Guilt And The Transgendered Individual

By: Donna Lynn Matthews, February 1998

As children, we have impressed upon sets of rules by our parents and others in positions of authority. At this stage of our life, we don't question the validity of these arbitrary rules, we, for the most part, follow them blindly feeling we must. These are must do rules and form the basis of our conscience.

As we mature, we find that we are in a constant struggle between our impulsive desires and the ideals set forth by society. Our conscience reflects this, producing anxiety, guilt and doubt. These checkpoints, so to speak, keep us from deceiving our selves. They alert us as to when we are acting contrary to our sense of self. They serve to remind not just of our place in our society and culture, but of our place in the whole of existence.

Our conscience works because we have the ability to weigh conflicts against an internal set of values. When presented with choice which we feel is in character with what we consider to be an internal ideal, we feel that we ought to act on it. This is different from the feeling that we must act on something. Must actions have as a part of them, an element of fear of reattribution lest one not comply (e.g.: we must obey the law.) Ought actions, on the other hand, are weighed against our self-image; they are value judgments. They carry no fear attached to them. While there is no imperative that one call one's parents, one may feel, never the less, that one ought to call them.

When a thought or action is contrary to our self-image, it produces guilt. Guilt is a strong emotion, rarely equating to a fear of punishment. Instead, guilt is indicative of a violation of some internal value; a kind of disgust at falling short of short of one's ideal sense of self. It is important to realize that we develop our life style, our sense of self, not solely by the ideals prescribed by society and culture, but by the integration of many different events and circumstances. Some elements we accept and some we reject. Many elements are internalize and refashion to suit our developing Self.

As transgendered individuals, guilt is a feeling we seem to know all too well. We experience so much guilt because we live in a society, which teaches us in no uncertain terms, that there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways for men and women to act. Not following the 'guidelines' set forth puts one at odds with deeply engrained societal expectations.

From our culture and experience, we synthesize an image of the ideal man or woman whose likeness we strive to emulate. For cisgendered individuals, this poses little conflict: men strive to be masculine and women strive to be feminine. As tansgendered individuals, we have a much tougher time of this. We internalized the societal ideal and add it to our value system. If (when) we act in opposition to this ideal, guilt sets in, leaving us with the sick feeling that we have once again failed to live up to that ideal. Many times, we simply stop acting in opposition. We repress the other ideal we have created; the one more true to ourselves.

On the other hand, by not acting on our urges, we also experience guilt. By not being true to our innermost self, we act in direct opposition to what feels most natural to us. We're dammed if we do, and dammed if we don't. We have developed a conflicting set of values: those prescribed by society at large, and those of our own persona. As a result, we try to be true to two opposing sets of values. Not a particularly good spot to be in.

So, which is right? On the one side there are Societal values, and on the other we have our personal values. We exert enormous amounts of energy trying to resolve this conflict. We read. We talk. We rationalize the hell out of what we do. In short, we spend out lives trying to come to terms with this conflict between the outer world and our inner self. And to what end? It always seems lead back to the same sense of guilt and shame. Clearly, something has to give.

Ultimately, we seem to reach a point where we realize that we are different than others. We start to deconstruct the standard issue societal stereotype, and in its place, create one which fits us better, one more in tune with who we are. Once done, the standard rule set no longer applies. It is at this point that the guilt starts to ease up. We start to accept ourselves for who we are and stop trying so hard to fit into the original societal stereotype. We are told, "You ought to be like thus and thus!" Why? Because the arbitrary morality of society would have us beleave that because we are different, there is something fundamentally wrong with us and somehow in need of correcting? I think not. We declare to ourselves, at the very least, that we are of equal validity as all other members of society. We are not in need of fixing. We're fine just the way we are.

And so we cope. Some better than others, but non the less, we make peace with ourselves, allowing the guilt we carry around to dissipate, leaving behind a stronger and more integrated individual.

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