Gender dysphoria is a feeling of inner conflict between the gender you identify with and the body that you have. This is a really common thing among trans people (although not required to be trans). For example, I often wish I had narrower shoulders, a curvier frame, and no facial hair. On my rougher days I feel shame, embarrassment, or anger because I want to look as feminine on the outside as I feel on the inside.
This is a perfectly legitimate feeling. You’re allowed to feel hurt. At the same time, it’s important to remember that these feelings don’t have to define you or your transness. Having a large bust, wide hips, and soft features doesn’t mean someone isn’t a man. Low voices, big hands, and body hair don’t make someone less of a woman. Having a typical body shape of one gender doesn’t take away from being nonbinary.
Differences and variation between people is natural, even between cis people. There are cis women with flat chests and cis men with no facial hair. Those people’s gender aren’t questioned, so why should yours be? Masculinity, femininity, androgyny, and agenderness mean what you want them to mean. As a friend once told me, “If you think you’re something, then that’s enough. You are one.”
That being said, it’s important to have strategies to handle dysphoric feelings when they come. Here are a few ideas.
- Write in a journal. I’m a fan of journals. It gives me an outlet to write down all the nastiest things in my head and get them out. Sometimes I like to write faster than I can think, allowing myself to see how I really feel without filters.
- Make Something. This can take lots of forms: arts and crafts, presents for friends, gardening, cooking, baking, woodworking, music composing, choreography, knitting, creative writing, video production, and on and on. Find a hobby. Bring something new into the world that you’re proud of.
- Meditate. Perhaps you meditate as a form of worship. Or as part of a health routine. If you’re new to this, try playing a game: Focus on one thing for each of your senses. What are you hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and seeing right now? Stay in the moment and ignore everything else for a while.
- Exercise. Sometimes it’s nice to literally outrun your pain. Pound your hurt into submission. Sweat out the nervous energy. Run, bike, lift, row, or swim until your thoughts are drowned out by the sound of your own breathing.
- Leave the house. I know, I know, this one is hard sometimes. But give it a shot. Hike and pretend you’re narrating a nature documentary. Go to a concert and scream along with the lyrics (bonus points if there are none). Invite your friends on a scavenger hunt. Whatever it takes to get in a new environment.
- Volunteer. Reach out and make the world better. Get involved in things you care about. As the proverb goes, “Help your brother’s boat across, and your own will reach the shore.”
Take care of yourself
- Hug an animal. Stand up and find the closest puppy, kitty, or fuzzy animal of choice. Or scaly/feathered critters if you’d prefer. Cuddle with your buddy until you’re smiling.
- Treat Yo’ Self. If you have the money, get yourself something nice! If you don’t, still do something nice for yourself, even if it’s selfish for a moment. You’re worth it. ❤
- Dress up in your favorite clothes. Work it! Find what makes you feel sexy and flaunt it. Take pictures and shamelessly rub them in people’s faces.
- Take a bath/shower. As hot, bubbly, and perfumed as possible. Sing while you’re at it.
- Curl up in blankets. Mmm, warm and soft. Coffee or cocoa recommended. Also, you’re never too old for a blanket fort.
- Sex, wine, chocolate. In that order. Partner optional.
Change up your look
- Accentuate your body. Tuck or bind things you want to see less, pad what you want to see more. You don’t have to do this, but go for it if it makes you feel better.
- Switch things up. Try on new clothes. Experiment with new makeup. Contouring is amazing witchcraft and can bring out any features you want.
- Transition. Not everyone can, wants to, or needs to medically transition. However, if that’s something you’re interested in, hormone therapies and gender affirming surgeries have helped many people feel more at home in their bodies. It can feel like a glacially slow process, but things get better over time. Take pictures often and look back to see your progress.
- Fantasize. Use your imagination. Think of how you’d like to look, sound, and whatever else. Be careful not to expect that perfection of yourself or prioritize your fantasy over your current life. But it can be really nice to escape for a while.
Connect with others
- Surround yourself with friends. Find people who validate your feelings, use the right pronouns, and make you feel good. Talk often, about the good and the bad.
- Hug and cuddle. Physical touch can be healing. Hold on to people you feel comfortable sharing that with.
- Get involved with communities. Could be IRL or online. Find MOGII-safe spaces with people who think like you. Someone helpfully made a few suggestions of where you could look (hint hint).
- Watch queer media. Get this: there are shows with gay and trans people where they don’t even get killed! Check some out. Also, follow the #transisbeautiful tag.
- Follow a role model. Find someone you look up to and want to be like in the trans community. For me, Laverne Cox and Jen Richards showed me how talented, sharp, and beautiful trans women could be. That some of the things I felt insecure about are the same things I love about them. Honorable mentions: Laura Jane Grace, Angelica Ross, Chaz Bono, Chase Ross, Ruby Rose, and Nat Titman.
Confront your anxiety
Please be careful with these suggestions. These can be extremely helpful, but they sometimes need to be done at the right time in the right place. If something is triggering, it’s okay to stop. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, okay? Okay. Back to the listicle.
- Analyse and improve. Dig deep and see what things you are most insecure about. What sets you off? If there’s something you can control, try to find the best ways to handle or avoid those situations. Problem solving can give you a sense of control.
- Look back and compare. Look at how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned. It can be helpful to focus on your growth, rather than your anxieties.
- Mourn and recover from your losses. People who lose body parts to illness or injury are often encouraged to grieve for that part. It may help to take some time to mourn certain things you cannot have. That is a real form of loss. One you can heal from.
- Take stock of what you have. List the things you like about your body. Write it down. Particularly emphasize the things you can do with your body, rather than what you may not be able to do or how it looks. Be proud of your strengths and say them out loud from time to time.
- Overexpose yourself. This one can be extremely effective, but could also be extremely triggering. Know your limits and be careful.
- Take way too many selfies. I’m not a huge fan of selfies. But I’ve gotten better at them with practice. Just like how radio hosts get used to the sound of their own voices after initial discomfort, spending time looking at your face may help you make peace with it. You can do the same thing with mirrors.
- Get naked. This is an extension of the selfie trick. If you can, spend a whole day naked in your home. I was skeptical of this, but after a few hours I was much more comfortable with my own body. Soon I even found things I liked about my body that I didn’t know before.
- Talk to yourself. You might feel a little silly at first, but talking to yourself can be really helpful to get at what you’re thinking.
- Spit it out. When I’m not sure what’s upsetting me, I ask myself questions and blurt out loud answers without giving myself time to think. Those are my unedited feelings, which are useful to know.
- Separate your feelings. It helps me to have conversations with myself, pretending that I’m speaking to somebody else.* That way I can argue without attacking myself. I let the angry thoughts be something separate from me, and I console the depressed thoughts in my head as if they were one of my friends.
- See a therapist. No shame in asking for help. Those with experience treating trans people have likely seen this before and may have some good ideas.
Every person has their own way of handling dysphoria. Just like anything else, it gets easier with practice. Hang in there, and remember how brilliant, lovely, and revolutionary you are. Every day of survival is a victory, and if you’re reading this, you are an undefeated champion.
*This is very different from and doesn’t mean to diminish or mock the very real experiences of those with dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, or audible hallucinations. The strategy refers to the acceptance that everyone is made up of many different components that can each be considered and addressed individually. (Return to text.)