Q Center

February 19, 2014

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!