Roots: Dysphoria

A description of dysphoria itself and clarifications on the nature of Gender Dysphoria.

Before this series continues, I should slow down to bring meaning to terms some might not be familiar with.

Dysphoria is human incongruence.

It is a divide between all of the elements which come together to make one human.

Mind

Spirit

Body

I find it best that an understanding be established that dysphoria can be understood by it’s opposite, euphoria, which many are more familiar with, and would understand to be represented as the three elements shown above in congruence.

Mind

Spirit

Body

To experience euphoria is to be right with yourself and comfortable with your own presence in the world. Mind, body, and spirit unite and you are able to focus these into your presence, which gives meaningful impact to your movements and actions in the world. In this state of congruence, you feel the most like yourself.

To experience dysphoria is to be wrong with yourself and uncomfortable with your own presence in the world. Mind, body, and spirit disjoin and you are unable to focus your presence into any sort of meaningful impact to your movements or actions in the world. In this state of incongruence, you feel the least like yourself.

In states of euphoria, you are a complete human being.

In states of dysphoria, you are a ghost.

Everyone experiences moments of dysphoria and euphoria, but typically these moments are brief.

Gender Dysphoria, as my condition is known in psychology is the persistent state of incongruence brought on by a separation between the body and the mind. A great many studies in other fields have also confirmed, as most any of us would tell you ourselves, that this incongruence exists in us biologically and is experienced by us physiologically, socially, and psychologically.

This is just who we are.

Of course, science doesn’t really consider seriously the element of spirit, but I believe it is worth including as it is something nearly everyone believes exists in some form or another.

Call it what you will:

Soul. Heart. Essence, Core. Spirit. Nature. Psyche.

Or anything else you might fill with its meaning.

It drives us. It exists within us and moves beyond us through our many forms of expression and the impacts our lives leave upon the world.

It will exist long after our physical bits have turned to dust, even if it is only within the memories of those whose lives we’ve touched.

Normally, spirit would act as the glue which bonds the mind and body together in congruence, but in dysphoric states, it cannot attach to either and instead drifts between the two.

It is this part of ourselves that suffers the most from dysphoria.

This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine.

No you aren’t, dysphoria is going to snuff it out.

I wish someone had told me this when they taught me that song.

The incongruence brought on by Gender Dysphoria can be dealt with via treatment to either the brain or the body. Neither is wrong, they simply are the way they are. Unfortunately for us, being as they are leads to a great deal of distress if untreated.

Strategies for coping with the distress are not very effective, nor are any other approaches which focus entirely on the mind/brain. Conversion therapy does not work. Nor do any medications which target the brain and/or chemical balance.

Trust me on this.

I’m from Mike Pence’s hometown.

It and all of my family/friends/co-workers were every bit as traditional/Christian/Conservative as you might expect. Fear of rejection by so many people who were important to me kept me from pursuing body-based treatment for far too long. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself not to worry and to follow through with it as soon as possible.

I would give anything to have those lost years of my life back, but what’s done is done.

The fact of the matter is that hormone replacement therapy is the best method of ending the incongruence of gender dysphoria.

Dysphoria can be brought on in a number of ways, gender-based dysphoria being only one of a diverse bag of possibilities. Most transgender people also experience “Biological Dysphoria” (though as far as I know, this distinction is not made in psychology) which extends beyond the experience of gender and into our biologies, driving many of us to seek out sex reassignment/confirmation surgeries, though in most of our cases, this type of dysphoria never dissipates because wrapped up in this type of dysphoria is our reproductive systems, which no currently available technology can repair.

Though my own lack of reproductive system does bring me dysphoric distress, it is not burdensome. At least not any more burdensome than it is to any other woman who might wish to bring children into the world, but lacks the ability to do so. It does not leave me locked in a state of distress, but rather brings me situational distress, typically only in sexual situations.

In spite of the biological dysphoria which will always be with me, I no longer suffer or am burdened by dysphoria otherwise. My incongruence has ended and I now live a normal life with a mix of euphoric and dysphoric states, though more commonly I know the former than the latter.

