More Writing from My Past and Some Thoughts on Dysphoria
I dug up some more old writing, both from when I went off t the first time and was starting to feel dysphoric again and from when I went back on it. During these times, I thought I could have a biological condition that produced my unease with my body.
I’m guessing I wrote this when I was twenty-two or so:
“I’m not happy with my body and I’m pretty sure at this point that it’s at least in part due to some biological condition I have but I’m not entirely positive. I’ve lived my entire life in a culture that believes what type of body you have determines what sort of person you are or should be so that’s got to have some impact on how I see myself and relate to my body. This culture is also pretty body-negative in general, I’d bet most people living in it have some sort of body issue. Still, after reading a fuck-ton about how gender and sex are socially constructed and trying to make myself fit with the body I got, I still don’t feel comfortable with it. I know having tits doesn’t make me a women or feminine or anything else I’m not but I still don’t like having them. I get a kick for having such nice tits for a boy and I’ve enjoyed using them to genderfuck but I think those are coping strategies. I think of my chest as deformed, I can’t even called what I’ve got breasts or boobs. I didn’t mind them as much when I was on T, in part because they shrank a lot and also cuz T made me a lot more comfortable with myself in general. I feel less comfortable with my body now that I’m off but not as uncomfortable as before I took hormones. I don’t want to be dependent on something external though, I wish there was some way for them to change my body so it’d make its own T. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m not happy with my body but I can’t afford surgery and I don’t want to be dependent on chemicals. I’m trying to mind over matter it and not see my body as female and try to be as comfortable with what I’ve got but it works a lot better when I have clothes on. When I’m naked I feel like my body lies about what I am. I guess I still associate having tits and a cunt with being a woman and woman with a very specific gender which I am not.”
I think I wrote this when I was twenty-three or so:
“Been thinking about testosterone, what it does to my body/mind, what continuing to remain on it longterm would mean and if I could bear to go without it again. It helps my head a lot. I’ve had pretty much no problems with anxiety or paranoia since going back on. I’ve gotten depressed but nothing overwhelming, nothing I can’t handle. Physically too, the changes just feel right. Watching my beard come in darker and thicker makes me so damn happy. What doesn’t make me so happy is thinking about being dependent on doctors and the medical and pharmaceutical industries if I choose to stay on t for the rest of my life. I still have a few years to decide if want to stay on forever but after five years or so I know you’re suppose to get a hystro or your cancer risks shoot up. And if I get a hystro that’s it, I’d be dependent on externally administered hormones for the rest of my life. Unless somehow being without hormones works out for me, which you never know, maybe it’d be great but nothing I’d count on. Shit. I want a body that makes the right chemicals on it’s own without intervention but that appears to be impossible. I’ve tried to think away or mind over matter my dysphoria but it doesn’t really work. It’s helped me cope with my body when I wasn’t on t but it didn’t fix the problem….
