man whose wife is sexually unfaithful, often regarded as an object of derision.

In biology, it applies to male animals who “unwittingly invest parental effort in offspring that are not genetically their own.” In other words, a sucker. A fool. Emasculated.

On a cuckolding forum recently, a man expressed his glee at discovering that his pregnant wife’s “bull”–a name given to the man who has sex with the wife–is HIV positive. The cuckold fetishist has been “rock hard” ever since, he enthused, to know that “only a thin strip of latex” protects his wife and child from wasting of an incurable, debilitating disease.

Misogyny is behind the emasculation fetish.

It is misogyny to conflate “female” with “demeaning.” It is misogyny to call your wife’s lover a “bull,” as if she is some animal you’re arranging to have bred. It is misogyny to get a hard-on at the thought of infecting your wife with a virus.

Emasculation might seem, at worst, like a disrespect of men rather than of women. But why is it disrespectful to treat men like women? Because of misogyny.

The power of the emasculation fetish comes from the indignity of being “feminized.” Women are for abusing, not men! Imagine wanting to be as worthless as a woman!

Around one-quarter of men who die of autoerotic asphyxiation–that is, choking yourself while masturbating–are cross-dressed when they are discovered. (1 2 3 4 5 6)

The risk of being caught dead and cross-dressed is a sexual thrill for some men. It’s the titillating fear of emasculation.

Studies have shown that cross-dressing has a high comorbidity with other fetishes and paraphilias. Almost as if it is a sexual thing!

On Reddit, a man once posted that he wanted a surgeon to remove his testicles and replace them with fake testicles. He frequented transgender forums, for what it’s worth.

Are you detecting a trend?

Do I think my ex-husband is a terrible person for acquiring an emasculation fetish? Do I think he’s going to choke himself to death or jack off to exposing another person to injury? Do I think he has ten other paraphilias?

Not necessarily.

Am I a “kink-shamer?” Much as I hate that word, no. No, I am not.

That’s why for a time, I called my ex-husband a “tranny” and a “bitch” and threw him around in the bedroom at his request.

I’ve indulged my share of kinks. I’ve had my share of kinks. As long as people act out their kinks with consenting partners, and without hurting anyone else, it’s not really my bag to call out kink behavior.

But do I think that fetishistic behavior in males equates to womanhood?

No. It does not.

If anything, it illuminates the very maleness of the thing.

Thought experiment: How many women do you know who get wet at the thought of having their ovaries removed?

“Fetishism is seen almost exclusively in men,” says the DSM, the health care field’s authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders, which include fetishes and paraphilias.

Getting off on misogyny is not the same thing as being female.

It’s practically the opposite.

On Believing Things That Aren’t True

For approximately twenty-five years, I believed I had straight hair, even though I have wavy hair. How did this happen?

It all started when I was a kid. Back then, I really did have straight hair (you can see it in photos). And my mom never cut it, so it was long. Down-past-my-butt long. My mom beamed when talking about her daughter’s beautiful, long, thick, straight hair. Other people complimented it a lot, too.

When I became a teenager I cut it and started getting perms, like you do in the 80s. That lasted off and on until my twenties. I liked perms even after I stopped liking 80’s “big hair” because perms gave my lifeless hair some texture and seemed to make it easier to “fix.” (Fixing it was important to me back then.)

So I don’t know exactly when my hair started getting a wave in it.

I do know that when my hair got a wave in it, I continued to believe it was straight and to say it was straight.

There were plenty of clues to the contrary. Like the stubborn wave in it that caused me to need to straighten it if I wanted it straight. But I had some weird justifications for that. First, the wave was a big wave, not a small one. I think I thought of wavy hair as containing cute, small waves that repeated and looked nice when you left them alone, not as containing one or two annoying big waves that just served to make your hair look messy.

Secondly, I’d sometimes say my hair was bendy like fishing line. It wasn’t that it had a wave in it. It was that I had leaned on it funny, or something, and it had bent, and it was wont to retain such a bend more readily than other people’s hair.

I think, in some strange way, I identified as a person with straight hair, because I’d once had straight hair and to some extent was rewarded for having straight hair.  Andy Worhol once said something about the trap of “self-imitation.” He was talking about art. But maybe there was something similar at work.

Anyway, I was at my hairdresser only sometime in the past few years and I mentioned something about my straight hair.

“Oh honey,” he said. “Your hair isn’t straight. It’s wavy.”

I asked if he was sure. I mentioned that it was bendy like fishing line. He rolled his eyes.

“Your hair is wavy, my dear,” he said.

“It’s quite wavy.”

