Social Dysphoria

What the title said.

I should point out that I’m incredibly lucky for a transperson.  I’ve never been all that… feminine-looking.  And for a long time, I thought that was a bad thing, despite my extreme discomfort whenever I tried (in vain, inevitably) to “remedy” it.  I’m very flat-chested, so binding is easy, and even unnecessary on a daily basis.  If I’m careful, anyway.  It will also make future medical interventions easier, but that’s a possibly-TMI post for another time.

My “monthly fails” (as I’ve heard it put in queer circles before) are usually light, easily dealt with… and on the rare occasions when they’re not, I get through them fairly unscathed because I’m the exact opposite of squeamish.  Sometimes though, the pain is disproportionate to the visibles, if that makes sense.  And I have “passed” (I’ll have to spend another post explaining exactly why I’m not a fan of this word) when I haven’t meant to, while dressed entirely in womens’ clothing.

And I have a fantastically supportive mother.  By the way, should anyone want to read the adventures of another legendary mother of a transgender child, I’d suggest you have a look here.  It’s brilliant.  Seriously.

And I have a fantastically supportive Aspie Mentor at university.  And I have a fantastically supportive Set of Peopledots (it’s not quite a circle yet, you see) at university.  And I’ve had some absolutely incredible responses from some of my friends from school.  Dare I mention that I’ve been moved – almost to tears – by the maturity some have shown, and their willingness to accept without question.

So… get to the point, I hear you sigh.  Well, despite all of the above, I still have dysphoria.  Often, it’s the dysphoria which makes a transperson.  An incongruity which needs correcting, in some way, be it new pronouns, a new name, or even medical interventions.  And that’s always a hard thing to live with.

We’ve All Been There
Of course, dysphoria is not experienced solely by transpeople; it’s basically a word for discomfort or depression related to an aspect of their life or the world around them.

Gender dysphoria is what The Professionals are looking for specifically when you need the aforementioned medical interventions, but there are many other kinds, of which most will have experienced at least one.  Anyone who doesn’t like what they see in the mirror is experiencing body dysphoria.  People who feel socially inept are also dealing with a kind of dysphoria.  You get the point.

And since my dysphoria is (mainly, at least) gender-related, I thought I might as well go on about that for a while, since I finally have the time.

The Social Problem
How could someone with the above Good Points (in terms of transness, anyway) possibly claim to be dysphoric?

Well, I’ve often wondered that myself.  I know (of) many transpeople who are unable to “pass” (shudder) because they have – excuse the vulgarity – whopping great reminders that just won’t budge.  That works for several body parts, luckily, and is inclusive of transitions in either “direction”, so I think I can get away with that one…  Some have Height-Related Troubles; in fact, I’m included in that one, being 5’3″ on a good day.  Some are surrounded by constant reminders that their bodies aren’t their own, or at least are Just Not Right.  I was the latter.  Still am.

But my dysphoria largely comes from an external source.  It’s the reactions that really get me.  Whenever someone who doesn’t know me (and therefore doesn’t know I’m trans) has been given no clue as to my gender and still uses female pronouns, a small part of me dies.  Whenever someone opens a door – or similar – with a “ladies first” gesture, it feels like a giant, middle-finger-shaped boot has just crushed my brain.  Every time I’m gendered “female” by the outside world in a way which I can recognise it, it chips away at my sense of self, and it’s a fight to keep my identity alive and squeaking…

Thankfully, the odd occasion has restored my sense of self to its full, genderstrange glory.  And this is the puzzling part.  When I’m gendered “correctly” – which, in my case, means “close enough, complexities excluded” – it seems that nothing can nullify their original deduction.  In these instances, they’re convinced that I’m a bloke.  And nothing will change their minds; not a high(er)-pitched voice, nor the stupidly-large height difference, nor the slight outline of more-than-man-boobs.  It strikes me as odd is all… not that I’m complaining.

Confused Again
Since I have “passed”, apparently, even when I’m not binding, or packing, or anything, and even my voice doesn’t give them a clue… I can’t help but wonder: what makes anyone so certain?

The sad fact is that we live in a world where people need to know your gender.  It’s one of the first things that people want to know when a baby is born.  It’s a compulsory requirement when filling in most forms, online or off… and there are usually only two boxes to choose from.  Which is even sadder.

And the weirdest thing that I’ve noticed from the interactions I’ve had with strangers is this.  Whenever I’ve interacted with someone I don’t know, it’s clear that they are very sure of my gender; and yet the gender they see me as seems to go both ways.  They’re either very sure that I’m male, and treat me as such, or they’re positive that I’m female, and – much to my dismay – treat me as such.  As yet, I can’t determine how I will be read, as it seems to be about 50/50.

So, apparently, my appearance is not androgynous; in fact, it’s the total opposite.  It seems that the gender that people see in me is completely arbitrary, but nonetheless is at one extreme end of the “spectrum” or the other.  Well, aren’t I a little medical marvel?  My gender changes depending on the person who happens to be staring at that moment in time.  Quite an achievement, I’d say.

But don’t get me wrong, I still get a lot of puzzled looks.  Most people don’t understand my concerns about using public bathrooms alone, because the thought that someone might question their gender doesn’t even feature in the perceived possibilities.  Most of the time nowadays, when I have no choice but to use public bathrooms, I stride into the female section with a look on my face which – hopefully – is daring people to question my right to pee.  That, or I just look really constipated, in which case they’ve been staying out of my way.  Just in case my internals decide to make up for missed movements.  Ahem.

