Thursday, 15 September 2011

On Dysphoria - Part Three

[Please note: in this series, I am discussing only my own experiences of dysphoria. Other trans* people have very different experiences, and one person's cannot be generalised]

So, that body positivity thing? I support it. I really do. No body, regardless of sex, size, age, colour, ability or other feature is less worthy than any other. Nobody should feel shamed for the body that they have, and working towards everyone feeling comfortable in their body is an important goal. But it doesn't follow that everyone should feel comfortable in their body, as some people seem to think.

In fact, as a teenager, I worked hard to be okay with my body. Worried about going out? Paranoid about your appearance? That's okay, it's just typical teenage delusions. You appear to be suffering from misguided low self-esteem. Just convince yourself that everyone else is equally uncomfortable. And it may take you a while, but eventually you'll manage to propel yourself out the door. Most of the time. And if you didn't make it into town when you'd been planning to, I'm sure it was just inherent laziness. After all, people say you look good enough. And you can wear skirts and low-cut tops as a particular 'fuck you' to the world.

That method worked just fine until I found myself independent enough to determine whether or not I went out. In hindsight, university life was never going to work out that well. But that could be put down to laziness of course. It wasn't until I found myself in Canada, half a world away from the people who worried about me, that I actually spoke to someone about how difficult it was to leave my room and we settled on general social anxiety as a diagnosis.

Fast forward another year and I had dscovered the joys of anti-depressants for increasing my confidence in going out, but I still didn't feel quite right. But i still knew that it couldn't be my body which was wrong - it was just my delusions about it. After all, I was young and healthy and had clearly just let idealised images in advertising affect me too much, as so many young people do.

(I had, for the past eight months or so, been considering the idea of binders. Without linking it to being trans or any other issues a part of me seemed quite comfortable with the idea that, at some point, I would be getting one.)

It always makes me blink when people want to let me know that I'm making very serious decisions about my life and should maybe take time to think it over. After all, they weren't in my head when years of growing feminist thought met a sense of self that, frankly, didn't seem to like the idea that much. The only logical response to such a collision was, of course, internalised misogyny! And I'd dealt with this kind of thing for years in a minor way, so I clearly just had to sort out where my internal prejudices were to sort everything out.

Well, that ddn't go too well. Eventually, the deadlock broke, the other way. A bit step towards that was the day that I actually got a binder (still without connecting 'trans' to it - that was far too scary a thought. It was just something that felt right to try out.)

And without stress, without the long moments of panic about being seen, I put it on and stepped outside.

So that body positivity thing needed a little modifying, perhaps. A little bending of principles to allow myself to fail to meet that ridiculous ideal. But I come back to it a lot. My mother, for example, will respond to my talk of surgeries with examples of teenagers undergoing plastic surgery. And while a part of me wants to dismiss that idea entirely, I always end up wondering just how analagous the two experiences are. After all, it's not as if I think a trans guy who has not opted for a medical transition is less of a man. I am fairly confident in saying that that I don't think my own identity is invalidated by my body.

This isn't a universal opinion, I have to say. I know that many trans people do not consider that they can live happily without certain medical modifications to their bodies. But many will also say that their identification is independent of that - the medical intervention does not magically re-create them as men or women, rather, the intervention occurs because they already are such. And honestly, should a non-trans person experience such horror and discomfort regarding their own body, regardless of the cause, I cannot help but want to support them in resolving it however they can.

I guess the element I struggled with is that body positivity is all very well, but it's okay not to like your body as well. There was a size positive activist who recently wrote about how much better she felt after losing weight and many people in the community felt betrayed by that, and said so. Even among self-proclaimed body positive people, there seems to be a policing to make sure that they are positive enough. And it's strangely reminiscent of the divisions that people in the trans* community are trying to get over - between medically transitioned folk and not.

Perhaps it's too fine a balancing act, to support body positivity while allowing space for those who cannot be positive about their own bodies. Maybe it's a dilution of the cause, mixing messages and making us all less effective. Finding a clear path between the conflicting forces and messages of dysphoria, positivity, policing and autonomy is a theoretical puzzle I am clearly not yet equal to.

The most helpful thing to come from this theorising and wondering? The idea that it can be okay to feel bad about about myself. That it is not a failure to yield to societal expectations of what my body should be like. It may not be ideologically pure, but the energy that it took to fight that battle can be put to better use elsewhere.

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