Sunday, 6 November 2011


I really intended for this blog to be for more than trans issues - I have links to feminist posts, political theories that I want to comment on, so on and so forth. Yet when it comes down to it, it's generally when I get hit by thoughts that I can't explain so easily that I turn to writing here. I need to improve that habit. But for today, I'm still talking about the trans thing.

Mostly, I'm talking about the nostalgia for the person, or people, that we could have been. Some people will say that they always knew that they identified differently from their assigned gender, for others it is a discovery. For some, including myself, it is a discovery which can make you look back and re-interpret events in your life.

But if you didn't always know that you were/would become a person living outside of cisgender expectations, then the journey to accepting that can include giving up a hell of a lot of dreams and expectations. Maybe having a family in a particular way, or working in a particular job suddenly becomes much farther out of your reach.

A few random examples - I would now be much less safe travelling in a lot of places. While I am lucky enough to live in a place with enough equal opportuinities legislation to be fairly confident that I will not be overtly discriminated against in the job market, unless I start passing and become entirely stealth then it will always be a factor in considering employment. A whole range of fields (including ones that I am particularly interested in) will be much harder to work in.

And...that's hopefully my self-pitying whinge out of the way for the evening. My sudden loss of privilege, it hurts :P

The particular trigger for that was considering my own future employment. You see, I know how to do job interviews presenting as a female. I learned over years how to dress and act, and I could do a reasonable facsimile of that even today (though I might have to engage in some colourful cursing afterwards). How to present as an employable, normative, professional guy, though? I know the body language tips, and the phrases...but they have not had enough time to become natural reactions - and goodness knows I can't seem to find a shirt to fit me decently.

I guess these things will come in time, with practice and assistance from the NHS. But damn, it does make me miss the person who knew how to dress and act appropriately, and the dreams of the future that that person had.

Here endeth the indulgent navel-gazing.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

On Dysphoria - Part Three

[Please note: in this series, I am discussing only my own experiences of dysphoria. Other trans* people have very different experiences, and one person's cannot be generalised]

So, that body positivity thing? I support it. I really do. No body, regardless of sex, size, age, colour, ability or other feature is less worthy than any other. Nobody should feel shamed for the body that they have, and working towards everyone feeling comfortable in their body is an important goal. But it doesn't follow that everyone should feel comfortable in their body, as some people seem to think.

In fact, as a teenager, I worked hard to be okay with my body. Worried about going out? Paranoid about your appearance? That's okay, it's just typical teenage delusions. You appear to be suffering from misguided low self-esteem. Just convince yourself that everyone else is equally uncomfortable. And it may take you a while, but eventually you'll manage to propel yourself out the door. Most of the time. And if you didn't make it into town when you'd been planning to, I'm sure it was just inherent laziness. After all, people say you look good enough. And you can wear skirts and low-cut tops as a particular 'fuck you' to the world.

That method worked just fine until I found myself independent enough to determine whether or not I went out. In hindsight, university life was never going to work out that well. But that could be put down to laziness of course. It wasn't until I found myself in Canada, half a world away from the people who worried about me, that I actually spoke to someone about how difficult it was to leave my room and we settled on general social anxiety as a diagnosis.

Fast forward another year and I had dscovered the joys of anti-depressants for increasing my confidence in going out, but I still didn't feel quite right. But i still knew that it couldn't be my body which was wrong - it was just my delusions about it. After all, I was young and healthy and had clearly just let idealised images in advertising affect me too much, as so many young people do.

(I had, for the past eight months or so, been considering the idea of binders. Without linking it to being trans or any other issues a part of me seemed quite comfortable with the idea that, at some point, I would be getting one.)

It always makes me blink when people want to let me know that I'm making very serious decisions about my life and should maybe take time to think it over. After all, they weren't in my head when years of growing feminist thought met a sense of self that, frankly, didn't seem to like the idea that much. The only logical response to such a collision was, of course, internalised misogyny! And I'd dealt with this kind of thing for years in a minor way, so I clearly just had to sort out where my internal prejudices were to sort everything out.

Well, that ddn't go too well. Eventually, the deadlock broke, the other way. A bit step towards that was the day that I actually got a binder (still without connecting 'trans' to it - that was far too scary a thought. It was just something that felt right to try out.)

And without stress, without the long moments of panic about being seen, I put it on and stepped outside.

