Alternative Treatments for Gender Dysphoria
Transcript: Hey there. I want to talk some about my personal experience with using alternative treatments for gender dysphoria because there’s not enough information out there about this subject.
I have noticed that some trans people are threatened by talk of alternative treatments for dysphoria just like they are threatened by the subject of detransitioning. There were two workshops that recently got canceled at the Philly Trans Health Conference and one of them was on detransitioning and the other one was on alternative treatments for dysphoria. And this included treatments for people who didn’t want to transition, people who had transitioned and then detransitioned and people who were still, currently transitioning but found that transitioning didn’t relieve all of their dysphoric symptoms. So it didn’t necessarily have to be a replacement for medical transition, it depended on the person. Like it could be or it could be in addition to medical transition. Anyway, some trans people objected to this workshop because they thought the presenters were trying to discourage people from transitioning or spreading misinformation or dangerous perspectives. Some of them mocked the treatments listed in the program description, even though many detransitioned and dysphoric people have found significant relief using those methods. So these trans people apparently didn’t trust that people attending the conference could judge for themselves whether these treatments would work for them or not. Instead they felt that they had to “protect” attendees from such information, lest they apparently be mislead into hurting themselves, I guess. I don’t know, I think that perspective is really patronizing and insulting and harmful. I don’t see how people can make truly informed choices about treating their dysphoria if they don’t know that some people find that alternative treatments work better than medically transition.
So here I am now, to talk about my experience with such treatments because despite what some people think this is valuable information that many people find helpful. And I trust that people can listen to what I say and figure out for themselves if any of this is applicable or useful for them or not. I know every dysphoric person is different, what causes our dysphoria is different and what works for one person is not going to work for others.And this applies for trans people and detransitioned people because a lot of what has worked for me as a detransitioned woman doesn’t work for other detransitioned women that I know. Okay? We’re all individuals trying to figure out what works for us.
So by alternative treatments, I mean ways to treat dysphoria that don’t involve taking hormones or getting surgery. A lot of alternative treatments are ways to accept the body rather than change it. Many dysphoric people who pursue alternative treatments find that our dysphoria was caused by trauma or by social factors, for example, being a butch lesbian or otherwise gender non-conforming woman living in a society that finds us unacceptable. Broadening the scope of treatments for gender dysphoria beyond medical transition means acknowledging that there are many potential causes for gender dysphoria, including pontentially biological predispositions, trauma and adaptation to social influences.
Often it’s a mixture of different factors. I was born with psychological qualities that are coded as masculine in this culture and make it harder for me to fit in as “normal” woman. My female body, even before taking t, had a lot of physical features that made it easier for me to pass as male without even trying. I had many physical and psychological traits that were judged to be more appropriate for a man than a woman. Overall, I was treated poorly as a butch woman and found more acceptance when I was seen as a trans man or passed for male. Additionally, I suffered from multiple traumatic events that were related in some way to me being female or a lesbian. All this and more added up to create my dysphoria and not surprisingly it took me years to untangle all this and make sense of it. I was born with features that predisposed me to become gender dysphoric, at least in this particular culture, and I don’t totally rule out the possibility that I’m neurologically different from the average woman, perhaps even in how I sense my body. I’ve read some of the research about biological stuff and, I don’t know, it’s interesting but right now I find it pretty inconclusive. But I know I wasn’t born with full-on gender dysphoria and whatever biological predispositions I have had to interact with environmental and social forces to give rise to both my dysphoria and my past sense of self as a genderqueer trans man.
I always had the sense that a bunch of my gender dysphoria was related to my environment. And this made me cautious about pursuing medical transition and kept me questioning throughout my transition. I gave a lot of thought pre-transition about why I wanted to change my body, was my desire a response to how I’d been treated by other people for being very gender non-conforming and ambiguous-looking? In the end though, my body dysphoria was so intense I felt it was worth the risk to try out taking testosterone. Taking t brought me a lot of relief, in terms of my body dysphoria, but less so for my social dysphoria. Living as a man felt right in many ways but also left me feeling like huge parts of me were invisible. I’d found a way to be at home in my body but still felt alienated moving through society. For years taking testosterone seemed to be the only way I could be fully present in my body. I wasn’t happy about being dependent on an external chemical or the doctors who prescribed it to me and that definitely motivated me to keep looking for other ways to treat my dysphoria. I wanted to be able to accept my body with as little modification to it as possible.
I used alternative methods to treat my dysphoria while I was trans-identified and taking t. A person can both medically transition and use other methods to treat dysphoria at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive. I decided to see if I could learn to accept having breasts instead of getting top surgery. Initially, I started working on this when I was a teenager and getting surgery wasn’t option at all. This was years ago when very few people medically transitioned before the age of eighteen. Puberty was terrible I hated growing breasts. I envied boys with their flats chests. Finding out about the possibility of top surgery was exciting but I knew it was out of reach for years to come. So I started telling myself that having breasts didn’t make me any less masculine, any less of a boy, any less me.And that helped, that helped me cope.
