I am a 24 -year old transgender female, and I know gender dysphoria very well. My distress over my physical body, my feeling that it doesn’t always match up with my gender identity, often lurks in some far corner of my intellect. It doesn’t matter how well I’m garmented, how much I brush my hair, how many compliments I receive, or how well my hormone therapy treatment is working. When gender dysphoria hittings, it packs a punch.
It can come while I’m in the middle of reading a book, a sudden unsettling feeling of not being quite myself. Perhaps I recognize that my hands are too big, as I flip to the next page. Perhaps I analyze every part of my face after I shower and clear the foggy mirror, wishing some features were softer and others not quite there.
Gender dysphoria, for me, is amplified the most when it comes to my body image. As a transgender woman, my body is conditioned by society to appear a certain way. Perhaps my breasts could be a little bigger, my voice a bit more lilted, my hips somewhat wider. It also goes beyond the scope of merely physical traits–forms of micro-aggressions can also trigger gender dysphoria.
Obviously, gender dysphoria is not something cisgender people, the individuals who identify with their assigned gender, often understand or experience. They don’t know what it’s like to go for a casual stroll and worry about whether you appear presentable enough so not to be faced with transphobic street harassment. Or to worry about how cis-passing you look for a scheduled interview before ever thinking about the interview questions.
For me, gender dysphoria has always been the most complicated issue to explain to family and friends who won’t quite get why I don’t like wearing this particular lipstick, or why I get sudden impressions of uneasiness. All of these things can sound like tedious insecurities but entail much better on a larger scale of being transgender.
To close the gap of understanding for transgender , non-binary, and cisgender people, I interviewed 9 transgender and non-binary people on what it is like living with gender dysphoria. Narrations for us are always diverse; we are not all exactly alike, and therefore gender dysphoria can manifest for different people in different ways.
What does gender dysphoria feel like?
1) Leo, 25, He/ Him/ His
“My dysphoria is raging all the time, ” Leo tells the Daily Dot.
For Leo, gender dysphoria conjures ache. It’s disappointing, and it builds him feel like he’ll never be whole. “It mostly comes up during intimacy with my girlfriend because I want to know what it feels like to be inside the person I’m in love with ,” said Leo, who’s been on testosterone for three years.” It induces me sad.”
It also presents itself a lot in public restrooms, which is a constant cause of stress, especially living in a conservative part of Philadelphia.
Leo says most of his friends are cisgender, “so it’s challenging.” For self-care, Leo feels like he doesn’t do enough. “Isolation is such an issue, ” he says. “When I hear that someone else’s reality is similar to my own, it reminds me that I’m not alone, and that there are tangible ways to cope and share perspectives.”
Despite his isolation, “silence is never the answer, ” Leo says, telling other transgender and non-binary people: “Please find someone to talk to if you can safely do so.”
Photo via Ted Eytan/ Flickr ( CC-BY-SA)
2) Megan, 31, She/ Her/ Hers, They/ Them/ Theirs
Megan was born and raised during North Carolina , notorious for anti-trans bathroom bill HB2. “I realise my nation has a long way to go with LGBTQ rights, but despite the rebuttal against us, I am just now beginning to fall in love with this area, ” she tells the Daily Dot , noting that her county unanimously voted against both the bill and former governor Pat McCrory.
Megan, who identifies with a non-binary expression, says her gender dysphoria began in childhood. “Before I reach puberty, everything was fine. I could garment more masculine and people would accept that and say,’ Oh, she’s just a tomboy.’ I knew back then I was different. I was beginning to grow breasts, I disliked them. They were always in the way of the type of clothes I liked to wear.”
She laughs as she says they still get in her route today, but she has learned to accept it as part of her dysphoria. Choice between female and male wasn’t a selection Megan wanted to make. “Not merely was I angry about my feminine gender expres, ” says about her childhood, “but I wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to be considered masculine either. I just wanted to be me. I thought being a boy entail I would have privileges such as going shirtless outside , not experiencing menstruation and being allowed to date girls. So in my head, I contemplated being a boy rather than a girl, but as a liquid person, I now realise I have the freedom to express femininity, masculinity or none at all, and it is all valid.”