Roots: Growth & Socialization

Roots explores the developmental and social experiences of a dysphoric existence from childhood to puberty.

Growing up dysphoric, you experience the world physiologically, sociologically, and psychologically as natal girls do.

As such, you form your understanding of yourself and others through that lens. For myself, I was aware of dysphoria as early as I could understand concepts such as gender. My mom was a babysitter and crossing guard and my dad worked in a factory. I understood the differences between male and female bodies and social roles (especially in 1983) through them because they were both very much what you would call cisgender and very much did embrace their perceived societal roles. It might be strange to kids nowadays, but that kind of social split between men and women was much more common back then.

God, I feel old. I shouldn’t feel this old at 34.

Anyway, my parents were wonderful. Grandparents also. I had an incredibly strong and close family unit and no source of childhood trauma external to dysphoria. So, let’s dis-spell any pre-conceived notion someone might have that all trans people experience child abuse here and now.

I experienced none whatsoever.

The only source of distress in my childhood was based in my dysphoric condition. I became aware of the incongruence in me at about the age of 5. My 5th birthday party is one of my first memories. We played Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey. I remember listening to the adults talking as I blindly aimed to pin my tail onto this pompous jackass in front of me and I realized one referred to me with a male pronoun.

It bothered then as much as now.

Taking aim, I pinned my tail.

The blindfold was removed from me, my tail was nowhere near the mark.

I turned to face the world again and another adult stopped to admire my eyelashes.

She said they looked like a girl’s.

She was right, but for now it would have to be our little secret.

Shortly thereafter, I tried to rebel against efforts to gender me to the contrary of my feminine nature, but could never escape it. It was like a ghost shackled to my soul, tearing me apart in every movement I made in the world.

Eventually, I realized that the ghost must have won, because I wasn’t the one in control of who I was anymore.

I’d become the ghost. I was the one chained to this body.

Claw as I might, I could never get back in.

I tried sometimes, in my private time. Much like Patrick Swayze in Ghost, I’d attempt to sit inside my body and try to be comfortable, but I couldn’t, it was a square hole and I, a triangle peg.

Eventually, I discovered books and video games (Mario 2 was my favorite. I loved that I could be Princess Peach) and I found solace in them and in solitude itself. When I wasn’t reading or playing games, I’d play with my toys and get lost in imagination. My imagination is a female-only safe space none of you are welcome in. There, I cared for my dolls as my children, dressed myself up in clothes my mom never knew I took from her (sorry, Mom),  and began to dream about being just like her one day.

I was socialized primarily among other girls who always treated me just like I was one of them. I was so happy in these interactions, and I found I could exist almost somewhat comfortably within my body in moments like these. I’d feel the incongruence in me begin the mend. In the briefest of moments, I may have even experienced dysphoria’s opposite, euphoria.

Here’s a small tattoo (sorry again, Mom) that’s on the back of my neck:

5Sslm

To me, this is what Gender Dysphoria looks like. These lines represent a separation between Mind, Body, and Spirit. A fracturing of humanity.

It represents, as minimalistically as possible, the sensation of experiencing life as a ghost as I have described it here. When I was socializing comfortably and able to be myself, I felt these lines pull together. It’s in those everso brief moments of euphoria where my fragile young identity was formed, and in the rest where it was broken.

I remember experiencing sexual segregation for the first time in Kindergarten. Nobody understood why I was crying when I didn’t want to sit with the boys. Nobody cared to ask. I was assumed to be a problem child and forced to do it, in spite of my resistance. Adults continued doing this to me, regularly. Never once did anyone ask why I didn’t want my humanity ripped apart. I was just picked up like a pig in a chute and forced, again and again, into groups I didn’t belong in.

I’m not sure if you know anything about masculinity, especially as it begins manifesting in young boys, but as I understand it, it seems like a hell of a drug.

Some boys couldn’t seem to get enough of it. There would be fights and conflict everywhere all around me with boys trying to claw the manhood out of one another. I hid as best I could, but of course it was impossible to hide forever.

