Winter is finally over. I am shedding my winter layers. I am molting like a snake. Any day now it will be warm enough to walk around in jeans and a T-shirt. The pear trees are flowering. I got caught in a sudden rain shower that cleared as fast as it started. Afterwards, I smelled the warm wet sidewalk. It is a summer smell. I am not ready for summer.
It is impossible to accurately explain body dysphoria to someone who never had it. Each time I catch a glimpse of myself I expect to see someone else. My dysphoria is visual. My dysphoria is dissociative. I’ve learned I can manage it by keeping my hair short, wearing masculine clothes, de-emphasizing my breasts, and avoiding mirrors and reflective surfaces. I’ve learned I can manage it by avoiding bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, gendered spaces. I have expended a lot of energy manging my dysphoria, but it won’t go away.
I look in the mirror and I can’t line myself up with the image reflected back at me. When I see pictures of myself I don’t see myself, I only see someone who I can identify as me, but really isn’t me. Donna tries to take pictures of me on the sly. She knows if I stop and pose the result will be false; a picture of someone else.
At its most benign, my dysphoria is grating. It is like chewing your salad and coming across a grain of sand. Some days my dysphoria is disruptive and dangerous, as if I am walking down Madison Avenue naked. I panic and I want to hide, but everyone can see what is wrong with me.
There are days when I try to get dressed and everything looks wrong and feels wrong. When I change my shirt four times and still don’t want to go out. When I feel self-conscious and critical. When everything feels fake and nothing feels authentic. When the only thing that works is to break out the flannel and dress like a boy.
I’ve managed my dysphoria using the medical model of “primum non nocere” which translates as “First, do no harm.” In practice, it means that sometimes it is better to do nothing, or to do as little as possible, than to risk causing more harm than good. I talked about my dysphoria in therapy. I modified my wardrobe so I don’t wear stuff I don’t like. I legally changed my name. I experimented with sports bras and binders to find an everyday comfortable solution (double design co. purchased from Les Love Boat in Taiwan). I inched incrementally sideways. I have not done anything medical.
Is it possible for me to stop managing my dysphoria and to embrace it, as I embrace being butch and being transgender? Can I learn to live with it because it is a part of me? Can I acknowledge it and let it go, take away its power, render it harmless? Or is that futile? Should I try to exorcise my dysphoria? Would top surgery defang it forever? That is the $11,000 question.
I’ve tried to get by. As if I deserved to survive, but am not entitled to be made whole. I’ve never asked myself what being made whole would mean. It is too big and too open-ended a question.