Over the last ten months, I published more than 70 articles detailing my experience transitioning gender from man to woman, including research on the biology, psychology, and philosophy of identity and gender. When I completed a year of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in July 2023, I began reviewing what I wrote.
I was surprised to find my current ideas in vestigial form from the beginning. Certainly, I filled in details, especially in the field of human brain development. I also refined vague notions into a complete theory of gender as a process of mediation between the origin of identity and the social environment in which we express ourselves.
As part of a new opportunity, I wrote a review of my work over the past year. It seems appropriate to share it more generally.
There is no new thought in this article. Instead, I collected the knowledge I published in many locations into this article as the definitive statement of my work as a gender theorist as of August 2023. Where appropriate, I link to my own articles as a footnote.
Theory of transgender
My current theory of transgender is a mismatch between the way we choose to present ourselves to society (whether voluntarily or for safety) and the knowledge we hold inside of who we truly are. Empirical evidence indicates sex and gender are distinct concepts, yet prevailing gender theory disagrees.
The mismatch presents as gender dysphoria — an experience common to any human who grows up in a society. Gender dysphoria is discomfort experienced when aspects of gender are brought to the forefront, such as effeminate gestures in a man or masculine posture in a woman. As we experience disapproval, we doubt ourselves in a way that cannot resolve without accepting the social environment’s judgment as valid and modifying the behavior.
When attempting to modify behavior consistently conflicts with our underlying identity (the knowledge we hold inside of who we truly are), it is likely we exhibit transgender. As such, gender is a mediator between our deepest-seated motivations and the social environment. Gender is an ongoing negotiation between who we know we are and who we are willing and able to portray.
Possible exceptions to the theory
Gender dysphoria is common; unresolved gender dysphoria is also common. I believe every person is capable of pointing to aspects of their identity that go against the grain of their social environment. Social norms can be exacting and merciless, and we struggle our entire lives to rectify our desire to be ourselves with the social environment’s expectations for our behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
That said, some people may not experience gender dysphoria as I describe it. People who do not experience disapproval may not experience gender dysphoria or struggle to express who they are. So far, the groups of people recommended to me who might fit this category include people who:
- Have Asperger’s Syndrome
- Are on the autism spectrum
- Are asexual
- Present sociopathic characteristics
To be clear, I do not lump sociopaths in with the other groups — the common experience among the groups is either an inability or lack of desire to integrate into and receive approval from the social environment.
Complications to gender theory
A complication in gender theory is the tendency to misidentify the origin of gender with its implementation. Much of the argument within the transgender community itself stems from whether the transgender experience is biological in nature or cognitive. Gender theory (to be distinguished from gender studies) is not exceptionally well explored academically, and the community as a whole suffers from not having a good answer to the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that sex is identical with gender.
A further complication is the sense of shame experienced by transgender people. We are corrected over and over for our “wrong” behavior. We are told if we intend to become valuable members of society, we are to stifle the characteristics that define us.
As a result, many transgender people never realize what they experience is gender dysphoria, and that there is a way to feel better. In fact, many transgender people are surprised to find out not only that they are transgender, but that there is a whole community of people out there just like they are.
Pre-gender transition characteristics
With the above conflicts in mind — sex vs. gender, inaccurate or incomplete gender theory, and lack of unity in the LGBTQ community — transgender people seem remarkably similar in the way we behave, particularly before we transition. Below are some common emotions and actions, many of which I personally can attest to.
Because transgender presents as a consistent inability to integrate into a society, we feel a lack of self, almost as if somebody else has done and achieved whatever we have. This stems from an inability to identify with our physical body. I named this phenomenon “The Reflection,” although I believe it is a symptom and not a cause — the result of the stalemate in negotiation for our identity.
Because we lack a solid sense of self, we tend not to feel emotions deeply. It was a sudden ability to feel emotions that caused me to sit up and take notice — ultimately, to write about it — after I began my own transition.
