Dysphoria Not Required

There is this running idea that what ties trans people together is their dysphoria, their mutual disdain for certain parts of their bodies (which is usually assumed to be genitals). Yet, there are trans people who exist without any pain caused by their bodies. They love their bodies. They embrace them. Are they trans then? Of course they are. Trans is not about dysphoria. This is a common misconception, even in the trans community. Trans is about identifying as something other than what was assumed at your birth.

The origins of this idea, date back to when being trans was first medicalized. They needed a set of definitions in order to treat trans people. Among the need for dysphoria, was also the need for trans women to be feminine and heterosexual. Trans men were to be masculine as well as heterosexual. If a trans person was not straight, their identities were considered to be fetish (for trans women), or just confused straight women with penis envy (for trans men). Non-binary people did not exist, nor did queer binary people, according to the old standards. Definitions and standards created by cis people.

Unfortunately, this idea has remained, in a number of ways. There still exists the idea that for a trans person to be trans, they must experience dysphoria. Of course, this is at no fault of trans people who do experience dysphoria. Cis gatekeepers and the gatekeeping process that originally set up the whole idea are the ones who started this snowball rolling and continue to push this narrative. While the DSM-V has removed Gender Identity Disorder, changing it to Gender Dysphoria, and requiring simply identifying as something other than what a person was assigned at birth (in many more words, many more binary words), many therapists, psychiatrists, and so on, require dysphoria to be considered trans.

Requiring dysphoria is harmful. It’s damaging. Requiring dysphoria implies that for someone to truly be the gender they are, they need to want the societal stereotypical parts of the gender they are. We cannot be happy with our bodies. Requiring dysphoria, especially genital dysphoria, implies women cannot happily have penises. Men cannot happily have vaginas. Non-binary people cannot happily exist ever, due to how society dictates and enforces the binary. This idea that dysphoria is necessary to exist as a trans person reinforces the outdated notion that the only ‘true’ trans people are those who wish to have genitals that stereotypically conform to the societal notion of what being a man/woman is. It removes non-binary people from existence, yet again, through this notion.

What happens when someone who is dysphoric, is no longer so? Do they simply stop being trans? The idea that being trans is something that is over once dysphoria ends is not true for many. The idea that once one is no longer dysphoric, they stop being trans, erases the experiences of those who cannot go ‘stealth’ or refuse to do so. It expects silence and erasure. Once, or if, someone can ‘blend’ into cis society, they are expected to simply erase their history, their stories, their narratives. While this may work for some, it does not work for all. Case in point, Janet Mock and Geena Rocero. These women used to blend into cis society as cis, but have recently come out, sharing and telling their histories and stories as trans people. Did these women stop being trans for the duration of their silence?

This silence does something though. It asserts a singular narrative about trans lives. Since trans people are expected to be dysphoric, they are expected to be miserable with self and body. It creates an idea that trans people can never be trans and be happy about being trans. It creates a constant negative trans narrative, which is beginning to change through vocal and happy trans people, but it continues to be pervasive. Trans is not equated with simply differing identities, but with one about being unhappy about one’s body. It is assumed to almost always be about genitals, changing genitals, genital, genitals, genitals. Cis people are the ones keeping this alive, since they are obsessive about trans genitals and unfortunately, trans misery sells better than trans happiness.

Dysphoria then becomes an excuse for everything. Don’t like your hair? Dysphoria for being trans. Too short, too tall? Dysphoria because you are trans. Too fat or too skinny? Trans dysphoria. Once we are trans, everything negative about our lives, our bodies, our personalities, becomes collateral for being trans. We cannot simply not like our hair texture for any other reason than being trans. We cannot like our height for any other reason that being trans. Our bodies, in their entirety, become something to nitpick and self-loathe because of being trans. Our ideas on standards of beauty and attractiveness cannot be blamed on media, society, gender policing, or anything of that nature. They can only exist because of being trans. We become flat, single dimensional people.

The problem with the dysphoria narrative is not with dysphoria itself, or those who experience dysphoria, but the necessity of having dysphoria. We become boiled down to something that is separate from our identities. We become identified by pain, by hurt, by suffering. We are not able to love parts of ourselves in fear of it revoking and making us less than. Even if we are dysphoric, we are expected to be consumed by it until we make it go away. Dysphoria is not the problem. Its not something we can simply wish away, as much as many of us want to. The problem resides in the fact that we are policed and dictated into existence through this pain, which is simply not true. We are not trans because of our dysphoria. We are trans because our identity does not match the one assumed at birth. Some of us experience dysphoria, some of us do not. That is a simple fact.

 

Some notes since this piece has gotten so popular.

1) I find it really funny people are assuming I am cis considering I have AN ENTIRE WEBSITE HERE ABOUT BEING TRANS, MY TRANS EXPERIENCES, AND SO FORTH.

2) People assuming I have never experienced dysphoria and thus have no idea what I am talking about. Considering I have posts about my dysphoria I used to experience, this is incorrect on just as many levels as note 1. I’ve experienced dysphoria. I no longer do so. I am happy with my body. I love my body. It’s almost as if I addressed these points in my piece because I’ve experienced them and they apply to my life? As if this site is partially influenced by my life and experiences as a transgender person???????? Shocking!

3) Gatekeeping is harmful. It gets people killed. This is fact.

