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.



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.

Huffington Post: Debating ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ and Justice for Trans People

On Saturday, the Board of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved changes to the newest addition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (DSM), including changes to the diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder (GID). After years of pushing the APA to re-evaluate the inclusion of GID in the DSM, many trans advocates celebrated changes to the diagnostic criteria as a victory and a step towards full elimination of GID and related diagnoses from the DSM altogether. However, there are also many trans and disability advocates who have raised important questions about what this change will mean for trans communities and how to frame our advocacy moving forward.

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