Ins and Outs of Dysphoria

What are some of the symptoms of dysphoria? I’m trying to figure things out…

Medically, it’s basically just “being trans”. The DSM-IV lists gender dysphoria as a condition, however they do stress that “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.” That second part is what really matters, because at least I think of dysphoria as a very physical sensation (and I know a few other trans people who also think about it in that context).

Dysphoria is a lot of different things, and I will never be able to describe it as eloquently and make it as relateable as Kate does in this article:

If you’ve never had body dysphoria, let me explain a little bit about how it makes me feel and why I have it. Body dysphoria feels like the worst-fitting outfit you’ve ever put together, but you can never take it off. Or sometimes it’s more like a pebble in your shoe, or a belt that digs into your side, or a tiny thing that is just noticeable enough to throw your day off. Some days I wake up and it’s just there. Some days it’s because I tried to fit my not-so-masculine body into my masculine clothes, and the parts that didn’t fit made me want to scream and disappear and puke up all my guts at the same time. It can grow into a scary place where I don’t know if my body belongs to me, and I feel like I’ve been detached from something essential and am about to wash out to sea. Maybe a picture makes me hate and fear the body I don’t have because it’s not the body I wish I had. Maybe I think that the someone I desire won’t desire me because I don’t look like all the handsome cisgendered men they probably grew up loving. Maybe it doesn’t make sense why I feel these things, but I still feel them and they still hurt, darn it.

Not all trans people experience bodily dysphoria (and I do want to validate this), but every conversation I’ve been a part of has lead me to believe that it is a trans specific experience, and it’s not limited to binary trans people. I browsed through a few articles before responding to this, and I saw a bit of conflation with body dysmorphia. The latter is related more to body image, the former being a feeling that something isn’t right with the body you have, and that is tied to your sense of gender identity and experience. It can be focused on the genitalia, it can be a sense of dread over the fact that your body isn’t as curvy as smooth as you need it to be, it can just be a vague consciousness that physically you do not have what you mentally and emotionally need.

I hope this helped, and I wish you luck in figuring stuff out!


Being Queer Offline

Because I am not out as mtf, I only talk about gender related stuff online, and I sometimes feel like my identity only exists online, like I live two separate lives. I’m not quite sure what my problem is, but I just can’t integrate my gender into my daily life. I feel like I’m on auto-pilot until I get online again. How do I bring identities I can only express online into my “real” life?

Well, I think there are a number of ways that you can do this, and they all depend on what you think matters in terms of you expressing your identity. First of all, I don’t know if it’s something you’d be interested in, but on Facebook you can now “customize” your gender; while you don’t actually need to put in “I am Trans” or anything (though you can), you can make the site use either he/him, she/her, or they/them for you. This might just be my skewed perception, but in a lot of ways I think of Facebook as a bridge between my online life and my offline life, so I’m really excited about their new options re: gender.

Is there any overlap with the friends you have online and the friends you have offline? I obviously don’t know if you go to UW or not, but is there a center like the Q Center at your school or in your area where you could establish queer connections? Something like Queer Youth Space? I think having ties to queer life in your world is immensely helpful for a lot of reasons, one of which being the comfort of having a concrete place of support and acceptance. For classes, email or contact your professors/teachers before terms start and tell them if you have a preferred name and what pronouns you need them to use for you.

Are there small physical things you can do/are interested in doing/feel comfortable doing? Painting your nails is obviously not something restricted to or required of any one gender, but it’s definitely perceived as a very feminine display. I always like having my toenails painted, because it’s fun and creative and pretty, but it’s just for me. Are there things that you’ve wanted to do in the past, but avoided in fear of outing yourself? Can you build up to them, find loopholes, make them more possible, more subtle? I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but anything I could outright tell you to do would be loaded with assumptions of knowledge that I don’t have on your life and your preferences. I want to make sure you do this on your own terms. I also don’t want you to just dive in headfirst; your safety and comfort is as important as your expression of self, so sacrificing one for the other is going to leave you in a good place. I’m glad that you at least have an online outlet for this expression and experience, that’s really great! I hope you’re able to bring more of yourself into your world offline. Good luck!


How Do I “Do” Bisexual?

I am a feminine female and recently came to identify as bisexual. I am in an open relationship with my boyfriend, so I have been able to have experiences with women as well. My question is now… I don’t know how to “do” bisexual. I have been raised all my life to flirt with guys, appeal to guys, etc. As a feminine woman, I find it hard to know if other women are interested in me, simply because I’ve been told that I “don’t look bisexual”. I feel like I’m in middle school all over again! Will all this just happen naturally over time? Where’s a good place to start so I can get more comfortable talking/flirting with girls in that way?

