and not just because it totally erases anyone who doesn’t experience sex dysphoria.
note that I am a white person living in the US, so that is the only perspective I can really speak from. this discussion may not apply to you at all, and I’m sorry that I don’t have the experiences necessary to make it applicable to everyone. I would really welcome any further discussion that mentions things I missed.
for the purposes of this post, I’m going to define a few terms real quick. these aren’t hard-and-fast definitions, but they describe how I’ll be using these terms for the duration of this post.
- sex dysphoria: discomfort relating to sex characteristics and body parts, including but not limited to: genitalia, chest shape, body shape/fat distribution, height, hand/foot size, facial structure, etc.
- gender dysphoria: discomfort relating to the roles, actions, and ideas society has around the sex you were assigned. varies depending on the society, the people you’re surrounded with and how open-minded they are, etc.
- social dysphoria: similar to gender dysphoria but has nothing to do with how the person themself feels about their body or the roles they occupy, and everything to do with how society sees them. again, this can vary depending on the society. for instance, if a trans person presents in a typically feminine manner and that’s what makes their body and mind feel the best, but they have discomfort associated with the assumptions people make of them because of this, that would be social dysphoria.
so the primary focus on being transgender, and often presented as the defining characteristic that makes a person trans, is sex dysphoria. in order to be considered transgender, many people think that you must have constant and extreme discomfort with your own body. I feel like this is a false and misleading definition for a few different reasons.
Comfortable-In-Skin rhetoric. a lot of people define “cisgender” as “comfortable-in-skin” (mostly cis allies). this makes for a nice, neat acronym, and absolves the person from having to expand any further on the subject, but it is fundamentally wrong. how many cis people do you know who are completely comfortable in their skin? are you saying that there are no cis people at all who have issues with their body? that’s very obviously not true. so if that’s not what it means, then it must be a misleading way of saying that a cis person can be defined as someone who is comfortable with the way that their body is gendered. but then, where does that put trans people who have transitioned to the full extent of what they wanted? if a trans person has a list of things they want to do to transition, whether that list follows the traditional trans narrative or not, then the end goal is obviously to be free of dysphoria, right? so then does that make the fully transitioned person, now happy with their body, cis? no. they are still a transgender person (as far as they want to include that in their identity— no one is obligated to take on that specific label).
this kind of thinking also erases those trans people who have not, cannot, or don’t want to transition, for a variety of reasons too broad to cover, but who still fight for (and gain!) self-love. if a trans person has fought and fought to love themself, despite all of what society is telling them, despite what cis people are telling them, despite even what certain trans people will tell them, about how they will be fundamentally disgusting and unlovable until they meet a certain standard, and they succeed, does that make them no longer trans? it doesn’t. they’ve won a very personal battle and it’s not one that anyone else gets to try to use as ammunition against them or their identity.
there’s also the case of trans people who have always been comfortable with their bodies, who maybe change their presentation or pronouns but that’s all they feel they need to do to be happy. shouldn’t we be thinking that it’s lucky that they managed to escape what can be a very dark and painful part of being trans? why would anyone want to try to take away their identity because of that?
the idea that one must have dysphoria to be trans doesn’t only hurt the nonbinary people that it’s been most recently directed at. it also hurts non-transitioning binary trans people, who may choose not to transition for reasons ranging to money to religion to personal decision. it also hurts people of all trans identities who have managed self-love through a barrage of hatred from both outside sources and inside their minds. it seems to cast no thought at all towards people who have transitioned to their heart’s content. and frankly, it’s just incorrect, not to mention invasive. it boils down the extremely complex experience of being transgender to a single factor, a factor that cannot be verified through obversation, and isn’t that what we’re trying to get cis people to stop doing?
I’m going to take a minute to reiterate that you cannot determine dysphoria through observation. it’s impossible. you cannot know everything in a person’s mind based on your ideas of how they should dress or speak or act. stop trying. it’s invasive and presumptuous and rude.
we as trans people are complex and multifaceted human beings with a wide range of experiences and feelings, and we all need to acknowledge that. as one trans person out of many, no one of us can know every single trans experience. trans people are not a monolith.