Megan believes people need to stop concerning themselves with transgender and non-binary people’s labels to determine whether to respect someone. “Appearance and gender should not come into play when deciding whether or not to treat others with decency.”
3) Ty, 21, He/ Him/ His
Ty builds YouTube videos documenting his transition. “I love being able to share my life, connect with people, and assistance others along the way! ” he tells Daily Dot. Ty is also a fitness enthusiast and he’s currently in the process of becoming a certified personal trainer so that he can help other transgender humen, like himself, who want to get in shape and feel more confident about their bodies.
For Ty, gender dysphoria feels like trying to excavate yourself out of a pit with your hands tied behind your back: trapped and hopeless.
“Imagine you park next to someone who had the same automobile as you at the grocery store, ” he says. “You come out with your groceries, load them all up, and get into the car. Then you look around and realise you don’t distinguish any of the stuff that’s in the car. There are different air fresheners, a water bottle in the beaker holder that’s definitely not yours. Oh, snap! You’re in the wrong automobile. You’d likely get by as fast as possible, feeling confounded, and a little disconcerted. And you can’t get out of the car because it’s running like 80 mph. And you’re not driving. Also, the car doesn’t have doors. You’re stuck in the car forever until you die. That’s what dysphoria is like.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons ( CC-BY)
Ty says that the hardest part of his transition was the beginning. After he came out, he had a long waiting period before he could start hormone replacing therapy( HRT ). Waiting for testosterone was a challenge because he knew exactly what he needed to ease his dysphoria but wasn’t able to obtain it without jumping through endless hoops. But he also knew he would get there someday, so he tried to do things that could help him feel better about himself, including watching other transgender humen on YouTube who had documented their transitions.
“It actually helped me feel like I wasn’t alone and had a lot to look forward to, ” he says. “I think that anyone who is struggling with dysphoria should know that they aren’t alone and, if possible, find an outlet to express their impressions and role model they can look to.”
4) Ethan, 31, Xe/ Xim/ Xyr // Xemself, They/ Them/ Themself
Ethan is agender–without gender, and hence not on the gender binary. As a community-taught comic artist and illustrator from Texas, Ethan’s work centers around life at the intersections of being Black, fag , non-binary, and transgender. “I’ve been aware that I am a non-binary trans person for a little over two years now, and it’s been one hell of a ride, ” Ethan tells the Daily Dot. “And there’s lots that I am learning and unlearning about myself and our community.”
For Ethan, gender dysphoria feels many different ways at many different times. “The best style I can describe it is that it feels like I’m wearing clothes the hell is simultaneously too small and soaking wet. There is no comfort in that feeling it often leaves me feeling helpless when it is necessary to figuring out ways to navigate the world of way and presentation.”
For self-care, Ethan focuses mainly on doing things that help xim( the gender-neutral version of “him” or “her”) feel more in touch with xyr gender–or lack thereof, so it’s difficult for xim to find confirming ways to engage with a lot of traditional self-care practises since many seem rooted in gender.
Regardless, Ethan enjoys taking long hot baths with all xyr favorite oils and herbs. “It really helps when I can love on my body as it is and indicate myself that it’s okay to exist in the body that I have currently while awaiting newfound changes that might occur on HRT or with any gender-affirming procedures.”
Xe says it would be nice to be able to exist in a world where binding, tucking, HRT, surgeries, and their ilk don’t matter when it comes to respecting and validating non-binary people’s lives.
“Do what you can and know that it is enough, ” Ethan says to others struggling with gender dysphoria. “Do nothing and know that it is enough. It’s hard and painful and very uncomfortable. But please keep being as true to yourself as you can, and understand that the visible, vocal trans and non-binary people in this world have your back. You can confide in us. We want to keep you safe too.”