Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gender Dysphoria ~Sevan

To my trans* readers...I'm sure you know exactly what Gender dyphoria is about, and you don't need me to tell you. light of the new changes to the DSM 5 that is switching from "Gender identity disorder" to "Gender dysphoria" many people outside of the trans* community are starting to talk about it, think about it and come to me and my community; to ask about it.

That made me realize that while I go and do speaking engagements and tell people about being trans*; I never bring up dysphoria. In my attempts to normalize and express myself, I leave out the pain my gender incongruity brings me.

So...let's attempt to bring light to it. Shall we?

First...let's define gender:

  • One's sense of self as masculine or feminine regardless of external genitalia. Gender is often conflated with sex. This is inaccurate because sex refers to bodies and gender refers to personality characteristics.
  • A socially constructed system of classification that ascribes qualities of masculinity and femininity to people. Gender characteristics can change over time and are different between cultures. Words that refer to gender include: man, woman, transgender, masculine, feminine, and gender queer.
(as always with are free to agree with these as stated, or disagree. This is my best attempt to define that which is pretty darn tough to define!) 

It's my feeling that dysphoria stems from being incongruent in both or either/or. So I'm going to attempt to tackle the first one. 

Gender dysphoria; simply put is the pain and discomfort/depression that comes from your body(sex) looking/feeling different than your brain (gender) tells you it should look/feel. For example many trans* people experience a "phantom" outline of their body as it "should" be. Cyndi (prior to breast augmentation) used to have phantom sensation of where her breasts should be. I have had phantom sensations in my genitals that don't match up with what's actually there. It's alarming, it's disarming and it's a reminder of what's not right...often in moments when you're not otherwise thinking about your gender. 

There is an inner sense of "wrong". I don't know that I can even fully express what goes on inside my mind and body when I'm in the worst of gender dysphoria. It comes and goes in waves. Often I don't see it coming. It sneaks up on me and pounces as if I am but a field mouse to be consumed. 
Thankfully transition and hormones have helped me escape the worst of my personal dysphoria, but this isn't enough for all people. Everyone is different, and experiences this pain differently. There are triggers, and they're like landmines that are nearly inescapable. If you are friends, or someone who's interacting with a trans* person, please don't blame yourself should you trigger a trans* person's dysphoria. Unless you knowingly did so, this isn't your fault. 

So if we take the knowledge of internal dysphoria; the incongruousness between mind and body and then layer on top of that the social constructs and ideas about gender/sex/stereotypes. 
Gender/sex is the base of the pyramid that informs almost all other things. What colors you "should" wear or like. What pronouns we use when referring to you. What familial terms we should use. (mom/dad, sister/brother, girlfriend/boyfriend etc) What bathroom you use. What toys you (as a child) are "allowed" to play with. Even our sexuality (terms) are informed by our gender/sex. A person who is "gay" is usually a man who likes other men. "Straight" is gender neutral enough, but pretty much all other terms are based on who you are first, then followed by who you like. There's a changing tide in those terms, which is fantastic...but they're not broadly used quite yet. (Gynophilic-someone who likes women, Androphilic- someone who likes men, Pansexual- someone who likes people regardless of gender. Etc) 

As a trans* person who goes through simple daily tasks gender comes into play. Going to the store and interacting with people; they will gender you. Often for a trans* person, the assumptions strangers make can be hurtful. Especially when piled on top of many other such mistakes through out one single day. It adds up. Then day after adds up. It's small stabs in already delicate, raw skin. 

When a person takes the steps to correct the incongruencies, and tries really hard to change their body and first they likely will not pass. The public doesn't see, nor understand just how HARD many try. How many hoops we must jump through. When society shames trans* people, or continues to gender us incorrectly...on top of trying SO HARD...that really hurts. I can think of a day early on in transition where I scrutinized myself up and down. Hat, face, binder, shirt, pants, shoe choices, movements, walking style, speech patterns....feeling finally confident that I'd pass, that I could do it...and not a single person I interacted with that day saw me as male. Not. One. That hurt. That just added up into my pile of past pain. As a non-binary person who doesn't really lean all that male...that was painful, but not such a big deal. Ok, if I'm not going to pass male...I'm just not going to go into public as male. Simple (for me) but for those who ARE binary, and try their hardest to pass, to be included as the gender group they are, to be gendered correctly...when that doesn't happen they don't have the choice to just not present that way anymore. That's WHO they are! 

I think some of the worst pain is when you have internal doubts, fears and pains be "confirmed" by outside sources. This is the point at which internal gender incongruence meets up with societal and outside incongruence. When someone "confirms" your fears about's sometimes very tough to recover that wound. 

Just the writing of this blog post dug into some of my old wounds and has left me a little raw. Though even in spite of that, I do hope that it brings some understanding of what dysphoria is about and maybe how we can all be a bit more sensitive, because we never know where someone is at in their internal process. 


gibiscus said...

I don't really think it's entirely "gender" dysphoria... I feel much more dysphoria about my physical body than about "gender", especially since I'm treated as a woman 99% of the time by now...

Sevan said...

Gibiscus: That's a great comment, and a very good point. I don't have any problem with my gender, I have a problem with how my sex is not lined up with my gender. It definitely is more an issue of "Sex dysphoria" but that speaks almost to a sexual dysfunction and I'm not sure how to say that without making people assume/think that it's a matter of *sexual* dysfunctional.

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