Dysphoria is a psychiatric term meaning a “general state of unease or dissatisfaction”. The opposite of euphoria. Gender dysphoria is common in the non-binary, non-conforming, and transgender communities. I’ve talked to several people and there is a common thread of “I hate” or “I feel detached from my body”. I consider dysphoria a serious issue in the gender communities that needs to be addressed and resources should be made available even for people like me.
My dysphoria is a little different from the usual brand of “I hate my body”. I’m agender, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my body. You could say it’s kind of grown on me. I’m not interested in any surgery or medical treatments that would make me look more androgynous than my clothes already do. I wouldn’t be able to afford them anyway. No, what I “hate” is how other people see me.
Somebody meets me for the first time and they automatically assign me a gender. It pisses me the hell off. With this assigned gender automatically come a string of stereotypes that also piss me off. In my mind I’m not the problem, they are. People also automatically think I’m younger than I actually am by several years. I’m 26. I must have a babyface or something because when people meet me for the first time they think I’m anywhere between 18 and 21. After I correct them about my age they get all huffy like they just paid me a complement and I should be grateful. It’s this snap judgment that’s the cause of my dysphoria.
I can’t and don’t feel comfortable telling people I’ve just met I’m agender. If I did so I’m worried I would put myself at risk for discrimination. My gender isn’t something I’ve discussed with my family and friends at length either so why would I tell somebody I’ve just met? My biggest fear is that people wouldn’t believe me. My second biggest fear is that they’ll automatically associate every character quirk I have as “Oh, that’s because s/he’s agender” and I suddenly become the face of all agender people in their minds. Being agender is only part of my identity and I don’t want people to see it as the whole.
So, I’m at an impasse. I get mad when people assign me a gender, but I’m unwilling to confront them about it so I just get even angrier. It’s a vicious cycle that is starting to affect my everyday life. It’s hard to interact with people when at the back of my mind I’m whispering, “yeah, well I’m agender, but you don’t accept that,” like that gives me a free pass to be a dick to people. “Oh, I mixed up your order? Yeah, well you mixed up my gender.” “Oh, I didn’t finish doing you that favor? Try doing me a favor and keep your pronouns to yourself.” Saying these things out loud wouldn’t do any good, but keeping these thoughts to myself isn’t much better. So, what can I do? It’s exhausting being angry all the time.
I’m a big proponent of self-help. What good is going to the doctor if it’s something you can treat yourself? My dysphoria is currently mild enough that I think I can manage it. First of all, I know my dysphoria isn’t going to go away because the root causes aren’t just going to go away by themselves. If things ever escalate to the point that I don’t think I could handle it by myself I would definitely seek professional help. Secondly, I’m approaching the problem by thinking of management solutions. Dysphoria isn’t something that’s “cured”, but I can definitely do things to make my feelings more manageable.
The first step is to isolate my triggers and where they happen most. For me, being called a gender (specifically words like girl/boy or lady/gentleman) is what I react to the most. This is most likely to happen in a public place like if I’m at work or school. Obviously I can’t avoid these places, but I can take steps to alleviate my negative feelings.
I’ve found pride items to be really effective for this. I wear my ace ring anytime I’m out in public and I’ve sewn patches and aromantic colors into my clothes. Wearing pride colors helps me remember that I’m not alone. I also think of it as sending a message to others in the community that see me that they are not alone. Wearing pride items is subtle enough that “muggles” don’t pick up on the message and it helps me feel like I’m an active part of my queer communities.
The second step is managing my stress. Diet and exercise are always good things to revisit if I feel overly sensitive and stressed. I also keep a “negative thoughts journal” for when I have really bad days. It helps me to write out what upset me. Instead of focusing on the feelings of my situation I revisit the details kind of like a crime report. If I can stick to the facts it usually helps me calm down about the situation.
The third step is reaching out to other people with similar experiences. Although everyone feels dysphoria differently the knowledge that I’m not the only one going through a tough time with gender is comforting. It’s a good way for me to feel connected and less isolated. Having a sense of community and shared experience is the most beneficial thing I can do for myself. Hence, why I created this blog.
Lastly, I do what I can to raise awareness of gender issues and I do so through storytelling. Everyone who was a member of the writing club I was in in college knows about my first agender character. That character was the first of many that I plan to write to spread awareness about agender identities. That first character was a big part of what made me accept myself. I believe that everyone needs literary heroes to look up to and when I couldn’t find the one I needed, I made up my own. Those stories help me make it though the day and give me a goal for the future.
I’ve also thought about slowly coming out to more of my friends. I don’t have to come out in the end if I really don’t want to, but I think having more people I care about aware of my situation would be beneficial and help me manage my general unease with society.