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Gender Dysphoria is a Real Bummer

sad girlWhat the hell is ‘dysphoria’ anyway? It’s really a question along the same lines as asking what Lupus, Shingles, or Planters Fasciitis are. None of these, by the way involves wolves, roofers, or gardeners, contrary to the naming conventions followed by less elusive ailments like Tennis Elbow. In any case, being transgender, or specifically transsexual, used to be known as ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ and was classified as such in the DSM before they decided to knock it the hell out of there into the pile that contains homosexuality, the planet Pluto, and St Christopher. It doesn’t mean these things don’t exist (including Christopher, who allegedly dropped the kid in river upon further review and got stripped of his title), it just means they were misclassified. Let’s talk about the whole ‘dysphoria thing, shall we?

By the way, special thanks to Michelle the Younger, a long time reader who suggested I talk to this when up shits creek with ideas. Dysphoria in its most basic form is the polar opposite of euphoria. The latter is having an over abundance of phoria and the former is being totally bereft of it all together. Gender dysphoria then is having a total absence of exuberance about one’s gender. It’s a little misleading because most people aren’t exactly euphoric about it and simply take it for granted. Those with euphoria for their birth gender should probably be avoided like the assholes over at Alpha House, or anyone who reminds you of Quinn Fabray.

Gender Dysphoria is best summed up as the feeling one gets when understanding themselves as mentally and emotionally female and looking down to see a pair of hairy balls dangling to and fro between one’s legs. To be fair, it is the same feeling of being a dude and inheriting gramma’s double D’s that are now poking out of a hairless chest. In any case, it’s a few orders of magnitude more severe than ‘My-Cat-Wrinkly-Bill-Died’ Dysphoria, primarily because beloved irreplaceable pets are often and quickly replaced. As we age, the feeling of dysmorphia gets worse as gender specific traits tend to manifest and stay.

Not to sound too glib, but dysphoria can be a real bummer and affects many trans people at various times in their lives. On the very serious side of things, it can be fatal. Many feel caught between the overwhelming depression about an untenable situation that causes an equal level of overwhelming anxiety when any thought is given to addressing it head on. We have talked about the fear here before, so going to leave that where we left it. Untreated, however, the dysphoria tends to grow and worsen well beyond any unreasonable sense of optimism or ability to dissociate. Being spectacularly good at the latter, I can attest personally that no matter where I went in my head, there it was, and it wasn’t going away.

Cisgender people have a very hard time understanding this. We come up with imperfect little analogies, but none of them succeed in producing that ‘holy shit, that really sucks!’ reaction we all kind of unreasonably expect. My latest attempt is the dislocated shoulder. It’s weird and horrible from the get go, but time just intensifies it until it has to be addressed and you would do anything to make not just the pain, but the freakishness of it go away. Pop it back in, take off my arm, or shoot me in the head, but do something because I can’t go another minute like this. Unfortunately this only has the possibility of hitting home with about the 3% of the population who have dislocated a shoulder, and of those, maybe 3% make the logical leap and don’t start describing rotator cuffs or other off track things.

Unfortunately, dysphoria can persist even after transition; a little something something not everyone likes to talk about. This isn’t true of everyone of course, but many have very optimistic expectations about transition and slip back into a depressive state once reality pokes its big bald head through the clouds. Realization that one will never be as smokin’ hot as Mayim Bialik or Dot Marie Jones can be a bit of a downer. Same with everyone still making you as a dude no matter what you do. Others are dismayed to learn that they really are still a grade A asshole even after 2 years of estrogen. Plus there are all the bills. Oh, the bills!

The best way to treat dysphoria is to address it head on. Prescription medication and even a well cultivated sever alcoholism or drug addiction generally won’t touch it. It’s not easy at all, and I think we all can’t help but feel deeply for those who are just becoming dreadfully aware of their situation and walk around with that crushed hopeless look on their faces. That is getting better though, especially now that there are more and more of us proving, just through living our lives, that it’s not so bad, life can continue and even get better, and that the bogeyman of exposure terror has less teeth than we imagined. After that, it’s all a matter of managing one’s expectations and understanding that all this effort really does is put us at the same starting line as everyone else, albeit decades late.

