“Every morning I awaken to the buzz of the alarm clock and for a moment forget what I am. Than comes the scent of cheap cologne and the sticky weight of the air, thick with testosterone. From down the hall comes voices heard above the echo of aggressive music pridefully boasting of the prior night’s misdeeds. Lifting myself to rise from the comfort of my mindless sleep I am forced to see myself in the mirror as I shave. To remember and accept that I am not what I feel I am within. It curdles my chest with a flurry of flutters and dread but throughout the day the feelings subside only to be reborn as I come to an empty bed failing to speak a single honest word in the days wake.”
This is but one account of what it is like to live life as a gender dysphoric college aged male. Of all the issues we face in the LGBTQ+ community, gender dysphoria manages to slip by unnoticed in even the most heated of debates. Gender dysphoria is often the precursor to becoming transgender but many fail to ever act upon it, often living their entire lives without ever once breathing a word of the distraught they face in the mundane of day to day life. Inviting a conversation of just what it means to be gender dysphoric and exactly how it feels would allow the general masses to better understand transgender issues and would ideally tear down the notion that somehow sexuality, orientation, and gender have any relativity to one another.
“I could tell you exactly when and where I learned I was gender dysphoric. I was about four years old and I was sitting in my living room in front of the coffee table, my mother was on the sofa behind me and my father was away at work. On the television in front of us a commercial commentated about a product and it’s effects on males versus females. I enjoyed the way the word female sounded, it was elegant and light, where male had a weight of violence and anger, desperation even. Having heard the terms male and female before I asked my mother, ‘What does male and female mean?’ She told me that it simply meant boy and girl and when I asked her what one I am, male, I could feel my heart sink as if something fundamentally wrong was stated. A sensation of disappointment, that was the first time I was ever told I was male.”
It is often around the age of four or five years old that people learn they are gender dysphoric. This is well before the development of sexual curiosity, puberty, or libito. It is likely that one’s discovery of gender dysphoria comes at this age, primarily as it is around this age that long term memory begins to be consolidated. Furthermore, as one develops a great enough understanding of language and their sociological environment, they become able to process that they do not fit the presented gender norms when it comes to gender expression.
“One of the hardest things about being gender dysphoric, I find, is that it isolates you from both the sexes. You often can’t express yourself fully in front of your male friends or acquaintances, and find yourself in uncomfortable situations when other men approach you with objectifying remarks and ideas toward women expecting you to agree or laugh only to find it uphauling and simply incorrect. I think I have only ever had one male friend because of this. I can probably even count the number of friends I’ve had in my life on my fingers because the people I would get along with, women, tend to be cautious of my intent when I approach because there is no way to just look at me and tell I’m gender dysphoric and female expressive.”
Gender dysphoria can be a challenge to live with for many reasons silently effecting and debilitating things as fundamental as having the ability to make friends. In the simplest of terms gender dysphoria is what the name suggests. It is being in a state of distress toward the gender society expects you to express. Unfortunately gender dysphoria is not something that can be aided through the passing of laws, as it is the product of an oppressive community and society as a whole.
At the Center for Women, Gender & Sexuality, students and staff work to help others understand this issue, advocate for societal policy change, and make UMass Dartmouth a place where all forms of gender expression are welcome and appreciated.
-Jesse A. Johnson