On Dysphoria

Photo by Rayne's Avante-Garde
Article By E.S. Wynn

I've never been a fan of the words "you don't understand what it's like," but there are times when I've wanted to say it. If you've never experienced gender dysphoria, it can be a really difficult concept to wrap your brain around. For most of the population (or so statistics seem to indicate) there is no feeling of dissonance between gender (how we see ourselves inside) and sex (what we were assigned at birth.) You’re either born male or female and the way you feel and see yourself in your mind’s eye is completely in alignment with that. You look in the mirror each day and see a person you recognize as you, as the you that you have always been, and you don’t generally find yourself daydreaming about a better life where your sex completely matches your gender. Gender dysphoria is an interesting thing to live with, and in this article, I’d like to try to help shed some light on the experience for those who are curious about what it is like.

To start, I’d like you to imagine something. Imagine what it would feel like if you woke up one day and everything in your life was the same as it is now except suddenly everyone saw you as if you were a different gender than you have been for your entire life. For example, if you are a heterosexual married man, imagine that you woke up to suddenly find yourself in a world where everyone else saw you as a lesbian female and would expect you to dress the part. Imagine the social pressure if you suddenly had to conform to western feminine beauty standards (plucking, concealer, leg shaving, etc.) but didn't feel like it. You go into work, and your boss expects you to wear a dress and makeup, to wear nail polish and shape your hairy (mannish) eyebrows into something more feminine, but that's never felt right to you. Imagine the dissonance you would feel with the world around you, imagine the constant cloud of little judgments that would follow you wherever you go because you don't fit in, and worse, people see it, even if you do everything you can to embrace the sex stereotypes that have been assigned to you. Now imagine dealing with that for your entire life, hiding and changing in little ways so that people don't judge as often, or as harshly.

That's a basic overview of my experience with dysphoria. For as far back as I can remember, I have felt uncomfortable adhering to the male ideal, resonating more with mothers, caretakers and female role models. In one of my earliest memories, age two or three, I remember arguing with my father and mother about it, asking them if they were absolutely certain I was a boy. To them, as parents in a small town in the 1980's, staring down at a naked toddler, the answer was laughably obvious, but to me, inside, I wasn't so sure. I didn't feel like a little boy, even that early on, and the feeling has continued and stuck with me for my entire life. The times when I have been the most comfortable in my body are the times when I have been able to look past the male and simply be who I am inside. In practical application, this has mostly taken the form of simple relaxing diversions (like playing video, paper or board games as a female character) but it has also manifested (as I have matured and become more secure in my identity) in more overt forms of expression, such as cross-dressing and choosing a more feminine name (or nickname) for myself. It’s actually the main reason I have always published under the moniker E.S. Wynn—it’s innately androgynous. It reflects the decision very early on in my career to avoid being tied down to one gender or another. When I chose it (in my early twenties,) I was still considering a complete transition from male to female, and wanted to minimize the effect such a transition would have on my career, if I was to make it.

I know that, in order to simplify my explanation of the experience of gender dysphoria, I’ve talked a lot about beauty standards and fashion stereotypes, but it is important to realize that this is just a simplification. Gender dysphoria is not short hand for “the urge some men have to wear lipstick and dresses.” Gender dysphoria is the ever present feeling that transgender people have that our inner selves, our soul or personality, or however you want to look at it, does not exactly match our outer selves. Sometimes this can express itself in the urge that some men have to wear lipstick and dresses (female fashions feminize to the outside eye, which can make it easier to feel at home in a male body) but that is not the only way it manifests. It’s a silly idea to think that all women wear dresses, or that a dress is needed to feel feminine. Gender dysphoria is simply a sense of unease and self-awareness centered on one’s own gender, but it can be very powerful, so powerful in fact, that it can lead to suicidal urges in some individuals. Those individuals who consider (or choose) suicide in response to a strong sense of gender dysphoria are not doing so simply because they feel they cannot wear the kind of clothing generally associated with the opposite sex. They do so because they feel a conflict between the person inside and the body outside, and they don’t know how to address it, live with it or fix it.

I hope this article has given you a greater understanding of what it is like to live with gender dysphoria. I’ll be talking more about my own experiences as a trans individual in future articles, (including techniques I’ve developed to help deal with dysphoria) so check back every Wednesday to learn more.

Do you have a story about your own experience with gender dysphoria that you’d be willing to share? Contact me about your idea (or send your experience so that it can be shared with the readers of this blog) through the contact form here: [link] Make sure you have javascript enabled or the form will just display a blank page. If you’d like to share your experiences living as a trans person (or with someone who identifies as trans) drop me a line through the aforementioned contact form. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to share your perspective with our readers. Thank you!

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