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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Explaining the Inexplicable: Gender Dysphoria

I was in my 20's the first time I ever experienced snow. I'd seen it on TV and distant hilltops, but I'd never been in it, heard it fall, smelled it, gotten it stuck to my clothes. There's no way anybody could have really explained snow to me.

And yet, I'd seen a lot of TV and movies that featured snow, read books, read descriptions. So If my attempt to explain dysphoria is confusing, imagine that you've never seen snow.

I asked on twitter several weeks ago, “If you were going to try to explain dysphoria to a cis person, what would you say?” Nobody replied, except one guy who said, "I'd use the pizza topping example 'I like pineapple, it just don't belong in my pizza.' or something similar..." I'm not sure what he meant.

I was asking because of a particular cis person, but it did get me thinking more generally about the difficulty in communicating something that is outside of most people's experience. But I thought I could try to explain:

I'm starting to see the convenience of the "in the the wrong body" narrative as a way to attempt to explain the inexplicable. However, I prefer to think of myself as having after-market upgrades. Because who gets the right body? One of the most good looking (cis) guys I know told me doesn't like his body and meanwhile I wish I looked more like him. Also the "trapped" in the wrong body thing seems alarmingly close to some very problematic ideas about disabled people.

I've never had another body than the one I have now, he's mine, he's me. I'm male, so every part of my body is male. For example, I have a very manly spleen. This is why I almost always refer to having transitioned in the past tense, dating it back to when I started T. Losing my moobs was a happy day indeed, but it doesn't make me more of a man.

St Augustine wrote about being freaked out by his private parts, cleverly disguised as a discussion of Original Sin. Adam was the first, last and only guy to get the right body, according to Augustine and then getting thrown out of the Garden of Eden screwed everything up for everyone. Which is to say that I wish I could pass naked, but everybody has issues.

On the other hand, it really does bug me that I have parts that are atypical and how I feel about them is a lot more complex than whether they're "wrong," because they are male and they are part of me. And that's what I can't explain. My experience of this is not the universal trans experience, because there is no such thing.

Which is why I don't normally try to explain. All interested parties accept my assertions about myself and I accept their assertions about themselves and we move on.

How much could I even explain? I dunno how I figured out I was a man, just that I know I am. Not that this was an easy conclusion to come to. I spent a lot of time agonising about this, and yet the process is opaque to me now. When I read She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan, I found her glibness on the issue profoundly frustrating. She said she “just knew.” I didn't know at the time and wished she'd said more about how this came to be. Alas, now I “just know,” and am not sure what more I can say about it. I think that if I asked a cis person how they knew they're cis, I doubt they's have a better answer.

It bothers me when cis people get freaked out about this. And despite my happy life in a bubble, it's clear that they do get freaked out, even the well-meaning ones. Sometimes, I think an easy explanation might help them, but, again, it's like snow. Well-meaning people will quickly see that they need to just accept that other people have different experiences. They will accept that snow exists without having ever been in a blizzard. Becoming a spokesman for the weather service won't help.

It seems weird to some people, but it's my life. It's my identity. It's vital. And yet, as the one who is different, I'm socially expected to engage and manage other people's reactions, in which they are alarmed by a core aspect of my being. It's interactions like that in which I see the great attraction of going stealth. Instead, here are some words about it.

1 comment:

Amiy Rachel said...

I like the pizza analogy, I doubt i'd use it, but it's a little funny at least - more light hearted. Whenever the topic gets brought up I usually try to explain it by situational examples of happiness, and how they relate to images of me back then I keep for solely this purpose. Nothing says 'I hated the way I was' than the god-awful jumpers I hid under. Blind wombles were happier people. Being ya know, wombley.