Depression.

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Stockholm pride last summer.

I used to take pride in how well I was doing as a transgender guy. I came out almost seamless. Once I had changed my name and got my investigation started, things was going exceptionally smooth. I felt better, had more fun and a brighter view on the future. I used to think that it was partly because transitioning is the right thing for me to do, but also because I was downright good at it. It is a bit of a blow to discover that I’m not doing so well any more.

Clinical depression is incredibly common among transgender people. Depression can be seen as one effect of experiencing gender dysphoria – or rather of living in a cis-normative society. I knew this and I saw friends suffer through it. But I felt strong and thought that I was different, that my supportive network could protect me from harm. I felt thankful and was right to do so, but none the less I was mistaken.

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January 2015. It is a cold new year.

It has been growing on me the last few weeks that I feel like shit a bit to often. Initially I blamed it on Christmas or the frustrating work with my thesis and thought it only reasonable. But then I lost what remained of my concentration along with my appetite and got trouble sleeping. I’ve felt isolated, tired and sad, yet restless. Dysphoria has got to me again. I’ve avoided meeting people or engage in things I used to enjoy, in order to not drain myself on energy.

I really should have seen this one coming. I’ve been here before and I know what I have to do. I’ve arranged with doctors appointments, put my theses aside and decided to take a break from doing hard stuff like studying until I feel better. Just thought that I should let you know.

If you want to help, I appreciate your company rather than your expressed sympathy, a warm meal rather than hugs. But anything heartfelt definitely goes.

 

/ E.

 

 

Body dysphoria and other dark thoughts

I often feel slightly confused about the way my body is changing and my own new way of looking at myself. I’m unused to it and embarrassed about it. Not all the time, but often. I feel sad about what I’ve lost or given up, all the pieces of a female identity I ever had. Sometimes I feel misunderstood by some of the people who really matter to me. I’m afraid  that I’m taking up to much of their time and energy with my transitional thoughts. I feel worried about where I’m going and the enormous effort it is costing me. Am I always to be a freak? Is it always going to be this hard? I haven’t even started on testosterone yet and probably won’t for at the least another year. Still the changes of my appearance is overwhelming me in my overly self-aware stage of transitioning. The burden of my choice and it’s consequences is weighing me down some days.

Transitioning makes me grow in all kinds of ways. Many of them makes me proud and happy and encourages me do silly things like pulling my shirt of and throw of my 20 first-ever pull-ups in the kitchen door opening at a party, in front of a massive cheering crowd only to prove my strength. (Yes, I know it sounds a bit tasteless, but I wasn’t completely topless and you should have been there, it was fun!)

It is monumentally weird to be genderd different than before. Most of it is not about the “Awesome, I’m getting ripped and now I can be true to who I really am”-sort of things. It makes more difference than I ever could have guessed and is sometimes about very unexpected stuff. For starters, it affects how old people think I am. It makes me look like a teenager, and sometimes I even feel like one. That in turn change what my relations look like, how I’m met by other people… I thought of it the last time I was kissing someone in my own age in public. People were looking.

I know I look sort of gay, especially when kissing a guy. That does not bother me, quite the opposite – I like it. But it might also look sort of perverted, me seemingly around 16-17 and my kissing friend more than twice that. My blonde and innocent looks don’t help at all in making me look less vulnerable. When I come to think of it, I mostly don’t mind looking perverted. It is worse to feel victimised. I notice how people look, how they judge me and the one I’m with. There are social punishments that will affect me no matter how right I am and what I think of it. Nowadays there is a price on the public affection I show the people I love.

Another utterly unexpected thing that transitioning has done to me; two weeks ago I was stunned when I noticed that my breasts were at the least one size larger than they’ve ever been! They’ve always been very small to begin with, but now I want them to shrink away into muscle and disappear forever. They haven’t, they look bigger instead. I was so disappointed and felt totally humiliated. How and why the hell did this happen?

Then I realised why. I know very little about what happens to a female body when it builds muscle, but now I’ve learned this; my breasts are placed on the pectoralis major muscle, the largest muscle on the front side of the body. My breasts look bigger because I’ve developed serious chest muscles underneath! If they weren’t so small to begin with, I might not have noticed.

