Hello, Old Friend

More and more I see a woman when I look in the mirror. The hormones are starting to do their work. Breasts are slowly developing where there were none before. My hair is long enough to do things with. But all it takes it one bad photo where my shoulders are too wide, one bad angle in the mirror where my 5 O’clock shadow peaks through the makeup, a wrong pronoun, and the image of that boy I used to be is drudged up from the deep, reminding me that I’ll never be a “real” woman. Never the woman that I want to be. 

Hello, dysphoria, my old friend. 

Simply put, dysphoria is a disconnect. The hardware doesn’t match the software. The brain doesn’t know why it’s stuck in the body it is in. Dysphoria is more than just body image issues.  It’s your brain telling you your parts aren’t the ones your brain knows you’re supposed to have. We transition because of it – to get our body to match our brain. Which is why when someone asks me something, like why I wear nail polish all the time even though it gets ruined in a day at work, and I explain it makes me hate my hands less,  and they tell me that their hands are bad too, it upsets me.  My body isn’t the same as my brain tells me it should be. When I see my hands, I see hands that shouldn’t be mine. My brain treats it like seeing a ball rolling uphill – it just doesn’t make sense. When they see theirs, they just see hands they aren’t happy with., but hands that are still theirs. That’s the subtle but important difference between dysphoria and body image issues. 

The DSM V will describe it as such. 
“For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months. In children, the desire to be of the other gender must be present and verbalized. This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Gender dysphoria is manifested in a variety of ways, including strong desires to be treated as the other gender or to be rid of one’s sex characteristics, or a strong conviction that one has feelings and reactions typical of the other gender.”

But it feels like so much more. 

It’s that monster in the closet – different for everyone, but the same, too. If you’ve never experienced it, you can’t understand it. 

It remains now. And probably will forever. But it’s worse before transition. Dysphoria is that whisper in your ear that makes you hate yourself. Makes you feel uncomfortable in your own body. Makes you hate who you are and wish for things you can never have. It’s the feeling of being profoundly uncomfortable with not just your circumstances, but with yourself, both socially and physically. It’s the reason I started getting piercings and dying my hair in college. I was trying to change the way I looked because I wasn’t comfortable. 

It’s the reason a strong support network of people who understand what’s happening is important. Without my former girlfriend’s shoulder to bawl on, her patient ear for the days when all I could talk about was gender (and there were a lot), and encouragement and acceptance, I would not have made as much progress as I have. 

I obsess over pronouns and names. My beard shadow drives me nuts. My big hands, my problems finding shoes that are my size and feminine, my lack of visible breasts and hips make me depressed. I second guess every compliment I get, wondering if they mean it or are just being nice. When someone genders me correctly I wonder if they know and are just being polite. On bad days I stay quiet because I hate hearing my voice. 

The only way to describe dysphoria accurately is unbearable. At best, it’s a puppy nipping at your heals that won’t go away. At worst, a sumo wrestler sitting on your chest, holding you down and not letting you breath, slamming your head against the ground. 

It’s physical, but there’s a social part, too. The degrees of both vary from person to person, as do the triggers.  The desire to be seen as a woman, and treated like one, is social. To be called she. For me, this is a big part of being trans, too. I’m lucky enough not to have physical dysphoria as bad as a lot of people, some of which can’t even shower because they can’t deal with their genitals. For me, the social aspect is the strongest part. I can deal with the body most of the time by just putting it out of my mind.  But I’m always thinking about how people see me. How I fit in as a woman, or how I’m being seen as a man. Whether people are just humouring me or not. Which is why I get really upset when people “sir” and “he” me, and it can ruin a good day. A week. In the end dysphoria is very personal, and very elusive, but trans people have the common experience of knowing how it feels all too well. 

Dysphoria is the hardest thing to explain to someone who isn’t transgender, but the reason that we must transition. I don’t feel like I can do it justice with words, but I felt like I had to try, too. Trying to simplify the feeling and boil it down to a list of traits and imagery just doesn’t do it. You just feel it, or you don’t. And if you don’t, consider yourself lucky. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. 

Sometimes the only way to battle the dysphoria is to focus on the positives, and the future, and to keep fighting like a grrrl. 

– Natalie

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