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Male, Female, Other: When Issues of Gender Cause Dating Confusion

(Author’s note:  I got this letter in the Loveawake support box and realized it was way out of my realm of expertise.  So I had Pace of FreakRevolution.com field this question, and it’s so good, I’ve made it a separate article outside of the Loveawake Friday series.  Enjoy and be enlightened.)

Dear Loveawake,

This is going to be complicated, so bear with me.

I am a biological male, yet socially and in my head I’m female. I like girly things, I like to feel pretty, and I like it when people on the net treat me like a girl. They’re nicer to me and it makes me feel good.

The problem is that I am still sexually attracted to women. If I weren’t, I’d get gender reassignment surgery. But I figure, since I still want to have sex with women, why remove the organ that’s perfectly suited for such a task?

To be clear, while I do have some body issues, I don’t hate my body for being male. If I could live in a society where crossdressing is accepted, I would do so!

As you can imagine, this makes dating difficult, online dating doubly so. When I fill out an application, which gender do I select? Am I a lesbian? I don’t mind posting as a man and then as the relationship develops explaining my “dual nature” but it’s a bit of a crapshoot how the girl will react. I don’t want to intentionally lie to people, yet being upfront about who I am gets me all the wrong attention.

Basically, I don’t know where to begin to address this complex situation, and any help you could provide would be great.

Thanks in advance!

- Lesbian in a Man’s Body

Dear LMB,

Hi there! E asked me if I could help answer this question, and since I have some hands-on experience with this sort of thing, I hope I’ll be able to help.

The first thing to tease apart is that sexuality and gender are totally different. What gender you’re attracted to has nothing to do with what gender you are. You can be a man who’s attracted to men, a man who’s attracted to women, a woman who’s attracted to men, a woman who’s attracted to women, a bisexual woman, or a bisexual man.

And that’s just assuming there are only two options for gender — if you consider multiple genders, you can even be one of the non-standard options — a third-gendered, bigendered, agendered, or differently gendered person. And in that case, you could be attracted to men, women, both, or all sorts of differently-gendered people. And if you account for more than two genders, “pansexual” works much better than “bisexual”.

In my case, I was born male and was attracted to women. Later I transitioned to female and I was still attracted to women. Trust me, there are plenty of other organs and accessories that are also perfectly suited to the task. (; It’s more of a personal choice of what feels right to you and what feels like it belongs as part of your body. So here comes the next thing to tease apart: gender and sex.

Sex is your anatomy. Your primary sex characteristics (your genitals and reproductive organs) and your secondary sex characteristics (e.g. breasts).

Gender is, well, it’s kind of two things, it’s your social role (your gender role) and it’s also your internal sense of self. In your case, you’ve said that you’re female in your head and so you prefer the female gender role. Awesome.

It’s possible to have a sex and gender that don’t match. It’s also possible to be attracted to different sexes than genders. In my case, I’m attracted to both (or more) sexes but almost exclusively the female gender. This means that I’m attracted to women, regardless of their anatomy. So if there were someone who was born male and decided to transition to female in all ways except for sex reassignment surgery, that would be A-OK with me. (In point of fact, my ex-wife fits that description.)

The reason I’m mentioning this is that the world is a big place, and if there’s one of me out there (which, in fact, there is), there are plenty more. There are people out there who will want to date you, regardless of what gender you are, regardless of what sex you are, and regardless of whether they match up in the usual way. Yes, there will always be creepy fetishists, and yes, you attract more of them when you’re a combination that isn’t common (fetish implies not standard) but there will also be real, caring human beings who will love you for who you are and be attracted to you for the way your body is, whatever way that happens to be.

The last complication is that your social gender role is male IRL and female online. That can get a bit tricky. But there are plenty of options other than skipping straight to sex reassignment surgery.