That made me feel a little better, but still bad. I don’t want my female breasts to be more protruding! But there is nothing I can do about that now, except to suck it up. I’ll wear my binder more often and try to enjoy my new muscular upper body as much as I can to compensate for the parts of me I like less. I find very little comfort in the fact that the surgeon I might meet in a distant future for my mastectomy (breast removal) will like what zie’s got to work with. Good for the surgeon, then. Bad for me now.

PicsArt_1386332720250[1]My chest, shoulders and upper arms have developed massively since I started to work out with serious transitional ambitions.  Sometimes I’m able to enjoy that, able to be proud of all the hard work that’s behind my transformation. But at other times it makes me feel lost and freakish. Either I think I look monstrous and out of proportion or that I just imagined the change and that no one else can see it either, that I’m just bragging about my efforts at the gym and have to work even harder.

Body dysphoria is a term used to describe this kind of general feelings of sadness or an uncomfortableness about your body. It can include feeling great anxiety, irritability or restlessness and a more or less distorted view of self.

My clothes don’t fit me any more. I don’t look like I want to do, nor like I used to. I’ve grown out of my comfort zone and sometimes I feel like nothing really fits or works any more. But it seems like my discomfort with this is totally hidden for others by the fact that my training is actually giving the results I want. I work hard, I get the reward; so what’s the whining about?

At the same time as I’m being socialised into being a man by my network, friends and family, I also strongly feel how limiting the male gender role is for me or probably for anyone. It is utterly unmanly to whine about your body, to talk about how awkward your muscles make you feel. But I really don’t feel at home with my body and I can see no end of that.

Dysphoria

A friend recommended me to read this blog post by Zinnia Jones about the problematic and vague concept “gender dysphoria”, something that many trans* people experience.  Zinnia writes about what gender dysphoria is and why is it relevant to wipe away the vagueness, on a personal level.

When you don’t know what dysphoria is, or that it’s even an actual condition, it’s easy to mistake it for who you naturally are. You might think it’s part of your innate personality and disposition, and something you just have to learn to cope with. This can delay recognizing that you’re trans or that transitioning is an appropriate choice for you.

Gender dysphoria is widely described and experienced as distress due to discomfort with one’s assigned sex, and the desire to live as another sex. The condition of gender dysphoria is common among transgender people, although being transgender is not itself a condition or disorder, nor is the presence of gender dysphoria required in order for someone to be transgender. Not all trans people have significant gender dysphoria or experience their dysphoria in the same way: different trans people may be uncomfortable with different aspects of their assigned sex, their body, their presentation, the gender role expected of them, and so on.

Nevertheless, the common thread of gender dysphoria is that it is linked with our gender and the various components of this. The distress of dysphoria, and hopefully its resolution, are contingent on how closely the overall situation of our gender aligns with what we need it to be. For this reason, people typically understand the experience of gender dysphoria as being very clearly and self-evidently centred on gender. The most widespread notion is that we become aware of our dysphoria in very direct, gender-related ways, such as knowing from a young age that we’re actually women or men despite the sex we were assigned, feeling “trapped” in our bodies due to their inappropriate sex characteristics, needing to make our “outside” match our “inside”, and strongly wishing to present and live as another gender.

Diverse experiences of dysphoria

This understanding of gender dysphoria is an incomplete one. A largely unrecognised facet of dysphoria is that not all trans people initially recognize or experience this as being unmistakably connected to our genders. Some of us suffer the distress that stems from dysphoria, but without many clues that this is about gender, and its relation to our genders may be obvious only in retrospect. Much attention is focused on the “gender” part of this, the well-defined cross-gender identities and needs and feelings. Less is given to the experience of more general dysphoria.

Wikipedia describes dysphoria as “a state of feeling unwell or unhappy; a feeling of emotional and mental discomfort”. I find that extremely vague and I’ve decided to take a closer look at the dysphoria I experience in order to be able to see if it goes away as I go on with my transitioning.