I had a really tough bout of gender fog this past week, and I have two thoughts from it. One quick thought is that it really makes a difference how far in advance I plan an event. In this case I decided to go out to the Queens Pride House transgender support group presenting as a woman. I decided almost a week in advance, which meant a week of insomnia and distraction.
The second thought is more complex: it’s that gender fog leads to gender dysphoria. Over the past week I spent a significant chunk of my waking hours, and a lot of the time I was supposed to be sleeping, thinking over and over again about what I was going to wear, what I wasn’t going to where, what the weather would be, when I was going to change, who I might run into, who might be at the support group, what they might say, what they might not say, trying on outfits, practicing my voice, and so on.
I don’t want to suggest I was worried about any of those things. I mean, you always want to think about safety, but it was care, not worry. The rest of it was excitement, the way I feel the night before a trip to Europe.
As I was having those thoughts, getting dressed and putting on my makeup, I had a lot of opportunities to think about the obstacles and challenges. If I had a smaller belly I could wear this dress. If I had narrower shoulders I could wear that dress. If I had spent more time wearing pumps or sandals in the sun I wouldn’t have those tan lines. If I didn’t have so much facial hair I wouldn’t have to wear all this makeup. If I got my ears pierced I could wear a wider variety of earrings.
I also felt a bit annoyed about all the time and energy I put into one night. If I went out again I would have to do the makeup and clothes, but I wouldn’t have to shave. I would be able to get more of my time and money’s worth for all the clothes and makeup and voice practice I’ve done.
And every once in a while I got annoyed with my facial hair, with my big arms, my crotch bulge, my deep voice, my tan lines, my belly, my narrow hips. I thought how much easier it would be if I had real breasts, and years of socialization as a woman.
In other words, I had gender dysphoria – discomfort with the masculine gender role that I live in most of the time, and body dysphoria – discomfort with the male aspects of my body – caused by the gender fog. Caused by my feelings and thoughts about this outing. Caused by my decision to take this outing, by my own plans. I increased my dysphoria through my own actions.
Of course, I think about all the people I know who have transitioned. They’ve told me that even though some obstacles (shaving, bulges, tan lines) go away, others remain, and new ones appear. Family problems, job problems, discrimination, safety. In the light of transition, things that had never bothered them before take on new significance.
All things that I took into account nineteen years ago when I decided not to transition. It was a good decision and I don’t see myself changing it.
But if I did this more often, I’m not so sure I would hold to my decision. If I never let the gender fog subside: if as soon as one event was over I had another one planned a week or so later, if as soon as I got used to one trans activity I pushed the envelope, if I spent every day and night thinking about trans stuff and how much more I could do, I think it would get too much.
I could see my dysphoria increasing, and my desire to be a woman growing with it. I could see myself getting my ears pierced, getting my hair removed, insisting on changing at home. And then I could see myself going out more often, pushing the envelope harder. The fog itself was pretty unpleasant; combine it with enough dysphoria and transition looks like a big improvement.
And that’s why, when some of my friends from the support group asked, “Will we see Andrea again soon?” I had to tell them they probably wouldn’t. They’ll definitely see me (they’re a great group of people, and their support is a huge help to me) but probably not in a dress. That was way too much gender fog – and too much dysphoria. I made my decision nineteen years ago, and I’m not going to put myself in a position to revisit it.