I think more than anything this is something that will happen naturally for you, but I think what would be really helpful for you would be to take a step back and think about your history of interacting with men under a sexual context and how it could translate. Outside of societal expectations, I really don’t think there’s that much of a difference. What nonverbal signals did you send out to let a dude know you were interested? Lots of eye contact? Laughter regardless of whether or not they said something funny? Playing with your hair or lips? Subtle physical contact when it’s totally not required? Those are all pretty universal flirting signs, regardless of who it’s coming from. Flirt with someone the way you’d want to be flirted with, if that makes sense. Have confidence and be earnest, I don’t think there’s really a trick to it. I feel weird writing this because I am embarrassingly bad at flirting, but this is definitely what I believe! Also, I think I’ve mentioned this once in an entry before, but I honestly think that like, OKCupid is really effective here? You can list yourself as bisexual, check the box for “I don’t want to see or be seen by straight people,” and just get some practice talking to girls under that context. And as much as you can, ignore the whole “you don’t look bisexual” thing. I think I’ve voiced my thoughts on how I feel about that kind of mindset enough that doing so again would be redundant, but the people who say that are terribly misguided and I just don’t want that to affect your sense of self! This entry might be somewhat useful to you in that regard, though. I hope this helps! Again, I really think that it won’t be a big leap for you, but I wish you all of the luck in the world.


HRT and Invalidation

Dear Queer, I am an amab trans woman. For much of my life I identified as a woman, but had to (and still have to) keep it secret from much of my family and friends in fear that they might disown me or worse. I have considered HRT but am currently very incapable of affording it. Not only that, but I’m not 100% sure I want to undergo HRT. I feel as though my identity is constantly being dismissed and erased, even among my queer friends, simply because I haven’t undergone -or don’t fully plan to undergo- HRT. There isn’t much I know regarding the procedure, and there aren’t many resources available in my area. Do you have any general advice for my predicament?

First and foremost I want to apologize for the way people have treated your hesitance with HRT. That’s really not cool, and I’m sorry that you have felt invalidated for this, because that should not happen. The fascination and borderline objectification of the trans body is unfortunately not limited to those outside of queer communities. You are a woman, your body belongs to a woman, and that does not become more or less true just because of what it looks like. Having access to hormone therapy is a privilege that many do not have, for reasons similar to your own. It’s expensive, it requires support, and it’s a process.

Here are some great resources RE: trans health that will be immensely helpful for you to look into:

http://www.icath.org/default.html
http://transhealth.ucsf.edu/
http://www.amsa.org/AMSA/Homepage/About/Committees/GenderandSexuality/TransgenderHealthCare.aspx
http://thefenwayinstitute.org/

Two things to keep in mind, that these websites will confirm to some degree: you do not need to “live as ___” for a certain amount of time before you qualify for HRT. Also: not everything estrogen will do to you is permanent, and stopping treatment is always a possibility. I know you’re kind of on the border about whether or not to even consider it an option, but I want to make sure your ambivalence is not only a result of the permanence or ease of access. I’m giving you these resources not because I want to back any of the pressure you’ve felt towards it, but because I want you to have as much information as possible in case it becomes something you want and a possibility in your life. A lot of things go into what most people consider a “full transition” – but what parts actually matter to you? Don’t wrap your life and your decisions around what people perceive to be The Trans Experience, I don’t think that will ever really fulfill you emotionally.

If you would feel comfortable, I would really encourage you to talk to your queer friends especially about the way they treat your identification as a woman. I can’t stress enough that I want you to reject those who say that you need to undergo this MASSIVE physical transition in order to be validated in what you already know and have known for a long time now. I specify the queer friends because you do have the common ground of belonging to a gender/sexual minority with them, there’s less ground to cover and they will undoubtedly have more empathy than those who aren’t queer. Honestly, a good conversation starter is the recent Janet Mock and Piers Morgan debacle; Janet Mock is incredibly articulate in the fact that, though a physical transition was something she wanted and benefited from, that’s not what made her the person she is.

I hope I said something constructive, please feel free to write back for clarification or whatever else you might need. Good luck!

Oly


Starting a GSA

I’m starting a GSA at my school and I want to have meetings with different topics each week. I want the topics to focus more on less well-known issues like the biphobia, etc. Do you have any ideas of what I could talk about?

