Articles / Beliefs / Feelings

Creating body dysphoria

Some people believe that there are two kinds of dysphoria: social dysphoria, meaning a discomfort with the social expectations associated with a gender role, and body dysphoria, meaning a discomfort with the awareness of physical sex characteristics.

In this worldview (sometimes called “truscum”; the word is adopted as a badge of pride by many people who espouse it), the feeling of body dysphoria separates the true transsexuals from the wannabe “transtrenders.” It is a “medical condition,” resulting from a mismatch between brain sex and the shape of the body, and the only cure is full hormonal and surgical transition. Social dysphoria, by contrast, is a malaise resulting from society’s restrictive gender roles, and affects everyone who’s paying attention. The only cure for this is reforming society to equalize the sexes, and any other response is a waste of time.

In the truscum worldview, resources available for trans people are scarce, and the true transsexuals with their medical condition deserve priority over the transtrenders who only experience social dysphoria. Transtrenders also monopolize media time and attention, and trivialize transgender problems in people’s minds.

This argument rests on two claims: (a) that body dysphoria is qualitatively different from other kinds of gender dysphoria and much more intense, and (b) that body dysphoria is innate – either you have it or you don’t.

When I first heard this argument I was skeptical of the first claim. Does body dysphoria even exist, I wondered? I couldn’t think of a way it could arise psychologically, so I didn’t really think too much about the claim that it was innate. Now I’ve not only seen that body dysphoria does exist, but I’ve also seen how it can develop, in fully grown adults who never experienced it before.

My friend Claire said she had never felt any dissatisfaction with her body until she transitioned. But after a significant period of being accepted as a woman, and then a single incident focused on her genitals, she began to experience intense, traumatic body dysphoria. And she’s not the only one.

I’ve heard similar stories from other trans women, and they all have the same pattern: feeling accepted as a woman, thinking of themselves as a woman (with no “trans” qualifier), and having to confront the fact of having male anatomy at a time when it was inconvenient (or worse) to have it.

The fact that all of these women were fully grown adults when they first experienced body dysphoria means that there is no way to neatly divide the world into “true transsexuals” and “wannabe transtrenders.” It doesn’t show that body dysphoria is never innate, but it does prove that it isn’t always innate. We’re not all born this way.

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4 Comments

  1. It hurts and pisses me off when any group, particularly within the TG community, holds or creates some badges of honor where one is more “true” or “valid” than another. That is such bullshit. I don’t have body Dysphoria, does that make me less “true” of Aynthjng?

    I had a meeting yesterday with a woman who specializes in gender issues. She’s a well recognized therapist whose practice has spanned more than 40 years. When I told her that I didn’t have body Dysphoria she said fine, it’s a myth. Now, we didn’t take time to dive into this further since I don’t really care, and I would think that certainly there are people (trans or not) who dislike or hate their bodies. But that’s what she said.

    Emma

  2. I have experienced profound body dysphoria since childhood. That was true for many years before my first attempt at transition. For myself, gender issues have always been secondary to body issues. This does not make me more or less of anything in particular in relationship to anyone else. What it does do is to make me feel misunderstood and isolated within a culture and cultural discourse that focuses on gender and gender dysphoria as the primary and overriding characteristic of trans people. Comparing different experiences within a zero-sum worldview is not something I see as a productive approach. Trans people are diverse and I believe we need to respect and acknoledge our wide range of individual experiences.

    Your attempt to attribute body dysphoria to a specific set of of social circumstances and experiences through a few discussions of individual anecdotes is in itself both prejudicial and unscientific. I suggest you consider that a number of possibilities may exist and that some may coexist within our diverse trans demographic. I also note that the title of this post suggests a conclusion in a way that is no less prejudical than if a non-trans person titled a post Creating Gender Dysphoria.

    Respectfully,
    Terry Blade

  3. Terry, did you read the part where I said, “it doesn’t show that body dysphoria is never innate”? Please don’t put words into my mouth. I am not making a universal claim about the origins of body dysphoria, I am disproving the universal claims made by others. To disprove a universal claim, all you need is one exception, one anecdote. That is in fact how science works.

    I also don’t understand why you think it would be prejudicial for anyone, trans or non-trans, to title a post “Creating Gender Dysphoria.”

  4. Emma, you said an important thing. What does she mean when she said that body disphoria is a myth? Does she mean that we have not such a proof that change body is a good therapy, although many people assure that trans brain exist? I am very interested… i am more.convinced that body disphoria is a social construct…

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