Embodiment and the Qualitative Experience of Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria (GD), for me, can be triggered by any activity that reminds me I’m embodied – a physical creature that encounters the world through the five primary senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.  I admit I had to take a leap of faith to proceed with physical transition – a leap that says “once you experience more alignment between the gender you feel and the gender people see you as your discomfort will decrease”.  

I am now well into my physical transition.  I’ve had top surgery.  I’ve been on testosterone 6 months. My mis-gendering experiences have significantly decreased.  So… is my GD triggered less often?  Was the faith unfounded?

I openly admit I’m not a big fan of faith.  I’m rational to a fault, a big fan of empiricism, and have always been part of the “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” school of thought.  The scientific method, for me, is the best way to “know” things.

But… I also yearn for a way to grapple with the deeper problems of human existence that don’t fit in the purely quantitative realm.  I’ve read lots of philosophy.  I’ve studied world religions.  I’ve tried to understand qualitative research methods in psychology and social science.  

Perhaps I’m at a cross road that reads: “scientist heal/know thyself”…

The gut wrenching answer to the question – has my GD decreased as a result of measurable improvement in the alignment between my felt and perceived genders – is NO.  My level of GD has not decreased quantitatively.  

My GD is now triggered by things that may happen less often but are more intense.  

Here is a simple use case: pre-op/hormones I was frequently triggered by having to wear feminine attire to social events.  The intensity of the trigger depended on just how “feminine” I had to pretend to be (say, on a scale from ruffled shirt to frilly dress).  That particular trigger – in terms of frequency and intensity – is now level 0.  

So, what has replaced it?  What now contributes to my experiencing the same “overall” level of GD?  For one, even though getting mis-gendered happens much less often, it’s much more intense.  I feel like, “WTF, I have five o’clock shadow, no breasts, a deep voice and you STILL say MAM?  Maybe I should just throw in the towel because this shit just isn’t working…”  

For another, alleviating the physical misalignment seems to free up energy to move on to emotional misalignment.  In other words, I become my own worst nightmare of the gender police.  It’s thoughts like “Wow, I’m never going to be a real man because <<insert whatever absurd reaction/emotion here that may typically be labeled as “effeminate” in our society>>”.    Sometimes I realize I don’t really know what being “a man” means (who does) and that the only thing I do know is that I have no intention of becoming a caricature of “manly man”.   At this point, my GD level qualitatively goes from “I am M not F” to “I don’t even want a fucking body any more”.  

Where does this leave me?  I have no idea.  Right now I’m in “put one foot in front of the other” mode but continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity so I guess I’ll have to come up with another plan.  Unless insanity becomes comfortable.  Stay tuned.




19 thoughts on “Embodiment and the Qualitative Experience of Gender Dysphoria

  1. Sounds like an emotional slog right now. I feel like we’re at an age where no matter what gender people can dismiss one as being less than. Can’t imagine that makes transitioning any easier. People are remarkably in-observant of those around them though. The number of people I’ve been around lately who didn’t notice that Bil had shaved for the first time in more than 12 years or that I had cut my hair was rather amusing. Those are not major transformations admittedly but I guess I tend to assume people are more self absorbed than being jerks. Doesn’t make it less triggering – in some ways maybe that makes it feel worse. I hope it gets easier – you’re looking great and we were really glad to get to spend a big chunk of time with you! ((((()))))

  2. I recognise this (going the other way) – the further on I get in my transition (and all the world-interface aspects of that, like changing genders on bank accounts, asking people to “she” me etc.), the sharper the shadow is of anything that doesn’t acknowledge that change. The more Ms becomes my norm, the more shocking every Mr is.
    I take that as a really good sign :).

  3. One of the most positive things you can do for yourself is to surround yourself by positive people and a community who accepts you as you are in all stages of transition. You need people who lift you up and empower you as the man you are now, the man you are becoming and the woman you were then!!
    With that being said, I have seen the hurt on your face when you have been miss gendered and my heart sinks when it happens because I know that you are experiencing pain.
    As you get further in transition misgendering will happen less and less…please try to be patient and keep putting one foot in front of the other…one day it will lead you to a life you want…as the amazing man you are!!!

  4. First off, I don’t remember you ever wearing anything close to a ruffled shirt or frilly dress! :o) I’m sorry that you’re experiencing more intense GD. That sucks after going to so much trouble to be yourself. I’m also curious about the whole notion of gender identity. What does it mean to feel like a man? Or a woman? I only know what it feels like to be me. Do hormones or surgery change the way you feel? Do you feel more male now? If so, maybe that’s why the GD is more intense? When you’re beating yourself up, keep in mind that as a human being you will still feel the whole range of human emotions, even those “feminine” ones you were hoping you would finally be rid of! It doesn’t mean your GD is more intense, it just means that you’re human. I’m done pretending to know what I’m talking about now. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

    • Thank you, A for the compliment!! Finding community and partner that accepts you as you are is critical as a Trans Person, as Queer Person or as a Single Mom. Surround yourself with love and acceptance daily!!

