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Gender Questioning from Childhood Invalidation?


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Hi, all! I’ve been working for the past several months with a therapist who has experience with transgender clients. Over the course of our conversations, we’ve talked a lot about my childhood experiences with my parents, and she’s had a lot to say about the lack of loving acceptance I experienced from my father, in particular, as a child. I should add, too, that we’ve talked about more than my gender questioning; I’ve been struggling with anxiety, burnout, and a good ol’ existential crisis. So figuring out things like the origins of my tendency to people-please and my deep-seated self-doubt have been a big part of the process. In some recent sessions, we circled back around to re-focus on my gender identity. She has developed a theory that rather than being transgender, I may be struggling with a childhood in which I was not validated as a male. That took some time to figure out. From what I can understand, her implication is that somehow I may have failed in masculinity by my father’s standards, and as such somehow began questioning my masculinity. 

She also theorized it may be neither identity nor validation, but perhaps it’s just that I’m gay. If I felt a clear attraction to men, I might find this easier to entertain, but I haven’t.

So, I asked her why she had constructed her theory. Her answer was quick and direct: “Dysphoria. You don’t have it.”

Well… That’s flat-out wrong. Over the course of that and the following session, I explained my experiences of social and existential dysphoria, about gender envy and euphoria, and about physical attributes I’ve always disliked but until I began questioning hadn’t realized may be gender related. It occurred to me that I (being a consummate people-pleaser) even in therapy may have been masking my discomfort and pain. (I think I’ll have to make a concentrated effort to be as open as possible—even when I think I AM being open.)

But with that said, she repeated a frequent note that, in order to really figure out my identity, I’ll have to “walk the walk,” and explore my gender expression in public.

I told her this makes total logical sense to me. And also scares the CRAP out of me. (Talk about an anxiety trigger!) So maybe she’ll have some thoughts for me of smaller baby steps.

In the meantime though (and sorry for the long-winded post) I’m curious:

This is the first time I’ve read or heard of a theory quite like this my therapist’s about childhood invalidation, or not being validated as a male, being the source of gender questioning.

Has anyone else here ever heard something similar before?

What are your thoughts on the idea?

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Who knows?  Like you, I didn't get much love from my father.  I was a disappointment, and both my parents were very open about that.  As a teenager, my mother was so open with her dislike of me that she told me I'd probably never get married, and that she didn't have to worry about me having pre-marital sex because she "knew" that no man would waste his attentions on my worthless, slender, boy-like body.  🙄   In the end, I just didn't have the personality my parents wanted, the appearance they wanted, or the abilities they wanted. 


I don't think that parental treatment (good or bad) can change your gender.  I don't believe my parents' rejection changed me from a girl into a boy.  Maybe rejection and mistreatment can delay your realization of who you are or the body you were supposed to have but weren't born with.  At the end of the day, how much does it matter?  I think what we do with our present matters a lot more than what happened in the past.  Walking your walk in public could be scary, but could be liberating.  What do YOU want to do?

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IDK what kind of passive Freudian technique your therapist is using, but I believe some throw at you oppositional ideas. In the end, it doesn't matter what your therapist thinks. What matters is what you think and believe and, if getting "pushback" reinforces what you already suspected, the technique served it's purpose.


The other point is, many therapists are just not studied up enough on the topic. As an average human being, being trans has to the be last desirable option on the list. They may not get the full picture that many of us at one time or another actually wished it was just garden variety psychological problems with parent archetypes which resulted in a personality disorder or identity crisis.

This line of thinking is dangerous for a clinician because it nearly resembles a type of conversion therapy, that transness is a problem to be solved away. Then comes the imagined realizations of trauma that may not have actually occurred, because of the subjective and morphing nature of memory itself. 


Also, dysphoria is not a prerequisite to being trans, and only reinforces the perceived pathology of it in a pop culture context. One can identify with whatever gender for whatever reason, except perhaps in order for some medical procedures, a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a prerequisite. But even then, dysphoria could be very simply feeling any discomfort at all with our AGAB. 

