What 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.