Oh, Was that Dysphoria?
Updated: Jun 16
Understanding that there is no norm to gender dysphoria, and all experiences are valid.
First, some housekeeping in terms of simple definitions:
Gender Dysphoria: Feeling of discomfort or distress that may occur in those whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth
Queer: Often variously defined, however for our purposes: An umbrella term used to identify someone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
Transgender: Gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth.
Cisgender: Gender identity is the same as sex assigned at birth.
Non-Binary: Neither male nor female; Identifies that are outside of the gender binary.
Gender Identity: Female, Male, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Non-Binary an internal sense of one’s own gender.
Gender Expression: Masculine, Feminine, Androgynous
How you choose to express your gender (i.e. clothing, hairstyle, etc.) You can identify as a man but wish to present feminine, etc.
Cassie LaBelle writes in her article Gender Dysphoria Isn’t What You Think, “If I’d been told that gender dysphoria was a requirement for being trans, I might never have actually realized the truth: I’ve been suffering from gender dysphoria my entire life without understanding what was actually going on.”
Let’s go a bit under the surface of that statement.
LaBelle is saying that she began questioning her gender, wondering to herself if she were transgender. She, like any good millennial, took to the internet. “How do I know if I’m transgender” into the Google search. Here’s an important side-note: Most cisgender people don’t spend too much time thinking about their gender, or google-ing questions related to their gender. Anyway, back to the question.
Naturally, lots of information came up, including a strong focus on gender dysphoria, yet what she read about did not click for her. She sat back, and accepted that she was not actually trans. LaBelle says it wasn’t until she was able to accept the trans identity that she was able to understand her own dysphoria. As a result of not making that connection, she remained unsure of her own identity.
In LaBelle’s experience, through coming out, she realizes she wasn’t as isolated in this experience as she thought. She learned many others struggled to connect with the typical definition of gender dysphoria. LaBelle’s experience seems particularly important and speaks to a larger experience within the trans and non-binary community. Oftentimes, as we question ourselves, we seek out answers; if we do not fit the answers just so, what are we left with?
When dysphoria arises, we come up with some other explanation for this - anything BUT dysphoria!
As humans, it is in our nature to defend difficult or distressing emotions. So, naturally, when dysphoria arises, we come up with some other explanation for this - anything, BUT dysphoria! We may even blame alternative mental illness diagnoses, or brush it off as nominal. This is not conscious, but rather our brain’s own way of protecting itself from something painful and distressing. For example, hating clothes shopping is written off as just something you do not enjoy, “I’m just not into clothes”; feeling uncomfortable looking in the mirror is written off as run-of-the-mill poor self-image “Doesn’t everyone hate the way they look?”
There are many useful articles out there, written by trans individuals, that describe variously what gender dysphoria has felt like to them, so I will not reiterate their experiences, but rather say this: If you have been questioning yourself along the gender spectrum, but have struggled to connect with common experiences of dysphoria, it is possible that lots of uncomfortable things you have felt and experienced, but wrote off as other things, were actually dysphoria.
Nightling Bug on Twitter writes: Fish don’t notice water. It’s all around them. Most fish have never left it. And often, trans people in denial don’t notice the gender dysphoria that suffuses their daily lives. (She goes on to detail various discomforts that she had not realized were dysphoria)
The problem with neatly defining terms, people, labels, etc. is that doing so is simply not realistic. We do not always fit things just so. What allows an individual person to accept themselves, to be comfortable with their gender and identity, varies from person to person.
There is an amazing commonality among individuals within the trans community, and this commonality helps maintain a sense of community and has so many useful implications. Individuals are still individuals, and so within this community also exists differences. One of the ways this commonality can work against the community is that if a group of individuals have a consistent experience, this tends to become considered the “norm.” It is used as the primary representation, it’s what we see on television, movies, and what we find in a late-night Google search questioning our gender. There is no norm to gender dysphoria. Every experience can vary and is valid despite this. Gender dysphoria does not fit into any stereotypical definition, despite what some experts say. You do not need to have dysphoria to be trans. Hang on, read that again. Gender Dysphoria is not a requirement for being trans. You may find that there are things you relate to, but even if you don’t, this does not mean you are not trans.
You can be okay with your genitals and still be trans.
Dysphoria is complicated. Remembering that you will not fit into this box neatly can help with the first step in the process. Even further, you can experience dysphoria but not the same dysphoria as other trans people. You do not have to have specific types of dysphoria to be trans (I.e. You can be okay with your genitals and still be trans). This too is something that varies individually. Whatever you feel, about whatever you feel it about— you are valid in your identity.
One thing remains true for the majority: being seen, being validated, and not being boxed in are crucial to acceptance. Gender is a spectrum, and a process. Ask questions. Keep learning. Be patient with yourself.
The COVID-19 has brought extreme hardship, however, there are also many things we can take from this. One thing being the vast amount of accessible and online resources available. There are resources and support groups for everything and everyone. So, if you are feeling alone, connecting with others who you relate to can let you know that you are not.
Finding an LGBTQ+ therapist: It may be helpful to find an inclusive therapist. There are many sites and resources available to navigate this! www.inclusivetherapists.com
More popular sites will also have filters where you can select specialties, and even sort by a therapist’s lived experience.
Identify local LGBTQ+ community resources: For those who live local to NJ Recovery & Wellness, you may find value in checking out www.edgenj.org (New Jersey LGBTQ+ resource).
Additional Resources: LGBTQ+ National Help Center: http://www.glbtnationalhelpcenter.org
Jess Barrows and other Clinicians at NJ Recovery & Wellness specialize in treating members of the Queer community and wholeheartedly understand the need for trans-affirming support. If you or a loved one is experiencing the stress of having questions surrounding gender, it's okay to not have the answers and to get help. Reach out to our inclusive staff today to schedule an appointment: (855) 202-7939.