When feeling better leads to an identity crisis

A female who describes herself as AFAB (assigned female at birth) and calls herself “genderqueer” has started taking wellbutrin (an antidepressant), and her feelings of gender dysphoria have significantly lessened. She posts to r/asktransgender:

Ok, so I’m AFAB genderqueer/genderfluid and I’ve been experiencing an insane amount of dysphoria on and off (corresponding with fluctuations in masculinity/femininity) since about June. I realized I was genderqueer about 3 years ago, but decided not to anything about it until this summer because, as I said, my dysphoria got intense. I came to the conclusion that I needed a low dose of T to be more androgynous and more able to pass in boymode… and after much angst came out to my mother and brother and asked my PCP for T. She said she’ll look into it (she’s never had a trans patient before) and possibly start me on it in January.

In the meantime, I’ve been struggling with depression on and off my whole life, and it’s been made unbearable by the dysphoria, so I finally accepted her recommendation for an antidepressant. She put me on Wellbutrin (150mg 2x/day) 5 days ago, and I’m already feeling WAY better in terms of my mood, but I also haven’t experienced any dysphoria at all. I tried boymoding once a few days ago, and it felt good, but still no dysphoria. Now I’m really worried that all this gender stuff is just a side effect of my depression, and it’s not real. I mean, not having dysphoria is good, and I know that dysphoria isn’t necessary to be genderqueer, and I still want to boymode and aim for a more androgynous presentation, but I just don’t feel like shit about my body anymore. I never thought that feeling better would make me have an identity crisis. Help?

TL;DR: I’m genderqueer and depressed, went on an antidepressant that works too well and got rid of my dysphoria. Now I’m having an identity crisis. Help?

Note the casual attitude towards taking testosterone – a drug that can have drastic unwanted consequences for females, but that in many transgender groups online is seen merely as something you can take to help you get a certain “look”.

Note also that the poster describes the lessening of trans feelings as an “identity crisis”. Shouldn’t feeling better be a good thing? What do the posters in r/asktransgender have to say? Interestingly, there are a few that have similar experiences:

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Interestingly though, many posters stress how this relief of negative feelings isn’t really a solution.

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They tell her that her dysphoria is probably still there, just wait. This relief is probably temporary.

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“Antidepressants helped me, but I still wanted to transition”.

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“You are just treating the symptoms”.

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“It may come back.”

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The narrative that have been created in these communities is that being transgender is an underlying, physical condition and the only way to cure it is by transitioning – by which they mean taking hormones and often undergoing radical body modifications. When people report finding relief in other ways, the consensus seems to be that these things don’t really help – they are just treating the symptoms, or masking the problem. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We’ll show in later posts that this belief leads to significant perverse incentives pushing people toward dramatic, irreversible changes–making them alarmed or anxious when their negative feelings about their body go away.  It puts one in mind of the internet’s “pro-ana” communities, in which anorexic young women convinced one another that not feeling fat was a moral failing.  Having days when you feel comfortable in your own skin isn’t a sign of progress, even when it’s accompanied by a lifting of depressive symptoms, because it subverts the narrative that as soon as you start to question your comfort with gender roles, you’ve proven yourself to be destined for a permanent, fixed identity as transgender.

The fact that the poster likes being in “boymode” is seen as evidence that she is trans, no other explanation is considered. Could it be that she enjoys wearing masculine clothes? Many women do. Could it be that she likes being seen as a man because women are often catcalled, talked down to, or creeped on my males? Maybe it feels safer? No one asks her this.

Why does preferring a certain way of presenting yourself mean that you are somehow metaphysically the opposite sex? The traditional feminist view that we have bodies, we have personalities and preferences, and that these do not have to “match” seem to have disappeared somehow. Instead we get people feeling like they have an “identity crisis” when their negative feelings about their sex go away, because they somehow think that you need to have a condition to be able to present yourself in the way you wish.

From “Not Sure” To Sneaking Hormones Behind Parents’ Backs in a Week

A 17 year old posts to r/asktransgender to ask how he can tell for sure whether he’s transgender or not.

I have no idea where I stand on the whole “gender spectrum” if you can call it that. I know that the idea of transitioning is tied deeply to my sexuality, but I have no idea if it’s a fetish or something more. I tend to have no issue with the fact that I am male; in fact I would go so far as to say I enjoy being male, but whenever I contemplate sex or intimate relationships, I am either effeminate or female in my fantasies.

A teenage male having some confusing sexual fantasies, but having no issues with being male.

When I first found out about the term transgender around the age of 12 or 13, I did extensive research and found out that people who transition either [sic] tend to have better, more passable results. This resulted in me becoming extremely stressed because I felt rushed to make a decision.

