The Voice of Self-Hatred

I’d like to relate a story that I’m not terribly proud of.

As I’ve mentioned in other places on this blog, I went through medical transition a while ago. I started taking hormones sixteen years ago, started to “live full time” a year later, and had surgery a year after that. So, I’ve had a while to live with the personal demons that can plague a person after transition.

Even though I passed as a cis woman with great ease, I still had this ugly little voice in the back of my head that whispered, “You look like a freak. You sound like a freak. You have the past of a freak. You’re ugly, awkward, and far too masculine to be a real woman.” I was my own worst critic and consequently, I endured the weight of self-hatred for many years.

The funny thing is, when I looked upon other trans people—trans women in particular—all of that self-doubt and all of those personal demons were projected upon my peers. I didn’t see other women who were struggling with the same issues I was. Most trans women appeared to be impostors to me. Deep down, in my gut, I saw a bunch of annoying men in dresses and garish makeup, pretending to be women. Not surprisingly, after I transitioned, I started to avoid trans women like the plague. They were little more than over-glorified crossdressers on hormones. Oh yes, did I mention that crossdressers kind of freaked me out? They did.

During these years, whenever I encountered another trans person, I’d paste on a smile, pretend that I wasn’t a prejudiced fool, and quietly walk away. The faster I could put distance between myself and others of my kind, the better. If you have a personal weakness that leads to unhealthy, horrible behaviors, what better way to avoid the issue than to avoid the focus of your dysfunction?

Of course, I knew this was unhealthy thinking.  I knew that on some level, my behavior was problematic.  Even so, I continued to give in to this voice.  Seeing the face of another trans person was like peering into a looking glass.  It was an image I didn’t want to see.  I wanted to run from that image, malignantly glaring back at me.  I wanted to lock it behind steel barriers, forged in isolation from those of my kind.  These could never be my own eyes staring back at me, for I was different.  This distorted visage could never be formed of my own flesh, for I was better than.

In truth, or course, I was always staring into my own eyes.

Denial is the refuge of a fearful mind.

When did this stop? It started to fade only when I learned to distinguish the voice that whispered ugly insults from my own voice.  It started to fade only when I recognized that it was the effect of a childhood, beaten and bruised by the abuse of a gender-prejudiced society. When I learned to listen to my heart and accept myself as the woman I am, this hateful voice was quelled. Not surprisingly, as the voice vanished, the prejudice I felt toward other trans people began to fade.

You can only begin to accept the lives of others when you begin to accept your own. Those words may be trite, but they contain a wealth of truth.

You can take this story for what it’s worth, as I’m just one person. However, it seems to me that it’s not uncommon for the people of any marginalized group to have to contend with the effects of self-hatred within its members. In fact, there’s a name for this phenomenon. It’s called internalized oppression. A person can engage in stunningly negative behaviors toward themselves and their peers when they are plagued by this phenomenon. For those who have an interest, here is a webpage which explores the topic at length.

(I originally related this story on a comment thread at The Bilerico Project. Thanks to Battybattybats for alerting me to the webpage addressing internalized oppression.)
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~ by timberwraith on November 6, 2009.

11 Responses to “The Voice of Self-Hatred”

  1. Well said. That’s something I’ve been dealing with – my own discomfort of dealing with other trans people, and particularly those who don’t pass well. (As problematic and charged as that term is, in and of itself!) I’ve very consciously made an effort to speak from a place of pride and out-ness, and to not let my own negative emotions and perceptions get in the way of being a decent person. But you’re very right – it’s internalized oppression, and something I’ve been working on.

  2. That’s something I’ve been dealing with – my own discomfort of dealing with other trans people, and particularly those who don’t pass well.

    Yup, I had that same issue, too. It took me a number of years before I really found myself in a space where I could look past superficial cues and see the person for who she really was. It makes me sad to say that, but there you have it.

    These negative feelings came from a confluence of many, many things. It seemed like an onion: I’d peel away one layer only to find another underneath. The good news is that eventually, I ran out of layers.

  3. I want to say well said too. I’m still peeling back layers. Each one is a relief to remove, I look forward to running out of them one day.

  4. I just wanted to say that I found your blog through feministing and am glad to have done so. Thank you for sharing your experiences. This post illustrates well some concepts I was having difficulty wrapping my head around in recent threads on other sites. Thank you.

  5. Hi Mattie and mahjani. Thanks for dropping by.

    I’m glad that people are finding my musings to be useful. It makes posting to this blog feel a little more meaningful.

