18 months memoir
I stopped reading Quillette a while ago, but have been too lazy to remove the site from my feed. However, this article caught my attention recently. The subtitle, in particular: "In an extraordinary new book, Shannon Thrace describes her disintegrating marriage to a man consumed by narcissism and gender dysphoria." Narcissism? Yes, please! Gender dysphoria? I thought you'd never ask!

The article is a review of a memoir, 18 Months: A Memoir of a Marriage Lost to Gender Identity. This article is a review of a review of that memoir, because I doubt I'll ever read the book itself. But since the connection between narcissism and gender dysphoria intrigues me, I want to highlight and comment on some of Jonathan Kay's review. Let's dig right in.

As Kay sums up the background to the story, "Shannon" (the author) and "Jamie" (her husband, both pseudonyms), were a typical, loving, progressive liberal couple.
Husband and wife are software experts in their early 40s, with no kids, a great sex life, and lots of time for antiquing, gardening, and esoteric art-house interests such as kintsugi (look it up). Dinners consist largely of vegetables hand-picked from their own garden. They've been together for 14 years, yet sprinkle their playful conversations with ambitious literary allusions, like young lovebirds still trying to impress one another.

I mentioned the great sex, yes? Because that's the pleasure perch from which the relationship begins its fatal nosedive. Shannon is on her computer, cycling through some of Jamie's favourite porn genres as they get prepped for yet another satisfying bout of coitus. Jamie wants to see something new, he says — images of fully intact (and aroused) men wearing women's underwear. Shannon, a former drag-bar worker who'd gone through a polyam lesbian period in her 20s, is the furthest thing from a prude. So she duly loads up the "tranny" videos (as Jamie calls them), and the evening comes alive with porn-fuelled sex.
Let's pause while I allow you to count the numerous red flags (not just from Jamie) and bask in the contentment of modern liberal narcissism. But wait, there's more:
Jamie is an affable, attention-seeking man-child who plays guitar at parties and picks dorm-room-style arguments about religion and philosophy. When the couple flees the city, Jamie tells Shannon he'll take on the role of domestic house-husband while she works an office job. We only have Shannon's side of the story. But if her account is to be believed, Jamie never delivered: She ended up making six figures while he couldn't even be counted on to do the laundry or cut up a melon. (I know that last detail sounds oddly specific, but that fruit makes a memorable appearance in an important scene.)

Like pretty much everyone else in their lives, Shannon and Jamie conceive of themselves as committed social progressives. [HK: Of course they do!] And so right from the beginning, Jamie's cross-dressing takes on activist overtones, including through a personal blog that he dedicates to breaking down the "gender binary." He creates an author account for Shannon, too, so they can present a united blogging front against all those bigots eager to denigrate Jamie's blossoming new gender-bending identity. In the end, the bigots never really show up — though Jamie doesn't let that stop him from steadily taking on a victim mindset.
Like Joshua Slocum argues, Cluster B is a spectrum, and narcissism occupies that spot at the center of the Venn diagram. Most people can spot an over-the-top narcissist, and the abrasive violence of an antisocial is similarly hard to miss. But when it comes to garden-variety "compassionate" narcissism — that's what throws a lot of people off the scent. Many don't seem to realize that narcissism fits just as comfortably within the smiling artificiality of liberal suburbia as it does within an abrasive New Yorker or a recidivist felon. This softer, more "feminine" version of narcissism is the one which has taken over Western civilization.
The trans community is diverse, especially when it comes to attitudes toward sex. [HK: You can say that again.] As writer Angus Fox noted in a seven-part Quillette series, When Sons Become Daughters, some biologically male trans-identified teenagers live a sexless existence; and are drawn to puberty blockers and androgynous aesthetics precisely because they seem to offer safe harbour from male sexual development. In the case of middle-aged men who abruptly adopt a trans identity later in life, on the other hand, it can be the opposite: the presentation is often hyper-sexualized.

