Gender Identity Dysphoria: Self at the mercy of the body

“For this reason illness disrupts the continuity of the biography, at times turning the self literally at the mercy of the body,” from Body/Embodiment: Symbolic Interaction and the Sociology of the Body

Self at the mercy of the body. Aren’t we all at the mercy of the body each day? Not just those of us who are ill or trans? Constantly manifesting who we are in, through and with the body. Adjusting our eyeliner, our shirt collar, our hair. Covering up the layers of stomach, the unwanted breasts, the bulge in our pants. Looking to find the self in the mirror but seeing the body.

I was diagnosed with gender identity dysphoria back in 2009. That declaration by the therapist put my ‘self’ at the mercy of my body. I didn’t expect it. I knew I needed a letter from a therapist to have surgery and take hormones. I didn’t realize that would require a diagnosis with a ‘medical disorder.’ I didn’t feel ill/unwell/dysphoric. But now my medical records said otherwise.

For me, I’ve never felt female but, you know, I’ve never felt quite male either. But I did always feel like me. An unshakeable sense of self. My journey through styles, hormones and surgeries was a quest to ensure that sense of self was not at the mercy of my body. And that diagnosis was the only way to continue the progress but it disrupted the journey. It all felt so natural, so real, so me. Until I was labeled. Until I was diagnosed.

Based on other stories I’ve heard, many trans people have felt their self has been at the mercy of the body. Many trans narratives include a need to alter the body to be a true self. What about those who can’t afford surgery and hormones? What about those who aren’t old enough to access care? What about those, like myself, who didn’t feel dysphoric? Will our selves be forever at the mercy of our bodies?

The self relies on the body to communicate with the world but the self knows its truth beyond the body. It seems that the gender dysphoria diagnosis does more than stigmatizes a person within society. It declares to them that the self truly is at the mercy of the body. It stigmatizes their body to themselves. It confirms that you must physically alter your flesh to display your truth. But is that really the case? If you’ve felt your whole life that you weren’t a female, isn’t that the truth? Despite what clothes you wore or how your body developed, because wearing a dress and having breasts doesn’t make you female if you’ve never felt that way yourself.

Will we ever be able to take back the self from the body? Maybe not as a whole society but individually, yes. Through self-care, self-understanding, self-exploration. You are not at the mercy of your body. You are who you say you are.

– from leo

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