So, those are my thoughts on dysphoria and I hope we can discuss further now that I have pledged to be much better at responding to comments, of which I do read and digest every single one.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

17 responses »

  1. Tom Perry or J

    I. Cant believe what you. Wrote .i just wrote what ive been going through at 50 We sound Exactly the same My Doctor Laughed at me when i told him symtoms. I need Help and i dont know what to do. If you can phone or text me at 6047105717 hanks for the writing J

  2. Wonderful, what a website it is! This website presents helpful
    data to us, keep it up.

  3. Pingback: Feeling completely unhinged right now. - Page 7 - Empty Closets - A safe online community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people coming out

  4. Hi Nadia, I’m so sorry you are going through such a rough time of it! From your pic, I’m definitely not seeing “ugly man” whatsoever, and I’m wondering if you do the same thing that I do, which is taking a very skewed view of yourself in the mirror. I’ve had to be talked down from that ledge more than once. I know it’s been said way too often, but the only constant out there is change, so however bad it gets, something else will happen, and hopefully much better. At the very least, understand that you are not alone in this. 🙂

  5. i started to write something witty and comical…. i think this is too serious for us all. god bless and good luck. dysphoria and mirrors,so true, but sometimes she smiles back. chin up all of you we deserve a life as well.

  6. Really great piece! Right on the mark. I’m 59 and at the end of my first year transitioning – Orchi, FFS, HRT and overall it’s what I hoped and very healing – but there are those times, like you say when I catch a glimpse in the mirror on the morning of electrolysis and say – hmm…nice try kid. Still, wouldn’t go back 🙂

    • Thanks Susan! Oh, I so agree – electrolysis mornings are the worst! To add a little twist on that, my electrolysist, who does 8 hour sessions, always wants to go to lunch mid-appointment. It’s so fun sitting there, half bearded lady and half swollen faced freak, and praying no one I know comes in. Thank you so much for commenting!

  7. Great post. My dysphoria often catches me by surprise, e.g. when I accidentally catch a view of myself in a reflection. It has to do with seeing the contradiction between how I experience myself internally, and how I perceive myself externally (which is often inaccurate). It is like psychological vertigo. I am walking along feeling like myself (guy-ish) and see myself as a weird looking masculine woman and snap-dysphoria. I should add that my dysphoria is so bad that I can not dress in clothing that looks like “women’s clothing”.

    I try to avoid the situations that I know will trigger it, but it still gets to me.

    The trick I use to keep myself from plunging into acute feelings is to sing a few choruses of the Kinks’s “Victoria” substituting the in word “Dysphoria”. It helps me put it back in perspective.

    • I love your coping mechanism Jamie! And yes, for the gender dysphoric, mirrors are very, very bad. I remember the feeling well, and honestly still sometimes have it, especially when growing out hair for electrolysis. Psychological vertigo nails it! Thanks so much for commenting!

  8. Reblogged this on CrazyQueerClassicist and commented:
    A very good piece.

  9. I think “real bummer” captures the experience of it, but very good piece. Reblogging.

  10. Very well written. Dysphoria is really one of those situations where the outsider can sympathize, but never ever empathize. There’s just nothing like it.

    • All too true Ali! It’s always been my goal to find the exact right words to convey the feeling, but they haven’t been invented yet. It’s like trying to conceptualize a new color. In the mean time, the best we can do is tell people what the feeling does to us and hope they can at least understand the real and true consequence of dysphoria. Thank you so much for commenting!

  11. Well written, eloquently spoken. This piece is stripped of all the bullshit and places dysphoria where it belongs, names the problems, and states the truth about how bad dysphoria can really be. It wasn’t very long ago that I wrote about this very topic, relating the very specific things we do to feel some sort of alignment until we become complete. As someone who is transitioning, and slowly at that, I appreciate this whole experience and would never replace it with anything even with the challenges, because I am finally getting to experience my true self.

    • Thanks so much Amber! Very well said about appreciating the entire transition experience. It’s insanely difficult at times, but so much better than sliding into a dark hole of inaction wishing for what might have been. Not only do we get to be ourselves, but unlike much of the world, we feel like we really earned it. Thanks for commenting and hope to hear more from you!


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