Dysphoria is about bodies. It has nothing to do with whether or not it’s “acceptable” for me to be a guy with what is traditionally believed to be a woman’s body. I damn well know I’m a guy. I don’t need society’s approval to see myself, completely, utterly, and with no regard whatsoever for my body’s shape, as my stated identity. I am surrounded by wonderful, caring people who accept that I am a guy, refer to me as a guy, and defend my right to be a guy.
And I still experience dysphoria.
Because dysphoria is about bodies. My body is wrong.
Do we need to make this any clearer for you? Let me put it like this: when my dysphoria is triggered, my stomach seizes up. My throat gets choked, and I feel like I’m about to start crying at any second. If it’s severe enough, my hands shake. My extremities get cold, which is a reaction my body tends to exhibit when I’m under stress. I experience psychological distress. I withdraw. I cry unstoppably. I fantasize about what my body should look like. I get even more upset because what my brain pictures my body as and what I see in the mirror don’t match up.
I stare at my chest in the mirror thinking about how much it would hurt if I tried to cut it off.
I experience physical pain.
And let me make something clear here. I (not all trans* people, but I specifically) don’t experience social dysphoria. I get irritated at not being taken seriously, at being referred to as “miss” or “ma’am” or a group of “ladies,” at being constantly read as a woman, I am hurt by people’s refusal to believe my identity is valid, I am angered by injustice carried out against my brothers and sisters and non-binary siblings. But these feelings are not dysphoria. Dysphoria is extreme physical and psychological distress. Yes, it upsets me to be called a girl. But not on a deeply psychological, triggering level.
You know what does?
Specifically, seeing a person who perfectly exemplifies everything my subconscious associates with my own body, and being sharply and painfully reminded that my body doesn’t match my subconscious image of self—an image of self that is built not from social definitions of what is appropriate to each gender, because, guess what! I’m a non-binary guy, not a man. And there are certain parts of my body that I’m just not okay with. That is what causes my dysphoria. And you know what? That wouldn’t go away in a world without gender.
So, yes, by all means, work on dismantling the social construction of gender. It would probably benefit most of the world. But don’t expect that doing so will halt the existence of trans* people. Because even if we lived in a world where it was acceptable to be any gender, no matter what your body was, without anyone questioning it, my dysphoria still wouldn’t go away. Even if everyone I met accepted that I was a guy without question, comment, or concern, I would still want to get rid of my chest. Saying that in a world without gender there would be no trans* people is deeply hurtful, not to mention wrong. Don’t erase my existence. Enough of the world does that already.
And you know what I think you’ll find, when you’ve finally worked your way down to the bone, stripping away layers and layers of socially mandated gender roles to get to the bare humans underneath? You’ll find that gender isn’t as much of a construct as you thought it was. Even when gender roles are gone, and everyone is free to be whatever they are without having to work under the labels of “man” or “woman” or whatever else they’ve carved out for themselves in a world that still doesn’t accept that non-binary genders exist, there will still be people identifying with those terms. There will still be proud women, proud men, proud queers, proud androgynes, proud neutrois, proud bigender and trigender and multigender people and proud people of every single other stripe, spot, and streak of colour out there—because gender is not just about how you like to act or what you like to present yourself as. Gender is about who you are, who you identify with, what people in your life you grow up emulating because your young mind makes a connection between them and you.
Taking away the words for it won’t stop people from doing that. All it’ll do is take away their power to identify themselves. And in the end I’d rather have the ability to find a name for what I am so that I know, no matter what I’m going through, that I am not alone. Because I am trans*, and I am not a theory you can pick at and consider objectively, I am not solely a product of a broken gender system, I am not going through this struggle just because I’m not comfortable with gender roles—and if you strip away those gender roles, you still wouldn’t make me go away.
I exist, I am here, and I experience dysphoria, and you can damn well shut your mouths if you think you can eliminate people like me from existence. You can’t. I am not a symptom of an imperfect system. There is a problem with my body and no amount of social restructuring, no matter how necessary it is, will change that.
I am trans* and I’m not going away. And if you can’t handle the heat, then shut up and get the hell out of the kitchen before I grab it with both hands and burn you with it—because I deal with that heat every day. I can take it.