Monday, November 13, 2017

You and Your Gender Identity by Dara Hoffman-Fox (#trans #nonbinary #queer)

While I have read a lot of gender guides, self-help, and reference books over the years, what sets You and Your Gender Identity: A Guide to Discovery apart is its interactive nature. This is less a book to be read, and more something to be experienced. Dara Hoffman-Fox guides us on the journey, setting up the questions and sign posts along the way, but leave it up to the reader to determine their own destination.

Dara opens the preface with a reference to Joseph Campbell and the idea of the heroic journey, which make sense because storytelling is integral to the book. We are invited to define ourselves as characters, explore our motivations, examine our back stories, and set out the story of our gender journey - our logline. It is almost like a transgender role playing game session, only with a licensed therapist instead of a game master.

Every reader will take something different from the book, but given the emphasis on mentors throughout, I thought I would explore a very personal take on what resonated with me - aside from the storytelling aspect itself, of course.

Building a Support Team is pretty basic stuff, but it means a little more to me of late. Growing up, I had no mentors, no bodyguards, and no support team. Looking back, I wonder, if I could have counted on just one person to listen, to understand, and to care, how differently my life might have turned out? We cannot change the past, but the future is always open, and having had the chance to act as something of a virtual mentor to a few people over the last year, I have an even greater appreciation for what a difference that support team can make.

The Role of Shame and Guilt struck me deeply, a chapter that asks us to look back at where those feelings come from, how they impact us, and how much they control our lives. I know the exact moment that shame and guilt entered my journey. I was in high school, relatively comfortable with my blossoming gender identity/expression, and thinking about university as a fresh start. I was confused, but I was also excited. And then I came home from school to find my mother had been snooping, had found everything (clothes, makeup, wig, falsies, books, etc.), and was absolutely disgusted. She taught me shame, she taught me guilt, and she forced me to begin the familiar cycle of guilty indulgence and shame-filled purges.

Keeping in Mind the Big Picture bothered me a bit, because it opens with so much discussion about internalized transphobia, but it goes on to share some fantastic thoughts on our identities and our sense of self. The main reason I bring it up, though, is the lengthy questionnaire at the end of the chapter (31 questions). It took me days to complete it, and the way it made me organize my thoughts and reflect on my sense of self was invaluable.

Deconstructing Gender is, perhaps, the most interesting section of the book. It is here that Dara gets into discussions of transgender, gender diverse, non-binary, and gender dysphoria. There is a bit of everything in this chapter - definitions, short questionnaires, checklists - with some really encouraging explorations of being non-binary. What spoke loudest to me, though, was the section at the end about removing gender from the equation, looking at interests, behaviors, and appearances on their own, free of stereotypes and expectations.

Wrestling with Uncertainty hit me hard too, especially, the section that asks, "Is it actually this . . . or is it just that?" So many of the questions I asked myself after that introduction to shame and guilt are captured here. There is a lengthy checklist, and I am sorry to say I have a lot of tick marks on that page - Am I really just gay/lesbian? Is it just a fetish? Am I really a cross-dresser? Is this just a kink? - the list goes on. Some of those questions predate that introduction, but the bulk of them only came about after I was forced to feel so disgusted with myself. I love how Dara breaks the questions down into clusters, and found the fetish/kink cluster to be particularly interesting, especially how harshly she dismisses the "dangerous and deceptive" model of autogynephilia.

Putting It All Together is where, well, everything comes together, helping us to determine all the possible destinations of our gender journey. Dara reminds us that it's okay to be wrong, and okay to change our mind later. The lengthy questionnaire from Keeping in Mind the Big Picture is repeated here, allowing us to explore how much our ideas and thoughts have changed over the course of the exercise, and I loved the gender identity options - there are approximately 90 listed, including a few that are culturally specific.

If you take it seriously, and put the work into it that it requires, You and Your Gender Identity: A Guide to Discovery is by no means an easy read (or a comfortable one), but it is an invaluable experience. Nothing can replace the one-on-one experience of a licensed therapist, but Dara Hoffman-Fox has done a wonderful job of expanding her services to a virtual pool of clients.

Dara Hoffman-Fox LPC is a queer-identified gender therapist, writer, educator, and transgender rights advocate. Frequently serving as a subject-matter expert on transgender and nonbinary issues for the media, Dara is a prolific thought leader on the topic of gender identity whose articles and videos have empowered thousands worldwide. Dara provides educational resources through a blog, YouTube channel, social media networks, trainings and presentations.

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