This is what dysphoria feels like

August 12, 2014 § 20 Comments

Because so many people who want to know more about trans rights, and be supportive, don’t really know what dysphoria is, or what it can do.

Because so many people who want to derail or dismiss discussions of trans people and our existence believe that they can ignore it, or somehow explain it away.


Have you ever broken a limb and had it in plaster? And when you went to move it you couldn’t – when your brain told it to function it failed? When you looked down and expected something – preemptively felt it – your eyes contradicted you, the limitations of your embodied self clashed against the self that your brain expected to be there?

That’s how dysphoria has always felt to me.

It was stumbling with shock when my arms brushed against my breasts (and I struggle to write the word my next to breasts because they never were mine) – because I couldn’t feel them properly, couldn’t fit them into my body.

It was dreaming of myself in a body that made sense, and waking up utterly confused, and then indigent, and then terrified.

It was crafting my outer self into something far away from what I expected to be there – because it was better to see a strange object in the mirror, and feel like some kind of alien riding in a foreign vessel, than it was to try to reconcile my skin and my mind – because how could I?

It was needing a flat chest and muscles – not because that’s what men should have, or because it’s ‘unfeminine’ – not to prop up my love for real ale and leather and cigars, or to prevent me from baking or wearing makeup – nothing so ridiculous – but so that I could lie in bed and fall asleep without the claustrophobic panic that comes from wanting to rip out through your own skin.

It was something that resisted intellectual and psychological analysis to extinction – I could and did theorize to the best of my ability, but nothing could touch it – though I did learn a lot about myself along the way.

It’s something that stills stays my hand, when I reach up to scratch my cheek and find smooth skin – after half a lifetime as an adult unable to grow facial hair, my hand still expects to feel it.

It was forgetting that my body had ever been different, the minute I came round after top surgery – because it didn’t ‘mutilate’ my body – the surgery uncovered the body my mind had always known to be there, and had been desperately searching for.

It’s the mixture, now, of parts of my body that aren’t right – and parts that are gloriously, beautifully, MINE.

It feels nothing like low self-esteem, or the self-hatred of my appearance I can feel when depressed.


To have someone dismiss dysphoria as ‘all in the mind’, a mental disturbance – it feels as wrong as it does when someone claims that the pain I experience from bipolar disorder isn’t real because ‘it’s just mental’.

My brain is my body as much as my hands, my legs are.

When I respect what my body as an holistic whole needs – that’s when the dysphoria can be solved.


My body needed something of me that is considered transgressive, dangerous, difficult – sometimes disgusting – by too many people. I had to follow that through, or I couldn’t be here now.

I’m happy to talk gender theories, gender structures, hierarchies, dissolution all night long – but I need it understood that I didn’t change my body to fulfill a certain niche gender role. I did it so that I could breathe.


You can’t talk about me being trans without talking about that.


§ 20 Responses to This is what dysphoria feels like

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