Cognitive dissonance and trans

The theory of cognitive dissonance holds that people wish their understanding of the world to be consistent, and when they become aware of contradiction they feel discomfort, or dissonance, which leads them to alter their understanding. Very powerful people may change the world instead. Or, in an absurd situation people will rationalise to produce a comforting illusion. It depends how committed you are to your fantasy- when the world did not end, fringe members of a cult accepted they had been misled, but the most committed members formed the view that the world was saved by the faith of the cult.

To reduce dissonance, one could change a belief or behaviour, but this can be difficult. You accept that smoking is harmful, but still are addicted. So, you could discount the information and decide to believe that the scientific link was uncertain. It would be healthier to believe the truth of its harmfulness, and recognise that smoking is a hard habit to break, but that is a belief in ones own impotence, which can be painful.

Or you can reduce the importance of your belief, saying that smoking is pleasurable, and therefore worth the risk. Against that, campaigners say the smell is unpleasant, and it makes you breathless now. It reduces the elasticity of your skin, so produces wrinkles now.

People go to great lengths to avoid cognitive dissonance. If you are forced to do something, you may persuade yourself that you did it freely, that it was a good thing for you to do it. When you choose between two alternatives, both of which have good and bad points, you are stuck with the unpleasantness of what you have chosen, and cannot have the good side of what you rejected. So, you minimise that good side- I would not have liked it anyway. You emphasise the good side of what you have chosen.

Or, you could accept that you had made the wrong decision. I did the best I could. I am not perfect, and do not have perfect knowledge. There is rarely one perfect choice among many bad alternatives- my choice was good enough, and it is better not to spend too much effort deciding.

People value the goals which have taken the greatest effort to achieve. Otherwise, they will believe their decision to take that effort was wrong. Anxious people are particularly likely to avoid dissonance, but some people can cope with a great deal.

Most of this comes from this article.

How does this work with me having transitioned, yet now not being gender essentialist? There is no essential “femininity” in women or “masculinity” in men, and the way we express them are social constructs, culturally conditioned. I am not a real woman.

I am intelligent, so have a complex, nuanced understanding of the matter, but I have dealt with the dissonance using self-hatred and a belief in the world as particularly threatening. I was wrong to transition but it was the best decision I could make at the time. It was the only way I could see to express my true nature. Transition is not really accepted in society, but being visibly queer we are tolerated: if at first I appeared to be normal but showed confusing signs I was not, that would be more unpleasant for others who would make things unpleasant for me.

I remain imprisoned in the need to have a consistent belief.

One alternative is to see the world and myself as inexplicable. That I have made bad decisions in the past does not mean it will always be thus. I am still alive. I am learning, so likely to make better decisions. Getting things wrong is rarely a complete disaster. Belief in possibilities- whatever happened before- might be more useful.

The need to believe in something gets in the way of seeing things as they really are.


Recent art work by Alice Pike Barney, her varying degrees of female fear and uncertainty. This woman looks nervous, but given the title- Hollywood– she may be the most confident of the lot! The next one seems under threat, but not surrendering, though resistance must be covert. I like her resistance, and found the title a shock.


It is “Head of a boy”.

2 thoughts on “Cognitive dissonance and trans

  1. “I was wrong to transition but it was the best decision I could make at the time. It was the only way I could see to express my true nature” ….Clare your reason was a way to grapple with very strong and persistent dysphoria. Had you not transitioned you might have felt much more despondent hence your approach was correct for you. You made what amounts to minor modifications to your body but you are still Clare and would have been Clare irrespective of those changes. I have not transitioned and yet I am still Joanna.
    A gender identity is a very nuanced and complex subject simplified by a society that does indeed not like cognitive dissonance so they invented rules for everyone to follow and which most do because we fear rejection. You are you with or without transition…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I felt the need to pretend to be a Real Man. I was liberated from that when expressing myself female. So I liberated myself that way. I hope people will find better ways of liberating themselves without all the effort, physical alteration, and joining a vilified group. I am I, but it remains difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

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