I do not imply The Reflection is a lack of identity. Whether identity originates in biology, cognition, or a disembodied soul is irrelevant — an origin exists. But the inability to express our identity — to carry on a successful negotiation with our social environment — leads to a sense of not belonging to the world or to society.
Pre-transition, I did not always understand the cause of my actions, nor did I feel pain or joy appropriately. One emotion I did feel acutely was shame, as society tends to teach transgender is wrong — I even experienced my own transphobia.
Crabby, Irritable, Forceful
Most transgender people feel a consistent low-grade sense of something wrong. We cannot identify exactly what we feel other than “off.” As a result, we tend to anger easily and experience rage frequently. When we feel dismissed, we come back with a vengeance.
These characteristics are common symptoms of gender dysphoria. For cisgender people, the feelings abate as integration into the social environment becomes more successful.
For transgender people, however, the dysphoria doesn’t stop because there is no way to integrate successfully into society without transition. We tend to act in a way to try to “prove” our gender — to ourselves, mostly.
“Proof” implies risky activities like skydiving, jobs that reinforce a gender stereotype, or — in vocations in which we cannot prove our gender — speaking or acting in a way that appears to overcompensate.
Because we lack a distinct sense of self, it is difficult to understand why anything we do should be appreciated — after all, we did not do it. As a result, we tend to be gossipy and complain about injustice that may or may not exist.
Typically, we do not feel understood — because we aren’t. We see the world through a lens of discontinuity. What seems to work for other (cisgender) people doesn’t work for us.
When a transgender person transitions, the experience is typically very slow. Every transition is unique, but resolution commonly passes through several phases:
- Identifying our feelings as gender dysphoria
- Accepting our transgender
- Beginning gender transition
- Completing gender transition
Identifying gender dysphoria
The first battle to fight is to realize the sense of wrongness we feel is not shameful, but a “normal” human experience. Gender dysphoria is common to humans in a society — a typical result of negotiating our identity with the social environment.
Many people — transgender or otherwise — have difficulty surmounting this first barrier. Each of us is taught that our sense of wrongness itself is inaccurate — that we should not feel wrong, but understand social norms exist for a reason. To believe our sense of wrongness lies in society, not in ourselves, is to reject social norms as absolutes. For many, this level of trust in ourselves never develops.
Instead, we accept daily slights against our identity in what appear to be innocent phrases: “boys don’t cry,” “girls must learn to cook,” and so forth. These phrases are intended to remind us society is more important than personal identity, and may cause us to suppress our true motivations and desires.
Accepting our transgender
I separate identifying gender dysphoria from accepting our transgender because each is a significant barrier. Rejecting social norms as absolute does not mean we ourselves are allowed to do it. We may believe deep down that boys are allowed to cry. Or at least, most boys. Not us, of course, but other boys.
Complicating this issue further is the desire to perceive humans as capable of overcoming any base “animal” instinct. Western thought is strongly influenced by Christian ideals — that humans are different from animals and should act accordingly. Abundant evidence in biology refuting the distinction between humans and other species is ignored.
The most difficult step for a transgender person is accepting that we are normal — that the derision we experience as gender dysphoria is not a sin, not a punishment, but similar to any other human experience, including joy and love. But it is difficult to love ourselves when we have been taught our tendencies subvert religion and morality.
I believe most transgender people recognize at least subconsciously if the actions that result in social disapproval feel so good, they probably can’t be bad. But rejecting social norms is different from accepting the label “transgender.” To do so, we must self-identify as transgender. Nobody can take this step for us. For many, the step is too great a distance.
Beginning gender transition
The next two steps — beginning and completing gender transition — are not well-defined. They are particular to the person transitioning gender. “Beginning” may be as simple as allowing ourselves to use phrases or gestures that previously met with social disapproval.
