Work, Gender, Dysphoria And The Self-Articulation Of A Non-Binary Person

So I’m currently bussing tables in a restaurant, but next week I’m going to start hosting which means more hours, a schedule that can more easily be tailored to my liking and more money. Unfortunately it also means I have to dress up. Well, ok, not “dress up” really all that much by normal, cisgender, feminine woman standards, but I’m not a feminine cis woman.

I need this work. I really do. I’m getting by on what I make right now, but my roommate and I are looking to move out of our terrible (and by terrible I mean our landlord seems to be of the opinion that the funny pages constitute building material) apartment and in order for us to do that I will need to make more money. Unfortunately the cost of the dollars is going to be trading in my generic work uniform for clothes that make me look like a well-dressed young woman, aka the kind of clothes I never wear, ever. In the state where I live this is kind of my only option if I want to host. The gender marker on all of my legal documents is “F” and I can legally be fired for being transgender or refusing to dress like a girl on the job.

I’ve helped host a couple of times before and worse than the clothes is the attitude and behavior that is expected of me. It makes me feel like I’m developing a split personality, like I’m pulling someone else’s skin on over my own and wearing it around, trying to make people believe that I am that person. I’ve started referring to it as my “Sarah suit” (sarah is my legal first name). Wearing it is emotionally draining and just all around exhausting. It’s been a long time since the last time I tried to socialize with other people in a feminine way or conform to the social expectations of my assigned gender at all and I’d forgotten how much it took out of me, how much work it was. How it makes me feel slightly off-balance or out of sync, like the only person clapping off-beat in a room of people clapping in rhythm.

Or maybe I didn’t forget, maybe the sensation is more acute now that it exists in contrast to my nascent to find my way to an understanding of my gender without using man and woman as trail markers.

I am beginning to be able to envision my gender without having to rely on terms and ideas made out of the binary’s spare parts. Unlike earlier in my journey, when I was struggling to move away from relying on terms like “androgynous” to describe my internal sense of self, I can now, more than ever before, consistently perceive my body and self as something strange and alien, something new, something outside of and fully detached from the gender binary.

As I develop this more fully formed sense of my gender the experience of trying to pass as anything else becomes more acutely uncomfortable. Formerly, before I knew that there were more than two genders, my dysphoria was a vaguer sense of unease. Now it is becoming ever more particular and specific, I can say what exactly makes me feel dysphoric and what does not, but it also seems that those things that do make me feel dysphoric trigger a stronger reaction than they used to. I can’t really be sure if this is because I am so infrequently exposed to them that I have lost some tolerance that I used to have for them when these things were a more regular part of my life or if it is because I now I have an alternative to compare those things to; I know just how good I can have it without those things in my life.

“That was dysphoria?” 8 signs and symptoms of indirect gender dysphoria » Zinnia Jones

“That was dysphoria?” 8 signs and symptoms of indirect gender dysphoria » Zinnia Jones.

I stumbled across the post linked above a week or so ago while looking for a quick and easy definition of “dysphoria” (spoiler alert: no such thing exists). After quickly skimming the post I was shocked. Nearly everything the author mentions in her post sounded like things I had heard my partner say before they started hormones, and just like the author says, all of these feelings evaporated when my partner began hormones even though it was never apparent to either of us until after they began HRT that these feelings were in any way related to their gender.

I think this post is a really, really important read for all trans* people, my partner and I both believed that they were completely alone in their experience until I found this post.

Dysphoria

Dysphoria makes me hate my body, makes me angry with it, makes me resent it like its a prison. I feel like we’re at war, my body and me, and I am helpless against it. I cannot stop change it and I cannot escape it. Dysphoria makes furious, but  also exhuasted. Sometimes, instead of an acute horror its the dull, constant ache of a crushing fatigue that I just can’t shake. Its smothering me, soffocating me, drowning me and I’m fighting so hard to get to the surface, to break free and suck air into my lungs, but somehow I’m always losing because one lungful of air is never enough before it pulls you back under again.

At its worst, Dysphoria it makes me want to hide my breasts, to cover them up even when I’m already clothed or cut them off and put them away somewhere. It makes me want to hide my stomach, to ball up, to cover it, to block it from view because there are organs in there that just shouldn’t be and when you look at me its like you can see straight through my skin to where they are. It makes me want to crawl out of my own skin and flee this body.