…Being trans can be incredibly lonely. Most of the time it seems like the only people who really understand what it’s like to have body/gender dysphoria are other trannys and genderqueers. Many non-trans people just can’t seem to grasp the concept that a man can be born with a cunt much less that someone can feel intuitively that neither a “standard” male or female body really fits them. They don’t understand this is something we feel in our flesh, parts of our bodies feel like they don’t belong, our bodies don’t make sense, the hormones our bodies produce on their own feel like a chemical imbalance and often drive us crazy, as if we needed any help with that living in a world that thinks we’re crazy anyways. I know living in a sex and gender fucked up society has affected me and relationship with my body and gender but if it were all in my head I’d have unraveled it by now. I don’t really understand why having facial hair feels so good and right but it does. I know I don’t need it to be any gender I feel myself to be but it seems like I need t in my system to feel sane and fully myself. I never really wanted to be transsexual. Genderqueer sure, that’s cool and radical and all that but who the fuck wants a fucking medical condition? Cuz that’s what being trans has become for me. I go to the doctor to keep tabs on my bodies chemistry and get my prescription refilled every few months and if I don’t take my t I feel fucking awful, not all the time but enough so that it makes it worthwhile to be on it. I used to think that guys who saw their trans-ness as a medical condition or a birth defect had internalized transphobia but now I see what they mean. It’s very likely I’ll try going off t in the future, just in case because I’d rather not be dependent on a drug. Maybe in different place I’d be able to handle my mind on estrogen better. It’s not all a bad trip but I definitely feel less connected to my body and reality on e. Which isn’t always a bad thing, I can get to real far out exciting places on estrogen that I find a lot harder to get to on t but I also have tones more anxiety, which fucking sucks hard. There is no ideal solution to my body dysphoria, staying on t or quitting both have their advantages and downsides. I want to stay on t long enough to get substantial hair growth that will hopefully be permanent, a few years maybe, then try going off and see how that goes. There’s also the issue of appearing to a be a man while not entirely identifying as such. The first time I went off t one of my reasons was that I was starting to feel off again just being seen as a man. It turned out that being seen as just another guy felt as wrong as being seen as a girl. I feel most visually myself when I appear androgynous, masculine but not male. I don’t really want to seen as either an exclusive man or woman because I’m not either of those but at the same time I don’t want my saying that I’m not a man to cheapen or make my masculinity any less real. I’m still trying to figure out how to live with a body like mine in a world that doesn’t get me. Living in this world has fucked up my head. I hardly leave the fucking house. I don’t generally enter social settings that aren’t queer/trans friendly. I live in a fucking bubble that I’m afraid to leave. This isn’t how I’d like it but it’s true.”
I wrote this when I was around twenty-four or so:
“I’m sometimes amazed what people seem to think about creatures like me. Do people really think I’m so dumb I couldn’t figure out that I could cut my hair short and not shave and fuck women and still be a woman? Hell, it isn’t about being any particular gender identity, I don’t even feel like I’ve got one anymore. It’s about my body. It took me forever to figure that out because I came to the conclusion when I was fifteen or so that I didn’t need a particular body to be masculine, how I was shaped didn’t determine my gender. Reading Wittig and other feminist social constructionists prompted me to declare that if sex and gender are socially determined then I can be a boy with a cunt, I don’t need to change my body to be what I am. And I was right, I was a boy years before I ever took t. I don’t need t to be a dude but it does seem like I need it to feel comfortable in my flesh. When I first started t, I admit my motives were more mixed. I was tired of struggling all the time to be seen as a guy. What lead up to quitting t was questioning why I felt such a strong need to be seen as such and whether that came from me or was from living in this society and likewise if changing my body was really good for me or if it was a coping mechanism for living in a world that’s not comfortable with gender ambiguity. I knew too by the time I stopped that I wasn’t quite the man I thought I was. Sometimes being included with other guys seemed natural but other times I still felt alien. I began to look at the ways I hid and denied my genderqueerness and womanhood from myself and others. I no longer identify with any single gender and feel more like I’ve had and continue to have many gendered experiences. I sometimes feel mannish or boyish or womanish or genderfuck but these are feelings not something I am permanently. I could see myself losing all sense of gender if I was immersed long enough in a culture that didn’t recognize it. Despite all that, I’m still uncomfortable with my body as it is without t. The longer I was off testosterone the more I felt myself dissociating from my body, The more I noticed myself not there. I liked how my face looked more androgynous, how my some of my moods became more manic and how it got easier to think of words but that’s about it. It was horrifying to watch my muscles disappear and feel my flesh take on