4) Still don’t need to experience dysphoria to be trans. Sorry not sorry. I support all trans people, dysphoric or not. It’s almost as if being trans is a huge and varied and personal experience and is different for everyone??? Wow.

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15 thoughts on “Dysphoria Not Required”

  1. “Trans is about identifying as something other than what was assumed at your birth”… OK…. so if I am a woman who loathes most stereotypically ‘feminine’ things, is childfree because pregnancy and babies and children bore and disgust me, is strongly feminist and believes that the gender binary is a phallacy … whilst not actually being disgusted by my own genitals (I am pretty neutral towards them), and, at the same time, loathes stereotypical hegemonic masculinity (sport, cars and men’s clothes don’t do it for me either) – what am I? I don’t identify with the gender I was brutally assigned at birth because it does not meet my interests and it has meant powerlessness, rapability (I have never been raped, but the constant fear exists) and being subject to sexism and misogyny. At the same time I reject the gender divide, whilst identifying biologically and genetically as female. I don’t have a male or female brain. I see gender as a construct. What am I?

    1. If you identify as a woman, as you flat out said, you are cis. You were assigned female at birth and identify as female. There are tons of trans and cis women who fit the description you just gave.

      1. So it is the ‘woman’ (body) bit that counts, not the ‘feminine’ (gender / beahvioral) bit? The body and not the brutally assigned gender? If I am happy with my primary and secondary reproductive organs (or neutral towards them) I am ‘cis’, even if I reject what it means to be feminine as oppressive? Sorry – I am trying to get a grip on the intersection between sex (body) and gender (expected behavior) here.

      2. Gender is more than just behavior. No, it’s not the body that counts. It is how you identify that matters. You said you identify as female, but do not identify as feminine. That is fine. There are plenty of butch/masculine people regardless of gender. I identify as male, but I am extremely femme, more so than many women I know. Gender is more than just presentation. It’s body, mind, identity, soul, etc. It’s all encompassing. That idea that “gender is in your head, and sex is between your legs” is cissexist and oversimplified nonsense. Sex is just as much of a social construct as gender (in that people define what is what, what means what, etc), but that does not mean it is not real. Femininity is not oppressive, the idea that femininity is oppressive is more patriarchal nonsense and pushes the idea that masculinity, especially androgynous masculinity is superior over femininity. Sex is not just body. Nor gender just expected behavior. You are thinking in a way too narrow mindset.

  2. my gender therapist calls gender dysphoria basically not liking the gender you are born as, be it name, body, face, social, all of these things really! which is why I think a lot of people have dysphoria confused with the clear-cut truscum idea of just ‘must become cis of desired gender’ when to me dysphoria is what separates being trans to begin a cis tomboy/feminine man, ect. I really wish there was another word than dysphoria for that so people could get that trans doesn’t need you to be one specific thing or be upset a lot; but being trans also isn’t the same as a cis person breaking gender binaries.

    1. The problem is that dysphoria is a pretty clinical term at this point with a stedfast definition in both medical and nonmedical communities as to what it means. I also have a problem with the idea of “not liking” as a way of describing transness because well, I know plenty of cis people who do not like their gender because of various things be it body hair, social ideas, and so forth associated with their gender and hormones. However, these people do not identify as/are not another gender. They are just cis people who dislike certain aspects of their body or certain social ideas. Yet if someone is trans and dislikes the same things, it is called dysphoria (something I touch on in the article). I do not dislike the gender I was assigned as, that would mean I am misogynistic which I try and strive towards not being, I simply am not the gender I was assigned as. It was a wrong assumption based on cissexist and quite frankly ideas of defining someone based on their genitals.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this article. I am a transman with no dysphoria and I often feel ostracized even in the transgender community. Your article expressed my view very clearly and I love that you encourage a story about happy transgender people for I feel like I am one of these people. It is exhausting explaining to everyone who I am bc I in no way “pass” as a cisman, but in the end only the people who understand me are the ones that matter to me. Thank you!!

  4. The “dysphoria required to be trans” myth made it a lot harder for me to embrace my identity as a woman, because I’d never experienced any major dysphoria. I kept thinking that if I were actually trans, I’d have experienced the “girl trapped in a guy’s body” cliche, and it left me feeling like I was in some sort of gender limbo, neither trans nor cis.

    Thank you for writing this article, I feel a whole lot better now.

  5. Thank you so much for this! The inner drama of the trans community gives me so much anxiety on part of all the attention being so negative, both by cis and trans people alike. I’ve never thought that I’ve been missing anything, I’ve never felt like I was ‘trapped’ in my own body, and I am, by all accounts, very comfortable with my body as it is. But identifying as trans explains so much of why I feel as if something is askew. When I first heard of HRT, I thought to myself ‘that sounds like something /someone like me/ would do’ and it took me years to circle that thought around to ‘that sounds like something maybe I should do.’

    Identifying as trans was like putting on glasses and seeing the leaves on the trees for the first time. But all the infighting in the community took that happiness away, and now I’m left wondering if I’ve just made a big mistake. I try to tell myself that I haven’t, but it’s hard to believe some days. People don’t want to talk about trans people like me, so I’m left alone with all my questions and all my fear. Knowing that there’s plenty of happy trans people like me makes me feel so much better.

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