Dysphoria is immoblizing. It means I can’t do something as simple as going to the store to buy tampons or pregnancy test for myself, because I cannot acknowledge that pregnancy or menstruation could even happen to me and I definitely can’t handle anyone else knowing that. It means I can’t even talk about that stuff  with people who might need to know or be able to help because I can’t say those words out loud. Because as soon as you know I can’t stand to have you looking at me. I want to hide, I want to wear layers and layers and layers of clothes even in my suffocatingly humid apartment. It means that I would rather buy a bunch of Misoprostol (an anti-ulser medication) over the counter and give myself an abortion at home than go to a clinic. It means that I will avoid accessing necessary health care or talking about certain aspects of my physical health. It means I will lie to your face if you ask me about “my period” because if I don’t tell you, if nobody knows, then I can pretend it doesn’t happen.

Medically Gendered: The Language of Abortion Access

This is a post I never thought I would write, for several reasons. First of all, I, unlike many other trans* people, have never felt erased by the use of the term “women’s rights” to refer to abortion access or other phrases that imply that abortion access is solely a women’s issue. And second, I never thought there could possibly be anything at all about abortion that would make me uncomfortable.

I’ve said for years and years that I’d never see a gynecologist. Long before I began exploring my gender identity I knew that seeing a gynecologist was just not something I was going to do. It was only recently that I realized that I feel the same way about gynecologists that I do about menstruating: dysphoric. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that my feelings about gynecologists were feelings of dysphoria. Probably because I’ve never actually been to see one and don’t often think about the prospect.

Last week, I attended a workshop called “Demystifying and Destigmatizing Abortion” put on by a friend of mine who runs a clinic. The work shop was basically a walk through of the procedure and all of the stuff leading up to it (paper work, counseling, ultrasound, etc.). I found it hugely informative as someone who’s never had an abortion and had no idea what the process would actually entail. Unfortunately, the workshop also forced on me the realization that an abortion is an actual medical procedure that involves a doctor looking at and messing around inside my genitals.

Upon hearing the words “pelvic exam” and “speculum” my brain started going “no. no. NO!I realized that my conception of an abortion as a relief from the horrific dysphoria of pregnancy and my unfamiliarity with the actual procedure allowed me to overlook (or not think about) the fact that realistically the experience of getting an abortion would in actuality be much like the experience of going to the gynecologist, an unpleasantry I was dead set on avoiding.

The longer the workshop went on and the more people talked, the better I could see myself sitting in a recovery room full of women at my friend’s clinic at some point in my life, feeling uncomfortable and dysphoric and utterly isolated. If I ever have an abortion my experience will be utterly different from everyone else in the recovery room because I will not perceive the experience through the lens of womanhood, and so long as abortion remains a thing that belongs solely in the domain of women it will never belong to me. It will be a jarring experience that forces a gender on me that is incongruent with my self perception. That was how I left the workshop feeling, isolated, alienated, dysphoric and unable to relate.

I came away from that workshop understanding why so many trans* people feel strongly about the use of gender inclusive language in the struggle for abortion access, because they want to be able to receive basic, necessary medical care without being misgendered or experiencing intense dysphoria, because they don’t want to have their identities stripped away from them the moment they enter the waiting room. So, yeah, here I am saying it: the language surrounding abortion rights and abortion access needs to be more trans* inclusive. I want to fight for access to a procedure I will actually feel comfortable getting.

All that said, I still feel weird acknowledging that I would be uncomfortable getting an abortion. I am unapologetically pro-choice, and in my mind, abortion is not a morally complicated issue. Hell, for me abortion is the only option, its not even a question. Lastly, I want to add that I thought my friend’s workshop was brilliant. This post is not a reflection on her or her work, its about the gendered nature of reproductive health and related medical procedures and how my dysphoria effects my comfort levels in accessing them.

Menstrual Cups

[TW: menstruation] though I feel like that should be obvious with the title…

So menstruation and methods of dealing with it are not things I usually write about because menstruation makes me highly dysphoric and I’d rather ignore it all together and pretend that it never happens to me. Funny enough, that just so happens to be why I’m writing this post.

I bought a menstrual cup, specifically a diva cup (these are available in some stores where I live and not just online) a little over a year ago and it has probably been the #1 best thing I have done for my dysphoria. I can go for 12 whole hours without having to worry or think about bleeding/spotting/leaking or changing anything out. I don’t have to carry around pads  or tampons as an inescapable marker of my gender, I don’t ever have to buy them again and I don’t have to worry about running out of them. I can be totally naked and you can’t tell I’m using it. Basically, I love it because it erases all of the stress and anxiety and allows me to pretend its not happening and before I know it, it’s over.

