|Posted by Transgender Education Collaboration on June 30, 2012 at 4:30 AM|
One of the biggest personal issues we experience as transgender people is dysphoria. Dysphoria, for those who do not know or fully understand, is the extreme depression caused by the disparity between our bodies and our minds. My mind tells me, for instance, that I'm supposed to be gently curvy, with a smooth face, narrow shoulders and ribs, with female genitalia. However, when I look in the mirror - or, really, am in any other way harshly reminded - I see that what my mind tells me isn't necessarily how things are. I'm not curvy at all, unless you count carrying my weight in my belly (a typically male place) instead of my hips, thighs, and butt (more typically feminine). My face still has some stubborn hair on it that has grown back since my last round of laser hair removal, and sometimes causes "beard shadow" to appear on my face. My shoulders and ribs are too wide for a typical cisgender woman, and makes fitting into tops cut for a more hour-glass shaped figure difficult. It should go without saying that external genitalia on a woman such as myself causes some ... issues... of its own.
Being reminded socially also causes dysphoria. For instance, if one were to call me "sir" or "mister," or - heaven forbid - use my old name, I would quickly become dysphoric. I would feel even more trapped and confined by the body that does not fit me and does not represent me at all. I would feel ugly, and unfit to be viewed by the people around me. If my dysphoria got bad enough, I would possibly harm myself, and consider ... more permanent options for releasing myself from the bounds of my body, to make the pain go away. Ultimately, freeing ourselves from dysphoria is the single driving reason for our transitions - I live as a woman because I cannot stand to spend another minute as a man. Not because I wanted to. Not because I'm doing this for kicks, or to freak people out, or because I just think girls are so pretty that I wanted to be one. I FLED from the pain of being expected to act like a man.
This quick, violent spiral of depression and anxiety is not something that most cisgender people truly understand, sadly. They can't. I can describe to someone all day long what dysphoria feels like, and they'll still never really KNOW what it's like. It doesn't compare to your standard "body issues." Plenty of people are uncomfortable with their bodies, sure. Very few of those people, however, are willing to commit suicide to make the pain and uncertainty stop.
... And that's OKAY!
We know you can't possibly understand. That's why it hurts us so much when you say, "I know how you feel." If we're complaining about our bodies, please understand one basic fact : the discomfort you feel about your body - having a little extra around the middle, your teeth not quite being straight or white, your shoulders being a tad too big for your frame, your breasts not being full enough for a top - does not even remotely compare to dysphoria.
Hearing this serves as a reminder of all the privilege I don't have. When cisgender girls roll out of bed in the morning, they'll be identified as women. Without makeup, without clothes to help accentuate or disguise their shapes, without having to shave anything, people will look at them and say, "this girl over here." When they're intimate with their partners, they don't need to think, "will they reject me because I don't have the appropriate bits for my gender?" When they walk into a restroom, they don't need to watch their back, and pay extra attention to the reactions of others in that room, because if they get misgendered, they might be beaten or killed.
In short, hearing the words, "I know how you feel," or anything akin to it, is like walking up to someone who survived hurricane Katrina, and saying, "I know how you feel. Sometimes it rains where I live too." As trans people, we don't need you to understand. In fact, anyone experiencing dysphoria probably doesn't WANT you to understand how horrible that pain can be. We just need you to appreciate that we ARE hurting, and we will need your support and love to get through it.
So, instead of trying to make the person's dysphoria seem small in comparison, by saying, "I know how you feel... sometimes I get a bit of hair on my upper lip," try saying something like, "I'm sorry. I know your facial hair really bothers you. I want you to know I think you're beautiful, though, no matter what hair you might have on your body." We'll thank you for not trying to appropriate our pain and anguish.
Lastly, don't be afraid to ask HOW you can help. Some may just ask to be held as they cry. Some may want you to help take their minds off of the pain. Many of us won't know, but at least you've put the power in our hands, in a moment when we feel most powerless.