a softer texture, to watch my the hair on my body fall out and my tits get bigger. And I fucking started bleeding again and going batshit crazy about every other time I got the curse. Psychologically I experienced more anxiety, felt more outside myself and less grounded in reality, got real paranoid too. My mind on t is more balanced and at ease, more stable, I still have powerful emotions but am less likely to feel trampled by them. I feel for lack of a better term “normal”, “like I’m supposed to feel”. I remember when I first went on t being shocked by how much better and more natural I felt. I seriously wondered how much of my psych issues were in part due to being chemically imbalanced from being flooded with too much estrogen. Right when I quit, my head wasn’t feeling so hot, I felt too emotionally numb and that my ability to think and write were being impaired. I found out when I started t again that my last tested levels before I quit were way too high, which probably explains what I experienced. Too much t turned out to be just as bad as too little. I’m not thrilled by the idea of being dependent on pharmaceuticals and doctors for the rest of my life but I’m also not sure if I can take getting crazy paranoid, anxious, and freaking out and loosing all rational judgment every month or so. I want to experiment with going off again in few years, hopefully in a less stressful setting than [the city where I lived at the time]. I realize that the settings under which various moods and states of mind are experienced can influence whether they’re pleasant, bearable or hell to endure and I think part of the problem I have off of t is how ridiculously sensitive I am. Part of me wonders if t is actually the “right” chemical for my head or if it just puts me into a mindset that’s more adaptable to the culture I find myself in. Though now I have a radically different and appreciative understanding of biology than when I first started questioning my gender, I’m still someone who very much believes that social and environmental forces create and determine much of our lived realities. So I still question and wonder how much of this is in my head and my culture, how must is beyond my control and how much can I choose and shape. I’m still working to find both health and autonomy. What I have now is better than before but I am in no way satisfied with my physical condition nor with the condition of this world. Even if I was totally happy with my body, I still got to deal with a stupid, intolerant culture.”
Couple of things stand out to me. One is that, even though I was pretty sure that what I felt was biologically rooted, I still felt that there were some environmental influences as well. But I was also struggling to “mind over matter it” and that wasn’t really working out for me and that’s why I began to think that my dysphoria had be to biologically innate. That thought was pretty disturbing to me because it made me feel more defective, like I was deformed and maybe a product of an increasingly polluted environment full of endocrine disruptors.
Maybe the fact that I still wondered if these feeling could be a result of social conditioning signifies that my case is different from people who do have sort of biological condition and have no doubts about it or maybe it just means I was more aware of that possibility and if there were more people who adopted that view, giving it more social currency and power, more people would psychologically work through this their dysphoria rather than transition. In any case, I think that perceiving that my dysphoria could be socially created helped to eventually get me to where I am now. If I hadn’t taken to the idea that much of our experienced reality is socially created, if I just thought that what I felt was created by a birth defect or something then maybe I’d still be on t.
I’m not sure if I’m different from other trans people because I dealt with a different condition in the first place or if we shared the same condition and I just came to view it and deal with it differently. I’m not the only one to change bodies and genders due to social factors, that much I know but I don’t know how extensive this is. It happens far more often than a lot of trans people want to admit and I don’t like how this topic has become taboo among some communities. If there is a biological condition underlying dysphoria, I don’t believe it motivates all or perhaps even most people’s desires to transition. I find from my own experience that the mind can generate dysphoria so strong and stubborn that it seems biologically innate and unshakable and I can’t help but wonder how many other people’s dysphoria is also psychologically generated rather hardwired into some part of their body.
I accept my body now and I’m not totally sure how I got to this point but I definitely think that taking an intellectual approach to the problem wasn’t enough. I could reason out why the shape of my body didn’t matter but that only went so far in changing how I felt and experienced my body. I was naive to think that if my dysphoria was socially and psychologically rooted then I would’ve undone it at that point just because I’d thought so hard about it. It took years to create and years to start to come undone. I had to go more directly into my feelings, start to confront my fears of being a female/woman for example, start looking at my deeply rooted psychological issues made up not only of thoughts but also emotions, memories and so forth. I think meditating helped because it both put me more in touch with my body and helped bring up material buried in my psyche. I also think having partners who helped turn my body into something I could enjoy helped a lot too.