Then I realized he was right. The damn hair was wavy. That’s why it was hard to fix. That’s why it retained a bend. That’s why it looked wavy.

Good lord. Why had I been spending decades telling myself that it was straight?

It’s instructive to face that I went so long believing something untrue, that I sincerely held a belief that needed correcting. It helps explain why other people think things that are untrue in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.

As I’ve mentioned in a recent post, a lot of people think that people like my ex (straight, late-onset, masculine, geeky) are “faking it.” He’s not. He thinks he’s a woman (though he clearly crashes against some cognitive dissonance once in a while as evidenced by some of the things he says). He also thinks other people can tell he’s a woman. This isn’t even a belief that he passes, but a belief that the woman-magic is seeping out of him in a recognizable way. He also believes I’ve called him names I’ve never uttered in my life. He’s also more or less heard voices.

I have examples. But you’ll have to wait for the book. (Soon.)

Honestly, it’s been one of the hardest things about it all. If he was just a dick (I mean he’s that too, now, but), it would be easier to write off the whole experience as me accidentally getting involved with a dick. Instead, a person who was once kind and thoughtful and seemed to be facing reality has drilled so far into a bizarre inner world that he’s lost his personality, his grip on reality, and his connection to some of the friends and family who have shown him the most love.

My straight hair delusion was an easy-ish one to fix, all things considered. Not like being forced to update your beliefs on the existence of God or the fact that what your friend did that one time when you were asleep was assault. (I’ve had to do both of those.)

And yet, I went for a remarkably long time not seeing something obvious and benign and objective about myself that was right in front of my face (literally, sometimes).

What if I had insisted everyone see my hair as straight? What if I’d gotten mad at my hairdresser for his hair-phobic views? What if I’d said it was all of dire importance to me? Would people have stopped seeing the wave in my hair?

Identity is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. My ex once said to me, “I identify as a woman, same as you.”

But I didn’t identify as a woman, and I said so. That’s not to say that I identified as something else, but that I did not identify at all when it comes to gender–it all seemed like a set of made-up stereotypes that I found irrelevant. Might as well ask me which Harry Potter character I’m most like when I don’t read fantasy novels. Yes, I’m watching the shitstorm that can occur when one woman even alludes in a tolerant way to another woman’s belief that “sex is real” (even though that’s not why I chose that example; It’s one I’ve used before).

“Sex is real.” That’s what’s been named as the most hateful and criminally intolerable claim of our times. Not the spewing of “you cunt” and “suck my dick” and “die” that has been hurled in return, but the relatively boring “sex is real.” That’s how far things can go when people are committed to believing things that are untrue.

Anyway, I didn’t know what identifying as a woman was like, much to my ex’s ire and to his certainty that I was in some way lying to invalidate him.

I also don’t identify as a white person. Again, not because I’m something else, but because that would be weird. People can see my white face and they’re going to behave accordingly. They don’t need my commentary one way or the other.

If I were going to bother to identify as something, I’d identify as an artist. But I don’t, because I haven’t done any art in a while, and because I know that other people are only going to identify me as an artist if they see me make art, and further, if they like that art well enough that they feel it has some cred. I don’t get why I’d try to coerce their view, outside of just trying to make some good art and show it to them and hope they adopt the view on their own.

That’s what identifying is all about, isn’t it? Making a claim to something that isn’t obvious, is perhaps even counterfactual. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to identify. People would just know.

That’s the problem, for me. Coercing others’ views on things they’re not inclined to believe, or worse, getting them to pretend to agree, is squarely on the dishonesty spectrum. And if there’s anything I’ve come to learn about myself over the last few years it’s that I hate being dishonest.

I only ever do it under duress, like telling a hiring manager that I’m excited about the project when maybe I just need to pay the bills and feed myself. Someday I’d like to shed even the little white lies required of me by capitalism and other compelled social arrangements. Why not? What’s so scary about a world in which people tell the truth? I personally think it would revolutionize everyone’s bravery, compassion and ability to make a difference in the world. It’s my little utopian fantasy.

I have no interest in identifying as anything. I have no interest in coercing anyone’s thoughts or language. I’m interested only in interacting with people as free agents, who are free to voluntarily accept, reject, or question whatever I throw out there. Otherwise, why not check out of real life and surround myself with agreeable bots on social media?

Actually, that seems to be more or less what a lot of people are doing.

I’m going to stick with honesty as best as I can.

If someone comes along and tells me my hair is wavy, maybe they’re right. Maybe I have something to learn from them.

Is my hair wavy? Is yours? Why can’t we have those conversations? I’m not afraid.