In the last decade much evidence has emerged that there are genuine physiological differences between the brains of men and women and how these differences are exaggerated or diminished in certain ways by the actions of hormones in the bloodstream. However, the difficulty is that there are no clear cut black/white differences that can be pointed at to back up these findings, merely psychological tests and statistical analysis that suggest men are more likely to be this, women are more likely to be that. The problem is that it's very difficult to arrive at an unbiased view of the state of being male and female, most of us are one or the other all our lives and comparisons are hard.
However, I have, in the last three and a half years, been taking that fairly rare journey from some form of masculinity to a kind of femininity. Those who met me in Paris last May already know, or at least suspect, this. So, to some extent, I'm actually qualified to talk about the differences. These are some of my thoughts and observations which might interest you. It is entirely unscientific, unapologetically impressionistic and based on a statistical sample of one - me !! So take it with however many tons of salt you feel appropriate.
The overwhelming difference that I've encountered is in the quality and quantity of emotional imput. Men, or at least me anyway, and I wouldn't say I was entirely untypical, have relatively simple emotions. I won't say they only come in primary "colours", but they generally come one at a time. Men are happy, sad, nervous, angry etc etc. There might be a bit of background to them but, emotionally, guys are WYSIWYG.
Even "better", actually having to take account of emotions can be pretty much optional. When I remember how I used to feel before I began my transition I visualise my emotions as being in a bucket down on my right hand side. I could put my hand in, touch them, taste them, and experience them whenever I wanted. But if I had to, I could look away and they weren't there.
However, within about 4 months of starting to take feminizing hormones, things changed a bit. The first thing I noticed was that one day there was a kaleidoscope of emotions all hitting me at once. Initially they came singly, but changing every 3 - 4 seconds, then over a couple of days they began to layer so that I simply didn't have a clue how I felt from moment to moment. I'd never experienced anything like it and it was a somewhat disorientating effect
Also the ability to ignore emotion had gone, I felt that now I was viewing the world through a bubble of emotions. Everywhere I turned, they coloured my understanding. However, given that I was pretty aware that women had a different relationship with their emotions I was prepared to ride it out on the premise that my mind would probably adapt.
And funnily enough within three or four days things did quieten down as I learnt to be more comfortable with the input. I "played" with the feelings, teasing them apart, learning the nuances of these blends and layers.
I imagine it's something that all teenage girls do very soon after the onset of puberty, but then, like all teenagers, their world is changing so fast in every aspect that they forget this learning ever happened. All through this process I have found myself being forcibly reminded of things that happened to me as a teenager whenever something similar was re-enacted in my brain. At first I'd feel shocked that I could have forgotten something so profound, but gradually, as each new one comes in you realise that teenage is about changing, the process of becoming an adult. After a while the shock of the new displaces the memory of the old. It's a strange thing to have to be forcibly reminded how rapidly and profoundly we change during that period. There is a reason for the forgetting, which I'll come to.
After a few months of coming to terms with this and the other little changes in my head, I began to understand these emotional changes, not as representative of how I was feeling consciously, moods that I was imposing on my world-view. Instead I began to recognise them as communications from non-verbal parts of my brain. The multiple emotional states I experienced could be seen as several messages coming in at once from different parts of my brain. Blending was complementary, layering was difference. From this I began to experiment with feedback. I was literally trying to establish communication from my conscious directing ego to those other parts of me. The ghost in the machine was learning the internal language of my own mind.
According to brain scans, women "live in" more of their brain at any one time than men do. whilst it is impossible to gain any qualitative idea of what is occuring from these scans, my experience suggests that this dialogue is ongoing. Indeed, perhaps women's sensitivity and alleged intuition comes from the ability to better interpret impressions and react to insight from different parts of the brain.
This is what led me to the conclusion that this is how women's ability to multi-task comes about. They can delegate and supervise processes in a way that men cannot. I think it settles in so early in teenage that most have forgotten they ever had to learn it; it simply becomes their natural internal landscape. It is only because I can consciously compare it with a previous and different internal self that I remain so aware of it. Unfortunately, having been created male I do not have the necessary structures in place to move from this precursor state into the ability to multi-task. I can see how it works, but it isn't within me to get there.
However, this changed emotional landscape leads to a phenomenon that all transgendered people share. Which is that we lose contact with the person we used to be. When I was a male I felt a sense of continuity with myself , I may have felt I was stupid in my behaviour when I was younger, I may disagree with the ideas I had at that time but I could easily put myself into that person and know that he was me.
However within a few months of taking hormones I felt a sense of discontinuity. I ceased to be him, even to be sympathetic to him. My internal emotional landscape has changed so much that my memory of what it felt like to be him no longer mapped onto my current self. Even whilst sharing the memories, I now find it hard to settle easily into his head. He has become a stranger to me.
I think this is possibly why all of us find it so hard to recover childhood. A similar discontinuity happens at puberty as we enter into a new mental environment. We think of it as maturing, but childhood is another country to us.
Of course, there are so many other differences in brain structures of men and women that I cannot suggest that this is represents a definitive view of how differently men and women perceive the world. It is just my view that a difference exists and that it is a pretty profound one. It leads on to a discussion of how emotional input shapes reasoning processes for women. But this is already a long diary and that's another topic.