The world is treating me bad: ✨Misery✨

17/05/2023 Wednesday Ninth Hour/Ωρα Ενάτη - The following blog post describes a way of describing my experiences and those of the people around me that makes a lot of sense to me. You might not agree. If this is the case, you are most welcome to suck my balls.

Thus spake emerald_midgear on Twitter this morning, before being immediately dogpiled with extreme prejudice, including by yours truly. And rightly so - anyone who uses the word “trender” unironically ought to be rehabilitated with the same treatment one would give a racehorse with two broken legs. And that’s not even mentioning the tweet’s repulsive bioessentialist implications on what it means to be a “complete woman” - wombyn much, Ms. Midgear? But the tweet and the reactions people have had to it are interesting, if nothing else, because they touch on something that the trans community hasn’t really managed to reckon with in a unified way: misery.

The trans community has a complicated relationship with misery. In a way, misery can be said to be an inherent part of transness: what leads a person to trans their gender other than being miserable in the alternative? A transmedicalist would say that this manifests itself in dysphoria exclusively. Meanwhile, someone with a less dysphoria-centric view would still report some sort of experience of never feeling quite right in the role of their assigned gender. Either way a unifying facet of gender-diverse people of all identities from all walks of life is an inability to be happy or fulfilled in the gender that was assigned to them.

Whether emerald_midgear is right or not is not up for debate. The tweet is stupid. It’s pessimistic, it’s gatekeepy, and it just generally reads like something written by a self-hating, poorly adjusted individual. To me, the more interesting question is what makes a person feel this way? What kinds of misery affect trans people, and what role does misery play in transgender experiences of identity?

DISCLAIMER: I am, as most transsexuals are, functionally illiterate; therefore I have only read one book in my entire life and that was Whipping Girl. A lot of the ideas are kinda outdated but broadly I like the framework of understanding gender identity that she proposes. For the purposes of my blogging here, I’ll be using the words transsexual and transgender in the way that she does: with transsexual denoting a trans person who experiences an incongruence between their physical sex and subconscious sex, and transgender denoting a trans person who experiences incongruent gender inclinations OTHER than an incompatibility between their physical and subconscious sex. I know that the word transsexual has weird, transmed-y undertones when used by certain people. I hope you all know me well enough at this point to know that I am NOT a transmed, and approach my use of the word transsexual, both in this blogpost and in my day-to-day parlance, in good faith. If you disagree with that or anything else I write about here, you’re welcome to send me a message of complaint which I will be ignoring because I can’t read. On with the blog post!

To explore this, I will reach back into my own past, to about a year and a half ago, when I myself was exactly the kind of self-hating shut in who would tweet something like that, albeit slightly less gross (for all my past faults I was never a bioessentialist or a transmed). In the early months of 2022, in the city of Montreal, in the neighbourhood of Milton-Parc, on Campus 1’s eleventh floor, at the end of the hallway to the left from the elevators, there lived a miserable, self-hating, newly-out transsexual. I had, at that point, accepted that I was trans, but was still in the process of getting HRT. This was easily the most horribly dysphoric time of my life - I had become consciously aware of every little thing that made me dysphoric and there was next to nothing I could do about it. The friends I did have were cishet music students who, to their credit, were hugely supportive, but also caused unintentional harm with some of the things they said, as the cis are wont to do. I’m not friends with them anymore anyway.

My misery was completely obsessive. I thought about nearly nothing other than how masculine my body was, how deep my voice, how nobody saw me as anything even approaching womanhood. I felt like a grotesque, laughable caricature of womanhood, tttt’s boogieman gigahon, an embarrassment who did nothing but to harm the optics of the trans community. I missed assignments and my marks slipped because I spent so much of my time alone in bed hating myself. I developed this extreme agoraphobic sort of anxiety towards interacting with basically anyone, out of fear of being seen as grotesque. The few trans people I did talk to regularly at that time kept a distance from me and my toxic self-hatred. This is partially because I was a fuckin downer to be around, and partially because, much like our tweeting antagonist, I had a habit of projecting this self hatred outwards. This came from the burning resentment I held towards any trans person who did not share in my toxic misery, be they passing trans people or non-dysphoric transgender people. I resented them for being happy. Obviously I didn’t go on unhinged tirades or anything, but I think the way I talked about things probably belied a lot of that stuff. Basically, I thought there was no hope for me to ever find peace in my body, and even if I could, I felt that the absolute best case scenario would still be a defective body, unable to have children of my own, among other things. I didn’t know if anyone would ever want me, as an infertile gender freak.

