Elessar Younglove (she/they)
This article is written from my perspective, a genderfluid, bisexual woman. As such, gender dysphoria will be discussed through that lens.
Dysphoria is defined as “a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life.” According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information gender dysphoria is “a marked incongruence between their experienced or expressed gender and the one they were assigned at birth.” Gender dysphoria presents itself in various ways. From personal experience to professional research, here are my recommendations for combating gender dysphoria.
In my experience, gender dysphoria feels like disconnecting from my body while also being trapped inside of it. I don’t feel like myself, but I’m physically reminded that this is who I am. When I was in high school I had intense sleep paralysis. I couldn’t move or talk, and I felt overwhelming fear and confusion. I had to remind myself where I was and who I was. I also use this technique with gender dysphoria. When I’m overwhelmed, I focus on reaffirming the basics. Tell yourself, out loud, that your body doesn’t define your gender, or write your gender identity down in a notebook, paint it on a canvas, write it on a poster and cover it in sequins and your favorite colors. Your existence is a joyous occasion. You don’t owe others an apology or an explanation for being transgender. Your gender identity is just that-- it’s how you identify. There are lots of ways, big and small, to reaffirm your gender identity.
Physical reminders can be another way to combat gender dysphoria. You could use pronoun pins, binders, packers, STPs (stand-to-pee devices), padded underwear, hair removal items, whatever items safely alleviate your dysphoria. Gender dysphoria can make you feel like an outsider in your own body. But you are not a bystander. You can change and you can try new things to feel more comfortable in your own skin. I’m not able to instantly alleviate my dysphoria. But I can wear my favorite color to feel better. I can put on the choker collar that makes my neck look bigger or wear my favorite outfit. I also enjoy contouring my face to give the illusion of sharper cheekbones. Again, this article is from my perspective and not everything that works for me works for others. That’s okay! Maybe you’re uncomfortable seeing your body naked. You can fog up the bathroom mirrors or cover them with a towel. Or use a big sponge or loofah for bathing. Some people find it helpful to sleep with a pillow on their chest. There are all kinds of ways to combat gender dysphoria, some you may not have considered or tried yet. But the most important thing to remember when battling dysphoria is that your body is not a punishment.
Your body is more than a certain part or look. Sometimes we look at ourselves and only see what we are not. But your body is full of possibilities. It is not here for looks. Your body, like you, is strong. Your body can lift things and run. You can taste food, drink water, hear music, sing, dance. In my experience it helps to remember that your body is here to guide and protect you. It isn’t a punishment, and neither is your identity. Take a moment to recognize what your body is good at, or things you like about yourself. Spending time on an activity you enjoy, with people you like, or stimulating yourself with good scents and sights are all ways to alleviate gender dysphoria. I like to walk outside and listen to my favorite music. Being outside reminds me that I’m not just a body. I’m a human being and I’m coexisting with all of these plants, animals, and people- I’m a part of all of this life. And that isn’t a bad thing. Combating gender dysphoria is a process. But it's not something you alone experience. Reaching out to others is another great way to combat gender dysphoria.
When you’re feeling vulnerable it's best to talk to someone who understands. Talk to a supportive friend, find an online trans community, or speak to someone on a hotline like QLife (https://qlife.org.au to webchat or 1800 184 527). You can also reach out to a medical professional. If you have a counsellor or therapist you feel safe talking with about your gender dysphoria, make time to bring this up to them. I highly recommend checking out thegalap.org when you get a chance. The Gender Affirming Letter Access Projec (GALAP) is a website of transgender, nonbinary, and allied mental health clinicians in the U.S. which are broken down by state. These therapists have pledged to write low cost and free letters to trans people diagnosing their dysphoria. This website eliminates the financial stress, transphobia, and gatekeeping that transgender people often experience. WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) standards says that a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a legitimate reason to have top surgery without hormone replacement therapy. Most insurance companies use WPATH as a guide. The clinicians can see you remotely, usually over the phone or via video.
Your experiences have made you into the person you are, and you are a person worthy of compassion and a good life. Remember to be kind to yourself and your personal image. Remember, there is a diversity to all bodies and gender presentations. Don’t get lost in your own head. I know dysphoria doesn’t feel like a win; it's hard, and it hurts. But dysphoria is not a defeat. Society looked at you and told you exactly how to be and you said no. There is power in your defiance, in your story. You’ve made it this far. Be proud of yourself.