The Fickle Condition Known As Human Nature
Well, actually, gender is the one thing people don’t seem to change their minds about.  Once I’ve been pegged as male by someone, squeaking my response from 20 feet below them in height doesn’t seem to change their opinion.  Maybe they’re just trying to save us both from further embarrassment.  I don’t know.  But they always seem so damned certain, and it always confuses me, even if in a good way.

And I think.  Too much, most of the time.

But I suppose I have allowed this frustrating stubbornness to get to me recently.  Hence the post.  Surprise surprise.  Because, or so I thought, once you tell someone that you’re transgender and transitioning in a certain direction (which involves a new name and pronouns), then they may take time to get used to the idea but will essentially make The Switch… or at least be very careful with their gendering when you’re around.

Apparently I was wrong.

Side Note
There have been many Brilliant Heads out there who have asked for my preferred pronouns and names and things (and while the jury is not yet out on The Name Thing and what I find easiest to answer to – yes, it’s difficult even for me to go by something different, despite the excessive point-making), and to them, not only are you utterly amazing people who deserve to be waited on hand and foot for the rest of your lives, but you’re officially doing better than most.

People with much less excuse to misgender me are – yes, you got it – still damn well doing it.  And I’m losing my patience.

My parents have an excuse.  Although I’ve already mentioned that my mum has made the transition between names and pronouns incredibly well.  And even my dad is trying now (took him long enough – cue adolescent huffy sigh, complete with door-slamming).  But originally I had assured them that they wouldn’t have to partake in all the switcheroos if they couldn’t handle it; then I ended up going back on myself because it started to feel like I wasn’t being respected, despite the fact that I myself had given them a Get Out of Gender Free Card.  I’ll never understand myself either.

My friends have an excuse… to some degree.  If you’ve known me for a long time, especially through several years at an all-girls’ school, then I’d say it’s fair that you wouldn’t have been expecting to be dealing with a Non-Female Of Some Description, and I’d imagine that in itself might make things harder.  I do expect it to be respected though, and will not have much tolerance for anyone who decides they’ll “just carry on as normal, and I’m sure she won’t mind”… as long as I can see that the effort’s being made, then I’ll have infinite patience, no matter how long it takes.  Promise.

But if you’ve not known me for long, the fact that I was introduced to you with a female name originally is not an excuse to misgender me.  If I’ve told you that I’m trans, and what my plans are – which I did, as soon as I had any friends to speak of, anyway – then you haven’t got a leg to stand on if you don’t respect it.  Sorry.  Not in this century.

Side Effects
That’s right.  With an “e”.

I wanted to make this clear, and hopefully as well-reasoned as I can, since I got up at what would have normally been 5 AM this morning (thanks an effing bunch, British Summer Time).  When you continue to gender me female, despite having had every ounce of free education in me… ahem… gently blown in your direction, then you essentially quash my identity.

And yes, I was looking for an excuse to put “quash” in a sentence.  Leave me alone.

It’s taken a hell of a lot for me to get to the stage where I can be open about myself.  I’ve said slightly too many times now that I’m no longer hiding.  And I have no intention of going back in the closet just to protect the delicate sensibilities of those around me.  I’m not hurting anyone, nor am I expecting it to become an Issue.  But I’m self-assured enough (at long last) to know I’m not bluffing when I say that people who “can’t handle it” – I mean, seriously, exactly what are you having to handle – can either get over themselves or eff off.  Call me when you’ve grown up.

Angry rants aside, I’m trying and most likely failing to make a meaningful point here.  The (practically) sole cause of my sense of self-worth being flushed down the toilet – no pun intended, oops – is Other People and their reactions.  Admittedly, it’s not normally people I know doing the misgendering.  No one means to make someone feel rubbish about their gender; rest assured that I do understand this.  But I felt like making a post about dysphoria, to kill two metaphorical birds with one metaphorical stone: making My Serious Point in case anyone was in any doubt by now, at the same time as reminding myself that I’m actually pretty damn lucky in comparison to most.

Next up: an unsurprising observation that I couldn’t stop myself from blathering on about.  I’m sure you’re looking forward to it.

Over and out.

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About JC

I'm a no-longer-nameless trans asexual autistic, chemistry undergraduate at a London university, pronoun enthusiast, amateur photographer and budding proofreader. Son of Optimus. Join me and be amazed. Or just join me. The sense of awe and wonder is optional.
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4 Responses to Social Dysphoria

  1. Khai says:

    So, what you’re saying is, you’re a human being who deserves to be treated with respect.
    Check.

  2. saradraws says:

    And to think I get annoyed when people put an H on my name.
    I’m not familiar with all the language of the multigendered masses, but I do like “genderstrange”. A beautiful word. A little poem.
    It must be exhausting to constantly navigate other people’s ignorance. And worse, to stand your ground in the face of people’s implicit demands for an explanation…
    Or so I’m guessing. Am I way off?

    • J.C. Prime says:

      Not at all – you’re spot on! Thank you for your comment (it has officially made my day!) and for stopping by… I love that people out there actually want to understand these sorts of things.

      You’re right – I think we all experience dysphoria in some way or other, as you’ve highlighted (which, I can imagine, still gets incredibly annoying after a while – you’d think people could remember to omit the “h”, wouldn’t you? Admittedly, that would probably annoy me just as much as anything gendered!), but it does get tiring sometimes.

      Thanks again for proving that enlightenment with regards to gender things is possible! (And love your blog, by the way…)

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