Such sexual inclinations can manifest as autogynephilia — arousal at the thought or image of oneself as a woman. This term doesn't appear in 18 Months. But much of what Shannon writes about Jamie is consistent with the subcategory. When it comes to sex, she reports, he starts becoming excited by hard-core female-themed role-play involving a strap-on dildo. Shannon tries to be a good soldier, but plainly finds these new fetishes to be off-putting. Moreover, the intimacy of sex evaporates: Jamie is so deeply absorbed in his cosplay fantasies that her presence in the room barely registers. "Your hang-ups aren't the kind most people have — the kind that lead to interesting, if controversial, sex," Shannon writes. "You have the kind that kill sex. Making love to transgender Jamie turns out to be like making dinner for an anorexic."
New readers, let me direct you to an article where I quoted Dr. Hervey Cleckley's portrayal of a similar relationship — not with an autogynephile, but with a coprophiliac. Here's what Cleckley had to say about this particular pervert: "Note how this husband's peculiar satisfaction from his contact with the products of defecation far exceeds any sexual interest in his wife, or in any woman." This is pretty much the definition of sexual narcissism. Here's another example, in yet another context — wholesome entertainment for the whole family:

Shannon also becomes concerned by the increasingly extreme measures Jamie takes to present as feminine. These include not only expensive hair-removal treatments, but also painful cinches and body clamps. He obsesses endlessly over clothing, makeup, and hair, collapsing into tears if Shannon doesn't repeatedly affirm that he looks like a "real woman" — which, of course, he doesn't. It's only a matter of months before Jamie announces that he's no longer merely a cross-dresser — as he'd formerly described himself — but is now unambiguously transgender. He also wants to be addressed with female pronouns.
In other words, he crossed from simple paraphilia into full-blown sexual delusion. Actually, even that isn't quite right. It isn't delusion, because I'm fairly confident he knows he's bulls***ing to some degree. Perhaps it's delusion. But I'd put my money on good old-fashioned pathological egotism and suggestion of self and others. He's trying to convince himself as much as he's trying to coerce others.
Eventually, Jamie abandons both his household responsibilities (such as they were) and his part-time job teaching high-school computer science, so that he can dedicate himself to feminizing his appearance and writing social-media posts about his gender-related epiphanies. He also spends a lot of time patrolling discussion groups, heaping abuse on anyone he deems inadequately trans-supportive. As the months pass, Shannon notices, the sloganeering activist idiom he uses online begins to creep into personal conversation. So a simple request that Jamie not blow their mortgage money on beauty products is thrown back in Shannon's face as a bigoted attack on Jamie's very "existence."
This personality transformation bears a striking resemblance to what Lobaczewski called "transpersonification." In his context, it was the transformation of seemingly ordinary people into carbon copies of the typical communist party pathocrat — adopting the jargon and slogans, the superior attitude, the brittle pseudo-moralizing. Here it is a typical LBGTQ+ party pathocrat, complete with affected borderline histrionics.

Kay notes how Jamie started out fairly reasonable (deciding not to use the women's bathroom, for example, in order not to make actual women uncomfortable — which sounds to me just as put-on as the rest of it). But that changed as the transpersonification progressed:
In one especially shocking episode that took place just before the marriage collapses, Shannon catches Jamie joining a vicious online pile-on — which includes rape and death threats — targeting a female sexual-assault survivor who'd expressed anxiety about using the bathroom alongside trans women.
I find it amazing how effortlessly new converts seem to adopt the exact same pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting, as if they've "downloaded" a program in the Matrix. Whatever the situation, there is a set response, a set collection of verbal slogans and stock arguments, a stereotyped expression of righteous outrage in response to a set group of unacceptable opinions. This sexual-assault survivor is the new kulak. And the sexual narcissists can scent such people's blood in the water from miles away.
His inability to look like a real woman becomes a subject of inexhaustible emotional agony, causing him to lapse into crying jags whenever some anonymous waiter or clerk seems confused about his gender presentation. Many of the other trans women that Shannon meets at local support-group meetups also seem sad. In their canned rhetoric and online pronouncements, they channel the language of joy, liberation, and solidarity, all the while exalting their internally felt sense of gender identity. But in truth, what they really seek is the fleeting external validation that's transmitted through the gaze of credulous onlookers.

