Gender & SexualityPsychology

Self-love #1: conquering ‘narcissism’

I want to talk about nar­ciss­ism. I don’t mean big-N nar­ciss­ism in the clinical/social sense, which is a com­plex with many symp­toms. I mean the simple sense of find­ing one­self attract­ive or even arous­ing. I don’t know where I got it, but I’ve lived with the idea that this is shame­ful, vain… simply put, that it is wrong.

Nar­cissus was so obsessed with his own reflec­tion that it became his down­fall, so there must be some­thing amiss, right?

When you’re trans, and par­tic­u­larly a trans woman, there’s an addi­tional leg­acy that you have to con­tend with: the concept of auto­gynephilia. Briefly put, this deeply prob­lem­atic term refers to the idea that (some) trans women are trans because they are attrac­ted to / aroused by (the idea of) them­selves as women. In its ori­ginal con­cep­tion, this philia was patho­lo­gised, seen as a form of prob­lem­atic sexual devi­ance: i.e. there was some­thing wrong with you. At its core, this idea assumes that ‘reg­u­lar’ (sexual) attrac­tion focuses itself wholly on another per­son (ideally of the oppos­ite sex, too, of course). It is, in other words, a product of a broader cul­ture in which out­ward-facing, het­ero­sexual attrac­tion is the norm (at least ostens­ibly), and that any­thing else is deviance.

Het­ero­norm­ativ­ity is an import­ant part of it, because beneath the claims of van­ity, part of the per­ceived prob­lem with self-attrac­tion is per­haps a fear of homo­sexu­al­ity. If you’re attrac­ted to your­self, does­n’t that mean you’re not straight?

I reject all of this, in prin­ciple. But I find it much harder to shake the deeper feel­ings of shame and guilt that attach them­selves to this whole com­plex dur­ing one’s life.

Being trans, I find myself con­fron­ted with this issue quite reg­u­larly, and that was the case even before I real­ised I was trans. When I lived as a man, I was reg­u­larly wor­ried about or busy with my appear­ance. Past my early teens, I never much cared about tra­di­tional stand­ards of attract­ive­ness for men: I was happy to fol­low my own path. But I did want to be attract­ive, in some way, to some people. It was just very hard to feel it some­times. I’ve had a lov­ing part­ner for a very long time, and that helps tre­mend­ously, but when you’re not at peace with your­self, there’s always some­thing missing.

Now that I’ve lived as a woman for a while, the ‘man I was’ seems more and more dis­tant. More and more like someone else. Someone I tried to be but was­n’t. And that’s natural.

What I did­n’t expect is that I would find him/me attract­ive. He as the man I never really was, and me as the woman I finally real­ised I am. Uncon­sciously, I had  per­haps been mod­el­ling myself after the kind of man I would find attract­ive, if I were a woman. Now, I’m mostly attrac­ted to women, as I’ve always been. But there is a cer­tain type of man that I find attract­ive: kind of rugged-look­ing, idio­syn­cratic, against the grain, power­ful in a reas­sur­ing way, but soft too.

And here’s the thing: I don’t miss being him. At all. But there was some­thing about him that I now real­ise I like, a lot.

When I first became con­scious of this feel­ing, it scared me. Those feel­ings I described above came flood­ing back. Does this mean I’m vain, and always have been? Is there some­thing wrong with me?

But no, it’s not wrong. And it does not mean that I am selfish, or do not find other people attract­ive. It just means that at some point I was (or at least looked like) a pretty cute guy.

So, here’s a requiem for that dude. He’s not around any­more, but I’d like to tell him that he was doing some­thing right, even if he did­n’t feel it at the time.