This is a pervasive issue with many of the transgender groups on reddit and elsewhere – the preoccupation with “passing” as the opposite sex, resulting in questioners feeling pressured to start transitioning as early as possible. We’ve seen examples of it in earlier posts on this blog with the talk of testosterone “ruining” and doing “damage” to the bodies of the males who go through their natural puberties.

Ultimately, it culminated in me telling my parents I was trans, which I regretted immediately. Not only were they taken aback, but I felt like it all “got too real” too quickly and so I lied and said that I had only done it to get attention. Now I’m 17, no longer stressed about transitioning quickly, but I have no idea what to do. I know that given the opportunity to rewrite my life where I was a girl since birth, I would take it in a heartbeat.

What the poster refers to here is a question that is often posed to the people who are “questioning their identity” in these communities. The “magic button” question asks “if you could push a button and become the opposite sex, would you?”. The problem is that when you have no idea what being the opposite sex actually means (and how could anyone, especially a teenager), the answer isn’t really meaningful.

My worry is that I only ever think about it when I’m horny. After doing the deed, I immediately feel silly or ashamed about it, so I worry that it’s entirely fetishized (if that’s a word). I dunno, I also know that the longer I go from sexual release, the stronger the feelings become. Does anyone else have a similar story?

So. Male teenager has sexual fantasies about “being effeminate or female”. What advice does he get?

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Among others, this. “A lot of us start off with sexual feelings”. And the “button” question again.

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More sexual feelings beeing taken as a good reason to transition.

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“Would I be happier if I was a girl? Yes”. Without any explanation of what “being a girl” means.

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Again the same line we’ve seen before. If you want to be a girl, then you are one. There is nothing more to it.

Five days later, the OP posts again:

I’m in a position where I won’t be able to do anything drastic for at least a few years, and it’s killing me. Is there anything I could, say, add to my daily routine that would feminize or at least slow the frickin testosterone in my body. Diet, exercises, supplements, anything that a teenager with could acquire without suspicion?

Five days. That’s how fast he went from being fine with being male, to talking about testosterone killing him. Also note that he is going behind his family’s back with this.

Then three days later:

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A few people tell him it’s not a good idea, but he also get this:

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As well as advice about brands and dosages:

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Notice again how insanely fast it goes. From a male with some sexual fantasies to asking about sneaking hormones without parental consent or medical supervision, in one week.

When in doubt, transition

A poster on r/akstransgender is riddled with doubt. They don’t know whether transition is for them or not, and is questioning if maybe they just “want to be different”. Posters assure them that doubt is normal. Many of them doubt, but they choose to keep on transitioning anyway.

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The same poster makes another post, bringing up the thought that maybe they just want to be a part of a community, and that is what is motivating their desire to transition.

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If you want to be happy, you have to stop doubting. Doubt is “toxic”, according to this commenter.

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If you want to be trans, then you are trans, this commenter states.

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Taking hormones that can potentially make you sterile and having irreversible body modifications is compared to taking up a hobby, asking “why should transitioning be different”?

The poster makes a third post, asking if anyone has tried to put transitioning on hold to gain self-acceptance. The consensus is that this is a terrible idea.

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Suicide is brought up as a natural consequence of trying to deny the desire to transition:

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The poster pretty much get bombarded with the idea that it’s not possible to change these desires, and that not acting on them will lead to wanting to commit suicide.

The poster then makes an interesting post a while later, stating that

i avoided the trans community (subreddits, some trans people i know, etc) for most of the day while playing a game and i’ve had the most fun i’ve had in months. it is now 24 hours later and I still have no urge to transition and my dysphoria is almost 0. i’m also imagining myself years into HRT and feeling dysphoric about having female features.

what the hell happened? do i just not know how to handle enjoying myself or have I been delusional this entire time?

Wow. Maybe staying off the internet is the solution? Maybe constantly obsessing over the idea of transitioning is unhealthy, maybe there is a simple way of feeling relief? The commenters disagree.

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“It never goes away unless you do something about it”, one commenter states. Never. And of course, “doing something about it” only means transitioning. The fact that taking an internet break seems to have helped the poster is dismissed. Again and again the idea is reinforced that this desire can never go away, that transitioning is the only solution, and that suicide is the consequence of not transitioning.

“I’m 13, I want to transition, and my time window is fleeting”

A thirteen year old boy posts to r/asktransgender February 11th this year. (redditlog of the post in case it’s deleted). Let’s see what he has to say.

I always acted “feminine”, but it never affected me until much later. I liked playing with my mom’s makeup, putting on my sister’s dresses, I grew my hair out in elementary school, etc.

So, a kid with an older sister likes to mimic what his sister does.

I began getting terrible depression when I entered third grade (presumably as the definition of “gender” was clearly defined at the time), to the point where I got suicide.