  5. You write eloquently; I always enjoy reading about how you come to see/understand the world, changes in your life, and details of your adventures therein. Thanks for always being a positive force in my life, no matter how little I may stick my head up from the sand.

    I second what womandrogyne said. Once again, an example of something so eloquently said. 🙂 Actually, I support everything everyone said. I hope they don’t mind me following after them, hahaha.

    I’m not sure there is anything I can say that will be different from what others have mentioned before. You don’t have to fit into any body, any description of a being, other than yours. You can create your own definition of “man”, you don’t have to let others define it for you.

  6. Many replies here speak to me: yes a supportive community is essential (QAM) and the most important thing is how you feel about you not how someone else perceives you – especially strangers. Seems like you are doing pretty well support wise by the comments here from people who know and love you. Fuck everyone else.
    I am about 6 months on T and about to get the boobs cut off (2 weeks). I am misgendered frequently still. 50 % of the time or so. What is important is how I feel about me not how another perceives me. Maybe all my years as a lesbian growing up in a society that didn’t have room for me prepared me. Regardless, I wonder are you happier now? do you feel more aligned? do you feel more at one with yourself? This is all that matters!!

    • I will be having a fifth surgery in November. It’s been a long road to feeling more at peace with my body. It’s my last shot – I can’t do any more cutting. I have no supportive partner. A common transition story. Only I managed to do it twice. With women who either couldn’t deal with me during the “in between” even though she self identified as bi (number one) or who self identified as queer and a Trans activist but made it clear she would only date “cis guy with a big d•••” after we broke up (number two).

      So now I’m on my own but do have good friends who take me in during surgical recovery. For that I am grateful.

      I suppose being an out lesbian most of my adult life did in some way thicken my skin against the pressure to conform to social norms. But my former lesbian community – especially the hard line feminists – were not very supportive of my decision to become more male identified. I feel invisible and discounted on most fronts.

      • Sorry to hear that. I have heard too many stories about the hard line feminist lesbian community not holding space for the transgender among them. Saddens me and I do not understand it. But I have not walked those shoes.

        If I can ask I am curious what the 5th surgery is? Cleaning up the top or bottom surgery which I understand comes in stages? I am getting top surgery soon and am excited and always curious of others experiences as I understand it sometimes requires follow up work.
        Sounds like the surgery(ies) are part of what gives you hope and that whatever difficulties you have had with them also have you at the end of your rope. I hope this one goes well.

        I am glad you have supportive friends. It has been crucial to me. My ex couldn’t handle the trans thing either – tho I must say she is doing great now that we aren’t together. She has become a strong support. And in many ways presently I am happier alone right now and don’t have the angst of being single others can experience. I am sure it will change.

        I look forward to hearing how things progress for you and hope you find… ? Peace? Happiness? Acceptance? Something to assuage the pain I hear…

      • I just realized your original post was written 2 years ago. I am not very observant to those details. I imagine a lot has evolved in the past 2 years. How is it going?

      • The last two years is where I had the prior surgeries – top, hysto, meta/v-nectomy/urethral lengthening/scrotoplasty and lastly an unsuccessful fistula repair. Last chance happens this November. Radial forearm phallo. I really didn’t want the arm scar but surgeon says it is my best option for single stage surgery.

        Top surgery went great. Had it in Cleveland. I has a big chest so has to do double incision. Some scars after 2 years but I can go swimming shirtless with little fanfare. It greatly relieved some of the dysphoria but after a while I found it came back the more I passed as male. I still can’t use a locker room or urinal. And sex – well that feels out the question unless I met an amazing person who could accept me as I am.

      • Hey – I am glad the top surgery went well. I am so looking forward to mine in 1.5 weeks!! And the bottom surgery sounds like an ordeal. I hesitate doing it partly due to cost but mostly because it sounds like and ordeal with unpredictable results. I hope this surgery in November gets you where you want to be.

        I am gad I am not interested in a relationship right now. That does seem complicated unless we find the open accepting fluid right person. I still do hope for that one day tho as it sounds like you do.

        are you still actively blogging? I am not seeing any new posts.

      • Yes I’ve started blogging again. As for any hope of meeting the right person – I am skeptical given my age and views on politics and philosophy. The person would need to be a rare find. Just like me I suppose. 🙂

      • You have me curious. If I read right, you must be early 50’s? what are your views on politics and philosophy? I am rapidly approaching fifty and pretty liberal minded/open-minded. I hope relationship isn’t a lost hope.

        As you can tell, I am curious to know you, if for no other reason than more deeply connecting with other trans men. I don’t know if you want to keep the discussion going here or email me. Either way is fine but email is ssnogren7@gmail.com if that feels right.

  7. I am both scientist and artist. A scientist postulates a new reality and then does everything possible to prove it wrong. An artist is one who lives by faith for that which is yet unknown and unseen. Science and art are not incompatible with each other, they are simply different ways to discover one’s own truth.

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