Articles / Feelings

Bigender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria, a feeling of discomfort with life in a particular gender, is the usual psychological justification given for transition: hormones, surgery, name changes, gender marker changes and gender presentation changes. In the standard transgender narrative, this feeling is presented as evidence of a mismatch between the gender that a person is currently living in and their gender identity, meaning the gender they believe themselves to be.

Trans dogma typically goes further, asserting that gender identity beliefs are indications of a person’s “true gender,” or the gender of their “authentic self.” This is usually supported with scientific studies claiming to show innate “brain sex” differences. Transition is presented as the only way to relieve gender dysphoria, and dysphoria as evidence that a transition will be successful and satisfactory.

There are a number of problems with this line of reasoning. The scientific studies are often cherry-picked from preliminary, inconclusive or overreaching research. Many people feel dysphoria without having any gender identity belief, mismatched or not. Many people with dysphoria are not satisfied with transition, and many people who are quite happy with transition show no dysphoria beforehand.

One of the biggest difficulties with the idea that dysphoria means transition is that many people are dysphoric to both (or all) genders. They’re not happy being men or women, and sometimes they’re unhappy with other genders, whether they’re non-Western ones like kathoey or recent creations like neutrois. I personally feel at least as uncomfortable with my experiences a woman as I do with my experiences as a man.

Some people react to this bigender dysphoria with more of the same essentialism: people who are dysphoric to both genders must have an authentic self with a dual gender identity, they say. If the prescription for dysphoria to one gender is transition to the other, then the prescription for bigender dysphoria must be to transition away from both, to an agender presentation. Others say that we should transition to an androgynous presentation incorporating both genders, or a fluid one where we live day to day in whichever gender bothers us the least.

The difficulty with these transition-based approaches is that frequently people need to experience a life in a gender before they know for sure how it will make them feel. That means that someone (like myself, for example) may know for years that we are dysphoric to masculinity before we discover that we are also dysphoric to femininity. A significant number of people have gotten major body modifications before they figured it out.

If we are uncomfortable with all genders, though, it raises the possibility that what we are uncomfortable with is not gender at all, but something else in life, like the pressure to conform, or some constant in our own lives, like a bad economy or an oppressive family. There may be other ways to deal with these problems, or they may be things that we have to accept. For some, there is even the possibility that they are trapped with no good options.

The bottom line is that any approach that offers only one solution, transition, is going to fail anyone with bigender dysphoria, and that anyone who feels dysphoria to one gender should give careful and thorough consideration to the possibility that they are dysphoric toward other genders as well.

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