Oh awesome, this is awesome. This is really cool of you to take upon yourself! Two huge tips I have from the get-go: 1) stress intersectionality! Put a spotlight on overlapping groups of marginalized people, don’t let the people in your future GSA associate queer issues with only white, thin, able-bodied, wealthy people! 2) Make it interactive, and not only in the context of having an open discussion. One thing I think is really helpful is asking people what they know and what they want to know more about and what they just simply don’t understand, at the very beginning and as you move throughout the topics. This will definitely require ice breakers first, though. Ok I’m gonna list out some potential topics of conversation (in no particular order!) and add some resources and whatnot that I think you could find useful.

  1. Concepts of power, privilege, and oppression on a very basic and translatable level to work with. It’s really important for there to be a level of understand with these issues before moving into the complication of them in practice.
  2. Transgenderism (this is specific to a trans woman’s experience but http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/591565 it’s also very flashy), transmisogyny (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9I8euP4mEE&noredirect=1), non-binarism, gender as a social construct, androgyny (and complications: http://boldlygo.co/36/ this article is amazing in my opinion BUT there is a danger of people reading this and taking from it “androgyny is bad” and that’s not what I think you should be trying to get across; instead just stress that these issues are complicated and are deserving of critical thinking), body dysphoria, etc.
  3. Biphobia! Is really important to talk about! (I love this article: http://thoughtcatalog.com/gaby-dunn/2013/01/girls-dont-count/) An interesting conversation would be the difference between bisexual and pansexual. There’s a ton of media depiction of biphobia, especially in Glee w/r/t Brittany and Santana’s relationship, Blaine’s soiree with Rachel (if I remember correctly), etc. Something that plays a big key in both of those examples as well as the article is the assumption that in the end, any given person wants a man at the end of the day if queerness is even on the table, which is sexist as all hell.
  4. Asexuality (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKJ_MZNv2GY I like this video because it’s not a sexual person telling you what asexuality is, it’s a sexual person looking at the concept with care and grace and complicating it in a productive way… and she’s right, there’s a LOAD of resources out there, especially asexuality.org), asexual erasure, the possible dangers of growing up asexual when you don’t know that’s even an option
  5. Poverty and homelessness amongst queer youths, systems of criminalization against queer people http://srlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/disproport-incarc.pdf, http://srlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/disprop-poverty.pdf, http://srlp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/disprop-deportation.pdf this can tie into the objectification of trans women and the accessibility of transition and why such a large focus on the physical change is counter-productive in trans discussions
  6. Queer sex ed! Non hetero-normative sex ed! I need better resources for this but Joseph Birdsong has done some gay sex ed on the answerly YouTube channel and Laci Green (though problematic) and Dr. Doe (sexplanations) both delve into queer sex.
  7. Polyamory and non-normative relationships is also interesting though it’s important to make a distinction that polyamory =/= queer! And that making those equivalent is problematic in some aspects. Same goes for other types of non-normative relationships, they do not necessarily blend into queerness.
  8. Allyship and why using ally as a label is problematic, white knights and white saviors, White Feminism (that is, feminism that refuses to acknowledges of trans feminine people and women of color and women in countries that are not America as relevant to the feminist cause), Macklemore’s Same Love and ACLU card and the concept of “tacit whiteness” (I think this phrase is interesting and helpful) and the act of making a marginalized group acceptable by incorporating them into the norm INSTEAD OF recognizing and respecting intrinsic differences as valid, etc. Also: http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2012/04/23/making-movement-mistakes-what-to-do-when-you-fk-up/
  9. Talk about queer figures in history! I am not good with this so I’ll list a few people who are up on the wall of the Q Center: Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin, Leslie Cheung, George Washington Carver, Frida Kahlo, Yukio Mishima, etc. Maybe why it is that queer historical figures kind of begin and end with white cis people, specifically white cis men (I’m thinking about Harvey Milk).

I think… that’s a good starting point. This is so exciting, I hope everything goes well for you. Please feel free to send me a message if/when you get this started up! I’m really interested in how it turns out for you.

Good luck!


Not Presenting, But Present

Hi. I am, as far as I can tell, a non-binary trans girl, but I am by no means whatsoever “out”. If I am not presenting or in a safe environment/place in life to tell people, is it wrong of me to be in spaces, use resources, or participate in discussions meant for queer or trans people? [Does my problem make sense? I don't know, I feel really conflicted with myself.]