I’m still working out how I got to where I am now and I wish I could say more because I want to help other people who’d like to accept their bodies rather than change them. Hopefully I’ll have more to say on that in the future when I have more figured out. Everyone’s process would probably be different depending on their circumstances anyways. But I want people to know that it’s possible and that it can take years and hard work but I feel like it’s worth it.
I feel like people spend so much energy trying to justify their decisions to change their bodies that not enough attention is paid to the possibility of leaving them as they are. I think some trans people can even be afraid of others coming to accept their bodies because it suggests that maybe their own decisions, which they’ve already suffered much for, weren’t the only course they could’ve taken. I think transitioning gets glamorized in some subcultures, gets seen as a way to make a political or cultural statement or as a way to become “realer” and that crap is fucking dangerous, I think it can lead to people changing their bodies when they don’t have to. I also think the idea that transitioning is the only way to cure dysphoria or that only transsexuals or genderqueers experience dysphoria is harmful too. There are lots of reasons a person can feel dysphoric and a lot ways for that dysphoria to be dealt with and more information needs to get out there other than information about transsexuality, genderqueerness and transitioning.
About the whole chemical imbalance thing, I don’t believe that estrogen makes me crazy anymore. If any chemical in my body was making me crazy it was all the weed I was smoking. I kind of knew that it wasn’t the best thing for me to be doing, especially not in the quantities I was doing it but I had no idea how badly it was effecting me until I stopped. About three month after I quit smoking, I realized that my anxiety had dropped off significantly and it kept dropping as time went on. Both my general anxiety and social anxiety has diminished remarkably. I still get anxious occasionally but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I also don’t get so paranoid anymore or feel so overly sensitive to the world.
Back when I was freaking out, I was already anxious about going out into a world I felt was hostile to me, to the point where I had trouble leaving the house, and then I was smoking tons of weed which amplified my anxiety tenfold. I was fucked up from living in this world, had all these unresolved issues and was messing with my own head by doing too many drugs and that was my problem rather than too much estrogen. I blamed my female hormones because I’d come to believe that my femaleness was defective. I’m inclined to think now that taking t created “a mindset that’s more adaptable to the culture I find myself in” rather than correcting any sort of imbalance and I’m still not sure how much of how it effected me was chemical and how much was some sort of placebo effect.
Presently, I don’t feel imbalanced or overly emotional. I was actually expecting to feel more emotions than I do at present. I’m not numb or anything, I just feel pretty calm most of the time. I tend to experience my thoughts more vividly than my feelings. I don’t go “batshit crazy” when I get my period. Sometimes I get a bit more irritable and sometimes I cry if I read upsetting news about the state of the world but that’s about it.
Looking back on these writings and remembering the time when I wrote them is a bit of a mindfuck. I find it bizarre that I felt like I had a biological condition when now I feel fine with my body as it is. I still like having some muscles but now I have some from working out. I don’t need to take any chemical to be muscular, that just seems excessive. I don’t hate my breasts anymore and I feel very relieved that I didn’t get top surgery. I don’t have to deny that my body is female. My body may differ in some ways from what society thinks is female but I don’t think having and enjoying my body as it is makes it third-sexed, neither male or female.
I think I had a lot of problems because I linked “having tits and a cunt with being a woman and woman with a very specific gender which I am not.” Once I started to expand my ideas of what a woman could be, having a body that signaled that I was one became less of a problem. I went from thinking about how if gender and sex are socially created then I could have a cunt and be a boy to thinking about how if all these genders are made up then I maybe I don’t really need to change my gender at all, maybe I just need to change what my assigned gender means and expand it beyond the definitions and limitations society puts on it. I still feel like a boy and other genders sometimes but I think a lot of that is social generated, something I’ll discuss more later. I’ve gone back to trying to disregard what society thinks a woman/female has to be and let woman be whatever I make it as I live out my life.
In my case, taking t helped to relieve the symptoms but didn’t get at the core problem which turned out not to be with my body but with my mind and how it related to my body. Sometimes changing the mind is better than changing the body and the process of changing the mind can enable one to become more oneself.