They thought I had something they wanted and they came to take it from me too.

As you might imagine, I was these boys’ whipping girl. I had testosterone running through me but no masculinity in me with which to defend it, and so, smelling it in me, they would pounce at every opportunity to grab a piece of masculinity that just wasn’t there. I can’t even describe how terrifying many of these interactions were.

Just imagine being the only little girl thrown into the middle of a swarm of testosterone-crazed apes who want to eat parts of you, or worse, want you to not exist.

Every day at school was a nightmare like that for me. Every single one.

It led to distress in my life like you can’t imagine.

I developed a serious eating disorder fairly early on. By 2nd grade, I was already way more chubby than anyone would consider reasonable. The fat was like an armor I wore. It hid perceptions of masculinity in me and detoured boys from attacking me over it. Instead, of course they attacked me for being fat. Most kids would respond to that and just lose some weight, but I couldn’t.

needed my weight. It protected me from having my humanity ripped apart by boys who wanted to consume the masculinity I didn’t have. I was far happier with their attention re-directed to my stomach and away from my mind and crotch.

It wasn’t just the weight either, I’d do as much as I could to deflect. Any stupid thing I might think of to make myself seem outrageous in some fashion, all with the effort of pushing them away from the identity they continually tried to fracture. I pray this doesn’t still exist, but there might even be a video of myself singing  Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achey Breakey Heart” in a school “talent” show.

I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew the social wrath this would bring down upon me. I didn’t care. It was everso much better than the alternative.

I resisted school more and more as I got older. After 3rd grade, my mom pulled me out of public school and I went to a private Christian school. Things were much less stressful there. Primarily, due to the fact my classes consisted of 3 girls, 1 boy, and me.

I could handle one. In fact, this one was a nice one. We even got along decently.

By 6th grade though, even he began to become a source of distress for me. You see, I liked him. Like… really liked him. By the time we were all about to graduate to Junior High, he’d dated all 3 of the other girls, but as you might imagine, never took any interest in me.

And then came Junior High, like a trainwreck into my life.

Puberty.

And I became a fully realized, fractured human being.

That tattoo on the back of my neck became my entire existence.

It was everything it was in elementary school, but indescribably worse.

The only choice I had to deal with it was akin to Stockholm Syndrome.

Dysphoria had abused me through my entire life and I couldn’t take it anymore, so I attempted to embrace the fate the world had for me.

As I’ve mentioned, I was obese. Even moreso by this time. My family was worried to death about my health and wanted me to play sports. I’d played a bit of basketball with my Christian school friends which was tolerable enough. I had to play with the boys, but it was alright. I looked on it as a battle of the sexes. One which I lost but that’s just because I suck at basketball.

A better girl definitely would have won.

In junior high though, in what I’ll tell you was an act of true insanity, I tried playing Football at the behest of my family.

If the world wanted me to be this way so badly, I thought I’d give it one honest try. If I was supposed to be one of these masculinity-starved beasts, I would do so while wearing padding on a battlefield over some weirdly shaped ball of pig-flesh that men carried up and down a field while other men tried to stop them.

That only lasted about a week. I hated every moment of it. Worst thing I’ve ever done. Who gives a crap honestly if that stupid ball gets to one end or the other anyway?

Later in life, I came to realize that ball and I had a lot in common.

I was a weirdly shaped ball of pig-flesh being carried around by the men against my will, being forced by them, from one end of a field to the other.

A source of conflict they could focus all of their masculinity into protecting and/or attacking.

A woman.

A football.

Same difference to many men.

 

Roots: Dedication & Identification

Roots explores the egalitarian pathway to healing through constructive confrontation of transphobic concerns in this discussion on dedication, self-identification, and the importance of state-mandated processes to transition.

I’ve spent the past few weeks of my life engaging with a group of transphobic women who I know demonize me and everyone like myself. They don’t understand my roots or the burdens I bear because of them. They degrade my human condition to psychosis and perversion.

They do not know me.

But I do know them.

