Addiction versus Expression

By Lisa P.

I spend as much time as Lisa as I possibly can. In fact, I bring Lisa into my life every day, even if all I can do on a particular day is to think from a feminine perspective. The “problem” (if it is a problem at all) is that I spend so much time as Lisa that it has caused me to worry about whether I am “addicted” to being Lisa. Have you ever wondered about that?

Being a Google Search Amateur Psychologist (a Google “sap”), I have learned that there any many elements of full or part-time gender swapping that look like an addiction — especially the difficulty we may have with staying away from switching genders.

Psychology Today provides a helpful outline of the symptoms of addiction that reads as follows [I have added a comment based on my personal experience after each of the “features” listed below]:

Recurrent use of a substance, or engagement with an activity, that leads to impairment or distress, is the core of addictive disorders. The clinical diagnosis of an addiction is based on the presence of at least two of a number of features:

  • The substance or activity is used in larger amounts or for a longer period of time than was intended. [Yes. My wife remarked a few years ago, “you seem to need this more as time goes by”.]
  • There is a desire to cut down on use or unsuccessful efforts to do so. [No, at least not anymore, but there was a time when I hoped I would not need to be Lisa so much.]
  • Pursuit of the substance or activity, or recovery from its use, consumes a significant amount of time. [Yes. Being a transwoman takes time: planning, makeup, shopping, socially connecting, etc.]
  • There is a craving or strong desire to use the substance or engage in the activity. [Yes. See first bullet above – I wouldn’t do it more if I didn’t want it more.]
  • Use of the substance or activity disrupts obligations at work, school, or home. [No. This hasn’t been a big issue for me personally – I make a note to take care of personal and professional business first. But, it does prevent from engaging in other things I also enjoy doing. Overall, it hasn’t been that difficult to stop swapping genders when I really need to (for example, to take the family on vacation).]
  • Use of the substance or activity continues despite the social or interpersonal problems it causes. [Yes. Is it any secret that being trans is not socially acceptable? Also, I have previously related my own, quite common, DADT relationship with my beloved.]
  • Participation in important social, work, or recreational activities drops or stops. [No. Personally, I have not allowed my priorities to get out of whack. I remind myself constantly to do that.]
  • Use occurs in situations where it is physically risky. [Not really. I must admit that I have gotten myself in some uncomfortable and at least one scary situation – but, they were related to my being a woman, not specifically being trans.]
  • Use continues despite knowing it is causing or exacerbating physical or psychological problems. [Let’s give this a partial yes, because I shave my legs daily, trim my eyebrows to create a more androgynous look, treat my eyelashes so that they will grow longer and I have thought about other actions to permanently change my body so that it will appear more feminine.]
  • Tolerance occurs, indicated either by need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve the desired effect or markedly diminished effect of the same amount of substance. [Yes. I have now accepted myself as trans, so I am way beyond mere tolerance.]
  • Withdrawal occurs, manifest either in the presence of physiological withdrawal symptoms or the taking of a related substance to block them. [No. I can go weeks without Lisa with no serious distress. I miss her, but I don’t have any “withdrawal” symptoms. I definitely feel and I think act completely well-adjusted: I am generally content, I still put my wife and my job and my children first, and I can state strongly that switching genders is not the primary way that I express my stress (I reserve eating chocolate and ice cream for that!]

The severity of the condition is gauged by the number of symptoms present. The presence of two to three symptoms generally indicates a mild condition; four to five symptoms indicate a moderate disorder. When six or more symptoms are present, the condition is considered severe.[By my count, I have 5-1/2 of these “features” – phew, my condition isn’t SEVERE (yet!)).

But, if you went directly to the list, you may have missed a very critical part of the definition: recurring engagement with the activity must lead to “impairment or distress.” Frankly, recurring engagement with Lisa brings me joy and peace, not impairment or distress. Look at Kandi’s face in all of her photos– that is how I feel!

One of the clinical aspects of addiction is that it has a physiological basis – that is, it is based on dopamine being released into the brain. The problem is that every human seeks dopamine responses every day. Dopamine is released whenever we have pleasure and expect a reward: whether from eating our favorite food, having sex, watching our favorite sports team compete (and win!), succeeding in a personal challenge, etc. I know I crave ice cream, for example, but it isn’t an addiction for me. Same with sex, by the way – and they definitely don’t cause me any distress!

Truthfully, the only distress I have ever felt about being Lisa is the distress I feel when other people say that someone identified as male at birth has no business being a woman or doing things that might mistake them for a woman. I have written about that before. Once I realized that any distress I had about being Lisa came from the attitudes of other people, I knew with all certainty that I wasn’t “addicted” and didn’t need behavioral modification therapy to get “better.” I am beautiful just the way that I am. I am not a psychologist (see above – I am only a “Google sap”), but I imagine professional psychologists finally realized this too, which is why being transgender is not considered a psychological condition. It may be accompanied by a psychological condition (particularly when the stresses involved with being trans lead one to become depressed), but our gender expression is not some aberrant “behavior” and psychological dependence. Lisa is the real me, and a pretty special part of who I am. Problems for me arise when I suppress my gender, not when I express my gender. In the end, the “addiction versus expression” dichotomy in my title is false. The concern that caused me a long time ago to focus on addiction was based on a fear that I was somehow “damaged” or “sick”. Therefore, the concern simply was another reflection of the transphobia that bedeviled me for so long.

Let’s celebrate our mental health with respect to this important part of our lives. We are whole just the way we are!

5 thoughts on “Addiction versus Expression”

  1. Lisa,
    Wow, you must have been reading my mind!! I LOVE when I’m dressed and all I think about is the next time when I can.
    Stay beautiful-Sherry

    1. We all are a little alike and a little different, I suppose. I just know how much I appreciate all of you for going out and living life and continually encouraging all of us to do the same. And I have to say I can see on your face how much you love this part of yourself!

  2. Lisa there is no question there is a certain amount of joy when we can express ourselves the way we feel we must
    I don’t consider it an issue of the mind other than those of us who accept ourselves as trans is that it truly is we are wired in our brains different than the standard cis male. Is it a defect? It might be but we all must find our peace with who we are and our expression of that side of us

    1. Rachael, I choose to think that being wired is not a defect unless it means we don’t “run” anymore. Not every device is wired the same, after all, although I appreciate that humans are not just like electronics! I know you will stay in your place of joy — I know I plan to.

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