So that body positivity thing needed a little modifying, perhaps. A little bending of principles to allow myself to fail to meet that ridiculous ideal. But I come back to it a lot. My mother, for example, will respond to my talk of surgeries with examples of teenagers undergoing plastic surgery. And while a part of me wants to dismiss that idea entirely, I always end up wondering just how analagous the two experiences are. After all, it's not as if I think a trans guy who has not opted for a medical transition is less of a man. I am fairly confident in saying that that I don't think my own identity is invalidated by my body.

This isn't a universal opinion, I have to say. I know that many trans people do not consider that they can live happily without certain medical modifications to their bodies. But many will also say that their identification is independent of that - the medical intervention does not magically re-create them as men or women, rather, the intervention occurs because they already are such. And honestly, should a non-trans person experience such horror and discomfort regarding their own body, regardless of the cause, I cannot help but want to support them in resolving it however they can.

I guess the element I struggled with is that body positivity is all very well, but it's okay not to like your body as well. There was a size positive activist who recently wrote about how much better she felt after losing weight and many people in the community felt betrayed by that, and said so. Even among self-proclaimed body positive people, there seems to be a policing to make sure that they are positive enough. And it's strangely reminiscent of the divisions that people in the trans* community are trying to get over - between medically transitioned folk and not.

Perhaps it's too fine a balancing act, to support body positivity while allowing space for those who cannot be positive about their own bodies. Maybe it's a dilution of the cause, mixing messages and making us all less effective. Finding a clear path between the conflicting forces and messages of dysphoria, positivity, policing and autonomy is a theoretical puzzle I am clearly not yet equal to.

The most helpful thing to come from this theorising and wondering? The idea that it can be okay to feel bad about about myself. That it is not a failure to yield to societal expectations of what my body should be like. It may not be ideologically pure, but the energy that it took to fight that battle can be put to better use elsewhere.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

On Dysphoria - Part Two

Typically, after posting part one of this series, I've started a period of really struggling with dysphoria again. So rather than a nostalgic look at gradually becoming more and more uncomfortable with myself, I'm really only capable of thinking about how it's hitting me right now.

I have groups of people that I'm more or less comfortable with, depending. On a good day, I wear my binder when I'm in public and until it becomes uncomfortable, and drink lots of peppermint tea on those days that I miscalculate how long I will be around people. Housemates, ex-housemates, metamours and my partner count as one strange extended family that I can stand to be around without binding (which is useful, since otherwise I would be damaging my health far more than I already do). And on a good day, I can forget about it.

On a bad day, I can't forget. Sometimes my body protests, and I choose between physical pain and not socialising. Other times the binder isn't enough, and I'll spend time hating my voice or hips for the way they are. At times, I'll look at friends or acquaintances and feel nothing but envy for their body. I've seen one person describe their experience of dysphoria as the 'Ah Shit!' moment of seeing a person and longing for that ease or those physical features. I think of it as a moment of vertigo, the ground dropping away beneath my feet.

Those are the days that I'll bind for twenty hours and make myself ill, the days that I will be struck by discomfort mid-conversation and have to escape to my room, the nights I'll stay fully dressed until under the covers with the lights off. And I'm never sure what triggers it. Possibly it's just being tired or stressed in my day to day life, maybe I've run out of the mental resources to ignore or reimagine my body as fiercely as I usually do.

This weekend I found myself in a situation - due to long hours - where I had no choice but to socialise without my binder, and it took me forty-five minutes to leave my room. Not because I was concerned about the people I was with, or felt unsafe in any way. Just because there was an irrational terror and unwillingness to be around them while being so wrong. I got over it in time to go out and have fun, and I'm glad I did, but it was anxiety on a level I've not experienced since before I started binding.

And where the hell does that leave a body positive feminist? I mean, really, what right do I have to even try and claim that kind of philosophy when I'm working towards hormonal and surgical alteration of my own body just so I can face people?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Time - 15.5 hours

Tomorrow, I have a doctor's appointment. It's an appointment I have been trying to get for the past three years, and been looking forward to since January. When I heard about it, I booked the day off from work, phoned my family and told my friends. I drank to it at symbl.

I'm really fucking terrified.

I realise that there's no need to be, of course. I am just finally, roughly three years after first asking, going to see somebody who can talk about gender issues. Of course, in that time, my need for someone to talk to has sort of diminished. I had counsellor after counsellor, until I got the counsellor who refused to talk about my identity at all but suggested that he teach me coping techhniques to better hide the effect that the issues were having on my life. I had anti-depressants for a while, then I didn't, then I did again (and thank gods I did, since it was about six months after I went to the GP with severe depression that I got to see a counsellor). I've spent those years finishing a degree, job hunting and working. I've been role-playing and reading philosophy books. I've moved house four times and started and ended relationships.