I guess I just wanted to put this out there because I know that there have to be other people who feel the way I do about menstruation and if this helps me it might help someone else.

Varieties:

Mooncup or MCUK

The Keeper

Lunette

Gender: It’s Fucking Complicated

Yet another post composed entirely of my barely intelligible midnight ramblings…

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I picture my gender as this huge snarled up ball of yarn. Knotted up beyond all hope. And here I am locked inside my head with a ball of yarn approximately the size of an SUV trying to untangle the damn thing. I’ve been wrestling with it for  over a year now. I’ve moved from sealing it off from the rest of my mind and refusing to engage with it to actively confronting it everyday and struggling to sort it out. For all I’ve done and said and felt and thought and tried I’m not sure I’m any further along than when I started. I still don’t know what the fuck I am or how to express myself.

I started this blog about two months ago with the goal of providing relatable personal narratives about my experience with gender for other non-binary gendered people, who like me might be using the internet as their primary tool for learning about their gender. I also felt that this would more than likely help me untangle some of what is in my head by writing things out in a linear way. I think its helped some, but what I need now more than anything is discourse. I need active engagement with other people with non normative genders, I need to work together with others to find ways to creatively express myself through multiple mediums (aka I need art projects). Speaking my experiences into the void of the internet is a good start, but its not enough. I need art projects, because if I can’t accurately express my gender within the narrow parameters of binary gender expression, then I’d like to approach this (self expression and gender) from another angle.

The internet is no substitute for real community and it shouldn’t have to be, but here I am spending hours a day scouring the internet for resources and information related to non-binary genders. I do it almost compulsively, even though, at this point, I know I’ve seen and read pretty much everything there is on the topic. Even when I feel gross and drained from being on the internet for too long I keep at it, obsessively trying to find experiences that I can relate to and that will help me answer my questions, even though I know the answers aren’t out here. plus this is just too passive a means of interaction. I need real conversations with real people. If I want to make room for more than just the two binary genders, I’m going to need to do it here, in my community with other people who have genders like mine and that’s going to have to start with conversations.

I struggle with my gender. I’m actively engaged in a wrestling match with it and on top of that I feel trapped and boxed in by the gender binary, as if the room I’m locked in with the ball of yarn is too small for me to untangle it because there’s barely enough space for me and the ball of yarn as it is. I need to talk to other people who feel this way.

Gender is Like Underwear…

…if it fits, you don’t notice. If it doesn’t fit, you can’t help but notice.

So, obviously my assigned gender doesn’t fit, that’s why I’m here talking to you, my nonexistent internet audience. For me however, the things that I “notice”, the things that make me dysphoric, aren’t always consistent. I don’t know if this is true for anyone else since I don’t really make a point of asking people about their dysphoria for obvious reasons.

For example there have been periods of time when being called “she”,”her”, “miss”, “lady”, “woman”, etc. made me really uncomfortable, but my dysphoria relating to being verbally misgendered waxes and wanes, sometimes it bothers me a lot, sometimes not so much. I don’t identify with those terms at all, but currently it doesn’t make me feel terrible and uncomfortable the way other things do. It just feels vaguely weird to hear female pronouns paired with my name, when people do it I always feel like they’re talking about someone else. Conversely, I’ve gotten more dysphoric about wearing clothing that is designated as “women’s”. It used to be that only skirts and dresses made me feel that way, but now anything more feminine than a t-shirt doesn’t come out of my closet, which makes me a little bit sad, because I have clothes that I really like but no longer feel comfortable wearing. I suppose this will be another source of dysphoria that comes and goes. Skirts and dresses are never okay for me, but other things may or may not be depending on the day.

Some things on the other hand, always make me feel dysphoric. Menstruation would be one of those things, even talking about it is not something I’m particularly comfortable doing. In general, I’m very comfortable with my body, and have a very positive body image. Except when I’m bleeding. Then I hate my body, I want to crawl out of my own skin and go live somewhere else until its over. Its hard to describe, but menstruation is by far the most extreme source of dysphoria for me. The only thing that’s helped, and its helps significantly, is having a menstrual cup because it allows me to pretend I’m not bleeding for up to 12 hours.

Another consistent source of dysphoria for me has been romantic/sexual interactions with cis males. As a personal policy I don’t get involved with cis men anymore because of the dynamic that springs up. Its really unpleasant because not only do they have a penchant for treating me in a way that misgenders me as female but also as a lesser, unequal partner because of that perceived femaleness. For me, that power dynamic in a relationship manifests itself as a nagging and pervasive wrongness that just makes me feel gross.