Agender, Dysphoria, Philosophy

[I actually wanted to use this for my CoA posts last month, but in my mind physicality has more to do with my gender experience than my asexual one.]

(TW: Dysphoria)

One reason sleepy hygiene is really important to me is when I’m running on fumes my dysphoria likes to act up. I mostly feel dysphoric when I look in the mirror.

I was trying to explain what dysphoria felt like to a coworker of mine. He was saying some transphobic stuff so I immediately shut that down. When I engage in non-believer, I do my best to channel Socrates and I start asking questions. My main go-to question is pretty much, “Yeah, but how do you know?” and I just keep repeating that question in various forms until eventually the conversation turns on me and they ask, “Well how do you know?” Mwa hahaha, I’m so glad you asked.

When I look in the mirror something isn’t right. It takes me longer than the normal split second to identify that the image reflecting back is “me”. My mental self image (whatever that is) doesn’t match my mirror image. The same is true of photographs of myself. This becomes exacerbated when I’m tired, particularly when I’m stumbling into the bathroom in the predawn hours and there’s that giant mirror that takes up half of the freaking wall. I don’t watch horror movies, but there has to be a horror movie trope somewhere where people look in the mirror and see a ghost or monster or something, cue jump scare, instead of their reflection. Now imagine feeling like that all. the. time. That’s my dysphoria.

There’s a couple tricks I do to avoid feeling like I’m in a horror movie 24/7. The simplest one is I avoid mirrors. When I have to look in the mirror, because all bathrooms have them for some reason, I make faces. It took me a long time to figure out 1) I was subconsciously doing this and 2) it actually worked. It’s like I’m doing a quick reality check. I’ll either smile, squint-glare, stick out my tongue, or just flick the damn thing off. My brain picks up on the cue that it’s my reflection that I’m looking at and I can go about my business without freaking out. If I’m at work I usually focus my gaze on my uniform. It’s a little thing, but it helps.

Part of my problem is that since I don’t really have a mental image of what I’m “supposed” to look like, a physical transition would not be a good fit for me. Trying to look more masculine or androgynous doesn’t help my dysphoria. How do you present when your gender is literally “none of the above”?

Since a physical transition is not a good fit I had to find ways to “mentally transition”. How do I want to appear to others? My favorite archetype and the one I identify most with in stories is the “Mentor”. When people try to treat me like I’m a woman it squicks me out big time (if you could not tell from the on-going drama I keep complaining about). However, I love when people ask me random questions like “Do you believe in El Dorado” or anything related to schoolwork or knowledge. Ask me anything, just don’t ask me out.

This is where philosophy comes into the picture. Philosophy comes from the Greek word that literally meant “love of wisdom”. Right now I’m particularly interested Hellenistic Philosophy, most of which can be traced back to Socrates or rather Plato’s account of Socrates since nothing Socrates himself wrote (if he ever wrote) survived. The particular branch of philosophy I’m most interested in is Stoicism. Two things I zeroed in on while reading about Stoicism was that “There are things within our power and things beyond our power” and the Stoic approach to emotion.

Two things that are not within out power (meaning we have next to zero control over them) are our bodies and our reputation. Accepting that I had very limited control over my body and what other people thought about me or my body really helped me get to a better mental state about my gender and asexuality. For some reason the “Baby I was born this way” message didn’t sink in and I was holding on to the subconscious belief that it was still somehow my “fault” that I was asexual (which I know makes no logical sense). I finally realized that I couldn’t force my body to feel attraction or make it produce the hormone cocktail that it attributed to attraction. The same thing with romantic attraction and the same thing with gender.

The Stoics seemed to have intuitively guess what current research is only just beginning to reveal about emotions. In school I learned that there were 7 universal emotions, Joy, Surprise, Fear, Disgust, Anger, Contempt, and Sadness (Inside Out anyone?), but that’s not what the more recent research is pointing to. The only “true” universal emotions are pleasant, unpleasant, arousal, and calm. Everything else is cultural. Different cultures actually experience different emotions based on how we internally interpret the four basic feelings. Don’t get me wrong, you still feel your emotions. You experience joy, anger, sadness, etc… but because emotions are based on cultural context you have a lot more control over your emotions then you think.

To gain some new insight on human emotions check out this podcast.

So, to recap, I have next to zero control over my body or what other people think about my body, but I have a lot of control about how I feel about my body. Right now, I feel pretty good. I’m still just barely getting into philosophy and Stoicism so I’ll continue writing more about that at a later date.

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