I’ve suffered a great deal of abuse in my own life, the vast majority of which has been at the hands of men who viewed me as a woman throughout the entirety of our experiences together and overstepped social boundaries with me. I know what it’s like to be traumatized by those sorts of experiences.

My neighbor was recently assaulted and I intervened to stop it. This 3rd party perspective to assault has re-opened the wounds of my past traumatic events, and as a method of therapy, I set out to build bridges and to address the concerns of this group of women I had spent most of my life fearing.

I told them my story, explained how it impacted me both as a woman and as a survivor, and the response has been every bit as horrendous as you might imagine. They have crucified me over and over again these past couple of weeks.

All the while, however, I have been exercising the virtue of patience, heavily. I’ve been listening to the voices of these women and begging them to not argue over gender-trifles and instead, to talk with me about the concerns they have which are a source of fear to them and have been pushing for to spread of egalitarian attitudes toward feminism which will heal the world to the benefit of all people, in spite of our differences.

I’ve used this experience and the buzz it’s generated on social media to spread as much awareness on these issues as I am humanly possible and I am showing dedication to these women in improving the circumstances we share.

Even if they hate me.

Even if they tear away at my flesh.

Even if they invalidate my experiences.

Even if they intrude upon my life to collect my DNA.

Even if they take my bones and force them to dance a male jig.

I’m still their sister.

It’s been a miserable couple of weeks.

I’m so tired. I’ve barely slept over all this in several days.

I’m really hoping that, if nothing else, some of them might at least respect my dedication.

And that, dedication, is such an important aspect to transition that no one seems to realize. Many are of the mind that all trans women are just men who are putting on women’s clothes to invade women’s spaces and abuse women and then, once we have had our fill, we will go back to being men.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Dave Chappelle joked in a recent stand-up special, imagining a conversation between two hyper-masculine men, “Let’s go to the hospital and cut our dicks off and make pussies out of them shits!” The idea, of course is completely ridiculous that any man would do such a thing and the transphobic mind tends to reduce our dedication to being ourselves to perversion or mental illness and that simply isn’t the case. We just want to be ourselves and live in the shape that allows us to best be ourselves and project ourselves into the world.

Much of this perception, I’ve found, comes from people who live in areas of the world where their governments have not been welcoming of transgender people. As such, those who do transition do so in reckless ways and push for what appears to be unreasonable accommodation purely because the state offers no protection to ANY women, trans or otherwise against this sort of thing. In their minds, and perhaps in their realities per their telling of it, men like those Chappelle joked about could simply declare themselves to be women one day and enter into women’s spaces. As I see it, this is a legitimate concern.

Let’s face it, self-identification, while deeply important to the psychological and social processes of gender transition, is also an issue at the state level and can be nightmarish for justice systems to deal with. In my opinion, it is crucial that governments set restrictive guidelines to transitioning in an orderly fashion to discourage and/or prevent this sort of thing.

Many states in the US have these legitimizing processes, which include several months of therapy with multiple qualified therapists, some of which in some cases are provided by the state itself.

I come from Indiana, and here, we have a rigorous legal transitioning process which is difficult but fair in my opinion. To my knowledge, we have never once had an issue with a man invading any woman’s space under the guise of being transgender, because it simply isn’t possible here! We are so well protected by our laws and legitimizing processes to transition that such things simply aren’t possible to get away with under the law.

These processes end in the changing of our identities on forms of government identification, which prove our legitimacy via association with the process. This leads to the safety and protection of all women against anyone who lacks the dedication to undergo these processes.

Any trained law enforcement official can easily recognize dedication and commitment in one’s transition by examining documentation they have available at any point in the process.

It is provable in any case who belongs where. It is easy to interpret intent of all parties in any conflict that may arise, and so peace and social order are maintained.

Such identification also protects me. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to hand my ID to people knowing that there is an F displayed on it rather than an M. For the longest time, the M was there and it led to so many uncomfortable interactions. I never could know when someone might notice and always, in the back of my mind, I was scared one who did notice might turn out to be a transphobe and proceed to bring hell to my life.

