When you interact with very masculine men, you're nervous. You don't really know how to carry on a conversation with them, or want to. You feel an expectation, from them, to be something you're not. You quietly judge them for being too "bro"-y, "basic."
Being vulnerable around strange men is terrifying. You're anxious when you use the public men's room. Changing in a gym locker room is unthinkable. You do not feel ownership of these spaces. You are very concerned about strange men observing you, or your body.
You're awkward at social touch. You might crave touch, like most people, but you feel like you're almost entirely incapable of receiving it warmly. When giving a hug, something about your torso feels like it will be *offensive* to others. (Whatever it is, they don't notice.)
You can't talk about sex, or attraction, or the bodies of people you're supposed to be attracted to. Even when your commentary is solicited, everything you could say feels unwanted and inappropriate, even if it'd be fine coming from someone else. You freeze up.
You struggle even to voice innocent physical compliments to others, like "Looking good!" You are hyper-aware that virtually anything could sound like unwanted sexual attention, coming from you. You feel like your attention is uniquely, universally unwelcome.
When an AFAB friend expresses disapproval, you're devastated. You scramble to get their approval back. You're worried you're coming across as a simpering "nice guy," all of whom you despise. You just value your AFAB friends' opinions more highly, for reasons you can't explain.
All social gender dysphoria orbits around one central concept: What Gender do people believe me to be? Social Dysphoria is about how the outside world perceives you, how others address you, and how you are expected to address them. This applies differently prior to the trans person becoming self-aware of their own gender, versus how Social Dysphoria is experienced after a trans awakening (cracking one’s shell).
While still in the dark, the only awareness is that something seems off about the way you interact with your interactions with other people. People of your assigned gender seem to interact with each other in ways that do not feel natural to you. Their behaviors and mannerisms feel strange and surprising, where interactions with individuals of your true gender feel easier. You relate to people closer to your own truth.
For example, an AMAB trans person may find themselves very uncomfortable in groups of men. They may feel out of place and struggle to fit in among their male peers. Masculine social interactions don’t come naturally to them, and trying to emulate their male friends feels awkward. They may feel themselves drawn more to friendships with women, but become frustrated at the social and heterosexual dynamics that come into play between men and women, preventing them from forming platonic relationships. This is if women are willing to form friendships at all. They may find themselves deeply hurt when women shy away from them on principle.
This feeling of wrongness intensifies as the person becomes more and more aware of their own incongruence, and upon realizing who they really are it takes on a new shape. For binary trans people this often may be about the intense need to be seen as your true gender, be it male or female. Some non-binary people experience this more as euphoria at being seen as neither male or female and thus only being referred to in ungendered ways, or from being read as different genders by different people in the same setting. Some experience intense euphoria when people are incapable of reading their gender and become confused.
Social dysphoria is where pronouns and misgendering come into play; being addressed with a gendered pronoun such as she, he, him, or her which is not the pronoun that aligns with our gender is extremely discomforting. Granted, this is true for all people, including cisgender people, but where a cis person will be insulted by being misgendered, a trans person will feel hurt. It’s like nails on a chalkboard, or steel wool across skin. Hearing the wrong pronoun is a reminder that the person you are talking to does not recognize you for the gender that you are.
Gender neutral pronouns can also be unsettling for binary trans people if used in a way that make it clear the person is avoiding the pronoun that matches them. This often is an indication that a person has been read as being transgender, and the person addressing them doesn’t know what pronouns they use. Asking their pronouns can resolve this situation immediately, but the paradox is that even in that scenario, having their pronouns asked may itself induce dysphoria around having been recognized as being trans. It is sort of a catch-22.
Singular they can also be used maliciously when a transphobic individual refuses to use the correct pronoun, but knows they will get in trouble for using the wrong pronouns. Tone and intent matter a lot.
The same also applies to names. Being called by one’s given name (deadname) instead of their chosen name can feel invalidating when done ignorantly, and downright dismissive when done intentionally.
It may also manifest as joy or embarrassment at being labeled as your true gender while still living as your assigned gender. Examples:
- An AMAB person being labeled a girl, intending insult, but it causing them to blush rather than get angry.
- An AFAB person being called Sir, and feeling better for it.
The irony in “trans women mimic gender stereotypes” is the only time I DID mimic stereotypes was when I was forced to interact with men. And I did so out of a sense of survival and a longing to try and fit in.
I didn’t transition into stereotypes…I transitioned out of them.
The discomfort caused by social dysphoria can pressure a trans person to act and present in an exaggerated manner in order to try to convince the rest of the world that they really are who they say they are. Transfeminine people may concentrate on makeup and feminine clothes, and become quieter in order to seem more demure, speaking in a higher voice. Transmasculine people will lean on masculine clothing styles, stand taller, suppress displays of emotion, start speaking louder, and make their voices intentionally deeper.
Physical vs Social Dysphoria
Some physical traits which may cause discomfort all the time for some trans people may only manifest as a social dysphoria for others. For example, some people may only be self conscious about their physical appearance when it causes them to be misgendered or clocked (read as being trans), and feel completely comfortable when interacting in environments where they are always seen and treated as their true gender.
I, myself, have no direct physical dysphoria around my voice, I actually really enjoy singing in my natal baritone, and when I am home with just my family I let my voice relax. When out in public, however, being able to speak in a feminine voice plays a critical role in my being seen as a woman by strangers, so I put a lot of effort into training it into a feminine sound. My feminine voice turns on the instant I answer the phone or leave the house, it isn’t even a conscious thing.
“One of us!”
A very curious and surprisingly phenomenon is that closeted trans people have a tendency to find each other without ever knowing they’ve done it. There’s a funny pattern that I have heard duplicated over and over where one person in a friend group realizes they are transgender, starts to transition, and that inspires other members of the group to also realize they are trans and come out as well.
Trans people subconsciously tend to gravitate towards each other’s friendships, both out of a need for peers who think and act the same as us without judgments, and due to a kinship of social ostracization. This is not exclusive to trans people, of course, and occurs with all types of queer people, but the way it has a rippling effect is quite powerful. It’s very similar to the way an entire friend group will get married and have kids all in response to one member of the group initiating.
Trans people often continue to self-select their groups post-transition as well, as we simply understand each other better than cis people can. There is an energy that occurs when a group of trans people get together in a location, the room becomes charged with camaraderie and commiseration. We all have so much in common in our histories, so many shared experiences, that (short of personality conflicts) we instantly bond together.