I went to a therapist at the time, where I said that I didn’t “fit in with my friends” and was depressed because of it. The therapist blew it off, and said I was just sleep-deprived. In late 3rd grade and through to the end of elementary school, I had terrible OCD. Once I entered middle school, my mom forced me to “stop acting so sensative”, and basically asked me to stop expressing my depressed feelings (I understand why she did it, but it only made me feel worse).

Depression, suicidal ideation, OCD, and a mother who seems to enforce the stereotypically “manly” treat of not being sensitive and not showing emotions. Many of these kids seem to have parents who try to enforce rigid gender stereotypes on their children. This theme is repeated later in his post, when he says that

Telling my dad isn’t an option either, because he has tried to raise me to be his manly son (signing me up for boy scouts, baseball, woodworking, wrestling) and telling him might just break his heart.

He writes about his friends:

My friends, who were only girls at the time (I didn’t like the classic “male” stuff) all abandoned me for other, female friends. I basically was alone until I made a few friends in seventh grade. Nothing came out of all this, and it felt like I would be stuck in this rut forever.

So, in addition to having a hard time emotionally, his female friends abandon him. What this kid needs is emotional support, and for someone to tell him that it’s ok to be a sensitive guy who shows empions. It’s ok to be a feminine guy who likes makeup and long hair. He desparately needs rolemodels who can show him this. What he gets instead is the “helpful” people on reddit’s r/asktransgender.

Cut to January 7th. I was reading about transgenderism on my laptop, in my normal depressive state. However, a major bout of even worse depression came over me, which I basically disregarded at the time. Later that night, however, I connected my experiences to those on the subreddits and connecting communities. I realized how much happier I would be living as female, but also realized that I couldn’t do anything about my condition.

A depressed kid with OCD, feeling abandoned by his female friends and pressured by parents to act “less sensitive”, browses the internet and “realizes” he would be happier “living as a female”. What does he think “living as a female” entails? He’s thirteen, has few friends and limited experience with the world. It took him just a month of exposure to reach this conclusion.

I realize that I’m 13, and it’s only been a few weeks, but I’m sure about this decision. I want to transition, and my time window is fleeting. I’m lost, what do I do?

So what advice does r/asktransgender have for this kid? Do they tell him it’s ok to be a feminine guy? Do they tell him it’s ok to be sensitive? Do they ask him why he thinks he’ll be happier as a female, or what he imagine “living as a female” means? No. They tell him this:

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They tell him that his natural puberty (that he is probably just starting) is going to do “damage” to his body, and they tell him to use suicide as a method of extortion on his parents.

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They tell him that he absolutely cannot wait, he needs estrogen as soon as possible, because otherwise testosterone will do damage to his body.

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You cannot wait! Your body will be ruined!

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“There is no right age to transition. The right time to do it is when they realize that they are transgender and have made the decision to do something about it.” – meaning that a 13 year old with depression, OCD, and suicidal ideation, who has known for a month that he will be “happier living as a female” should not be questioned in any way. They should be put on the fast track to hormones, with or without their parents’ consent or even knowledge.

This is what happens to young teens reading these communities.

Questioning Reinforced, Again: This Is What Recruitment Looks Like

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The person in this thread believes he could live as a male, doesn’t think he could consider himself a woman even if he transitioned, and believes he could end up suicidal if he started presenting as a girl at his high school.

According to him, he’s only been thinking about heading down this road for a few days:

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So what are the responses he gets, this kid who’s been thinking about transition for a few days, admits to obsessive thinking patterns, and so on?

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Yup.  “You sound trans.”  And sure enough, within a couple of days

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Parents: if your child has recently come out as transgender and seems more depressed/anxious than before, CHECK THEIR INTERNET HISTORY.  Find out where they’re posting.  The forums we’re looking at right now are just one location out of many where these things are happening.  Your child may be being manipulated by adults into a situation that is making their mental problems worse, not better.

Sexuality and Stereotypes

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Notice how at no point in the responses to this post does anyone question whether this might be a sign that this person is actually just a confused or envious male.  Nope–don’t question the part that says you need hormones and surgery.  Instead, the replies chide the stereotypical view of femininity, but never question whether this person’s desire to transition is motivated by this view or worsened by it.

Reinforcement of Belief Systems

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Online trans groups are not your friend if you are experiencing dysphoria.  Watch in this thread as literally no one tells this person that his feelings could be more related to depression or anxiety than being a “woman inside.”  Instead, they rush to tell him that there’s no such thing as normal and that this is just part of being transgender or a “crossdreamer.”  These are not people who have this man’s mental health in mind–they want him to want to be on hormones, they want him to feel dysphoric to stay in the community.