Many people who begin to attend to their parts are surprised to discover that there may be little boy parts inside a woman’s system, or little girl parts inside a man’s. We generally assume that gender identity corresponds to biological sex and so imagine it to be the same for the parts. Not so.
Gender identity is culturally determined: certain behaviours, forms of dress, communication styles, jobs etc are considered to be male or female – to “belong” to men or women. Those who transgress these rigid gender roles (such as “butch” women or drag queens) are often to objects of derision and scorn. Some parts may internalize this hostility and seek to exile transgendered parts. Yet, when asked, the parts are quite clear about their gender.
When getting to know a part we generally refer to “it” until it decides to let us know whether it identifies as male or female. In my experience parts that have gender identities opposite to the biological sex of the individual are usually young parts who have taken a role congruent with societal gender-expectations. For example, a young part who wants to sit on its father’s lap and be held and stroked may identify as a girl. A part that acts as a young protector may show you himself walking about dressed as a gladiator. These parts are equally likely to be part of a man’s system as a woman’s.
IFS and Transgender
And IFS approach to transgender individuals explores all the parts seeking to get attention. Some parts may want to be heard in their desire to express their “masculinity” or “femininity”. There may be parts who seek reassignment surgery, others who are strongly opposed to it (this is commonly experienced as ambivalence but in fact describes polarized parts). Still other mediating parts may push for compromise and yet others need to express a deep unhappiness.
Transgender individuals are often blended with a part of the system that wants to get the attention of the Self. When the part is asked to step back and assured it has the attention it seeks it is then possible to listen to other parts that are connected to it. Few individuals have parts that are all male or female identified, and reassignment surgery may be the solution sought by a few or many parts. It is helpful to listen to all of the contributing voices before going ahead with a major surgical procedure.