Some people seem perplexed that sometimes I talk as though transvestites and transsexuals are the same, and sometimes as though they’re different. There’s really no mystery here, though: in some ways we’re similar and in other ways we’re different. It’s like cats and dogs: they’re similar in lots of ways, and different in others.
In future posts I’ll talk a bit about ways that we’re different, but tonight I want to focus on what we have in common: feelings. In particular, the desire to be “the other” gender and unhappiness with “the current” gender. I’ve found that these two feelings are present to some degree in every trans person I’ve met, whether transsexual, transvestite, cross-dresser, drag queen, two spirit, queen, genderqueer, genderfluid, non binary or anything else under the umbrella.
There have been some arguments lately about whether you have to be dysphoric to be “really trans.” Some have claimed that if you don’t hate every minute of your life as your assigned gender, you’re not part of the club. Some have argued that you need “body dysphoria” – a hatred of everything that feels like the gender you were assigned. My body dysphoria is relatively mild and mostly involves my weight, but gender dysphoria in general captures a lot of what I feel like I have in common with transitioners and other trans people.
The desire to be the other gender is not the same as dysphoria, but it is connected to dysphoria. Some people feel dysphoria but not desire, others feel desire but not dysphoria, and many feel both. There are other feelings as well, particularly gender fog, that seem pretty common; I invite you to look at my list of feelings and see which ones you feel, which ones you don’t feel, and which feelings you feel that I didn’t list.
It’s important to point out that these feelings are never constant. No feelings are. I’ve seen a lot of people post on Reddit and Tumblr that their dysphoria or desire seems to have recently increased, or diminished, or even disappeared entirely. That’s normal.
These feelings can also be connected to thoughts about the short term or the long term. Some people want to be a man for the rest of their lives, and some people want to stop being a man for the rest of their lives. Some people just want to be a woman for a day or an evening, and some people just want to stop being a woman for a year, or an hour, or long enough to get past those guys on the corner.
I said that every trans person I met has expressed one of these two feelings, but I don’t want to go from there to making universal claims about who’s trans and who isn’t. I’m open to the possibility that there are people who don’t feel these feelings, but are still trans in some meaningful way.
I also want to point out that a lot of so-called “cis” people have had these feelings at some point. In general, I have the impression that most people who would call themselves “trans” have the feelings more often, and more intensely, than others. But I regularly hear about people who have fairly intense dysphoria or desire who say that they’re not trans.
As Jamison Green said, “there is NOT one way to be transgender,” and there is not one set of actions to take in response to these feelings. In recent posts I’ve talked about transgender feelings and beliefs, and I’ll talk about transgender actions in future posts.
These feelings aren’t the only thing that trans people have in common, but they’re a major source of the things we have in common. We do have things that separate us, and I’ll talk about those in future posts as well.