One of behavioral sciences unanswered question is why we dream. Scholarly articles range from emotional regulation, a dumping of the memory bank, reactions to everyday threats, a visitation to your brains default mechanisms and in the case of Freud, sexual anxiety.
During the Diane Sawyer interview with Caitlyn Jenner earlier this year, the question arose about dreams. “Yes, I do. I always have.” Said Jenner when asked if she dreamed as a woman. This seemingly innocuous question about dreaming – almost in the same vein as the “what kind of tree would you be” question by Barbara Walters – went completely unnoticed.
Simple Google searches on that question alone come up virtually empty and it seems like the question itself slipped into the ether never to be discussed further.
Fast forward six months and it’s a beautiful Sunday morning in early October; sipping a pumpkin spice latte on my front porch as the sun bounced off the side of my face, I could hear the yellow and red leaves hit the side of the windows as they cast a small shadow on the opposite wall. My phone rang and it was one of my besties – I’ll call her Sissorelle A. Ferox – mostly because that’s her name.
She started to talk about a dream she had that night and openly wondered what my dreams were like and what gender I dreamed in. She talked about how the general population denies the biology and genetics of being transgender and once again pondered if the cisgender population doesn’t believe science, would they believe the subconscious, something none of us have control over. As long as she can remember, Sissorelle has always dreamed as a female.
I explained that I always dreamed in what I call a ‘single camera P.O.V.,’ in that I wander in and out of dreams from the view of my eyes. There is never a gender involved, my name is never spoken, I’m never referred to as anyone, in-other-words, my dreams are like watching T.V. and I am simply a participant trying to break the third wall as the plot unfolds.
“My dreams can be from peaceful and romantic to raging war violent. Wilderness and pleasant to survival mode all my dreams have always been me as a female never male. Always protecting the ones I love. – Dream Survey Respondent”
More Google searches revealed that there were no scholarly studies done on how people who are transgender dream, but most importantly, what gender they dream in and how that may have affected their long term – or short term – realization that they were transgender.
All human activity is activated by the brain and in 2008, transgender differences were caught on brain scans. According to an article in New Science, “Antonio Guillamon’s team at the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, think they have found a better way to spot a transsexual brain.”
“They found significant differences between male and female brains in four regions of white matter – and the female-to-male transsexual people had white matter in these regions that resembled a male brain.” Guillamon stated that “It’s the first time it has been shown that the brains of female-to-male transsexual people are masculinized.”
The brain is the only part of your body that requires constant blood flow, therefore when someone is knocked unconscious, there is a disruption of the function which can result in a traumatic brain injury. When someone is “knocked out,” there is no dreaming because the normal brain functions have been disrupted – think in terms of the blue screen of death on your PC – it’s recoverable, but during the downtime, data is in a frozen state.
Ive has dreams where I am a cis girl(I’m born male). In a completely different body. This has only happened a few times. My dreams right now are genderless mostly. – Dream Survey Respondent
According to Clinical Anaesthesiology, only 22% of people put under general anesthesia remember dreaming if interviewed immediately after surgery, this number drops to 6% who are interviewed later. According to the study, “their dreams are usually short and pleasant, are related to work, family and recreation, are not related to inadequate anesthesia and probably occur during recovery.”
During the last few weeks, Claire-Channel Media decided to conduct a survey of the transgender community and how they dream. The study, one of the first of its kind taken with the Trans community, showed that there was a high incidence of people who are transgender dreaming as –or have dreamt as – their non-doctor assigned sex or gender at birth. The meta-data reported:
- 69% of the respondents were woman who were transgender, 17% reported as men who are transgender, 13% were non-conforming [Genderfluid, GenderQueer, Bi-Gender, 2Spirit] and the remaining 1% were intersex participants.
- An overwhelming amount of the respondents [82%] reported getting between 6 and 10 hours of sleep per night.
- 7% reported that they have sleep issues requiring medication like Lunestra, Ambien or Rozerem to fall asleep, however although a side-effect of these drug are more vivid dreams, 92% of those on sleep meds felt that their dreams were unaffected by the medication.
- 65% of the respondents [who were not on sleep meds] reported being deep or medium sleepers with no recognized sleep issues.
- 42% of the respondents reported that they dream multiple times per night while only 9% reported remembering a single dream in a night and 13% said they had multiple short erratic dreams throughout the night – I fall into this category.
- 100% of men who are transgender reported that they dream in their doctor assigned sex/gender, both before transition and after their “coming out” period or use of HRT.
- 50% of women who are transgender reported that they dream in the sex/gender that was not assigned to them by their doctor or government prior to HRT or their “coming out” period while 46% of Trans women dreamt genderless or across genderlines prior to HRT. Translated, this means that 96% of trans women dreamed outside of their doctor assigned or government assigned gender
- Post HRT or their “coming out” period, 100% of trans men continued to dream in their sex/gender assigned by their doctor or government.
- Post HRT or their “coming out” period, 91% of women who are transgender reported dreaming genderless, across genderlines or as their non-doctor or government assigned sex/gender.
In-other-words, the numbers basically remained unchanged among all respondents throughout their lives, whether they were pre or post their “coming out” period or on HRT. Intersex, genderfluid, genderqueer and 2spirit followed the hypothesis that they would dream across gender-lines or genderless.
I would share that my experience is one where there isn’t a lot of consistency in the avatar, however there is always an emotional response to the avatar. Such as feeling anxious as a male avatar and comfortable as a female for myself. Additionally there were for me several transformation dreams that occurred prior to hrt and have stopped after it. The common themes would either be infront of a mirror and transforming into a female or having my penis fall off or be cut off. I wouldn’t say that was common either, most of the time I don’t have an avatar in my dream, but when I did those rules tended to apply. – Dream Survey Respondent
Naturally correlation does not equate to causation in this study but it does lend itself to association in that the results point decidedly towards an individual’s subconscious being in alignment with their core sex/gender. Sure, that is generally a statement that is answered with a resounding “Duh,” but with genetic and biological studies being done on people who are transgender, examining the sub-conscious dream state and how an individuals’ brain reacts when there is no human intervention like there is in a wake-state, allows us to wonder if it’s time the American Physiological Association [APA] – or other major institutions – should begin research in this area