In many cases, Shannon states bluntly, their elaborate faux-feminine get-ups look clownish. But no one is allowed to say so out loud, especially their partners.
This is induced psychopathology. Again, it's hard to know how much of it is half-consciously affected, how much auto-suggestion, and how much genuine emotional distress. Whatever the case, it is Cluster B: borderline instability, histrionic dramatizing, and plain old narcissism. There's another phrase for it: emotional vampirism.
Eventually, Jamie remakes not only his appearance, but also his past. He announces that he'd known he was female-spirited since the age of four. An oft-told story about a childhood brush with an abusive Boy Scout field-trip chaperone is rewritten to the effect that "it happened because I was seen as a girl." Following an airport security search that's conducted respectfully by well-trained staff, Jamie starts claiming he was transphobically harassed.

Jamie also rewrites his sex life, now claiming that his gender identity has nothing to do with sexual appetites. Unable to bite her tongue at this whopper, Shannon reminds Jamie of his requests to be demeaned as a "tranny" during sex, his inability to perform sexually unless he presents as a woman with a vagina while Shannon pretends to be a man with a penis, and, especially, his penchant for trans-themed porn — to which Jamie replies, without a hint of irony, "I was trying to find people like myself represented in the media."
Big Trans-Brother. Trans-Stalinization. Memory-trans-holed. (OK, that last one is more disturbing than I intended.) Maybe now we can all see how these dynamics scale up in a totalitarian regime. Oceania has always been a trans East Asian woman.
Lies, distortions, and selective memory are features of many disintegrating relationships, of course. But the style of conflict that Shannon describes seems uniquely toxic, since gender theory allows Jamie to cynically escalate even the most mundane disagreement into preposterous accusations of transphobic bigotry. And if that trick doesn't work, he simply flees Shannon's company altogether in a great flourish of tears, on the claim that her words are making him feel "unsafe." As anyone who's followed this issue on Twitter might have predicted, Jamie sometimes plays the suicidal-ideation card as well.
Trans-borderline. Why is it that these types don't just ape normal women; they selectively ape borderline women?
"You tell me you're sad. I tell you I'm sad, too," she writes (using "you" as a stand-in for Jamie). "[But] everyone considers your sadness an important civil rights issue, [while] no one gives a shit about mine."
Why indeed. It's almost as if there's more going on here than actual sadness. It's almost as if it is one giant manipulation.
At one point, Shannon and Jamie go to therapy. In the first session, "Dr. Doris" tells Jamie that she can't wait to begin the "fun part" of the therapeutic process — i.e., helping him transition. In the same breath, Dr. Doris urges Shannon to go get another therapist for herself, since Shannon's insufficiently supportive attitudes toward Jamie's feminine nature present a "conflict of interest."
Dr. Josefina Mengele has entered the chat. This story is just one modern cliche after another.
What truly drives the relationship to its breaking point is Shannon's eventual realization that, with his slinky dresses and high-heel boots, Jamie isn't a wannabe woman so much as an amateurish imposter. What he imagines to be womanhood is in fact a male masturbation fantasy that presents women as endlessly parked in front of boudoir mirrors, staring dreamily at their own decolletage as they mist themselves with bulbed perfume bottles.

Here's how Kay ends his review:
When I began reading this book, I still imagined that to call someone like Jamie a woman was merely to bend the truth in the service of courtesy. By the time I got through Shannon's account of what she'd endured at Jamie's hands, I realized that it's nothing more than an ordinary lie.
Live not by lies.