(Image: This post’s title card with a partially colored coloring sheet of a fox covered in leaves. A souvenir from a recent lecture I attended.)
It’s hard to
explain, from a personal point of view, what gender dysphoria really
is. A friend of mine, when explaining dysphoria in general, tends to
say “You know what euphoria is, right? Well dysphoria is something
on the completely opposite part of the emotional spectrum”. And
that is true. To me, dysphoria has always been the absolute lowest of
feelings achievable. Even in my psychologically worst times, nothing
has been as much damaging as this feeling of absolute inadequacy
regarding myself as a gendered being.
I have always had
problems explaining what it means to be gender dysphoric and where
lies the graspable aspect of it. Even today, I look into google to
give me a precise term. Unsurprisingly, what is underlined is the
“mismatch between biological sex and gender identity”, which is
usually followed by an explanation that “biological sex” is
assigned based on genitalia and then also given a specific gender
marker. (This particular
quote taken from the NHS). Weirdly enough, there is little here
about social expectations and how we as cultures and society put
pressure on different behaviors and expressions so they would match
what is regarded as “the actual sex”.
Before I continue, I
would like to mention, that if your intention of reading this post is
to find information on how to deal with your own dysphoria, I’m
sorry, but these will not be shared here. Not today. I already posted
some in my “10
Things I’ve Learned After Quitting Testosterone” article. But
if you’re looking for an actual list, there exists a nicely put
together piece on BuzzFeed with 20
little things you can do to ease that nasty feeling. Do check it
out. And if you feel as if a post on “how” is something you’ll
enjoy, let me know.
And now the obvious
– please remember that not all trans people experience dysphoria
and that is not a determine factor of someone’s experience. It is not
“a must-have” and never should be regarded as such. Still, it is
an occurrence in many trans lives, including mine.
I can’t express
enough how surprising it was to discover that post-transition
dysphoria exists. There was a period in my life when I though I had
been the only one experiencing it. Needless to say, it had quite an
influence on my general attitude towards being trans. But thanks to
the amazing people who made the internet THE trans-resource, I
quickly learned that it was not just my experience and that often
times dysphoria hits you even years after you have reached whatever
the goal of your transition was.
Still, for some time
this was a phenomenon that I could not grasp at all. There I was –
new look, adjusted body features, new gender marker, finally the
right name and surname (as I come from a land where even surnames are
gendered). Yeah. All was well in the land of transness. All was so
perfectly, damnably well and so different from previous years of
sleepless nights, most of which I had spent imagining myself as…
well, me. Gone were the days when I wished my body would turn into
dust and that I will be never heard of again.
me from all of this. I no longer felt as just a collection of random
particles, but a fully embodied living being. I could function
properly, I started having a social life, started thinking of myself
as someone who actually could form real-life relationships and
someone who could also have a sex life. Previously that would have
been impossible, although I know that for many trans people that is
not the case. For me it definitely was. My gender transition was a
life transition. I was finally not afraid to be a part of society.
And that is exactly
the reason why I was so shocked when I experienced gender dysphoria
again, almost three years after my legal transition, the very end of
the road I wanted to travel.
I don’t exactly
recall what was behind that initial post-transition dysphoric
episode. Was it something someone said? Someone’s presence? My own
presence in a triggering context? Maybe. Although I do not have any
vivid memories of what caused the first incident, when another one
hit (and it was one of many to come), I tried to make myself aware of
it well enough to be able to recognize what was causing it.
Soon enough I
realized that there were many contextual, situational and individual
reasons for dysphoria to hit, most of which (but not all) came from
human interaction. Fetishization was among one of them. Anytime
someone tried to use my trans status as a mean to justify sexual
attraction, I would cringe. I know that not everyone sees this
problem like I do, but for me, it was always a no-go. “You’re
trans? That is SO sexy…!” This phrase, whether typed or spoken,
had always made me sick to my stomach.
In a similar
fashion, a disrespect for pronouns was also unbearable. This is
extremely important for me today. When I first started my gender
transition I indeed felt like a boy trapped in a girl’s body. I
wanted to be a boy, I knew I could become one. Every time someone
would use the pronoun “she” towards me, I fell into a spiral of
despair and self-loath. Dysphoria made me think I was doing something
wrong. That it was all my fault that I didn’t pass.
