Going Over the Rainbow: What is Gender Dysphoria?
Yesterday on Tumblr I had an anon ask an excellent question about gender dysphoria and what having an episode feels like. So I thought I would share it with you all here as well. This is one of those things that unless you experience it yourself it can be difficult to comprehend. I did my best to explain it but I highly recommend that if you decide to write a character who experiences gender dysphoria while you do not, that you have someone who does, beta read for you.
[Text: Anonymous asked: Could you describe of what a gender dysphoria episode is like? I understand the basics I think, but was wandering if you could describe it in more detail? Or maybe you could point out a part in the Jeweled Dagger that shows this?]
Gender dysphoria is something that is only briefly mentioned in JD during a conversation between Genevieve, Olivia and Nora.
“Nora often wishes she’d been born a boy. She hates being a girl.”
“I am sorry, Nora. That is a difficult thing.”
Nora shrugged. “I make do. Though if you can get away with dressing as a woman maybe you can show me how to dress as a man. It would make me a lot happier than wearing this fucking dress.”
Genevieve blinked at the course language then smiled. “I’d be happy to help.” – (The Jeweled Dagger)
The scene I mentioned in my post yesterday has the dysphoria front and center. (This might be a bit spoilery for both JD and Daggers and a rather long reply, so I hope you don’t mind). Lafayette might be genderfluid but being forced to present as a gender they are not currently experiencing can be just as difficult and disorienting as it would be for a trans person.
Current circumstances have forced Lafayette to come to Court as Genevieve. The dysphoria starts as they’re getting ready with them not recognizing themselves in the mirror.
As he got ready Lafayette kept trying to get into the right mindset. He could pretend to be Genevieve but he hated doing that. It was like trying to wear something that didn’t quite fit and chaffed, except it was internal rather than external. Watching himself in the mirror as he started applying the paste to his skin made him uncomfortable and left him with a sick hollow feeling. Did Rona not understand what she was asking of him, demanding he only appear as Genevieve? He wasn’t some actor playing a role. Though he supposed this wasn’t much different from the days he had to pretend to be male too. – (The Daggers of Ariyon)
I’ve deal with this myself a lot (it’s one of the reasons I hate mirrors so much). Imagine going into your bathroom to get ready in the morning, yet the person staring back at you in the mirror is not you. Intellectually you know it’s your face but your gut is telling you this is all wrong. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, this will set off either a panic attack or a depressive episode that can last hours or days. Other times I end up self-harming. Yeah, mirrors are not my friend.
Hearing the wrong pronouns can result in an episode too.
Nate didn’t look convinced until Olivia stuck her head out the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on her.”
A small jolt shot through Lafayette at the ‘her’ but he shoved the feeling aside. – (The Daggers of Ariyon)
It always gives me a start, like a sudden drop, makes me dizzy, nauseated and confused. That’s usually when I have to stop and forcefully talk to myself to prevent a full episode. I have to remind myself that people look at me and see a certain gender.
You probably have a mental image of yourself. The way you see yourself when you’re imagining doing things, or even dreaming. This is very normal, yet I don’t have a mental image of myself. I *know* what I look like, yet my mental image is just a shadowy figure. I’m never ‘myself’ in dreams. If I am it’s probably a nightmare. From what I’ve read many trans persons experience similar things, their mental image of themselves doesn’t match the external. And I don’t mean just that you think your looks aren’t what you want. This goes a whole lot deeper.
Sometimes, for some people, just having to look at or feel parts of their anatomy that don’t fit their gender can result in an episode. Others actually feel as though they are missing breasts or a penis, it’s been likened to phantom limb syndrome. This has lead to speculation that while the brain is wired to have those parts of the anatomy, they aren’t physically present. As you can imagine this can be terribly disorienting. You never feel whole, or normal no matter how hard you try.
Lafayette doesn’t have the luxury of staying home. As many of us don’t. We have to deal with the dysphoria and hope we don’t break down in public. I personally felt it was important to explore this aspect of being gender non-conforming though I know Lafe’s experience won’t be exactly the same as other people who experience gender dysphoria. Their dysphoria is different even from my own.
It’s my sincere hope that writing about this helps educate people and provides a basis for understanding.
Here are some links that might help too and I’m always happy to talk. ^_^