I’ve done a lot of work on myself and I’ve gotten a lot better about 90% of that stuff. I’m still very insecure and self conscious, but basically all of my most harmful brainworms have dissipated. So from this perspective, a year on, I feel that I can dissect and examine my issues to understand better how they operated. I can reconstruct the initial cause of my miseries by examining them in themselves and also by figuring out what it was that solved them and then working backwards from the solution to find the cause.

As I see it, there are two major factors that changed in my life and enabled me to take more pride and joy in being trans. First, and most obviously, HRT. The knowledge that I was no longer actively masculinising was a huge relief, and then as my physical features began to get more and more feminine, I became more and more confident in myself and less dysphoric about my appearance. I’m still very much dysphoric, especially over stuff like my voice - I’m sure dysphoria will remain with me for a long time no matter what I do - but at only a fraction of the level I was before, despite the fact that I’m still clocky. Second, was finding a strong, supportive real-life trans community to engage with. Being around trans people who treated me as I wanted to be treated and were often clocky just like me made me feel a lot less alone, a lot less grotesque, a lot more normal and a lot more secure in my identity.

Examining my experience it seems to me that throughout my experience of being trans, both in the closet and since beginning to transition, the misery I have experienced has fallen into two distinct categories: 1. Intrinsic or dysphoric misery, the misery I experience as a result of my physical features, voice, outward presentation, basically things that have their root in the attributes of my physical self; and 2. Extrinsic misery, the misery I experience as a result of things outside of my control such as how other people view or treat me with regards to my gender. This second category also includes when I myself project societal standards of womanhood onto myself, e.g. when I used to say (like in that girl’s tweet) that I would “never be a real woman, never be able to have a baby”, the real root of the issue wasn’t with the reproductive capabilities of my anatomy but rather in the fact that to feel secure in my gender identity I had to meet an extrinsic standard. This obviously interacts with dysphoric misery in a complicated way - more on that later.

In recent weeks I have been interacting with more cis people than usual, through my new roommate Hichem (cishet man but “one of the good ones”) and through my high school friend Charlotte. In the company of their friends I have been misgendered more times in the last month than I had been in the entire semester. This has increased my misery, and as the cause is social, one would think that the increased misery would be all of the extrinsic type. And indeed this has increased; next to the gaggles of cis women, I feel like a donkey. The cis social sphere treats me with the classic transmisogynist third gendering, denying me male privilege while simultaneously treating me as less than a woman. In their company, I feel like a pale imitation of a girl, I really don’t feel like (as our tweeting villain so eloquently put it) “a complete woman”. And I think it’s super important to note that as a result of this, I have felt a palpable increase on the other side of the coin, my dysphoric misery and self-hatred. When treated in a way that does not align with one’s gender identity (not affirming, misgendering, third-gendering, etc.), the immediate internal response is to become extremely self conscious of what physical indicators are causing this. We look for answers in our bodies, we pick apart our appearance and gender presentation, we end up falling into a spiral of increased consciousness of our every feature that could potentially be seen as not aligning with our gender. This is an interesting thing to note: extrinsic misery feeds into dysphoric misery, causing this other type to increase along with it. And the reverse? Does dysphoric misery feed into extrinsic misery? Absolutely. After all, what can make a gal feel less womanly than an intense awareness of her clocky features? I don’t need to explain that one

This brings us back to “I’ll never be a complete woman, I’ll never be a biological mom”. When I had those thoughts, they were a perfect example of both types of misery feeding into each other: dysphoria over my reproductive anatomy making me feel insecure in my womanhood, and my insecurity over my womanhood making me feel even worse about my reproductive anatomy.

