About 2 years ago, I wrote “The ‘D’ word“, in which I described my experience at that point with dysphoria. A lot has changed in the two years since, so I’m revisiting the topic to see if I can find any new or helpful information.
When I wrote The ‘D’ Word, I was still fairly early in my journey, and thought that I was genderfluid. I hadn’t yet realized that I am a transgender woman. The story of how I came to that realization is in the posts I wrote subsequently, but the quick explanation is that a few things came together: I had begun Hormone Replacement Therapy shortly before I wrote The ‘D’ Word, I was becoming more comfortable letting go of my (learned) masculine behaviors, and I was beginning to explore some of my childhood memories (see EMDR).
HRT has probably been one of the single best things I did to address the dysphoria, not only because it directly reduced the overall intensity, but because it led to physical changes which further reduced the dysphoria. When my breasts began to develop, the dysphoria dropped significantly, especially the “top” dysphoria. I discovered that my brain had always expected my body to have breasts, and until they developed, I’d had a constant “noise” from my brain not receiving the expected signals from my (then non-existent) breasts. Having breasts has become a huge comfort for me – they are tangible evidence that I am a woman – evidence which is not dependent on clothes or other forms of presentation and expression.
Letting go of masculine behaviors was somewhat difficult at first, but has become second nature. In the early months of my journey, I was interpreting the times that my dysphoria was less intense as periods of masculinity (or at least less femininity), and while I wanted to figure out what was right for me, I was hesitant to discard masculine tendencies for fear of overcorrecting and becoming more feminine than was natural for me. In a way, I’m glad it worked out this way because without being consciously aware of it, my goal became finding authenticity – finding what felt most right, most natural, most instinctual. I’m proud to be a woman who can tear a bathroom down to studs and subfloor and rebuild it to her own design. I’m proud to be a woman who can change her own tires, her own oil, and perform basic repairs on her car. I’m proud to love geeky things like Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, LOTR/The Hobbit, etc. I’m glad that I didn’t shun any of the stereotypically masculine things that I enjoy in an effort to prove my femininity. I’m a woman who enjoys some things which men stereotypically enjoy. But by loosening the reins on the control I’d exerted on my interests and behaviors, I’ve found that I also enjoy clothes shopping, wearing makeup, getting flowers, having doors held open for me (tbh, still a little strange), and – one of my more recent experiences – feeling a connection with female characters in movies and literature (wow! what a great feeling!). While a lot of these things play into gender roles, expectations, and stereotypes, I’m not trying to reinforce those stereotypes — I’m freeing myself from them. I am a unique mixture of masculine and feminine traits, and am doing my best to be unconcerned with which is which and instead just be as authentically me as I can.
Returning to childhood memories gave me the “evidence” I had been wanting, to prove to myself that I wasn’t imagining what I was experiencing. The memory which began this process was one where I, at age two or three, realized that I was a girl, and I told other people – including adults! This single memory has done more to reassure me that I’m on the right track. At that age, I wouldn’t have had any of the gender confusion that I had later on; I wasn’t aware of what gender implied at that age, only that I was one – a girl. One other important thing came from reprocessing this memory: when I looked back at myself, I wanted to comfort my young self – to give her a hug and tell her it was ok. Did you catch that? I wanted to give her a hug. Even though my conscious mind wasn’t there yet, my subconscious knew that I was a girl, even then.
Through EMDR, I revisited another early memory where I had spent an evening at a family friend’s house while my parents were out – they were babysitting me. At some point, it became bedtime for me, and as there were no other good options, they put me in the bed of one of the daughters. My recollection is that I had a sense of comfort I’d never felt before in my life: I was in a girl’s room, in a girl’s bed, and it felt so right – it felt like home. I recall being very upset when my parents picked me up; I wanted to stay in the girl’s bed – maybe if I could stay in this bed, I would become a girl!
The third memory was the one which pushed me over the edge. I was in preschool, and it was Halloween. For some reason, I didn’t have my costume on when I got to school, but my mom brought it and took me into the bathroom to get changed. At some point, she tried to get me to put on a pair of tights which went with the costume, but I refused to put those tights on – those were girl’s clothes. As an adult, I saw it as a missed opportunity – to express my femininity in a socially acceptable way – and I was confused by my refusal. Why, if I really was a girl, would I have such a strong response to this, when this was a chance to affirm my girlhood? Through therapy, I came to understand that at that age, while I knew enough to know those were girl’s clothes, I also knew enough to know that I wasn’t allowed to be a girl and that I had to shun all things girly. I was in a survival-mode of sorts. I couldn’t let anyone know, not even my own mother, because at best, I’d be laughed at, and at worst, I’d be rejected.
When I lamented to my therapist about my cowardice and my sense of loss (of opportunity), she disagreed. She pointed out that she saw Pre-K me as strong and brave, doing what needed to be done to protect myself from pain and shame. At that age, I didn’t have the capacity to think as logically as I do now, and given the experiences I’d had to that point, my behavior makes perfect sense; every time I’d expressed feminine feelings or my sense that I was a girl, I’d received negative feedback. Of course I didn’t want to feel that any more, so of course I would be motivated to hide it! Now that I understood why I’d behaved that way, my pain resolved. It was a few days later at our next session that my therapist asked me if I might have an answer to “what is your gender?”. After a good bit of thought and consciously removing the barriers I’d erected to protect myself, I was finally able to conclude “I am a woman”.
Changes in dysphoria
Returning to dysphoria, it was during this time (starting HRT and revisiting early childhood memories) that the type of dysphoria I was experiencing changed. It went from a generalized, all-over-my-body discomfort to more specific parts of my body. I think that before, the pain of dysphoria was so massive that all I could tell was something is wrong! But now that the pain was beginning to diminish, I could sense specific areas of wrongness: my voice being too deep, my hands and feet (and body) being too large, my lack of breasts, the presence of male genitalia – I could recognize each separately. This is a mixed blessing: in some cases, I could do something about what I was feeling – I could use a little extra padding in my bra to help give the appearance of breasts – but in many cases, I am stuck with what I have.
Where do I go?
Dealing with the dysphoria has become a bit of a black art. I address the things I can do something about – emphasizing body parts I like and minimizing those I don’t, much like many other women have done for millennia. For the things I can’t do anything about, I work on acceptance; sometimes I’m more successful than others. And I occasionally look back at where I started and wonder at how much I’ve been able to change – how much progress I’ve made – and that gives me some hope for the future; if I’ve been able to do this much in 2 years, how much more will I be able to accomplish in 2 more years?
But mostly, I just concentrate on getting through each day. Some days are better than others, but on the whole, everything has improved; my best days now are better than they ever were before, and while my worst days now can feel worse than my worst days before, I remind myself that the difference is that I’m now experiencing those days, instead of just numbly watching them pass me by.
Taking this transgender journey is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I’m glad that I’m on it.