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What does dysphoria feel like to me?

This question made the rounds on Twitter recently and it's a powerful and deeply interesting one I think. However, before I dive into how it feels for me, I want to be clear: dysphoria is not a requirement for being trans.

So, first, what is dysphoria? I think there are a lot of ways that people think about this in the trans context and so I don't want to pin down a categorical definition, but basically I see it as a sense or feeling of unease or wrongness about the gender assigned to me at birth.

Ah, but why then is it you say it's not a pre-condition to being trans? Isn't that the whole point of being trans? 

Well, no, that is not the whole point! Trans is an umbrella term and encompasses a lot of identities and not all of these identities have a sense of unease or wrongness about their birth gender assignment. That doesn't mean that they don't want to explore the richness of gender and gender expression, it's that their basis for that is not necessarily tied to dysphoria.

So, back to the question: what does dysphoria feel like to me? Perhaps a true anecdote might illustrate it conceptually...

I wear glasses, well usually contact lenses, but I need corrective lenses in any event. At one point, my eye doctor wanted to determine my "dominant" eye and so she did a bunch of tests and determined my right eye was dominant. I am also an avid photographer and I cannot, for the life of me, get comfortable shooting using my right eye, it feels wrong to me. I have to use my left eye with the camera. I've tried, many times, to get comfortable with my right eye, but it doesn't work, no matter what my eye doctor says. That sense of wrongness is real, it's literally uncomfortable for me to use my camera with my right eye, it distracts me from what I want to do, and I truly don't like it.

In a sense that is what dysphoria feels like to me, but on a larger scale. Prior to transitioning I was always trying to get comfortable with the person that everyone thought I was and that I was supposed to be. After all, so many of those voices saying the same things couldn't be wrong, could they? Even when I was unconsciously trying to wear that gender, that sense that something was off was very pervasive and it was, and often still is, extremely distracting.

The intensity of dysphoria varies for all us, I think. I went through periods where I could push it away, drown it out, or pretend it wasn't there. I never found, however, that it was anything that lasted. Inevitably, that feeling would come back intensified and far more uncomfortably. My dysphoria ultimately demanded attention, demanded that I address it, and that is what led to my transition. 

There is no single way to be trans. When I confronted my dysphoria last year and began HRT, I met with my doctor and she asked me my transition goals. I told her I didn't know, that all I knew is that I needed to start with hormone therapy and unfold what is next. I had yet to discover the depths my dysphoria ran by then, after so many years of supressing by any means possible, and so I needed to learn that. I have a much better understanding today. 

Do I have it fully? No. I doubt that. In the last year I went from "facial hair isn't a big deal" to "get it gone, all of it, right now." I went from "I'm not sure about gender confirmation surgery" to "I need to think about the procedure I want." I honestly don't know what else will pop up next. Maybe it will always be a companion or maybe, one day, I will put it to rest. All I know is the beast is losing fangs, one by one, slowly but surely.

And that is what dysphoria feels like to me.


  1. I totally get the left eye thing. Whether it's a camera, a rifle (haven't shot one in the last 55 years), bow and arrow, or throwing darts, I do it right-handed, but I aim with my left eye. The funny thing is that I never even noticed that it looked weird with the camera squished against my nose, or the cocking of my head awkwardly to take aim, until I was well into adulthood. I think it's even more funny that nobody ever said anything about it. If only that had been true regarding my gender dysphoria!


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