    Best wishes to everyone in dealing with these feelings. Since there are four of us in this thread, on this tiny little blog, who are familiar with these kinds of emotions and perceptions, it brings one to ponder how many others are dealing with these matters in the larger world. At the very least, we are not alone.

  6. Thanks for allowing us the look inside.

    It’s amazing how the gender binary is so insidious that reality no longer makes sense. There are men who are viewed as too feminine to be taken seriously, and yet no trans woman can ever be allowed to feel feminine enough to be a woman. It’s crazy.

    Take it from a woman who were nicknamed Ms. Rambo in school because I was presenting a bit too much (according to the others) on the masculine end of the scale. And yet as still teased about my Rack of Doom. I never really understood how I could both have the Rack of Doom as well as be half-man, as they said. But after many years it is clear that sense is not to be made from it. I think you’ll lose your sanity if you try to understand it. The gender binary and the reinforcement thereof is based in a paradox, understanding it probably wouldn’t be healthy.

    It’s good that you tell your story. Hopefully it will help other trans women and men in a similar situation to distill the voices and listen to the right ones 🙂 And if nothing else, I enjoy coming here to learn from your insight.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, Jemima.

    In my own way, I empathize with the your experience of being nicknamed “Ms. Rambo.” I don’t particularly fit society’s mold of femininity either. I don’t like make up. I don’t particularly like dresses and skirts, either. The whole notion of “a woman must be fashionable and lovely” makes me grimace. My two favorite hobbies are reading science fiction and hiking. The only “traditionally feminine” pastime that holds my interest is cooking. That’s it.

    If I try to place my gender expression within the binary, neither category (masculine vs. feminine) really seems to fit. I’m in that blurry region between androgynous and feminine. I love being a woman and couldn’t imagine living my life as a guy, but I certainly don’t fit society’s stereotypes of womanhood.

    I felt very self-conscious about this for years—to the point of great distraction. However, after meeting several other women like myself, I simply grew comfortable with who I am. It’s amazing how healing the experience of seeing yourself in another can be—particularly when the other person is comfortable in who they are.

  8. You’re welcome. I imagined you would understand. And yet my experience was minor compared to what you trans folks go through. I was teased with being manly, but no one ever truly suggested that I wasn’t *really* a girl. Mostly I was just badgered about doing the whole ‘girl-thing’ wrong.

    I, too, read science fiction and fantasy. It was my escape from a world that treated me like dirt. I have Asperger’s so I didn’t really fit in anywhere. I was unable to.

    I don’t think anyone truly fits society’s expectations of womanhood. Maybe some people fit on the outside, but there’ll always be some aspect where they’re ‘wrong’. Whether it be in their choice of hobbies, clothes, opinions, whatever.

    Your last paragraph is so true. Healing comes through understanding. Not just through understanding yourself, but also through understanding others and through others understanding you. That’s why I think it’s so important that the words of those who will speak them are out there for people to read/hear.

  9. I, too, read science fiction and fantasy. It was my escape from a world that treated me like dirt. I have Asperger’s so I didn’t really fit in anywhere. I was unable to.

    From the little I’ve read, the kind of bullying that children with Asperger’s have to endure can be quite brutal. It’s pretty bad for trans children, too. I’m uncomfortable with the notion that the experiences you had were any “easier” than what trans people endure. Suffice to say, human beings haven’t yet evolved to a point where outsiders any stripe are treated humanely.

    I don’t think anyone truly fits society’s expectations of womanhood. Maybe some people fit on the outside, but there’ll always be some aspect where they’re ‘wrong’. Whether it be in their choice of hobbies, clothes, opinions, whatever.

    I so totally agree with this. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could cut through all the prejudiced gender ideology and taught children this from day one?

  10. Oh, I didn’t mean to say my entire experience was easier. I had no intention to hint at oppression olympics, because they bug me as much as they do you, I’m guessing. What I was getting at was that in the specific area of gender performance, trans people of either gender fall further outside of the accepted binary than my cis female self, and will therefore usually draw more ire. It was basically a recognition that even if I am a gender non-conforming woman, I am undoubtedly cis, and that places me in a position of privilege in that regard. I was completely leaving my other oppressions out of the picture for just that moment, and that was probably clumsy of me. Sorry to confuse you.

  11. No problem, Jemima. I kind of figured that was where you were coming from, but I decided to toss my comment out there, just in case. 🙂

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