The New York Times has an ongoing editorial series about transgender experiences (Transgender Today), with an online section for submissions from trans people to share their own stories (Trans Voices).
I found that most of the stories in that series described the experience of gender dysphoria in terms of social gender roles and traditional gender stereotypes, without much reference to the physical distress that is so prominent for me. The blog American Trans Man has an excellent series of posts describing body dysphoria (What Does Body Dysphoria Feel Like?), but I did not see my own experience represented there either.
So I wrote this piece in an attempt to describe my profoundly physical dysphoria, which was challenging within the 400 word limit. I submitted my story to the New York Times online in June 2015, however it was not accepted for publication. My original submission is below.
I am not a woman. And I do not know what it means to feel like a man. But I do know this: my brain believes my body should be male. I know this too: living with a female body is a thousand daily torments, a relentless rain of knife-sharp wounds, a constant cacophony of noise in my mind and a disorienting disconnection from my physical self.
An accidental glimpse of this girl-face in the mirror feels like a baffling optical illusion, an odd reflection of a face I know so well but can never quite call my own. The soft, hesitant, distinctly female voice that emerges from my mouth feels like some kind of cruel deception. The shape of my shadow, a perfect hourglass, is a barbed and bitter insult. Menstruation brings with it a dark and bloody tidal wave of despair, an overwhelming urge to claw open my own abdomen and rip out the offending uterus with my bare hands. For years I have showered with the lights off so I don’t have to see this foreign female body naked, but even in the darkness I feel a surge of revulsion when my soapy hand slips between my legs or slides quickly over my chest. A kaleidoscope of images now… the absurd roundness of these girl-hips, the obscene feminine heaviness of my upper thighs, the fragile slenderness of my fine-boned hands, the ugly narrowness of my unmuscled shoulders, the terrible width of my flared iliac crests cradling a soft smooth belly, the raw red ring around my ribs from a too-tight sports bra… all inescapable, all excruciating, all wrong. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! The same refrain always buzzing in my head, the same anxiety always crawling just below my skin.
All this I know, every minute of every day.
But I do not know what comes next. I am confused. I am terrified. I am drifting on a sea of fear and uncertainty, paralyzed by indecision. I feel a desperate urgency to make a choice, to finally find some peace.
Testosterone, mastectomy, hysterectomy. Those are the options that could tear my life apart. Those are the options that might mold parts of me into a more masculine form. But is that where I want to go? Will that ever be enough to stifle these sirens screaming in my brain? What does silence sound like?
“Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves.”
– The Duchess (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865)