Monday, 29 August 2011

Time - 15.5 hours

Tomorrow, I have a doctor's appointment. It's an appointment I have been trying to get for the past three years, and been looking forward to since January. When I heard about it, I booked the day off from work, phoned my family and told my friends. I drank to it at symbl.

I'm really fucking terrified.

I realise that there's no need to be, of course. I am just finally, roughly three years after first asking, going to see somebody who can talk about gender issues. Of course, in that time, my need for someone to talk to has sort of diminished. I had counsellor after counsellor, until I got the counsellor who refused to talk about my identity at all but suggested that he teach me coping techhniques to better hide the effect that the issues were having on my life. I had anti-depressants for a while, then I didn't, then I did again (and thank gods I did, since it was about six months after I went to the GP with severe depression that I got to see a counsellor). I've spent those years finishing a degree, job hunting and working. I've been role-playing and reading philosophy books. I've moved house four times and started and ended relationships.

And I've been reading about gender. Thinking about gender. Talking (or strenuously avoiding talking) about gender issues. Learning about trans issues. I don't think that a single day has passed without me thinking about it, whether it's cajoling myself into going outside or getting frustrated that I didn't correct someone's pronoun use AGAIN (really, I am very bad at that). I sometimes look back and wonder how I managed to get anything else done with this huge obsession taking over my life (my degree? Sheer luck and the determination of my partner at the time).

At this point, when I'm out as trans to friends, to family and to work, there's not much that I need to relate to them. Yes, there are parts of my life which are really difficult, and they have been difficult for a long time. And this is how I cope with them, and this is how I need to not have to cope any more. A lot of the terror and pain has been and gone - I couldn't keep it up for that long (hur hur). I have a job, I'm headed back to uni, in fact to all intents and purposes I have a stable, functioning life. A model of social transitioning. And just when I think that, I start to worry that I am far too competent and they will see that I clearly am coping so well that I don't need their support. I used to have this devil's bargain with my GP, who wanted me to be so upset and depressed that I clearly needed anti-depressants, but calm and capable enough to be trusted with them. He generally agreed to the prescription after I started crying. So I can see where this fear comes from, but it doesn't stop me tying myself in knots about tomorrow.


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

On Dysphoria - Part 1

Occasionally, my otherwise diverse blogroll (what, you don't call my collection of politics, queer politics, queer culture and feminist politics diverse?) comes together in a strange synchronicity of posts around a particular subject. Today, that happened to be around dysphoria.

Dysphoria is a terribly technical word, which is used in a couple of ways in relation to trans* people. The internet tells me that it specifically means "an unease or dissatisfaction with circumstances" and "gender dysphoria" is one of the medical terms applied to people I prefer to think of as magically gendered. There is also a term - dysmorphia - for a psychological condition in which a person dislikes or is concerned about one or more of their physical features. In some cases, I've seen people refer to 'gender dysmorphia' when talking about trans* people's discomfort with parts of their anatomy but generally dysphoria is used instead, possibly because there is a specific identified underlying cause.

In less medically precise circles (and in my own usage), 'dysphoria' is an umbrella term which covers the wide-ranging issues - anxiety, depression, body issues, general squick - around being trans and walking around with a body which doesn't quite seem to fit. There are both internal and external aspects to this. Internally, there is the sense of my body not being appropriate for the things I want to do with it and the discomfort of the mismatch with my own mental image of my self. Externally, there are all the issues caused by interacting with the world, and the way that people generally interpret the gender cues of my body and mannerisms (let's face it, I'm effeminate as hell). Basically - one set of issues make me uncomfortable when I'm on my own, the other makes me uncomfortable with other people. Sometimes (frequently) I just can't win.

But I still feel a bit strange identifying my reactions as 'dysphoria'. Possibly it is due to the pathologising effect of the word - as if it's not enough that I feel uncomfortable, but that discomfort must also be categorised and remembered and filed away for proof that I am trans enough. Maybe if I get enough dysphoria points I can send away for free hormones? Or a badge?

F was certainly fast enough in being able to point out the areas in which my reactions are consistently gender-related discomfort (though while applying the term to my experiences, she tends to use the less ominous 'body squick' herself). Maybe it's a result of how slowly and unsteadily I acquired my dysphoria that I tend to only really notice it in hindsight.

For all the potential problems around the concept of 'dysphoria' - the pathologisation of my reactions and the way that they can be used as a yardstick against ridiculous standards - the term is helpful in explaining my reactions to myself, at least. I come across discussions online about levels of dysphoria, methods of dealing with it, ways to play it up to make a medical professional actually pay attention...but not very much about the experience of it, the way it changes shape over time or the way people's relationship with it as a concept. It is framed as a reaction - a way of interacting with a body and with the world. If I am going to use it as an explanation though I would rather consider it as a thing in-itself, which has come into the world and affects my relationships and which I can get to know and interact with in a multitude of ways.

I think that it is only by treating the 'reaction' as an entity in itself that it becomes something which can be studied, the origins examined and - hopefully - a level of comfort with it can be reached.