What is gender dysphoria?
Gender dysphoria is the term created by a collection of (non-transgender) mental health professionals to describe how some transgender people feel. Not all trans people have dysphoria.
For those who have dysphoria, it can feel like your body is wrong. You might even feel like it will never look right, and that your outsides will never properly represent your gender. These feelings are painful, scary, and often overwhelming.
What can make gender dysphoria worse?
Our culture has given us many ideas of how a man or a woman “should look.” Experiences that highlight idealized body types (and criticize our own) can make us feel worse.
For some transgender people, dysphoria gets triggered by some part of their body that “doesn’t belong.” For example, when a trans girl notices her facial hair is growing back or when a trans boy takes off his binder (and his breasts become more prominent). Because daily interactions with our bodies can be distressing, many transgender people end up neglecting our hygiene just to avoid dysphoria.
Sometimes, being around cisgender people (people who aren’t trans) can trigger dysphoria. If you find yourself thinking “I’ll never look like that,” it makes sense that you would feel jealousy, hopelessness, or despair.
How can I manage dysphoria?
There are a few basic ways I recommend people approach dealing with dysphoria.
Being able to change your body to be more in line with your identity is one of the best ways to overcome dysphoria.
These can include starting Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT, also called cross-sex hormones), facial feminization surgery, and a variety of other procedures that affect your appearance.
Many transgender people find HRT brings about sufficient changes and don’t feel the need to undergo additional procedures. Other people elect to have one or more surgeries to achieve a feeling of congruence.
Not everyone has the time or resources to physically transition. There are many other ways to manage dysphoric feelings if you’re not able to transition now.
Often, our triggers can be predicted. If they can be expected, they can be outsmarted.
If showering makes you feel worse, shower with your eyes closed (when it’s safe) and have a bathrobe/towel right outside to quickly cover yourself up.
If removing facial, back, or chest hair triggers dysphoria, ask a friend or professional to shave/wax/apply depilatory cream for you.
If someone’s Instagram or YouTube series makes you feel worse, stop watching! (Yes, it’s obvious, but we all need reminders from time to time).
Sometimes, it just helps to get out of your head. Healthy distractions can include putting on loud music, sleeping, crying, or looking at cute animals.
It’s okay to take a break from your feelings for a little while.
Move Towards Your Goal
Even if you can’t start HRT, there are many ways that you can change your appearance. These can make a huge difference in your dysphoria.
Many trans women use an epilator (an electronic hair removal device that costs $100-200) for body hair removal. Some of my clients love getting their eyebrows done. Others use contouring kits to enhance their facial features.
For trans men, there are many products that help with bodily integrity. These include binders (which minimize the appearance of breasts), packers (for a bulge down there), and stand-to-pee devices.
Exercising in ways that you feel powerful and connected to your body can also help a great deal.
Talking to your friends or a therapist can help!
Also, seeking out trans creators can lift your spirits. It can feel amazing to be connected with people who’ve been where you are and understand what you’re going through. Art, music, poetry, videos...there’s so much out there!
(Name and None is one of my new faves)
And…some bad ideas
Gender dysphoria can lead people to manage their pain in unhealthy ways. These can include drinking excessively, drug use, and disordered eating.
We all make mistakes. If you notice yourself slipping into destructive behavior, you can reach out to a friend, therapist, or sponsor to help yourself get back on track.
Want more support for navigating life and finding transgender-friendly options? Read more about our therapy for transgender teens or counseling for transgender adults. If you want more problem-solving and less “emotion,” see if a transgender road map session would be right for you.