What makes someone transgender? Is body dysphoria something every trans person must experience? These are pervasive questions I've heard in cis and trans spaces, questions that highlight a schism that's ironic and redundant. To be transgender is to defy expectations. It is a transgression of that which has been taken for granted in the hopes of achieving authenticity and self-love. We trans folk create freedom through existence, so it should not be necessary to pin down that which is fluid. But the need for definition persists. Perhaps that need is not wrong. Bringing curiosity to what characterizes the transgender experience is welcome when that curiosity is paired with the intention to understand. But imposing requirements on trans definition is damaging.
For most of us, self-identification comes only after the realization that we are not cis, that in order to be true to who we know we are, we must leave the safety inherent in cisgender norms. It's a daunting task. Pervasive discrimination, lack of medical care, prejudice, violence, family rejection, isolation, these are all things a trans person risks in being open. The severe beating of a trans woman here in Denver, Colorado within the last week drives this point home. But we create the risk of even greater mental distress when we add the requirement of body dysphoria to what it means to be transgender. Enter the, "not trans enough" syndrome. The dominant narrative about the trans experience is that trans people experience gender dysphoria, discomfort with the gender assigned at birth, as a result of body dysphoria, discomfort with bodily characteristics. And while that detail is true for some transgender folxs, that's not the whole story. Non-binary folxs like me are less likely to experience body dysphoria in a way that fits that dominant narrative. Some of us don't need to undergo any medical transitioning in order to feel whole. Yet all of us cannot stand the absolutely arbitrary, bullshit gender labels and expectations we get saddled with at birth and feel its our own god damn right to self-define.
Can you tell this has been bothering me yet? This is where I'll get extremely personal. My relationship with body dysphoria is complicated. It's fluctuated. I've always felt my breasts were too large. They got in the way of what I wanted to do, how I wanted to look, and how I wanted people to interact with me. Whenever I exercised, I had to strap these mammoth titties down or I hurt so badly I had to stop. Buying clothes, whether femme or masc, was such a chore I'd rather wear something to pieces than try to replace it. And because of this huge rack, I was objectified as a sexual object since I was nine years old. I've been cat-called, harassed, violated, and made to feel extremely unsafe because cisgender men think they're entitled to comment on, and then have, the curves of my body. But I thought this was something many people, particularly women, had to deal with. If you had asked me five years ago, I'd have told you I didn't experience body dysphoria. I would have said I didn't like the size of my breasts and wished they were smaller.
But things have gotten exponentially worse. Right now, I cannot change in front of a mirror. If I do, I notice how unsightly my breasts are and I instantly feel low. Even strapping into a sports bra or binder reminds me about how disgusting I feel. I spend most of my days dissociating from the body I live in, trying neither to remember the weight sitting on my chest nor give in to the pain the binding causes. I've not wanted to have sex because that would require deriving pleasure from something that nauseates me. If I do have sex, I have to keep my binder on. And this is still better than five months ago, before the IUD I inserted to cut off bleeding started working. Five months ago, I was so disgusted with my vessel that I flirted with depression. I couldn't sleep. I had to take time off work. So much energy was required to think, move, laugh, be. I wept whenever I had to dress myself or insert a tampon. I was so horribly distressed nothing but some bourbon made things better. And that was while I, a mental health counselor, was in therapy myself.
Body dysphoria is not something I can will away with compliments, body positivity, mindfulness, yoga, essential oils, changes in exercise or diet, and prayer. It is not something I've been able to do away with by seeking mental health treatment. I have a medical condition which requires medical transitioning and this is a truth I begrudgingly accept. I cannot stress how much I do not want this. If I could've changed it by now, I would have.
The IUD I got inserted five months ago was the first step I took to making things better. A breast reduction is next. This is my version of medical transitioning. But the hurdles I've encountered while trying to procure it have been horrendous. Try telling your health insurance that you need a breast reduction, not full top surgery, because you're trans. You'll find yourself in non-binary hell. Defining yourself as transgender when other people's definition doesn't include you.
These are the reasons why I spurn imposing requirements on the definition of what it means to be transgender. I wouldn't wish body dysphoria on anyone and staunchly adhering to the idea that one must have body dysphoria to be "validly" trans creates barriers where there shouldn't be. Additional mental distress in populations already so vulnerable is absolutely awful. So please, I invite you to help end the "not trans enough," syndrome. If you're trans and don't have body dysphoria, know you are valid. I see you and honor you. If you're trans and have body dysphoria, know you are valid too. I see you, honor you, and commiserate with how quickly it needs to end. Let us as a community stop creating division. We face enough oppression already. And if you're cisgender and have made it all the way through this blog post, I thank you for your curiosity. I pray you have paired it with the intention to understand and will strive to accept and celebrate trans identities equally.
I must grow into your intricacies if I am to grow into my fullest self. So let us transform together, body. Into who were were destined to be.