This definitely makes sense and it’s… complicated! I think first and foremost you need to keep yourself in mind. Obviously, you don’t need to ‘present’ to be trans. You don’t need to announce to a room that you’re queer – either through words or through dress – to validate what you know is true about yourself, or even what you think could be true about yourself. I absolutely do not believe that you should feel in any way required to remove yourself from situations that you want to be in or would benefit from just because you aren’t out. Those spaces are still there for you, those resources are still yours to use, and those discussions are about you and about people like you. There aren’t a lot of queer people who haven’t gone through life being in the closet in some way; queer life is not restricted to those who have the ability (and in many ways, the privilege) to wear it on their sleeves. ‘Presenting’ as trans is a complicated concept, anyway, but I don’t want to get into that. I think the biggest potential obstacle would be queer people who don’t perceive you as such being somewhat wary with your presence. Given the way you phrased this question, I don’t think this is even slightly going to be an issue, but I think the biggest thing to keep in mind as someone who is passing/perceived as not queer is to not talk over the queer people around you, in the spaces and in conversations. And that’s really just a precaution for a situation that I don’t think is very likely. Bein’ queer is hard, you deserve to think of and for yourself. That space is yours, those resources are yours, and when you feel comfortable, those discussions are yours as well! I hope this helped, and good luck!


Creating a Safe Sex Space

Dear Queer, I’m interested in sex–particularly, “s**king and f**king.” It’s hard to find safe spaces in the area, though. What can *I* do to create a safe space for others to s**k and f**k?

I’m sorry for taking so long with this question, I was just really having a hard time trying to answer it. This is by no means my area of expertise, and I wanted to make sure I had something of value to get back to you with! Logistically speaking, I have no idea how you would go about creating your own space. However, I’ve been given a resource that I think you would find a lot of use in. The Center for Sex Positive Culture is “a nonprofit, membership-based community center” that aims “to inspire and assist volunteers to produce experiential events where members can explore their sexual interests in a physically and emotionally safe environment.” It caters to a lot of different sexual interests, from what I’ve seen on their website they are very conscious and respectful of interpersonal differences, and they put a HUGE stress on consent and safety (which are the two things I would have been talking about if I hadn’t found out about the CSPC). It looks like a pretty intense place and I don’t know if it would align with your interests but if what they offer isn’t up your alley they still do hold non-sexual socials that are open to anyone, are free, and exist to answer all of your questions. You can also email them at dropin@thecspc.org for more information. I wish I could give you something more concrete, but I think this organization is at the very least far better suited to answer any questions you have than I am, and I’m positive that you could make some really good connections there. Let me know if you have more questions, and good luck!


Being Queer at UW

Do you feel comfortable being queer at UW? I’m just wondering because I visited this fall and I would love to go to an accepting college and escape what seems like the only homophobic area in California. Also, thanks so much for this blog, it really helps.

Honestly, I really do. It’s hard for me to tell if this is a product of luck or if this is the overall climate of the campus, but I have had an almost exclusively amazing experience being queer. At the beginning of my time here, I went to two different events hosted by the Q Center: an open house and a welcome luncheon. I’m a really shy person so it’s not like I necessarily thrived and immediately made a ton of friends BUT some of the first faces I saw on campus outside of my dorm were queer faces, and there were a lot of them. If you do come here, I really recommend hitting up the things we put on during Dawg Daze (a week long string of stuff on campus for newcomers to get used to the place and have fun and etc). We did some info sessions this year and within the space of three different hour long get-togethers we had organized new clubs, people had found common interests (there were a LOT of people into roller derby at the first one), etc., and it was really cool to watch everyone mesh and figure their stuff out.

I took advantage of natl. coming out day last year to make a big ol’ heartfelt post on Facebook about my queer identity, and though I was by no means “in the closet” it was the first time I was really articulating it to EVERYONE in my life, not just the people I’m very close to. I lived in the Honors community housing, which was really amazing for a lot of reasons, and even though I hadn’t really made any deep connections at that point, over thirty people from my floor liked the post and affirmed my identities and were so unbelievably supportive in the way that I needed it most: casually.

My worst experience was, ironically enough, in a class focused on oppressed groups and their representation in Hollywood. I had to do a group final project on heteronormativity and about half of my group was so overwhelmingly homophobic and transphobic it was a real challenge to get through the class. I regret not talking to my teacher about it because I know they would have done something (which I’m about to follow up on), but I did at least find solace in the other half of the group, who were incredibly supportive and kind. The group was really heavily polarized and it’s not something I want to experience again.