It’s possible to change your gender role to female regardless of whether you choose to undergo surgery. It’s not easy, though — it requires changing your body, voice, and mannerisms so that others will recognize you as female. If you’re interested in learning more about that, here are a couple of links:

http://transsexual.org/

http://www.tsroadmap.com/index.html

In my case, I wasn’t sure what combination of sex and gender role I wanted to end up being. So I experimented. I tried out various gender roles online and found that I was far more comfortable in the female role. After that happened, I found that I wanted to avoid social situations IRL, because I became more and more uncomfortable in the male gender role. So I took steps to transition to the female gender role.

For me, this is how I relieved the dysphoria of not knowing how to act, how to introduce myself, what option to check on profiles, etc.

I picked the gender role that was right for me and shifted everything else in my life to fit that role.

So it sounds like you are:

Sex: male

Sexuality: attracted to women

Internal gender: female

Gender role: female online and male IRL

So to answer your question “Am I a lesbian?” Yup. A lesbian is a woman who’s attracted to women. And from “in my head I’m female” it sounds like you identify as a woman. So congratulations and welcome to the club. We’ll email you your secret lesbian decoder ring shortly. (:

This response ended up being super long, so I’ll wind up. The most important thing is to find out what’s right for you, regardless of whether it’s weird or nonstandard. Two good ways to do this are to read more about gender, transgender, and that sort of thing (Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook is a good place to start) and to experiment! There are a lot of things you can try that don’t cause irreversible changes to your body, and in my experience, trying (carefully) is the best way to know whether any given option is really right for you.

I hope this helps, and I wish you the best on your path, wherever it leads you.

(:,

Dealing With Relationship Disaster

Natural and man-made disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, the 9-11 attack and earthquakes, scar the psyches of both those who were immediately present and those who watched and waited for news.

These scars can be significant and pervasive. They affect a person’s sense of control and identity. They take a significant toll on physiology, as well as impact interpersonal relationships.

But how do you recognize and cope with these effects? According to the National Mental Health Association, a nonprofit organization of mental health professionals, 12 psychophysiological reactions generally accompany disasters:

  • disbelief and shock;
  • fear and anxiety about the future;
  • disorientation, apathy and emotional numbing;
  • irritability and anger;
  • sadness and depression;
  • feelings of powerlessness;
  • extreme hunger or lack of appetite;
  • difficulty making decisions;
  • crying for no apparent reason;
  • headaches and stomach problems;
  • difficulty sleeping;
  • excessive drinking or substance use.

Emotional responses to disasters aren’t always immediately apparent. Because each person will react differently with a range of responses, it’s important not to compare your reactions to others’. Most reactions decrease as time passes and your attention refocuses on daily activities. Despite the differences in personal reactions to the stress surrounding catastrophic events, these reactions tend to show themselves in predictable ways in your personal relationships.

Relationship aftereffects

Crises have the potential of bringing couples closer together by highlighting and reinforcing personal characteristics that speak to lasting relationship compatibility — commitment, selflessness, compassion, intimacy and strength of values. In fact, Loveawake dating site peer-reviewed research shows that finding agreement on how to handle stress and conflict is the most difficult issue a couple faces. Yet, couples who find agreement on this issue find the highest degree of relationship satisfaction.

Clinical psychologists note that couples have the potential to face seven relationship aftereffects of a crisis or disaster:

Intrusions. Emotional withdrawal from a loved one can occur when trauma survivors are preoccupied with intrusive memories or thoughts, which can make the affected person appear very self-absorbed. Intrusions can be misinterpreted by the unaffected partner as disinterest.

AvoidanceWithdrawal from a partner is typical during times of emotional intensity. Any intense feelings can bring up fears of loss of control. The trauma survivor may deal with these feelings through avoidance, which can be interpreted as rejection.

Arousability. It’s common for those around the traumatized person to walk on eggshells. Traumatized people are easily agitated because they are in a state of hypervigilance, which can cause irritability, explosive anger and sexual difficulties.

