The shifting sands of dysphoria

My experience with gender dysphoria has changed over the years. It first expressed itself in childhood as a diffuse desire to be like my grandmother and mother with regards to social roles. As puberty hit, it changed to an intense desire to have a different body than the one I had.

When I learned about transgender people around the same time, it provided a framework to understand my feelings and desires. While it partly answered the what and why of me, there was no how or when. It was a black box, impossible to see within from the suburban 1980s. How could a man enter and then leave a woman almost instantaneously?

The more I learned, the more I discovered gender transition is a process. I also learned my experience of being trans and how I experienced dysphoria was different than others. In the 1990s, most trans women transition models were to be femme, attracted to men, and want your penis to be gone, gone, gone. That last bit made me feel not trans enough for a long while.

My original factory equipment provided some fun and memorable experiences over the years. If anything, I was, (and still am,) ambivalent about it going away. Wanting a vagina but not hating my penis left me feeling half-trans, a fraud. This contributed to my wavering around transition in the 1990s and early 2000s.

I’ve since learned I’m not alone in these feelings and it doesn’t make me or them any less trans. Learning in the 2010s most trans women don’t have surgery for reasons ranging from financial limitations to a lack of desire for surgery out of fear or not caring was a big thing for me to internalize. The expressions of being trans had shifted so far from the 1980s/1990s as to be almost unrecognizable to me when I reconnected with the community a few years back.

What also shifted for me was how I experienced my dysphoria.

Others might be different but I could never trust it would stay the same in order for me to create an effective long-term coping strategy. I found it an impossible task adjusting to gender dysphoria that changed day-to-day or even hour-to-hour.

It swung from generalized and ambivalent desires for physical changes and a diffuse desire for a different social role to an intense psychic ache from longing, loss, and despair of my situation in life. The ache and despair would flare when I encountered women I found attractive or who I imagined I might look like had I been born a girl.

My degrading ability to bear the pain of my previous life’s lot is what led me to transition. Proving transition solves for gender dysphoria, I no longer have extreme psychic pain.

Today my dysphoria is more mundane and at the level of irritating. It’s the dress that doesn’t quite fall the way I want when I try it on because my bust isn’t proportional to my waist. It’s the tuck that won’t stay put. It’s the annoyance of having an outie flopping around when I’d rather have an innie.

But I feel my irritation growing. It’s a sense of incompleteness, a feeling like I’m still in the middle of a process instead of at the end. Then there are the pinprick pains of catching a bad reflection or being misgendered. Those are repetitive experiences, which I have developed a strategy to manage.

My biggest takeaway on dysphoria is that I don’t have to feel the intensity of it all the time in order to self-identify as trans or to do something about it. Even in the weeks leading up to my transition I’d put on my guy clothes in the morning, go to work, and not give it a second thought. But then the days would come where I had trouble leaving my literal closet wearing those same guy clothes.

Now I just worry my outfit doesn’t flatter me. It’s a good trade.


©Heather Coldstream

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2016: Poems from a Year of Change

Uncertain: Poems About Gender Transition

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About cistotrans

A Seattle-area trans woman seeking a happy spot to stay at along the path of transition.
This entry was posted in coming out, gender transition, LGBT, observations, personal history, self-acceptance, transgender, transition and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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