1. When Gender Dysphoria Hits

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    (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.

    Dysphoric despite transition?

    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.

    Transition relieved 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.

    Triggers?

    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 the all-mighty 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.

    Interestingly 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.

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