Sexual difficulties. Trauma often affects sexual intimacy in couples. People exposed to trauma can have performance anxiety, aggressive impulses or emotionality. If the trauma was of a sexual nature, the traumatized person can withdraw from — or be repulsed by — sex.

Guilt and shame. It’s common for survivors of trauma to feel guilt and shame, and believe they don’t deserve to enjoy life. They may have difficulty experiencing success or positive feelings. A parent-child dynamic can develop in which the unaffected partner plays the role of the carefree child and the trauma survivor the controlling parent. If the trauma occurred during the relationship, unaffected partners may experience guilt because they couldn’t prevent the event.

Irrational Responsibility. Survivors of trauma often feel an extreme sense of responsibility and believe that anything can go wrong if they’re not extremely careful. Trauma survivors may react by becoming either overly responsible or irresponsible. Their desire to protect loved ones from similar traumas may lead to a fear of any mistakes at all, which can cause rigid expectations or criticism.

Rigid gender roles. Sometimes in the aftermath of traumatic events, gender roles become polarized. Survivors may need an anchor for their identity because they feel the world has become unpredictable and unsafe. Rigidity in gender roles often leads people to mishandle the intense feelings brought up by trauma. Men may be angry and unwilling to express softer feelings toward achieving intimacy. Women may become dependent and very emotional.

Tips for couples

First and foremost, it’s crucial to understand that these feelings and behaviors are normal psychological responses to disasters. Often these aftereffects diminish naturally over time. However, there are some simple steps you can take to help minimize disruptive reactions:

  • Talk about it. By talking with others, you relieve stress and realize that others share your feelings. Ask for time with your partner to discuss your feelings. Go somewhere private, where you feel safe, and take time to just talk. Talking with your partner exhibits trust, intimacy and affection. These feelings are crucial to express during a time of crisis.
  • Get plenty of rest and exercise. Remember to eat well. Avoid excessive drinking and risk-taking activities. Neglecting your health exacerbates psychological and physical reactions to stress and crisis.
  • Spend time with your partner, family or other social support system. Don’t withdraw; seek out all the healthy connections available to you. If you have children, encourage them to discuss their concerns and feelings with you. Support systems can help you gain and maintain proper perspective and set realistic expectations for yourself and others during a time of crisis.
  • Maintain a schedule. As soon as it feels comfortable, go back to your normal routine. There is scientific support to show that acting like you’re not depressed will make you feel less depressed.
  • Be proactive with stress reduction. Do things that you find relaxing and soothing, preferably with your partner. Even walking or jogging for an hour every day will help.
  • Learn from the past. Think about a time in the past when you experienced strong emotions and draw on the strength you exhibited then.
  • Gain a sense of control. Do something positive to help you and your partner gain a greater sense of control. Give blood, take a first-aid class or donate food or clothing. If you have children, include them in these activities when appropriate and feasible.
  • Ask for help. If you or your partner feel overwhelmed by the disaster, ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. You can talk with a trusted relative, friend, social worker, or clergy member, or you can seek out professional assistance in your local area right now through Psychology Today’s free online Therapist Directory.

Tips for single parents

Single parents in romantic relationships face additional challenges. Disasters strongly affect children’s sense of security. Helping children cope with their losses will be crucial in enabling them to resume their lives more fully at home and school.

Children deal with crisis in many different ways, and not necessarily in the same manner as adults. Don’t push children to talk about their feelings. Just like adults, children need time to grieve. Let them know you are ready to listen, and provide reassurance and validation of their feelings when they express them. Keep in mind that you don’t have to fix how the child feels. Simply strive to be a good listener and supporter. Here’s how:

  • Make time to comfort and reassure your children. The stress of coping with adversity can be distracting for adults. But, just a moment of your time, a gentle hug or a reassuring word may be all children need to feel safer and more secure in an emotional situation.
  • Speak simply and honestly about the situation. Explain to your children what is happening to your family. Use simple words they can understand. Be honest. Experts recommend not sugar-coating a grim situation or exaggerating. Keep children informed of a problem that will directly affect them.
  • Help young children understand the disaster. Like adults, children are predictably frightened by things they don’t understand. You can explain how tornados, storms and hurricanes are formed, and how these are unusual but natural patterns of weather. Children should know that they weren’t responsible for causing a disaster, and that disasters are not some kind of punishment for something they did.
  • Maintain routines or rituals of comfort. Dinnertime at the kitchen table, a bedtime story, an afternoon nap or a favorite teddy at bedtime may provide younger children with a sense of security. Older children have their own routines and favorite activities as well. Maintaining some routine during disruptive times can provide children with a sense of stability and control.
  • Take time to calm yourself. Take a brief break from the crisis. Take a two-minute walk to cool off and calm down. Try for just a few moments to relax mentally. You will be able to provide more support to your family if you do.

If you have intense feelings that won’t go away, or if you are troubled for longer than four to six weeks after a disaster, you may benefit from talking to a professional therapist. Help is available.

Put Sexploration to Work!

So by now you've taken the Sexploration test, our hottest compatibility test., right? If not, you should!

When you complete the test, it's easy to check out your report page. Interesting reading, huh? You can get back to your results anytime by simply logging in to your Loveawake account and clicking LOVEAWAKE Sex Report on the left-hand side of your screen. You'll find convincing evidence that sexual intimacy is a vital part of any healthy, loving relationship. Understanding your own sex personality is a smart way to gain insight into what makes you tick, both as an individual and as part of a couple.

But what does all of it mean, anyway? How can knowing this stuff lead to more fulfilling sessions between the sheets?

I knew you'd ask me that! Last week we went over "About Me," the first page of your results. So now let's look at putting Sexploration to work for you.

MY SEXUAL MATCHES

Under this tab of your Sexploration results, you'll find out how you match up with each of the eight sex types, as well as what you'll want to be aware of when you get involved with, let's say, an Initiator. You can read about how hot things are likely to get between you and someone with a particular sex personality. For example, Mavericks are usually most compatible with other Mavericks. On the flip side, they're typically least likely to click with Traditionalists, although these two can be great together when armed with the right information. (Which is where Sexploration comes in!)

What could be more fun than checking out profiles sorted by sexual temperament? Wow!

THE SEX TYPES

This last page of your Sexploration results can be really helpful when you're getting to know someone from the site and things are heating up. Here's where you find the rundown on each of the sex types and how they relate to the others. If you know she's a Fantasizer, for example, you'll have a pretty valuable piece of information, don't you think? It's a whole lot better than flying blind, and you'll also get a sneak peek at the adventures ahead!

USING YOUR RESULTS ON LOVEAWAKE

Well, that sure was fun. But what to do when you're cruising around the site on an average day? Where does Sexploration come in when you log in to check your email, edit your profile or do a new search?

Great question! The good news is that you can use Sexploration during any site activity, whether you're checking out the profile of the cutie who just winked at you, or if you're doing a Quick Search based on age and location, an Advanced Search, or even Keyword and Screen Name Searches.

When the search first returns your results, you'll notice that (if a member in your list of results has taken Sexploration and chosen to display their results), you'll see a what your sexual compatibility rating is.

Also, when you're looking at a person's profile, be sure to check out the section called "Are We Compatible?" If they've taken one of the compatibility tests, like Sexploration, you'll see how you two match up. But if they haven't taken the test, you'll see a link you can click to ask them to take that test. What a great way to break the ice!

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and embark on your own Sexploration adventure. You've got nothing to lose! And you might find a more fulfilling connection with your partner and, don't forget, tons of fun!

Are you wild or mild?

Take our LOVEAWAKE Sexploration test! What’s your Sexploration type and who lights your fire when the lights go out? Take the LOVEAWAKE Sexploration test to find out your style between the sheets – then find your hottest matches!

 

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