You would not believe what peace one letter can bring to a woman.

These systems protect us all from harm and I would encourage any government to adopt them.

Roots: Birth, Burden & Separation

Insights into the experiences of sexual separation / segregation and the burden of such existence with Gender Dysphoria.

From my birth, up to puberty, everything was harmony for me.

After that, life became dissonant.

Of course, this happens to all teenagers to some degree, it’s a dissonant time by nature, but what happened to me was quite different.

I can’t explain to you the pain of experiencing the world as a girl any better than by describing what it’s like to reach puberty, see what’s happening to all the other girls around you, and then to realize that isn’t going to happen to you.

Instead, you realize you face life as a deformed monster infected with testosterone.

But worse than that is another realization.

It is the realization of sex and sexuality.

The understanding that you are different from the other girls.

You grew up socialized in such a way that you expected to be a mom.

The games you played were nurturing like that in nature. You cared for your dolls like children just like the other girls did, with the basic understanding that that babies are made in the bellies of people like you perceive yourself in every physiological, sociological, and psychological way to be, that you will fill that role one day.

But then, at puberty, you realize:

You will not conceive.

Ever.

The truest pain of my experience was that pain and I’ve carried it with me my entire life.

Trans exclusionists often love to taunt me with this fact.

It hurts, so much, every single time.

It hurts in the exact same way it would hurt any other female unable to conceive who wishes to.

If I could have perfect biology including a womb, I would, I’d do it in a heartbeat just like most women who can’t conceive. It’s truly the cruelest of our separations to hold against us.

This is a testament to the truth of the biological and physiological experience of transgender women. I didn’t have a womb. It didn’t stop me from feeling as though I did and being impacted by it accordingly.

All my life, I experienced my body in much the way an amputee might experience their missing limbs. Parts which should be there simply aren’t but it doesn’t stop the experience of them. It never goes away. It never went away until I began hormone replacement therapy. Now, it, and all of the distress related to it are gone.

But still now, as I am in my mid-thirties, the burden of not being able to conceive remains with me as it always has and sadly, always will.

Every woman who has lost the power to bring life into this world but who still wanted to bring more knows the pain of this burden and the social and psychological impacts on you.

This is the true pain of Gender Dysphoria.

Luckily, social progress, being the beautiful thing that it is, has allowed for people like myself to adopt in many areas.

Sadly, this is not true everywhere by any stretch of the imagination.

Keep going, social progress!

In the meantime:

Arguments over whether or not a person is mentally fit  to care for a child (or serve in the military for that matter) should be settled by case workers, not internet trolls.

Stop it for the betterment of humanity.

Roots: When did transition begin?

When and where did my transition begin? Let’s take a journey through time and explore.

It’s the 16th of December, 2011. I’m shaking as I inject myself with estradiol valerate for the first time.  A whole new life is about to begin.

But what about my transition? Where did my transition begin? Did it begin here, at this first injection? Or did it begin elsewhere? Let’s go a bit forward before we go back.

It’s December 2012. I’m about to see my grandmother for Christmas, for the first time since beginning Hormone Replacement Therapy. She tells me that she prayed for me. When she prayed, she asked God to watch over me and begged him to stop me from undergoing HRT if this would lead me to anything other than happiness. God never stopped me. In fact, my existence has seemed blessed. I consider the power of prayer and understand my grandmother as a religious person for the first time in my life. I fully realize what it means to talk to God. This is the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received.

I found peace in this moment. Was this feeling of peace the beginning? I’m not convinced. Let’s forgo the future for now and look further to the past for our answer.

It’s May of 2004. I’m telling the person I love with all my heart and soul that I am gender dysphoric. She accepts this about me and loves me in spite of it. She facilitates the social and lifestyle changes I will undergo over the next several years leading up to and beyond HRT We’ll eventually go our separate ways in the world, but in this moment, my gender is realized upon the world and is interpreted and responded to appropriately. This hasn’t happened since I was  12. It feels so good to live again.

