Gender Dysphoria — One Person’s Experience

What even is gender dysphoria? For those who find themselves asking this question gender dysphoria is defined by Mayo Clinic as “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics”. The key focus of this issue is the discomfort one may feel around one’s body. Not one’s identity itself. This term should not be used to medicalize a transgender identity. There is nothing medically wrong with experiencing transgender feelings, but some people experience discomfort or distress with their own bodies and how these bodies are interpreted by society as a whole. Gender dysphoria is not exclusive to the trans community. This discomfort can be felt by anyone who develops secondary sex characteristics that they feel to be incongruent with their gender identity. There is a genetic condition wherein an otherwise typically male person is born with an extra X chromosome. The effects of this condition vary from case to case but many people who have this condition can develop relatively normally as a male until puberty, when they are at risk of developing gynecomastia (breasts or deposits of breast tissue), among other complications. This usually leads the person to seek surgery or other means to bring their physical form into line with their lived gender. A lot of trans and genderqueer individuals feel a similar desire, I know I do.

What follows is an account of my personal experience with gender dysphoria.

It started before I even knew. I have a very clear memory of the first time I wanted to dress like a boy. I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. We were staying with my dad, who was single at the time, and my sister and I had just dressed for bed after finishing our baths. My dad asked us to comb our hair, and I still didn’t know how to, so he did it for me. I had pretty short hair at the time, because my dad’s hairdresser did my hair like she did my late grandmother’s. My dad didn’t really know how to comb a girl’s hair, so he just combed my hair the way he combed his own. I looked in the mirror, and for half a second thought, “I should ask him to do it this way all time.” I quickly rejected the idea, and tucked it away in some back corner of my mind, to be rediscovered about 10 years later.

I didn’t think about this incident until I was considering cutting my hair short when I was 16. I was really confused about my gender for my whole teens. I thought my struggles were with my sexuality. But, looking back on it, I never had a problem with liking women. My problem went deeper. I hated who I was. I knew I had never related with women. By this time, I had already started dressing almost completely in men’s clothing, and had started taking an interest in men’s magazines. I played off this interest as an interest in the fitness and health tips. (I was really into weight lifting at the time.)

It wasn’t until I got through a lot more in my life that I was ready to worry about my gender. The years between 18–24 were tough. Really tough. Everything that was going on in my life left me with no time, or energy to devote to self-exploration and discovery. I was who I was, and people will feel how they will feel about me, my thinking went. But I was deluding myself. It did bug me when people greeted me as “Ma’am.” I hated that I had breasts and a period. I had always hated my period, but it started literally preventing me from working. I once worked the line at a deli, and had to run into the back office to violently vomit the nothing I had been able to eat for breakfast. I had always hated my period, and the escalating issues around it finally made me consider if I just didn’t want to deal with the issues, or if I really didn’t like my period itself. I landed on hating my period, which I thought was completely normal. But it took me awhile to realize that I needed to consider what would really make me happy around it.

I finally realized that I was unhappy being in a female body, and decided that I needed to try living by the correct pronouns. It just felt so much better to be called “sir”, or “he”. I started applying for jobs, and asked that my references address me as “he, him,” in their letters. I got hired and my new company completely embraced my identity. I was working in San Diego at this time, and this company was staffed with exceptionally understanding people. They very rarely slipped up when referencing me, and never stopped explaining to some of our customers that yes, the person that goes by Jess and sounds like a woman on the phone, is in fact, a man.

Hot tip: I can’t believe I actually have to explain this to grown adults, but please don’t make assumptions about someone based on their voice. This is just incredibly rude regardless of the person to whom you are speaking.

Then, three months later, the company couldn’t afford me anymore. They cut me loose. I ended up burning through my savings and having to take a job in a factory that manufactured crates. It was a lot harder than it sounds. But, I lucked out. My direct supervisor never knew I was trans. He just walked into the office and said “I’m taking him, right?”. I just never corrected him. The head supervisor and a few people in another department knew that I was trans, but no one bothered talking about it. Everyone just let me be JD. I also just didn’t bother talking that much, or hanging out with anyone outside of working. I literally went out to my car to eat lunch and call my fiancee, usually without talking to anybody. This was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was recommended, but I would have done this regardless.

Then came the best job yet, an office job for which I was actually qualified! When applying to this job I had to use my full legal name, so everything was addressed to my deadname. My deadname is so obviously female that I didn’t feel comfortable explaining to everyone I met or emailed that I am trans. I just accepted that I was “she” for the duration of this job. It was only a 6 month contract anyway. This new job paid double my factory wages, so my fiancee and me created a great budget that would allow us to save a good amount, and maybe even have some left over to pay the fees for my legal transition.

This is where we are currently. I am still experiencing dysphoria. I don’t like my tits. I don’t like having to wear bras but binders are too expensive, hot, and don’t really make enough of a difference at my present weight to justify the cost and skin issues they cause. I don’t like being referred to as her/she. I am significantly unhappy around my period, and I really just want to be able to be seen for who I feel I am. That’s what this is really about. I think everyone wants to be seen for who they know themselves to be.

While I hope this very personal account of my experience with gender dysphoria is illuminating for those either unfamiliar with the feeling, or those all too familiar with it, this is a very individual experience. My feelings are my own, and I do not claim to speak for anyone other than myself.



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J.D. Whirley

J.D. Whirley

I am currently transitioning FTM, I am starting the process of going back to college, and I am building a business on the side.