Thank You

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On Dysphoria — Before, Enduring, and After

One of the most common themes in questions I get asked by folks is on the nature of dysphoria. How do you know your body is wrong? What does that feel like?  Communicating such a mental pain is really difficult so we reach for metaphors that hopefully can summon that particular misery, or some approximation

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The Bottom

Transition, making the choice to so drastically alter your body and your life, is a leap of faith. It’s more like a base jump, I suppose. And it’s foggy at the bottom. Every second of the way down you pray not to hit something, get hurt, or have the whole thing brought to a sudden screeching halt. I know that’s a tired cliche, but to quote a book about toxic masculinity, “once we’ve lost everything, we’re free to do anything.” 

In our cases we often don’t lose everything, we have to give it up, or risk it. We make a gamble. We put our relationships, history, health, and lives on the table and then we roll the dice. The odds aren’t good, but when you win, you win big. 

You have to understand. I had nothing to lose in the end. Nobody could take anything from me. I was planning to kill myself and I was prepared to die alone. But everyone was going to know who I was when I did it. I talk about my suicidal ideation as part of my trans experience so frequently because it’s important to me, and it really puts a nice underline on just how scary this process is. It was only when I was ready to die that I was brave enough to take this step. I rolled the dice, I jumped… 

And those dice spun for days, weeks, and months before they settled. I held my breath while I waited to see how they’d land — how I would land. I hit the jackpot. Or so I’d thought.

I found so many new friends, a loving community of people I proudly call my trans siblings. I found three amazing partners. I found my voice. I found love. I found a whole new relationship with my dad, my sister, and my brother. People I’d hurt before reached out to me and we made amends. People I barely knew reached out and we became friends. I have loved deeper than I ever knew I could. I watched every day as my body slowly turned more and more into an image I could recognize as mine. I gained an identity. I found a home in my community and in my love and intimacy with my partners. I was rich. I am rich in the things that matter to me most. 

Imagine my relief to feel that. Do you know what it’s like to be in that place? I had no one, and the people I had in my life I’d been lying to for decades. That’s the thing about the closet, right? It’s so lonely. Everything feels worthless, shallow, and dark. Every kiss, every bite of food, every time I had sex, every time I laughed, every moment of joy I had in my life was underlined with the realization that I was going to die, suffocated by that closet. And then all of a sudden you can breathe. You open that door and there are so many people here and they are so happy to see you and celebrate you. Those people guided me when I had questions, comforted me when I was scared, and gave me shelter and warmth when I needed it most. 

When you’re starved like that, and you get rich like I did, you don’t know what to do with all of that. I’ve tried to give back. I’ve tried so hard to help open those closet doors for other people, to let them have the air I’m breathing — to feel the love I do. To feel the rush of base jumping together with me. They deserve that, every single one of them. And we’ll guide each other on the way down. What do you do with a life you never expected to have but try to share it? 

When you gain so much, it feels like the game’s over. You’ve already won — then reality strikes. Oh. I’m still falling. There’s still more to do, but the end is in sight. I need these surgeries before I can feel whole and complete. I still can’t see the bottom. As I find myself careening towards whatever waits for me in that fog, I see perilous signs: sharp rocks, branches, and tattered clothing. I’m struck with the thought that this high I’m on might have been an illusion. It’s not guaranteed to be there for me when I get to the bottom. I don’t know what’s waiting for me down there. 

There’s a sense of finality to this moment. A sense that this journey I’m on is coming to an end. I saw the first warning signs a few months ago when a member of my community, a fellow trans person, told me I was hurting trans people by finishing my transition. Then it happened again, I was called an assimilator for passing as cisgender. That means that people stopped realizing I was trans out in the world. When did I start passing? Why was that bad? Why did it feel like being handed an anvil made of diamonds? When did I start becoming the villain in my own community? My transition wasn’t celebrated in my community anymore, something about me had become controversial.

 I can see the outlines trees form. There’s a big yellow sign that I hurtle past. It says, “basically cis.” That’s the term for me now in some places. I feel alien in spaces that claim to be meant for me, and comfortable in spaces where I used to be unsafe. Something changed. I look around me and there are so few women like me in my community; the ones I know about are often shunned or held at arm’s length. The smallest of slights is treated as confirmation that they’ve become the mistrusted. Every slip and imperfection is treated as proof that we’ve betrayed our fellow trans people. 

And it feels in this moment that I’m back at that table and the stakes have never been higher for me. I do have something to lose now. My community became my family, and when I look at my community I don’t see women like I will be: passing trans women who’ve had the surgery. Where did they go? Why is no one here to guide me anymore? I am in that fog now and I don’t know who I am or who is going to be there when I reach the bottom. I find myself distracted with thoughts and worries as I get closer.

It feels, very much, like by having these surgeries I am rolling the dice again. In my community, I literally know one trans woman like me. I don’t know where the rest went. I feel like The Last Unicorn hunting for my siblings, wondering where they went. Did they leave of their own free will? Was the only thing holding them to the community that they were still in transition? Are they hiding again? Were they pushed out? I don’t know. All I know is they’re not here, where I am. They aren’t lighting signals to guide me through this fog. Is whatever happened to them going to happen to me, too? 

I’ve thought about the word “trans.” People ask me if “trans” means “transition” and that when you have the surgeries you stop saying that you’re trans. I find myself thinking, when I get to the bottom, when I have these surgeries and nobody can tell I wasn’t born like this, what will I say? Is that what happened to the other trans women? Have they given up? Did something pull them away from the community? Are they, “basically cis?” I’ve been rehearsing the answers in my head, but I don’t know if they’re true. Of course I’ll say I’m trans… eventually. But I won’t lead with that. And some people I might not tell. But I’ll always be trans! It’s silly to think I wouldn’t be! Nothing has to change. It can be like this forever, right? 


I look down to that empty space below me where all my trans sisters should be and — am I wrong? Am I about to lose everything? Am I about to be the empty space? Dark where light should be? Am I going to leave my sisters behind? Be chased out? Disappear?

And it’s true my life is so different than other trans people. I live and move through this world as a woman, and my womanhood is so important to me. Nobody clocks me in real life. Oh god. Am I basically cis? It feels like I’m stuck in between sometimes. I can do cis things. I can go to cis spaces safely. Cis people listen to me (as much as they listen to any woman). I am both and neither, and these surgeries will only cement that. Who am I when there’s no next step? Who do I become when the checklist is finished? Where do I belong? Every inch of me is sobbing, “Someone. Please. Tell me where I belong.”

Will I have to choose? Is that what happened to the other trans women? Did they choose to disappear? It would be easier. I can understand why they’d do that. But surely some would stay. Right? Why aren’t they here? Why. Aren’t. They. Here. That thought comes back to me every time I blink. There has to be something — someone — that I’m missing. Some guide or book or sage to tell what happens next? But no. There’s just… life, and whatever that life is. I don’t know who’s going to be in that life, or want me to be in theirs. 

Do I stop mattering once I’m “basically cis?” Will my own community hate me? Am I the oppressor now? If I fix my body am I betraying my siblings? Why is my health political in my own community? Don’t they want me to heal? Do I only belong while I hurt? Why is nobody here to answer my questions anymore?

I’m scared.


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Thank You

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this work. If you found this useful to you and you'd like to buy me a coffee or help support the site, you can use the links below.

Thank You to These Patrons

Your support helps fund articles like these and all of my educational efforts. Without you, I couldn't do this work nearly as well.

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