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49 minutes ago, Zelaire said:

This is the first time I’ve read or heard of a theory quite like this my therapist’s about childhood invalidation, or not being validated as a male, being the source of gender questioning.

Has anyone else here ever heard something similar before?

What are your thoughts on the idea?


This dates back to the 1950's and before and has since been taken apart as a significant issue in either GD or being LGB or other letters.   Thus why you do not hear about it much.  It figured into the tragedies of "Nature Vs Nurture" where Dr. John Money advocated for correction of the ambiguous genitalia of Inter Sex children.  The idea was that gender came from how you were brought up, not how you were disposed at birth.  There are several horror stories about it available.  Research that began after Dr. Harry Benjamin  M.D. published his book The Transsexual Phenomena in 1966 has discredited that line of belief by therapists, but unfortunately it is comfortable for the therapist and all too many lay members of society.  The health care community has found that there are many genetic and epigenetic factors that go into all parts of physical development and in another topic here on  the Forums, intersex conditions do come up frequently in the Trans matrix, not to mention even brain variations between Cis (non Trans) and Trans people.  I will agree with the therapist on one thing and that is to adventure into your gender and try it on and see how it fits.  I did it that way and Cross Dresser did not fit but full time Transition did. There are many ways to do that that we talk about here.  Several places in here are recommendations for books including some by actual Trans people that will help you get moving. YOU are the only one who can decide if you have Gender Dysphoria however and good up-to-date therapists will tell you that.

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9 hours ago, Zelaire said:

even in therapy may have been masking my discomfort and pain. (I think I’ll have to make a concentrated effort to be as open as possible—even when I think I AM being open.)


Your therapist being out of date in her theories may be part of why she mis-diagnosed you, but you definitely have to be totally open with her if she is to have any chance of getting it right.  If you hide your dysphoria (and we all did prior to coming out), she can't see it.  A better therapist might have seen that you were hiding it.


I am glad you set her straight about not being gay and about having dysphoria.  With that information, she can make progress about helping you.


She is right about getting out there and exploring your gender expression in public.  I know it is scary.  All those who have come out have, at one time, been there.  Baby steps are indeed the way to do it.


To give you some ideas, here are my baby steps...


My wife helped me by encouraging me to dress femme at home.  When I joined a trans support group, I started dressing for their meetings.  At first, I would drive into the city in boy mode and change into something gender-neutral in the gender-neutral bathroom across from the meeting room.  Eventually, I started driving in for the meetings in full girl mode for the entire trip, but I stayed in boy mode when out of the house locally. 


Then, since buying women's clothes in boy mode was weird, I came out to the owner of one of my favourite second-hand stores and started going there in girl mode.  And then, finally, I came out to my neighbours and associates and went full-time.

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This is awesome feedback and insight, folks. Thank you for sharing!
For what it's worth, I don't think my therapist was saying that a trans identity could come from childhood invalidation, but rather my uncertainty about my gender might. Subtle difference, I suppose. She has, on the other hand, struck me with some unexpected nuggets like a comment that seemed to conflate bisexuality with non-binary identities; not sure if that was what she meant or a slip of the tongue. As we roll along, I'm trying to get a sense of where her understandings are relative to current expert thinking on the topic.

I take the feedback from you all, though, that ultimately my own feelings are what matter, and those will only become clear by exploring expression. @stveee, I think you're right: Regardless of her intent, it was ironic to me that I found myself practically defending a trans identity I'd spent over forty years rejecting. 😅 I'm sorry to hear about your experiences with your parents, @awkward-yet-sweet. I'm glad, at least, it sounds like you've found comfort with yourself through it all. I've been familiar with the Money horror stories, @VickySGV, but I didn't draw a connection to my therapy conversations; that's something for me to think about.

And thanks for these tips, @KathyLauren! My wife is sympathetic and supportive of my trying to figure things out, but is not yet ready to see me in "exploration." I've tried clothing during work-at-home days with the camera off, and I've even tried my hand at makeup a couple times (spoiler alert: I still need practice) 😜 but those are few and far between, because I'm seldom at home by myself with a wife and two kids about. I think I have to just buckle up for the long haul--this isn't going to get sorted out any time soon. 😅

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