[TAE] Dysphoria – The Body and the Mind

Monday, August 4, 2014

I’ve spent most of my life avoiding mirrors. They bothered me from the moment I was old enough to understand that the person I saw in the mirror was me. Now, I was always a heavier person, but the truth is that the person in the mirror didn’t look wrong just because they were overweight and I didn’t want to be. It ran much deeper than that.

I didn’t like my body, on a number of levels. It looked wrong, it felt wrong. I was never comfortable in my skin – honestly, the first time I heard that phrase I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to be that secure in oneself. There’s a term for this sensation – dysphoria.

Imagine that with every glance at the mirror, you felt like what you were seeing was a warped vision. When I look back at pictures from my childhood, I focus on anything else in the picture besides me, personally.

It isn’t that I looked particularly bad or anything – honestly, I was surprised recently upon looking at a photo of my eleven-year-old self that I wasn’t nearly as fat as I remember being at the time. It’s just that, to me, I looked…wrong.

Dysphoria is a very difficult thing to explain. In a recent Patron Exclusive article, I went into depth about what it was like being transgender while growing up without realizing it. Until I wrote that article, I hadn’t realized exactly how much of my life it actually effected.

I pretended, a lot, growing up. I pretended to be different characters, and different creatures – like all children do, to some extent. But unlike a lot of children (I imagine – my sample size has been understandably limited), I was always more comfortable while pretending.

When I was pretending, “playing the game” as I thought of it, I didn’t have to be human or female – both things that made me uncomfortable.

For years after finding out what therianthropy was, I attributed the primary source of my dysphoric feelings to that phenomenon. After all, what did gender matter if I wasn’t even the right species?

I’m older now, and have given a lot more thought to the matter. I’ve come to realize that I was completely backwards with my original assumption. Rather than the therianthropy being the primary drive of my dysphoric feelings and – some might say – self hate, it was my gender that was the main problem.

I was never comfortable with female hygiene. As I got older and what we believed at the time to be a hormone imbalance presented itself, causing me to need to shave my face and chin, I was EXCITED to mimic my father’s shaving routine. But the idea of shaving my legs or my armpits was anathema to me. Having hair in those places felt comfortable, felt right. Having to shave my face felt right, too.

Dysphoria is partially caused by societal convention. Gender convention for girls says that they’re to dislike “excess” body hair and remove it as soon as possible. It says they’re to care for their hair and brush and comb it all the time. None of these things ever held any interest to me. (To the consternation of my mother, I think, as I was constantly letting my hair go mostly un-brushed because I just didn’t want to bother with it.)

I was always more comfortable with the gender conventions in place for males. Being able to be shirtless when hot, walking around in nothing but a pair of boxers or jockey shorts, being openly uncouth (it took me years to remember to say excuse me without a pause after burping), and all those “guy” things.

When it came time for me to pick out my own perfumes and deodorants, I was always more drawn to the masculine scents. Flowery, soft scents felt like something my mom should be wearing. I loved the smell of Axe body sprays and my dad’s Aqua Velva aftershave.

Looking back on it, if I’d had any concept (or even if my parents had – my mom has said repeatedly that if she’d had any idea what the things I did might have meant, she would’ve talked to me about it) of what it meant to be transgender or what I could do to feel more comfortable with myself, I probably wouldn’t have suffered with dysphoria for so long.

There’s still the dysphoria that comes with being a therian. But I’ve reconciled that a bit. Phantom limbs help, as does meditation and working with my spiritual side. Writing articles and helping other therians come to terms with who and what they are is also something that helps me reconcile that part of myself.

But I do still suffer from some transgender dysphoria. I haven’t yet been able to have top surgery – also known as chest reconstruction, to give my chest a male shape – and therefore my chest  makes me fairly dysphoric regularly. Thankfully I no longer need to wear a bra, as my breasts need to lie as flat as possible, which they do. So there’s that issue gone for good.

I also have to deal with the dysphoria that comes from being misgendered. This doesn’t happen often in day-to-day life these days. My voice is deep enough that even over the phone or drive thru ordering systems, I warrant being addressed as “sir.”

No, the problem usually happens when I’m dealing with one of the myriad medical issues that I have to take care of on a regular basis. See, I haven’t been able to file my legal name and gender change paperwork yet – as a result, all of my documentation still lists my birth name and gender.

And, while I admit, it kind of felt good when my new pain management doctor came in, saw me, said “excuse me” left, and I heard him asking in the hall if that was the right room because there was a guy in there, that doesn’t make up for how bad it feels when my physical therapist keeps addressing me by my birth name and referencing my birth gender when talking to others. Despite the fact that I’ve told him I’m transgender multiple times and given him my preferred name. The man is either malicious, or he’s just that harried that he can only remember what’s on the paper in front of him.

For whatever reason, that type of dysphoria isn’t going to be going away until I get that paperwork filed and get top surgery.

But for now, dysphoria of the body and the mind is still something I have to struggle with regularly. And I hope this article has given everyone a better idea of exactly what that means.