It’s nearly six years since I started transitioning, and my relationship to my body has changed quite significantly since I began. As I wrote in my book, I never had the severe body dysphoria that many trans people experience, the discomfort, unhappiness or even horror that comes from your body and mind not matching up. But over time, I’ve found that those feelings have grown.
On the face of it, that seems odd. After all, I’m six years further down the HRT road now so my biochemistry is better. I’ve had over 230 hours of facial electrolysis. So I’m closer to where I need to be than I was back then. But I don’t feel that way.
It turns out that I’m not the only transitioning person who feels like that. Writing in Stained Glass Woman, Doc Impossible has some thoughts, and while I’m not sure I agree with all of them I think it’s an interesting piece.
To summarise it: think of gender dysphoria as pain.
Pain isn’t a constant. I’ve been getting facial electrolysis for four years now and last week’s session was one of the most painful ones I’ve ever had. It was the same technician, the same machine, the same needle size and strength. If anything it should be a walk in the park by now because the really thick hairs, the one that felt like they needed the entire National Grid to electro-shock, are long gone. But my pain threshold was different that day, possibly because I’ve been going through some things and not looking after myself as well as I should have been. So the needles really hurt – and things I normally would barely have noticed were very noticeable and very painful. It was absolutely excruciating.
What if dysphoria works like that too? As I’ve written in my book, sometimes I ask myself: how strong do I feel today? Some days I’m stronger than others, and things bounce off that would normally hurt. And of course the reverse applies too. If your threshold for physical pain can vary, then surely the same applies to your threshold for psychic pain.
What about the phenomenon I’ve experienced, of increasing dysphoria as I transition? In Doc Impossible’s piece they suggest that perhaps dysphoria is like an onion, with multiple layers – so if you address one of the issues that makes you dysphoric, you remove a layer. And that’s good, but what’s underneath it? Another layer, one that you might not have been aware of because you were focused on the layer now gone. And now you have a new, completely exposed layer to deal with.
those sources of constant, moment-by-moment pain? They’re either gone or dramatically reduced.
Which means that your brain can stop shutting off lesser, but still significant, sources of pain.
When we start noticing “new” dysphorias, the truth is that they were always there.
I think that’s a really interesting way to look at it, because I do think there’s more to it than just frustration: of course after 230 hours of electrolysis I’m pissed off with my weekly face stabbing, and the whingeing part of me thinks it’s very unfair that other trans women can achieve full clearance in a fraction of the time, and for a fraction of the money, than it’s taking me. But while there’s definitely an element of flagging after the halfway or three-quarters point, I think there’s also an element of onion peeling here. I’m unhappy about different things than I was six years ago, because there were bigger things I had to deal with first.
The trick, it seems, is to keep peeling.