The Package of Dysphoria
American Trans Man
Age: 51 years old
Identifies as: Man, Transsexual Man, Transgender Man, FTM
In the dream, I am running laps in an empty gymnasium. The large space is only dimly lit by low light that comes through the row of windows set up high on one wall. The sounds of my footfalls echo softly off the walls and keep time with my steady breathing.
Running is effortless. My body is toned and tight, its muscle, bone and sinew coming together in a masculine format. I feel the strength of my limbs and notice their weight with each pump of my legs, each swing of my arms. This feels right.
I can run forever.
Body dysphoria – it’s not just about the female chest or the missing penis. The entire package is wrong. Every movement, every step, every reach sends signals to the brain that do not mesh with the brain’s expectations.
First, it’s physically feeling the incongruity. The expected heaviness of male muscles is not there, and so every single movement tells the brain the same repeating message:
wrong… wrong… wrong…
Then, it’s also seeing the incongruity. The body’s reality, being in conflict with the image in the mind’s eye, becomes exaggerated, distorted, or even grotesque; thin, emaciated arms with bony wrists, wide, bulbous hips and thighs, hairless, pale-soft skin, a fat, all too feminine face. Seeing a reflection, especially through an unexpected glimpse in a window or computer screen, is disconcerting, like suddenly being hit with a splash of cold water. Thoughtfully preparing for those moments so they don’t render such a jolt, steeling the resolve, requires a great investment of mental energy that’s unsustainable. And so those moments repeat.
The signals from the incongruities ebb and flow, they combine, sometimes in waves, sometimes as steady streams, constantly assaulting the psyche to become daily reality, a constant humming of anxiety just under the surface, like internal pumice scraping the underside of the skin.
And sometimes, in silent, desperate moments, when the world around is quiet and calm, the dysphoric barrage can reach a crescendo, a cacophony of insults on the brain. The resulting urge is to grasp the flesh and rend it, to tear off the body like it’s a prison jumpsuit. It’s during those moments that the thought of a trans person taking a knife to their own body becomes understandable.
The surgeries, the hormones, the physical transformations – they all help to bring alignment between the body and mind, to bring relief and peace from the dysphoric onslaught… to bring healing.