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Transgender-Identification is a Dissociative Disorder

Having adopted a transgender identity as a child, I am familiar with the feelings of self-loathing, the desire to kill myself and become someone new, as well as the intense difficulty in feeling connected to my body. To say I felt like I was in the wrong body is an understatement. I remember watching science fiction shows where scientists had created the technology to move someone’s brain into a new body and longed to not only be in a different body, but in a different time when that technology was available.

I am deeply thankful to the therapists I worked with over the years who helped me to understand that the feelings of being in the wrong body were related to my early childhood sexual assault and not a reflection of reality.

It is horrifying to me that there are therapists who are now telling children who have feelings like I had that their feelings of wanting to escape from themselves and create a new personality are not only valid but lifesaving. Therapists are telling children that the only way to survive is to kill their old self and become someone new. Not only is this a lie, it is promoting a very dangerous coping mechanism, dissociation.

There is a whole section in the DSM-V, the diagnostic manual used by most psychologists to diagnose mental health issues, dedicated to dissociative disorders. When someone has a dissociative disorder, the appropriate treatment plan is therapy.

For those who are not familiar with dissociative disorders, they run the gamut from Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder in which someone feels detached from themselves (like they are not part of their body) to Dissociative Identity Disorder, sometimes called Multiple Personality Disorder, in which an individual creates new identities.

Dissociative disorders are almost always caused by trauma. They are an incredibly creative coping mechanism that allows people to survive trauma. They should not, however, be encouraged or embraced as reality. In fact, development of a dissociative disorder is a red flag for therapists; it tells them the person who is dissociating has experienced something so difficult, that they would rather recreate reality than process the trauma.

In my case, I developed the identity of Timothy. Timothy was strong and mean. And most importantly, as a boy, he would not fall victim to the violations that men perpetrated on Erin.

This identity helped me navigate some other difficulties in my life as well. Ever since my parents divorced, my mother told me that my biological father wanted me to be a boy. I believed that my dad would love Timothy in a way he didn’t love Erin. I also had a serious learning disability. Girls were supposed to read well, but the expectations were lower for boys. It was okay that Timothy struggled to decipher the meaning of letters on a page. I was quirky and hadn’t fit in with the other girls who seemed to naturally navigate social situations. As a boy, I could play rough and tumble, rather than socializing with the girls.