I experimented with binding in high school and started binding regularly in college. I liked how I looked with a flat chest but found binding physically uncomfortable and painful. I didn’t like how the constriction affected my breathing. When I started t, my chest dysphoria got a lot better and I stopped binding. I continued to tell myself, and other people if need be, that having breasts didn’t make me any less of a man. I didn’t think I needed a male body to be a man and in a sense I was right, since by that point I’d been passing for male for years and getting the message that my female body didn’t get in the way of other people seeing and treating me as a dude.
Sometimes, in radical queer and other trans-friendly spaces, I’d go topless. I wanted the freedom that men have to go shirtless and I wanted to confront the reality of my body and force myself to see that my body by itself didn’t get in my way of being who I am. On some level, I was playing with the idea that what our bodies mean lies in what society decides they mean. I knew that in many parts of society, having a body like mine meant I had to be a woman but in queer spaces the rules were different. I also knew firsthand that the prevailing sex/gender order was not absolute because people who had been socialized to see breasts as a female trait were able to see me as a man because the rest of me looked and acted male. It made me feel extra manly and masculine when people could see that I had breasts but still see me as a man. I thought I was being very radical at the time, shaking up and challenging people’s ideas of sex and gender, creating a new understanding of manhood that included a lot of elements that people traditionally considered female.
I reasoned that men born with female bodies would have all kinds of different reactions to being in that peculiar situation, since men don’t react to everything the same way in general. Some of us would try to change our bodies to become as male as possible and integrate into mainstream society as men. I saw being born female as a unique opportunity most men never had access to and decided to enjoy it as much as possible. I was ok with being different from other men and wanted to celebrate my differences. I wanted to work to create a broader understanding of what a man could be, that included having a female body and history. I wasn’t always thrilled about having a female body or how I’d been treated for having one but I was inclined to accept it as much as I could.
I worked hard to accept my breasts as compatible with my manhood instead of in conflict with it. To this day, they don’t always feel like they’re a part of my body. Sometimes they seem a lot heavier than they should be, their weight pulls uncomfortably on the rest of my chest. Sometimes they don’t bother me at all. I’ve made a practice out of accepting them and I value the work I’ve done to make peace with having them, stretching back since I was a teenager. I frame that work as something positive, rather than a burden. I’m not putting up with having breasts, I’m working to challenge ideas that I’m any less myself with breasts, that they somehow compromise my ability to be who I am.
I also know at this point that much of why I want to get rid of them is because of how other people see them. I pass so often as male that it is still tempting to live as a man because moving through this society as a man is easier than being a mannish-seeming woman. People don’t even notice my breasts a lot of the time but I know they’re there and I know that if they’re seen they may cause confusion. Getting my breasts removed would make my body appear even more male than it is now and make me less ambiguous. I might feel safer with a flat chest but why should I have to change my body to feel safe? In the long run, I think I would end up angry and bitter if I got top surgery because I know I’d be doing it at least partially for other people. I’d feel safer because I would be conforming more to what people expect me to be when they look at me. I’d be acting out the lessons I’ve been learning for half my life now, that I’m more acceptable as a man than as a woman.
I could find some relief in changing my body but not without sacrificing my integrity. I already feel ambivalent about the changes I’ve made through taking testosterone. I like a lot of permanent changes I got from taking t, such as being able to grow a beard now. But I can’t say for sure that I would’ve even considered changing my body in another society, one with a much broader understanding of what women can be. I changed my body partially to make up for how I’ve been hurt as a genderfreaky female. If I’d never been hurt in the first place than maybe I never would have had to take such drastic steps to remake myself. I appreciate what testosterone has given me, in terms of helping me become more comfortable with my body and giving me experiences that have taught me a lot. But I can’t pretend its gifts aren’t bittersweet and mixed up with sacrifices and pain.
Among the benefits of taking t is an enhanced ability to hide in plain sight. I rely on my ability to pass as male to move through this society without a hassle. Sometimes I’m in areas where my safety could be threatened if people knew I was female but often I pass for my own peace of mind. I’m still haunted by my past, when I was regularly taunted and attacked for being a female who was too masculine, too ambiguous, too lesbian, too queer. I’m still learning how to move beyond that and live in the present. I have terrible social anxiety but I feel better interacting with strangers when they think I’m a guy. It’s surreal though, watching people interact with a man who isn’t actually there and wondering how they’d treat me if they knew who they were actually talking to.