We can see that these two types of misery feed into one another; dysphoric misery increases your extrinsic misery (e.g. look at how masculine I look etc., no way I will ever be a “complete woman”, no wonder they treat me as less than), while at the same time your extrinsic misery increases your dysphoric misery right back (e.g. they’re not treating me like a woman; surely this must be because of x physical features). So why even make a distinction; what purpose does it serve to say that these are two different things? Basically, because while these two types of misery feed into each other, their initial causes are different, and thus their treatments are different. Gender affirming physical changes through hormones, exercise, voice training, fashion, surgery, or whatever else to alleviate dysphoric misery; finding true irl community and doing what it takes to get people to affirm your gender and treat you as what you are to alleviate extrinsic misery. Treating just one type of misery will not make you happy with yourself, and that’s what brings us back to transmedicalists, emerald_midgear on twitter dot com, and me, a mere year ago locked in my shitty Campus 1 dorm room. What held me back for the first several months of my medical transition was that I continued to fly in circles that were harmful for me: cis circles where I constantly felt second place to cis women. This kept my extrinsic misery high, and that kept my outlook bleak. Once the HRT began to take its effect, my dysphoria began to slowly slowly improve, and this also had an effect on my extrinsic misery insofar as removing one factor that fed into it. That is to say, I felt slightly more secure in my identity as a woman. However, continued misgendering and third-gendering in my social life remained as the primary cause of this misery, despite the fact that the intensifying factor of dysphoria began to be alleviated. It was only when I began to treat the primary cause of my extrinsic misery, by finding a strong irl trans community and a circle of trans friends who treated me as the girl I am, that this misery began to truly improve. Thus, had I not treated my extrinsic misery directly by making changes in the way I interacted with the outside world, it would have remained high, and my outlook would have remained bleak. My identity as a woman would have continued to be extremely insecure and I would have continued to be susceptible to the same insecurities as our tweeting antagonist, with constant fixation on things like “I will never bear a child” completely overshadowing the things that do make me a woman.

The reverse is also true. I have observed this phenomenon in the majority-trans social circle that I have come to fly in. Dysphoric trans people who are open about their gender struggles but not actively treating their dysphoria by making changes to their outward physical appearance will treat their extrinsic misery by socialising with trans people who will see them and treat them as they wish to be seen, for example as women in the case of non-transitioning trans women. This helps to an extent: they feel more comfortable socialising, they feel understood. And this in turn can temporarily distract from physical attributes that cause the dysphoric side of their trans misery. But at the end of the day, it will not treat the root cause directly, and they will remain unhappy, just as someone who is on HRT but not being treated by their real-life community as the gender they identify with will remain unhappy.

So basically transsexual people feel this compound misery of dysphoria and extrinsic which interact so closely that they assume it’s all dysphoria; therefore anyone who is happy to be trans must be a “trender” because they don’t experience this misery anymore. However they fail to see that the extrinsic part of our miserable trans experience is indeed shared with non-dysphoric transgender people. Even those who no longer feel the misery of transness have had to deal with it at some point, and have made changes as a result of it. It makes no sense to punish them for it. A question does arise: why not categorise these two forces as simply subtypes of dysphoria? A lot of people refer to physical dysphoria and social dysphoria, are these terms not fully representative? They could be - but at the same time, I’m drawn to a terminology that draws equivalences between the experiences of dysphoric and non-dysphoric transgender people. Is the social dysphoria experienced by your garden-variety transsexual really so different from the unhappiness at being misgendered and not having their identity taken seriously experienced by a they/them who doesn’t desire HRT? I think not. While these forces may operate differently within their respective systems of misery (i.e. increasing dysphoria in the transsexual while not having a tangible dysphoric effect on the non-dysphoric transgender), I think that, based on my experience with all types of transgender people, fundamentally their experience is the same, if not very similar.

So does that mean we have to organise our entire community, our identities, our movements, around this misery of never living up to cis expectations? Absolutely not. It may be misery that drives us initially, but to think of that as the defining aspect of transgender identity is a shallow and bleak understanding of our shared experience. We should be able to understand our transgender misery as part of what makes us who we are, something that is at the root of what makes us do what it is we do, and still take pride and joy in being trans without fear of that happiness being taken as being an inauthenticity of our transness. An oomf of mine said it best in the replies to my quote tweet of emerald_midgear earlier today: it’s true that it can be hard at times, and there are certain things cis women can do that we never will, but we’ve gotta try and see the positives in our situation, because if not, what are we even doing it for?

N.B. the one complete exception to everything described in this post is Trisha Paytas. I have no earthly idea what the hell is going on there


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