Is this where my transition began? Let’s go back even further.

It’s 1996, I’m 13 years old. Puberty has begun. All of the other girls around me are getting their periods and I don’t quite understand why I’m suddenly being treated so differently. The female groups I grew up with have split off from me and we’re suddenly, and shockingly segregated from one another. Reactions to me shift in everyone. The world becomes a completely different and ugly place. I’m a pig in a chute. I don’t belong here. I can’t exist here anymore. I refuse to exist this way anymore. I become a ghost. The world never sees me nor hears me. I am unable to impact reality in any meaningful way. I find solace only in voracious reading and solitude.

I realize in this moment what Gender Dysphoria is. Great distress is born from the incongruence internalized between my body, mind, and soul. Is this where my transition began? Maybe not. How about this time we go back…. Back to the Future™?

It’s 1998. Hello, world! The internet is here and my parents hook up the modem in our house for the first time. This is incredible. I discover multitudes of social spaces in which I can be myself and I set about doing so in every one of them. I am reacted to here in ways that make sense to me. It feels so good to be myself, but whenever I step back out into the real world, I continue as an apparition, unable to be seen, heard, or understood.

Did my transition begin here? Let’s take another trip back.

It’s 1990. I’m 7 years old and stranded after school after my mom had issues with the car. A teacher offers to take me to the community Boy’s club with some other kids. I’m confused but I accept. I’m bullied relentlessly once there. The males occupying this space know something is wrong with me but they don’t understand what and neither do I. I feel like a monster for the first time. I avoid spaces like this like the plague from this moment onward.

Did my transition begin here?

Or maybe it was 1987, I’m 5. My mom begins babysitting for a girl named Sarah and another girl named Kaycee. They are my best friends. I am a happy little girl playing with Easy Bake Ovens and dolls. Sarah tells me about Charlotte’s Web, her favorite book her mom’s been reading to her. I can’t wait to learn to read. Charlotte’s Web becomes my favorite book as soon as I do.

Did it begin at 5?

Or was it at 4 in July, 1986?? I’m in Florida on vacation. I’m a small blond haired person. Men on the beach tell me what a cute little girl I am. My mom reacts strangely. I don’t understand.

Or maybe did it begin at 3? I’m experiencing my very first memory. I’m sitting in a sink full of water that is sloshing all around my body. I become aware, for the first time that I have a body. The world suddenly begins becoming more tangible to me. I begin becoming familiar with objects and form my very first, most basic understandings of reality. I don’t know what any of this is, but it seems great. I look down at the water and catch a glimpse of myself reflected in it. Who is that?

What if it was when I was 2, when my mom dressed me up in frilly clothes and had a professional photographer take my picture for the first time.

Could it have been at 1? Maybe Soros funded birthday cake manufactures to inject cakes with chemicals that turn the frickin’ kids transgender and my first ever taste of cake poisoned my mind against my body?

We’re running out of room for time travel within my life’s experience. We could go forward I suppose, but no, let’s go even further back.

It’s October 20th, 1983. My mother is in labor. She’s expecting a girl. She plans to name her Brooke. In the last 9 months leading up to this moment, she had been hoping for a girl and was told by many that it looked like she was going to have just that based on the way she was carrying me. Doctors agreed with this assessment and offered ultrasound confirmation but she refused, wanting to be surprised. Now, in 1983, she pushes me out into the world and her heart is broken by not receiving the daughter she had hoped for, but is immediately mended by the idea of guiding a boy into the world, so that is what it is decided I am, then and there. She scrambles to come up with a name. A soap opera is on TV. I am hastily named after an actor on the show. A façade falls over my existence.

Did my transition begin in my mother’s hopes and the world’s initial perceptions of me?

Where did it begin?

The truth is it never did, in the sense of moving from one gender to another. I’ve never transitioned to anything. I’ve just been exactly who I am throughout my entire life, with varying degrees of distress born of Gender Dysphoria at varying points.

The only transition I ever went through was the one from girlhood to womanhood.

Just like every other adult human female.