Caitlyn Jenner and a Whole Lot of Questions


I don’t propose to wade into the Caitlyn Jenner controversy, especially since my views on the role of shame in transgender identification offend some people, but I’d like to share a few of my reactions to the Vanity Fair cover and the questions it evoked. I’d like to start a conversation rather than to deliver an opinion. I invite you to share your respectful, non-hostile views.

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Autogynephilia: Aroused by the Image of Yourself as the Opposite Sex

Although I’ve been focused on finishing my book, the subject of transgender psychology has lately absorbed a lot of my interest. My fear that I might offend readers and provoke further attacks has stopped me from writing more about it, but I’ve decided to try opening a conversation on the subject by asking questions rather than putting forth definitive theories. In retrospect, I was quite naive in thinking that I could weigh in on this subject based on my limited experience. I knew that transgender politics was a controversial area but I had no idea just how charged and vitriolic it has become. Every time I begin to write, I do a little more research and find myself drawn into the online debates; I’m often shocked by the name-calling, profanity, and abuse that come up when people disagree.The comments I received were mild in comparison!

One of my clients sent me a copy of J. Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would be Queen, a fascinating but in some ways insensitive book about transsexualism. From there, I went on to learn about Ray Blanchard and Anne Lawrence, with whom I’ve corresponded several times. All three are researchers within the area of transsexualism and have worked directly with men and women who identify as trans. Lawrence herself is a male-to-female transsexual who has lived as a woman for many years and counsels those who are contemplating transition. If you’re familiar with these names, you know that these three are hated within the transgender community. I don’t propose to defend or criticize any of them. I only want to discuss a phenomenon I learned about while researching this area. In order to describe a condition he found in many of his subjects, Blanchard coined the term autogynephilia: a male’s sexual arousal at the idea of himself as the opposite sex. Blanchard, Bailey, and Lawrence have all written extensively about this condition.
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Further Thoughts on the Transgender Controversy

JudgmentTwoRather than responding to each of the many comments I received on my original post on transgender issues, I’ve decided to write a new, more generally responsive post.

Let’s go back to reader Lauren’s comment, the one that many people felt was fair and measured. I think this is largely because she takes care to fill it with “respectful” disclaimers so that it appears to be a balanced view, and I’m sure Lauren actually believed she was being fair. Some other readers therefore didn’t understand the strength of my response and found it defensive. Instead, I would describe it as angry. Political correctness gets under my skin, I admit it. It irks me that someone is willing to stop reading a blog she has valued, by an author whose book she has read many times, to show solidarity with friends, even though she acknowledges that my point of view has some validity. I’m not responding to a narcissistic injury; I’m reacting to a kind of thinking that is pervasive in our society and which I find frustrating, to put it mildly. But this isn’t the main problem.

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Keeping Secrets from Your Therapist

When people enter psychotherapy, even if they’re desperate and deeply in need, they don’t fully reveal themselves in the early phases of treatment. As in any relationship, it takes time to develop enough trust so you feel safe making yourself vulnerable. A prudent reserve makes sense: how can you be sure the stranger sitting in the chair across from you won’t judge or laugh at you? Sometimes people who struggle with borderline issues will disclose powerfully intimate information right away, but they nonetheless keep some deeply shameful details in reserve. Everyone does.

Like most psychoanalysts, I advise my clients early on to be as candid as possible, holding as little in reserve as they can. I tell them I know it’s a difficult thing to do — no one discloses 100% of their most painful feelings, thoughts and memories — but they need to do their best. I acknowledge that it will take time to build trust, for them to feel I’m a safe person. As we come to know each other, they gradually disclose the more shame-inducing aspects of their emotional lives. Often their secrets relate to sex.

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Why Sex Matters

One of my colleagues recently told me how dismayed she was that so many of her clients in long-term relationships or marriages seemed to have given up on sex entirely, or had passionless, unsatisfying sex a couple of times a year at most. (She herself has been married for more than 20 years and has an active sex life with her husband.) For the most part, the sex lives of my own clients in long-term relationships aren’t so different from those of my colleague’s clients. The clients who have managed to maintain active sex lives over many years of marriage share a view that I expressed two years ago, in a post that outlined three pieces of unorthodox advice concerning relationships.

My third suggestion in that post read as follows:

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