And I've been reading about gender. Thinking about gender. Talking (or strenuously avoiding talking) about gender issues. Learning about trans issues. I don't think that a single day has passed without me thinking about it, whether it's cajoling myself into going outside or getting frustrated that I didn't correct someone's pronoun use AGAIN (really, I am very bad at that). I sometimes look back and wonder how I managed to get anything else done with this huge obsession taking over my life (my degree? Sheer luck and the determination of my partner at the time).

At this point, when I'm out as trans to friends, to family and to work, there's not much that I need to relate to them. Yes, there are parts of my life which are really difficult, and they have been difficult for a long time. And this is how I cope with them, and this is how I need to not have to cope any more. A lot of the terror and pain has been and gone - I couldn't keep it up for that long (hur hur). I have a job, I'm headed back to uni, in fact to all intents and purposes I have a stable, functioning life. A model of social transitioning. And just when I think that, I start to worry that I am far too competent and they will see that I clearly am coping so well that I don't need their support. I used to have this devil's bargain with my GP, who wanted me to be so upset and depressed that I clearly needed anti-depressants, but calm and capable enough to be trusted with them. He generally agreed to the prescription after I started crying. So I can see where this fear comes from, but it doesn't stop me tying myself in knots about tomorrow.


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

On Dysphoria - Part 1

Occasionally, my otherwise diverse blogroll (what, you don't call my collection of politics, queer politics, queer culture and feminist politics diverse?) comes together in a strange synchronicity of posts around a particular subject. Today, that happened to be around dysphoria.

Dysphoria is a terribly technical word, which is used in a couple of ways in relation to trans* people. The internet tells me that it specifically means "an unease or dissatisfaction with circumstances" and "gender dysphoria" is one of the medical terms applied to people I prefer to think of as magically gendered. There is also a term - dysmorphia - for a psychological condition in which a person dislikes or is concerned about one or more of their physical features. In some cases, I've seen people refer to 'gender dysmorphia' when talking about trans* people's discomfort with parts of their anatomy but generally dysphoria is used instead, possibly because there is a specific identified underlying cause.

In less medically precise circles (and in my own usage), 'dysphoria' is an umbrella term which covers the wide-ranging issues - anxiety, depression, body issues, general squick - around being trans and walking around with a body which doesn't quite seem to fit. There are both internal and external aspects to this. Internally, there is the sense of my body not being appropriate for the things I want to do with it and the discomfort of the mismatch with my own mental image of my self. Externally, there are all the issues caused by interacting with the world, and the way that people generally interpret the gender cues of my body and mannerisms (let's face it, I'm effeminate as hell). Basically - one set of issues make me uncomfortable when I'm on my own, the other makes me uncomfortable with other people. Sometimes (frequently) I just can't win.

But I still feel a bit strange identifying my reactions as 'dysphoria'. Possibly it is due to the pathologising effect of the word - as if it's not enough that I feel uncomfortable, but that discomfort must also be categorised and remembered and filed away for proof that I am trans enough. Maybe if I get enough dysphoria points I can send away for free hormones? Or a badge?

F was certainly fast enough in being able to point out the areas in which my reactions are consistently gender-related discomfort (though while applying the term to my experiences, she tends to use the less ominous 'body squick' herself). Maybe it's a result of how slowly and unsteadily I acquired my dysphoria that I tend to only really notice it in hindsight.

For all the potential problems around the concept of 'dysphoria' - the pathologisation of my reactions and the way that they can be used as a yardstick against ridiculous standards - the term is helpful in explaining my reactions to myself, at least. I come across discussions online about levels of dysphoria, methods of dealing with it, ways to play it up to make a medical professional actually pay attention...but not very much about the experience of it, the way it changes shape over time or the way people's relationship with it as a concept. It is framed as a reaction - a way of interacting with a body and with the world. If I am going to use it as an explanation though I would rather consider it as a thing in-itself, which has come into the world and affects my relationships and which I can get to know and interact with in a multitude of ways.

I think that it is only by treating the 'reaction' as an entity in itself that it becomes something which can be studied, the origins examined and - hopefully - a level of comfort with it can be reached.