I now know that thinking of myself as a man is falling into a kind of dissociation, being lulled into a dream where I can finally find acceptance and a chance to be normal. It’s about finding a way out of pain and anxiety and fear of other people. It is not about becoming who I am but trying to both get away from and protect the parts of me that have endured too many attacks. Thinking about changing my body is about erasing the parts of my biology that have turned me into a target and enhancing the physical attributes that have made me more acceptable in the eyes of others. In my case, feeling and thinking of myself as a man or genderqueer doesn’t make me trans, it makes me a woman with socially induced gender dysphoria. And for me the best way to deal with my dysphoria is to challenge myself when I think my life would be better if I was a man or had a different body. I remind myself of how that kind of thinking is connected to my past and the different ways other people have treated me over the years. I notice how my dysphoria gets worse in certain situations but gets a lot better in others. It’s been especially helpful for me to have a lot of contact with other butch lesbians, gender non-conforming women, detransitioned women and dysphoric women.
I had to experiment and try a lot of different things out to get where I am now. I’ve both modified my body and worked hard to accept it and found both methods helpful. However, taking testosterone only ever relieved some of my dysphoria and also played into some of my dissociative tendencies. To get at the core of my problems, I had to look over my life and pick out the various forces and incidents that came to together to create my dysphoria. The way other people read my body and behavior and how they responded positively or negatively to what they saw, the books and websites I read about trans people, dysphoria and transitioning, the subcultures I was a part of, my trauma history, my own unique female biology, all these and more factored into my experience of dysphoria, how I made sense of it and dealt with it.
Developing a meditative practice has been life changing. I never sought out to treat my dysphoria through meditation, I started meditating largely because of an interest in Buddhism, but it turned out to help me become more present in my body. I learned how to strip away any concepts and feelings I projected onto my body and observe and accept my body directly. It also helped me learn how to hold and experience intense emotions and not get overwhelmed by them. This was a vital skill to have once I started digging into my past pain and trauma. I spent years trying to escape my past, often turning to drugs and alcohol to numb myself out. I quit doing drugs after I’d been meditating for a few years, which also helped me think more coherently. One thing gradually lead to another. First I started meditating and developing new coping skills, then I started dealing with and overcoming my addictions and then I started examining my past, my trauma history and questions I had about what had driven me to transition.
I was a hardcore meditator during my early detransition. I meditated at least twice a day, in the morning and the evening and attended group meditations at a Buddhist practice center multiple times a week. I didn’t directly connect my meditative practice to the questions I was asking myself about my transition and I wasn’t trying to use it to treat my dysphoria. I’d been off t maybe a year or so and wasn’t sure how much my body would change back and if I’d start feeling more dysphoric as it did. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was no longer disturbed by features of my body that used to freak me out. I could stay present in my body now in ways that seemed impossible in the past.
A combination of learning how to be more present in my body through meditation, working through trauma that split me from my body in the first place and learning to notice what kind of situations make me feel dysphoric have all helped me accept and feel at home in my body. They’ve also helped me see and accept myself as a woman. I’ve shifted my project of expanding what a man can be to expanding what a woman can be. Looking over my life I realized that I’d experienced a ton of pressure not to think of myself or live as a woman. My experience may be unusual but despite being born female it’s been easier for me to live as a man. Detransitioning and living as a woman was another experiment, another step in figuring out how to have a good life. I knew I had shit to figure out but I wasn’t sure what I’d find inside of myself until I looked.
I had to confront the parts of myself I’d been running from and admit to myself that I’d used transitioning as a way to try to destroy my past self and create a new one. It didn’t work. I never became a different person and eventually I had to reckon with who I was. I had to shift through and overcome my self-hatred and disgust. I’m thankful that I found another woman who’d detransitioned and started talking to her online around that time because otherwise the whole process would’ve been a lot harder, scarier and difficult. I had people in my life who were supportive but it’s not the same as having someone who’s lived through what you’re struggling with.
I’m one of many gender dysphoric women I know who tried transitioning and found it didn’t get to the root of our problems. Most of us had to figure out what did work on our own. We had to come up with our own understanding of what our dysphoria meant and where it came from because the information we got from our doctors and the trans community didn’t turn out to be right or tell the whole story. We weren’t just born with a condition that made us dysphoric. Instead, we lived through circumstances that gave us gender dysphoria. Maybe some of us had innate qualities that contributed to our dysphoria but it almost always turns out to be a combination of different forces acting together.
I feel I said a lot in this video that I think is important but I also feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface . I think there’s a whole more that could, well I personally could say whole lot more about different methods I’ve used to overcome my dysphoria. I could probably like talk for a long time just about overcoming my internalized misogyny and lesbophobia but anyways this video is already probably long enough. I think there’s so much that could be said about different kinds of dysphoria, what can cause dysphoria and different ways to treat it. I really hope this video inspires other people to talk about their experiences and what has worked for them. whether they are detransitioned or transitioned but find they need to use methods aside from medical transitioning to take care of themselves or people who never transitioned but have found ways to treat their dysphoria. It’s important to let people know that there are people who struggle with dysphoria who don’t end up changing their bodies or change parts of it but learn to accept other parts. It’s just good for people to know the range of experiences that are out there and all the different ways people have figured out to cope with gender dysphoria. I hope this video it help and I hope everyone is well. Take care.