Content Warning: Dysphoria

If you had told me that I experienced dysphoria when I started questioning my gender, I would have been very surprised and disbelieving. I spent a lot of time invested in the question of if merely having a fantasy of being a woman sometimes was enough to make me trans, if I never felt negatively about being a man. I certainly was made anxious by these questions and feared their answers, but that was about the outside world, not my own sense of self. Even gender euphoria was something I had not yet connected with, only a fantasy that seemed like a distant reflection in my life.

Recently, I have felt a bitter pain inside. I have felt as if I’m in the ocean, hanging onto a piece of driftwood. The driftwood won’t float forever, but I need to hold on so I won’t drown. I can see shore clearly, and it’s close enough, but I never learned how to swim, so I’m trapped gasping for air.

I have felt a sharp sting in my heart when associated with a male gender role by a loved one. I breathed the noxious fumes of this innocent, offhanded statement deep into my lungs, and couldn’t breathe, couldn’t focus on anything around me but using what oxygen I had left to not collapse. No one could see.

I saw a morsel of a feminine face in the mirror and connected with it. The makeup I scrawled across my features highlight something that brings me joy and harmony. It wasn’t some character I created to present to the world, I could see something that represented how I felt inside. I danced and felt my body move, exhilarated. But why is my head so big? How big is it anyway? I measure it, I do research, it’s in the 99th percentile for my height. Is it possible for a trans feminine person to be dysphoric about something you inherited from your mom? My neck is terrible, no wonder I hide it under a beard. Have my eyebrows always been this thick? My shoulders look disgusting in this dress that I thought would make me feel good about myself. My gut is disgusting. I’ve ruined the small figure that held back feelings of discomfort for so long. Why are my hips so narrow they can’t even hold up my pants? Why the hair, hair, HAIR everywhere? Why does it feel like there’s an alien attached to me?

Maybe I can find something to make the pain stop. A show? No, can’t focus. Schoolwork? Can’t engage with it. Lying perfectly still? The thoughts swirl and my body is attacking me with its mere presence. I watch some videos about the experiences of trans women. It distracts me, but my jaw is locked tight, my shoulders are up to my ears, and the roof of my mouth is about the explode with pressure. I need to do something. I pace. I stare in the mirror until I can’t. Nothing can stop the train of these feelings.

So I give up. It’s time to shut out these feelings. Don’t let yourself get worked up, you can’t handle this pain right now. I put on a show I’ve seen a million times and turn my brain off. A day later, I don’t feel much about my gender. I see a bit of stubble coming in, it looks pretty good on my face, I like the way it defines my jawline away from my neck. I know that I’ve been to the depths, but it doesn’t feel real, it’s like it happened to someone else.

This has been my life for about eight or nine years now. The pain is visceral and damaging, and it robs me of the feelings that push me forward in the best of times. I know I have to push on through that and explore my feelings more. I am terrified of the specter of my own dysphoria, but I know that it’s there in the depths, and acknowledging that will let me prepare to fight it with everything I have.

Pseudonymous Canadian under the trans* umbrella. They/them