Having identified our behavior as acceptable, having accepted our gender as requiring change to align with our deepest-seated motivations and desires, the line of demarcation for “beginning transition” is simply to live as who we are.
Each of us must define “who we are” and how much we must change in order to reach it. For some, it means asking people to address them differently. For some, it means a new wardrobe. For some, it means legal recognition as the opposite sex on their birth certificate. For some, it means medical intervention to change primary and secondary sex characteristics. For some, it is all of the above.
But transition begins when we take that first step to identify who we are and what — if anything — we desire to change. Once we begin, there are two aspects to gender transition — social transition and medical transition. They may occur simultaneously or sequentially.
Social transition entails legal and presentation aspects of gender. Typically, a legal name change, gender marker update, and changing every bit of paperwork acquired over the course of life. Social transition also includes wardrobe changes and vocal coaching.
Medical transition entails any intervention desired to present more completely as the preferred gender. This may include removing or adding hair, developing secondary sex characteristics with hormone therapy, and a multitude of surgical options. It may include surgically removing the primary sex characteristics and rebuilding them in the model of the preferred sex.
Completing gender transition
Similar to beginning transition, completing transition is very personal. It encompasses a broad range of experience — from “good enough” to “passing” to “living in stealth.”
“Living in stealth” or “stealth mode” is a state in which a transgender person has transitioned so completely and presents so clearly as their preferred gender that they could move to another town and never be known as transgender.
Stealth mode typically requires significant intervention, including social transition and gender affirming surgery to rebuild primary sex characteristics. For many transgender people, stealth mode represents the pinnacle of gender transition. For others, stealth mode implies losing our ability to represent the community, not to mention our ability to discuss our pasts without having rewritten parts of it.
“Passing” is a state in which a transgender person has transitioned sufficiently to be read as their preferred gender at least some of the time. This typically requires at least social transition, but may not require much medical intervention at all. Depending on the needs for presentation, gender affirming surgery is likely not to be necessary at all.
For most transgender people, passing alleviates many symptoms of gender dysphoria. Some transgender people never feel complete, and pursue as many options as possible to feel they pass to themselves.
“Good enough” is the state in which we look good enough for our own purposes. For many transgender people, good enough is the true goal. Regardless of medical and surgical advances, the human body is not infinitely plastic. There are limits to how much our bodies and voices can change.
Every person — cisgender or transgender — struggles to present as the person we want to be. We want to look and sound a certain way, and failing to live up to our own standards can be an ongoing source of distress.
I believe gender transition is completed not when all the surgery is complete or all the paperwork has been changed, but when we are capable of looking in the mirror and seeing the person we know ourselves to be.
When we accept the person in the mirror as beautiful because it is the person we know ourselves to be, further medical and social changes may be pleasant. However, we have truly effected a successful gender transition when we believe we are who we were always meant to be.
 Gender as a human condition: https://genderidentitytoday.com/fixing-the-fallacy-in-anti-lgbtq-arguments-about-gender/
 Gender dysphoria: https://genderidentitytoday.com/does-gender-dysphoria-make-you-transgender-/
 Gender as mediator with social environment: https://genderidentitytoday.com/gender-as-mediator-between-the-origin-of-identity-and-social-environment/
 No agreement on gender: https://genderidentitytoday.com/transgender-people-of-the-world--unite-/
 Sense of disconnection: https://genderidentitytoday.com/gender-transition--you-are-who-you-have-always-been/
 The Reflection: https://genderidentitytoday.com/the-reflection/
 Sudden experience of emotion: https://genderidentitytoday.com/changes-to-cognition-due-to-hormone-therapy/
 Transphobia of the transgender: https://genderidentitytoday.com/overcoming-my-hidden-transphobia/
 Proving our gender to ourselves: https://genderidentitytoday.com/why-are-there-so-many-transgender-people-in-technology-/
 Seeing ourselves in the mirror: https://genderidentitytoday.com/transgender-meh--finishing-before-i-was-done/