I am going to dig into nonbinary gender dysphoria in this post, but first, experiences of gender are incredibly diverse. I do not wish to speak for the nonbinary community, nor could I. Your experience may or may not be reflected in this post, and not only is that totally okay, I celebrate and value your experience which I assume is different from my own.
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Gender dysphoria for nonbinary people
Nonbinary people may have a different gender identity than the one they were assigned at birth. For example, I am a nonbinary person who does not consider myself to be female, my assigned sex at birth.
I feel gender dysphoria when people assume I am a woman based on how I look or act. I think of this as social dysphoria. It’s not that severe for me. For example, if this happens in a work environment, I shrug it off because it’s more important for me to do my job than to defend my identity in the workplace.
I have been treated as “woman-lite.” People invite me to women’s groups, conferences, and classes, treat my name change to a more masculine name as optional, use “she” pronouns, include me in “ladies,” and assume my masculine name and dress is for the goal of succeeding professionally. My self-identification and presentation are important to me. These instances of misgendering sometimes cause me to feel dysphoria as I process the comments and actions afterwards.
I can also feel gender dysphoria based on my own perception of my body. I’m uncomfortable with the shape of my chest or when people touch me certain ways that remind me of a gender that I am not. This is internal to me, physical, regardless of what other people think of me and my body. I feel physical symptoms in response to this disconnect between my mental image of myself and my actual physical presence. I can feel alarmed, slightly nauseous, troubled, overstimulated, or on high alert (unable to relax or sleep).
The DSM-5 defines gender dysphoria as “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and their assigned gender, lasting at least 6 months, as manifested by at least two [of the following criteria].” The criteria describe a strong desire or conviction to be a different gender than one’s assigned gender, including not having/having primary or secondary sex characteristics and to be treated as the other gender.
The definition is missing, “and it feels bad.” Gender dysphoria can prevent people from doing everyday activities and affect friendships, community, and employment. It can feel like a constant burden that other people don’t have. It can lead to dissociation, anxiety, depression, and worsening of other mental and physical health symptoms.
Does everyone feel gender dysphoria?
Not everyone feels gender dysphoria. You can be trans and never feel gender dysphoria. Some trans people socially or medically transition because it makes them happier or because it feels like the right thing to do for them, not because they were in pain before transitioning.
It’s possible to feel dysphoric if you’re cis, if someone misgenders you or your current appearance doesn’t express your identity. However, most cis people do not have gender dsyphoria, especially not long term.
Affirming your inherent/chosen gender identity (as opposed to your assigned gender identity) is the best way to reduce gender dysphoria. You can do this by:
- Asking trusted friends (or strangers on the internet) to use a gender-affirming name and pronouns for you
- Writing down or speaking out loud affirmations to yourself: “I appreciate what my body can do for me. I am nonbinary, my body is nonbinary, and my appearance is nonbinary. I see myself as a masculine person with a slightly feminine appearance.”
- Wearing outfits that express your gender identity
- Using makeup to create a more masculine or feminine look
- Using garments or prosthetics to change your body shape (binders, padded bras, packers, etc)
- Asking your friends, family, community members, or coworkers to refer to you in accurate ways that feel better to you
- Updating your legal documents to accurately represent your name or gender
- Medical care (hormone replacement therapy or surgical treatments) may alleviate gender dysphoria
Self-care is also important for treating an episode of gender dysphoria. Taking time to rest, relaxing and distracting activities such as watching TV, journaling, or drawing, can be a great way to let your body know you are safe and recovering.
Can gender dysphoria go away?
Gender dysphoria, like many other medical conditions, does not generally go away on its own. Once you are aware of it, the symptoms may actually intensify. I repressed thoughts and feelings relating to gender dysphoria for years. When I started researching other people’s similar experiences, my dysphoria became very present and I could not make it go away. I wished I could repress it again, because the symptoms were making me feel uncomfortable. I was not happy while having to figure out what my body was doing (to me).
I changed my wardrobe, name, pronouns, and the way I think about myself. I feel less dysphoria now, connected to a wonderful community of trans and queer people. I have learned a lot about myself, what makes me happier, and what makes me more present and grounded in my body.
Wherever you are in your gender journey, I hope learning about gender dysphoria in nonbinary people has been insightful. I wish you luck and I care about you.
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