That said, one of the best experiences I’ve had here was this past quarter, in my Psych 101 class with Kevin King. I was definitely not the most committed person to the class; for the first half of the quarter I sat in the near back and texted my friends instead of actually paying attention to what he was teaching and what I could learn from it. There came a point where he did an activity where students would first click in that they were male or female and then participate in an onscreen poll. It made me incredibly uncomfortable, and I emailed him about it the second I had a chance. Not only did he respond immediately, empathetically,  and graciously, but he then worked with me over the course of a few emails to figure out how he could change the way he talked about certain things to make them more queer friendly.

In the end I got him to start using phrases like “assigned sex” and the like, and it significantly improved my experience in the class. I started sitting about four rows from the front, my grades shot up, I was getting more out of the class, etc. I later introduced myself to him in person and I began to make a point of it to approach him after class to talk about a few of the issues he touched on in a more intersectional lens, which doesn’t really get to happen in the context of a 101 class. It was a really incredible experience for me! From this all I can say is I highly recommend talking to a professor if something rubs you the wrong way, even if it’s a professor with 400+ students per lecture. It’s worth your time, and there’s a lot of support to be found on campus; luckily the support isn’t hard to find.

I’m glad that this blog has provided something for you, and I’m happy to help! Thank you for keeping up with it. If you end up choosing the UW, we’ll be lucky to have you.


Genderfluidity and Hormone Therapy

I was designated male at birth, but I identify significantly more often as feminine than masculine. I’ve been referring to myself as genderfluid, but I think I fall somewhere on the male-to-female trans spectrum. Is hormone therapy something to consider if I don’t know if I identify fully as a woman, but want a feminine body?

I’ll be honest with you, I really don’t know a lot about hormone therapy! I only know a handful of people who undergo/have undergone it and it’s never something I’ve very seriously considered by myself, so my knowledge on the specifics of it are little to none and I can’t really draw on that in responding to this. But I think the real question is, do you think the result of hormone therapy will be beneficial to you? Because just from this question and the way it was phrased, it feels like the answer is yes (but that’s up for you to decide!). You don’t need to identify within the gender binary to want the physical changes that come with certain trans-oriented medical treatments, just as looking a certain way will never qualify or justify your gender identify any more than you want/need it to.  Don’t hold yourself to the expectations that people have of those who undergo hormone therapy when your comfort and happiness is something that could be tremendously improved! There are some cool people over at Hall health that are way more qualified to talk to you about this in its specifics and in the actual process of making this massive transition, and I really encourage you to go talk to someone about it. I hope this helps and I’m sorry that I don’t have more to offer from my end on this. Good luck!


Am I Asexual?

I think I’m asexual but I’m not exactly sure. I do still have a sexuality, as in I want to date girls, but I don’t want anything sexual. Is this still asexual or is it another thing entirely?

I’m gonna go ahead and say that you PROBABLY rest within the realm of the asexual spectrum, just from what you’re giving me here, but I really don’t want you to just take that away from this response. Note the use of the term “spectrum” in addressing asexuality; I have a lot of problems with the way asexuality is talked about (half-heartedly) and taught (note: it isn’t), but one of the things that bother me most is the way that Sexual vs. Asexual are so heavily locked into opposing binaries. It’s just so inaccurate and pigeonholing and frustrating! Within the asexual community (and there’s a pretty strong one! check out the forums on asexuality.org), there are a few different terms thrown around to differentiate the flavors of being ace. Demisexual, greysexual, aromantic, etc. etc. Take from those what you will… I always feel like relying too heavily on words is dangerous when talking about something very intrinsic to your individuality, but there is definitely solace in seeing that this thing you feel is felt by others! One thing that a lot of people find very useful is discerning between sexual and romantic attraction and seeing how this plays out for people who AREN’T asexual. For example, someone who doesn’t have a very strong preference when it comes to hooking up with someone but only has interest in getting seriously involved with girls. With this in mind, it’s definitely a Thing for you to want to date girls but have no interest in becoming sexual with anyone. Asexuality in its simplest form is a person who does not experience sexual attraction; not a person who doesn’t date, not a person who has no libido, not even a person who doesn’t have sex! Just someone who does not experience sexual attraction, or even just experiences it in such low amounts that the lack thereof is noticeable. I really recommend checking out AVEN, there’s a lot of good discussions happening all the time and I think you’ll find you really are not alone in this one! Hope this helped!