I define gender dysphoria as the discomfort and distress I feel due to the in-congruence between my gender assigned at birth and my gender identity.
The discomfort I feel physically is how I experience body dysphoria. The distress I feel emotionally, due to body dysphoria, is how I experience gender dysphoria. I also experience social dysphoria, or the distress and discomfort due to how one is viewed by society, but to a lesser degree.
Discussing dysphoria is difficult; the discomfort and distress increases in intensity when focused on. It’s like trying to ignore the pain of a sprained ankle when talking about it. It’s all you can think about.
Gender dysphoria is difficult to explain because it’s a feeling not many experience. The only option is to compare it to other more common feelings. The problem is those feelings may be similar, but not the same. It’s like trying to describe what it feels like to have arthritis to someone who doesn’t have it. You might come close, but it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head.
The following four examples describe experiences that are more familiar, and help to illustrate aspects of what body dysphoria feels like for me.
1. Restless Leg Syndrome: Your legs tingle, buzz, and crawl like an army of ants have invaded them. It feels like your legs are trying to jump out of your own body. Dark circles form under your eyes. You squirm under your sheets and glance at the clock; only one minute has gone by. You think, I wish I could rip my own legs off right now, so I can get some sleep.
2. Menopause: A sudden blast of heat hits you like an inferno and intensifies to one spot. You hope it doesn’t spread to the rest of your body like last time. You think, Hell has stolen the thermostat and has risen the temperature to holy hell it’s as hot as Hades in here. You retrieve a cool compress. You place it on the back of your neck. The sweat dissipates; a shiver runs down your spine. Later, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the bathroom mirror; your skin and hair look and feel different. It catches you off guard.
3. Benign Cysts: You feel pain on the bottom of your foot. You investigate and find a lump. When your hand runs across the growth, you shudder; it feels weird and wrong like it shouldn’t be there. You put a sock on and try to jam your foot into your shoe. It doesn’t fit right. The pressure from your shoe aggravates the pain and you can’t ignore it anymore.
4. Phantom Limb Syndrome: You look in the mirror. You see a faint image of your hand, where your hand should be. You look down at the empty space below your wrist; your fingers cramp and throb. Later, you reach for a cup with that limb and it knocks to the floor. It’s feels like your brain is trying to connect to neurons that are no longer there.
Take a moment to combine all of the above sensations and imagine what it would feel like. What emotions does that being up for you? Do you feel restless? Uncomfortable? Frustrated?
Body dysphoria can bring up a range of emotions and they will be unique to the individual. These emotions care vary in intensity and can be mixed.
The following analogy illustrates the different kinds of emotions that can arise from experiencing body dysphoria:
You stand in front of your closet, eyes drooping at half-mast. You rub your eyes; sleep crumbs brush against your fingers. Air rushes into your lungs as a wide yawn spreads across your face.
You grasp onto your favorite band t-shirt and pull it over your head and down towards your waist. The fabric slips from your palms. You look down and squint at the hem; it hovers above your belly button. You frown and tug at the bottom it; it doesn’t budge.
You shimmy your hands around the back of your shirt to investigate. You wince and then cough; stiff fabric closes in on your throat. You release your hands from the back of your shirt and jam your fingers in between the collar and your neck. You let out a gasp. You cross your arms over your chest; fabric bunches in the corners of your armpits. Your shoulders tense. You scrunch your face and pull at the fabric; it bunches even more.
You claw at yourself in a claustrophobic spaz; your shirt twisting around you like a boa constrictor. Your body jerks as your foot catches in the waistband of balled up basketball shorts jammed in a pile of clothes on the floor. Your clamped fists wheel in the air like a drunken sailor. You careen towards the floor; the air punches out of your chest as you hit the carpet. You groan like a beached seal.
You lay there for a moment, peel your body up from the floor, and grimace. You glance in the mirror that hangs from your bedroom door and squint. Four men walking in the middle of the road in a cross walk stretches across your back; The Beatles arch above it in a bold font. Your cheeks flush. You smack your forehead with the palm of your hand, squeeze your eyes shut, and let out a small sigh of defeat.
The above example is more of a light hearted way to convey gender dysphoria. It minimizes the severity of distress and discomfort. The emotions I feel from experiencing body dysphoria are more intense.
For me, disgust is at the top of the list, closely followed by feeling violated and trapped. Pepper in some nausea, feelings of betrayal, humiliation, sadness, longing and shame. These are the ingredients to the recipe of, “What It Feels Like to Be Me. “
On that note, it’s important to remember that everyone can experience gender dysphoria differently. I don’t speak for the entire transgender community; this is only my experience.
I hope that sharing my experience gives you a little more insight into the transgender experience.