A Ritual Against the Dysphoria
American Trans Man
Age: 51 years old
Identifies as: Man, Transsexual Man, Transgender Man, FTM
In my past, during the years when I didn’t know who I was, I would finish a shower by wrapping a towel around myself so that its top edge crossed my chest just above the female curvy places. I would stare at the reflection in the mirror of the flat part of my upper chest that was visible above the towel, sometimes placing the palm of my hand there. It was a ritual I performed unknowingly.
Now, post-self-awareness, I know that I created that ritual so that I could catch glimpses of masculine contours where my brain expected them to be, attempting to self-sooth, to achieve some sort of comfort when I couldn’t even acknowledge the discomfort. And how could I? When living in a mental fog of repression, the subconscious mind does not allow its conscious self to ask questions. “What am I doing?” “Why do I do it?” That questioning, internal voice is silenced.
As I got older and approached the point where my subconscious was barely holding back my true self, the dysphoria seeped even more through the cracks in the dam. I remember one morning in particular, while getting dressed; I was bending down to reach into the bottom drawer of the bedroom dresser when the sight of my naked, pendulous chest induced a burning in my gut.
I stopped in mid-motion, wondering what this sensation was. I don’t know how long I remained there, bent over, my palms resting on my legs just above my knees while I stared at the curves of my chest that were hanging toward the floor. I was purposely subjecting myself to this unpleasant feeling in an attempt to understand why the sight of that particular part of my body caused such a burning in my core. That questioning, internal voice was finally beginning to speak up.
Eventually, the walls of repression tumbled down and I acknowledged my true gender, but I still did not understand the dysphoria for what it was. I read accounts about trans people who suffered from dysphoria so horrible that it drove them to self-mutilation or worse. I could not relate to these stories. I assumed that I was not suffering from body dysphoria because I did not have this urge to cut off unwanted parts of my body. I assumed, therefore, that I was not trans “enough.”
Eventually, I worked up the courage to attend the local FTM support group meeting. It was February of 2008 and I was 47 years old. I decided that in order to fit in, I should bind, even though I did not think I felt dysphoric over my chest. I struggled into my new binder a couple of hours before the meeting and slipped a fresh, white t-shirt on over my head. As I went to the bathroom sink to brush my teeth, I glanced up at the mirror and froze at the sight of my reflection.
Oh my God. It was… me.
Not the me that everyone else saw, but the me that had been hidden behind my eyes, the masculine, flat-chested version of myself that my mind had unknowingly ached to see for decades. I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing, not wanting to disturb the first visual morsel of mental relief from the dysphoria that I had ever experienced.
The binder, I came to realize, gave me not only that welcome image of myself with a masculine-appearing chest, but it also helped to hold the unwanted flesh in place. I came to understand that feeling that tissue move, feeling the weight of it, was another source of dysphoric discomfort that had always been there, unacknowledged.
The relief with the binder didn’t last long. After about six months or so, even the loosest binder I owned contributed to a medical issue that I could not ignore, so I had to stop binding. Without the means to flatten that flesh and keep it from shifting around, the dysphoria steadily became worse.
Still, I was not ready for top surgery. It scared me for a number of reasons, one of them being, oddly, that I worried about post-surgical regret. Finally, however, I couldn’t continue to ignore the dysphoria. Sometimes it would hit me after the morning shower, when I was getting dressed, when I was getting ready to put on that infernal bra. It would start like seasickness in the pit of my stomach, and then I would swallow down the heavy thickness that would rise like bile to the back of my throat.
Eighteen months, now, post-surgery, that brand of dysphoria is gone. (And exactly how did I think that I might have regrets?) Sometimes I can’t even remember what it felt like to have that unpleasant female chest, but more often, I visually scan my reflection in the mirror, the masculine contours of my entire chest matching the internal vision of myself, and I place the palm of my hand there, feeling the incredible comfort that this ritual brings.