While on a journey
of self-discovery, going through a tiresome diagnostic process, when
I finally received a confirmation of F.64 transsexualism (as given by
ICD-10), I realized that I do not fit well within the gender
binary. It took me a while to get around it. I was first introduced
to gender neutral pronouns five years ago, on an international human
rights training in Strasbourg and shortly after that, I started using
them. First together with “he” (as in “he/ze or they”) and
gradually (with a few experiments on the way) ended up with “they”,
which sticks to me to this day. And I have to admit, this was
something hard to grasp for my trans and cis friends alike. A number
of them didn’t realize that not using “they” but rather going for
“he” (most probably based on my gender expression, as it can be
read as male-only sometimes) was equally damaging as previous
instances of “she”.
And so it continues
today, especially when I do not have the energy to respond and
correct someone on the spot. They would continue to use the wrong
pronoun and I would fall into the vortex of dysphoria, never to be
seen again. Fortunately enough, I have taught myself to cope with
these problematic aspects. But what I am not able to work with is
deadnaming. Deadnaming, the practice of using someone’s previous,
pre-transition name (I do not use the concept of “birth name”
since we are definitely not born with these cultural labels meant to
distinguish us from others), has so far been not mentioned on this
blog. Most probably because I did not experience it for a long time.
Until a few weeks ago. And again – a very triggering, cringeworthy
occurrence. If it wasn’t for an immediate reaction from the person
who did it and who not only apologized, but admitted her mistake,
things might have gotten even worse.
And what about
individual experiences? Can dysphoria occur without human contact?
That is a strong yes from my side. “Without human contact”,
however, for me constitutes a situation where I am still in a social
context, just no one is present. If I wake up one day already
dysphoric, no human contact has been made yet, but I am still the
same person under the same social pressure and within the same
cultural norms. I am still being gendered, although there is no
conscious entity verbalizing it.
enough, coming out as non-binary and later on quitting hormones at
first made me more vulnerable to triggers. But in time, much has
changed. What still works on an individual and deep level is the
issue of weight. I shared a lot about my problem with weight gain and
loss in my other post “Transitions
of Fatness”, but what I discovered since then, was that the way
I perceive MY OWN body can also be a subject to dysphoric feelings.
Although I accepted my fatness as a package, I couldn’t change the
fact that being big meant a lot more experience with a textbook
example of gender dysphoria. I did not fit in, I was not in
accordance, I was incongruent. And so I was put in the worst possible
position – give in and lose weight (triggering a somewhat-managed
eating disorder) or continue the quest for weight self-acceptance and
suffer from the opposite of euphoria. Whatever choice I had, was not
worth it. Fortunately enough, after making that choice, I am still
able to manage my ED. Somewhat.
Is there anything
that can be done?
Every time I
experience gender dysphoria, I feel as if I need to shout. Just
openly scream. And I cannot think of a place where I COULD do that.
This year, I was only able to do it once, on a training session away
from home, somewhere in Slovakia. Together with a group of people, we
gathered around a dry fireplace in the middle of the night and
screamed our lungs out. Some of us were angry, some depressed, some
might have felt dysphoric. Having a shout support group was one of
the best feelings ever.
I cannot scream at
home. I sing. I find that one song, which brings me to tears and I
sing away, knowing that no one can hear me nor understand why I need
to do that. A personal favorite.
I like dealing with
dysphoria alone. As much as I respect and am grateful for all the
wonderful people in my life, I do not like to talk in detail about
it. It may be because I don’t understand this feeling at all. It may
also be because sometimes it even feels unnecessary to talk about it.
It will pass, right? Why would I bother anyone with details.
There was one thing
that I had to learn, though. Even if I don’t want to talk about what
is happening in my head, I know there are people whom I can mention
it to. It’s not a big deal for me to say to someone: “this is such
a dysphoric day”. And when a friend asks “do you want to talk
about it” I usually smile and say “no, thanks”. And when I feel
like it, I ask for a hug. And if I can’t bring myself to ask, a
friend offers one. And I usually accept. Because in the end, it is
human contact that causes a lot of it, but it is also human contact
which can take it away.
So what to do when
dysphoria hits someone you hold dear to your heart? Do listen. And
read, if you have the chance. Maybe they’d appreciate you asking “Is
there anything I can do?”. If they say “No”, do not feel
rejected. There may be a time when you will be needed. So just be
there. That’s the least one can do.