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Dysphoria (to the tune of The Pixies' Velouria)


Emily VanDerWerff

Apr 04 2018

5 min read


Hello, readers, who are mostly me. Let's talk about gender dysphoria.

I spent almost my entire life not realizing I struggled with it, because a long system of lessons learned the wrong way in childhood led me to essentially disconnect the major wires between my brain and my body, which is to say that my brain was keeping all the vital systems running, and I was moving around and stuff, but when it came time to access my emotions, they were always difficult to find. They were there, and I could call on them if I really needed to, but I spent a lot of funerals sitting there stone-faced.

One of the things that made this difficult to diagnose for both me and a bunch of therapists is that it was largely inseparable from the way young boys are raised in much of the country, which is to say that they are raised to display no emotions at all. And I was a weepy kid, so I got a lot of lectures about this. (Pls note that if you are a cisgender dude who shut down all of his emotions because that's what his family told him to do, I am not trying to imply you are trans. You probably just suffer from centuries of patriarchal bullshit, and I assure you that it's better if you feel things, even if you have to cry. If you find yourself thinking it would be better to be a woman, though, I would maybe look into that!)

What broke me out of this were, of all things, the movie Lady Bird (where I found myself strongly identifying with the Saoirse Ronan character for reasons I was a bit perplexed by), this video by the great YouTuber ContraPoints (which so exactly paralleled some of my experiences that I let the big door in my brain labeled DO NOT OPEN crack just a bit), and finally, this conversation with trans-guy Daniel Ortberg, who discussed feeling like a brain in a jar, which made me say, "THAT'S IT!" and then I had to come out and it was a whole thing.

So I wish that if somebody had told me about this somewhere along the line, they could have said, "Hey, it's not always feeling disgusted by your body." Certainly there are things about my presenting-male body that I dislike, but I am still not, like, horrified by it. It's just kind of there. And that's what dysphoria always felt like to me -- alienation from myself. And because of the culture I was raised in, I assumed this was normal for way, way too long.

But now that I'm cognizant of this as dysphoria, it's shifted and metastasized in some weird ways. I'm still mostly... okay with my body. I can turn on auto-pilot and walk around in it and not think about it too much. But the second I tune in to what's going on, it starts to feel like I'm clenching all of my muscles very tightly at once, which is exhausting. It makes me think a little of Mystique in the X-Men movies, and how she'll sometimes have this brief moment where she breathes a sigh of relief when she resumes her normal form, because it's hard for her to sustain another form for as long as she does.

Now, obviously, I am not a shape shifter. But because my brain is now cognizant of the fact that it's not 100 percent in control of everything that's going on, it's starting to go, "Wait a second... why do we look like this?" Nobody's sure at all what causes transness, or the feeling of being non-binary, or what-have-you, but some studies suggest that in the womb, our brains develop in one direction along the gender spectrum and our bodies in another, because of an untimely dose of testosterone or estrogen. (Note: I am not a scientist, and I am vastly oversimplifying some stuff that I read in a journal article I barely understood.) So your brain is convinced you're going to do one thing, and then your body does another, and everybody gets confused. Sometimes, that leads to bitter self-hatred, and sometimes it just leads to feeling like a brain in a jar, and it's different for every person.

So if you are sitting there thinking, "Hm, am I trans," reader who is just me, let me tell you that dysphoria presents in many forms, and it's different for literally every single trans person and even, like, cis people who don't quite recognize the person they see in the mirror (which is technically body dysmorphia, but close enough). Your brain is dumb! We don't understand it entirely! So listen to what it's trying to tell you, instead of pretending you know yourself.


A person who started really reading up on this about two weeks ago


I am a transwoman or whatever. This is mostly a journal to myself, but you can read it if you want, because I feel like radical honesty is sometimes the best policy, and if I ever come out more widely, I can just, like, point my family to these mad ramblings. I'm obviously not named Emily Sandalwood, because lol, whose last name is Sandalwood? Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and probably never write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

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