I am what I am I don’t want praise I don’t want pity I bang my own drum Some think it’s noise I think it’s pretty And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle Why not try to see things from a different angle Your life is a shame Till you can shout out: “I am what I am”
La cage Aux Folles
I had a distant cousin who died to young at 58. We had lost touch, but because he died young, without any immediate family I was contacted by those who were trying to sort out his estate. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help as we had never been close but I then felt an obligation to find out more about him and what I assumed, wrongly, was a lonely existence. When younger he had been obsessed by cars, electronics and had a mousy wife, who to everyone’s surprise just ran away and left him for a guy at work.
Full of guilt for my neglect I visited his village and found out a neighbour who told me in the blunt terms that people use without malice, that my cousin had been transgendered went under the name of Cathy or Cat. She (Cat) had amassed a beautiful collection of dresses, hats, shoes and jewellery and when not at work, would become Cat and live a double life which in our culture was still moderately risky and would definitely have earned disapprobation in the traditional village where he/she had lived.
The full story, of her life though I found out is written out appended to hundreds of images he has shared publicly on the internet via Flicker. There Cathy stands in all her six feet of blonde, blue-eyed slightly dame-ish beauty. Brave to a point and gloried in column inches from her “trans” community. Apparently, that’s what trans girls do, it’s a community thing, a therapeutic release if you like, of lives they cannot live because we live in a narrow and bigoted world that values the shallow rather than seeks to understand the complex.
But Flickr isn’t just about images it provides a forum for self- disclosure and commentary. Cat’s profile and commentary was simultaneously self-effacing and full of cruel statements about genetic women. She wasn’t alone, following links within the T-girl community, led me to loads of similar blasts at non-T women. T girls appear to have an exaggerated understanding of femininity, but it doesn’t stop with the clothes, underneath all I felt that there was a certain, almost theatrical bitchiness worthy of Albin from “La Cage Aux Folles”. Within the bounds of their community it appeared there was a tendency to feel superior and to denigrate other women. There also appears to be a burgeoning commentary in the media where it is becoming a dangerous thing for feminist commentators to exclude transgender issues from mainstream feminist analysis. A sociologist friend of mine suggested to me that transgendered women are taking over the feminist debate with all the sensitivity of an alpha male!
I became interested in the relationship between Transgender self-esteem and possible narcissism as an explanation for this interesting phenomenon.
I am what I am
High self-esteem is generally held up to be “a good thing” though some suggest it can be associated with aggression, grandstanding and excess assertiveness. Dr Sheldon Solomon suggests that some are confusing high self-esteem with defensive narcissism. Lisa Firestone builds on these ideas and in her writing provides a point by point comparison of narcissism and high self-esteem where she suggests the former seeks to dominate, pull down others, reject criticism and wants to be recognised above others. Self-esteem values equality, shared success, takes criticism as feedback and sees the value in others.
Tendency To Narcissism?
Why then is there a tendency for narcissism in trans people ? Like many aspects of narcissism, the origins of this phenomenon are not chosen, but made in early childhood. A child who is praised for being something which they know they have not achieved or perhaps even wanted will develop an insecurity. Insecurity in affection and one’s self is one of the contributing factors in the development of narcissism. So, imagine being a young child who knows that in their head they are female, but they are praised for displaying any characteristics which equate with the opposite gender “That’s my boy!” or “he’s a typical boy…” This can cause insecurity for some and rob the young transgendered person of any hope of high self-esteem. Erik Erikson suggested as long ago as the 1950’s that the games children play are an attempt to synchronise body, social processes and the sense of self, so little boys are bought guns, weapons and tools; girls on the other hand are encouraged into domesticity, childcare and craft. So, for a transgendered mind there can be no synchrony. Without synchrony there can be no high self-esteem and therefore in this context a tendency to observe narcissistic behaviour becomes a viable alternative.
The answer to this conundrum lies in the options now becoming available to transgendered people in that surgery, hormones can in part create a healthy narcissistic regard. Covert narcissism is unhealthy and carries a cost to the individual – a feeling of arrogance, superiority and being hypersensitive. Overt narcissism according to Freudians at least, is about enjoying one’s whole identity is a peaceful state. So why were the columns of my cousin’s transgendered friends filled with so much vitriol even from women who have transitioned?
Perhaps this can be explained by looking at the issues not from the point of view of individuals but of wider society. Here are still problems, since although we have a few brave role models in the form of well-known figures such as the celebrity Caitlyn Jenner; singer Adele Anderson; human rights activist Chelsea Manning and gender re-assignment surgeon Dr Marci Bowers, the wider acceptance of transgender people in society without stigma remains problematic. Narcissism with therefore remain an issue for many transgendered people until, like Albin they can shout without fear of ridicule “Hey world I am what I am!”