Societal Dysphoria

Gender roles exist, and as much as we may try to buck them and point out the sexism that exists, there will always be expectations placed on people for their gender. The strongest of these are in marital and parental roles; “Husband”, “Wife”, “Mother”, “Father”, these terms come with loads of baggage attached to them, and the wrong role, or even any role at all, can feel like a lead lined straight jacket. You are given a whole book full of behaviors and actions, likes and dislikes, that you are just expected to fulfill, and if you fail to meet those requirements then you are seen as a bad spouse or a bad parent.

An AFAB birthing parent may experience severe dysphoria around being labeled as a mother. The vast majority of resources for birth are extremely female gendered, so just the very process of conceiving, carrying and giving birth is exceptionally loaded with gender expectations. If you are pregnant then you are labeled a mom, regardless of how you actually feel about your role, and with that comes a whole load of assumptions. Assumptions about caregiving, breastfeeding, and child rearing.

Cisgender-passing trans feminine individuals also run into this. If you are holding an infant or tending to a child then you are labeled a mom (unless the child is mixed race, then you’re demoted to nanny, but that’s a whole other topic). This can be validating, because it is a sign that you’ve been seen as a woman, but it can also be extremely invalidating when cis women start to talk about what they think are shared experiences with reproductive processes.

Some unexpected ways that Societal Dysphoria can appear are in the need to conform to the social standards of your true gender. For example, many trans women have stories about feeling the need to cover up their chest pre-transition out of an intrinsic sense of modesty. A discomfort at swimming topless is a common trait, even when there is no understanding of ones true self; something just knows.

Shame

Failure to live up to these roles can manifest intensely as shame and humiliation. Growing up closeted and struggling to fit into common gender tropes often results in signs of disappointment from parents and peers who expected otherwise. A father may be disappointed that their AMAB child isn’t willing to engage in sports or other masculine activities. Female peers may demonstrate disapproval of an AFAB teenager choosing to hang out with a male social circle. Teen boys may ostracize an AMAB trans person who doesn’t join in with their humor.

These kinds of situations can lead to bullying and abuse, pushing the trans person to feel isolated, alone, and out of place. This sense of division then creates feelings of shame for failing to be the person everyone expects them to be. This then manifests as depression on top of other dysphoria, compounding their pain.

Dr. Emmy Zje @Emmy_Zje

Guilt is a byproduct of shame, shame is a byproduct of transphobia, and transphobia is a byproduct of lies based in fear.

Once you realize this, you can begin to see “trans” for what it is...a beautiful manifestation of nature. A gift to be cherished, not a curse to be hidden.

The shame becomes especially intense at the moment of revealing themselves to be trans. Transphobic friends and family having negative, sometimes even violent reactions to a trans person coming out of the closet converts that shame into extreme guilt and disgrace. An adult trans person in a marriage may feel a tremendous amount of remorse at upending their spouse’s life by revealing themselves. They may expect reproach from their neighbors and peers, and fear how that will affect their spouse and/or children.

This too is a form of gender dysphoria, as these influences would not have been felt if the person had been cisgender.

The other way shame comes in to play is in the systemic transphobia present in our society. Trans adults of today grew up watching transphobic media in their childhood. The transsexual obsession of the late 80s and early 90s was horrifically traumatic for trans kids of the time, watching all the adults and peers around them laugh, jeer and be disgusted by people who they not only identified with, but strongly empathized and looked up to. This shame sits with us for our entire lives; it is a fundamental reason for why so many trans people do not come out until their late 30s or later, because only when they reach mid-life are they able to overcome that shame.

Shame also tends to build up until it boils over into radical action. A very common aspect among trans people’s histories are cycles where they will build up their presentation, fighting their feelings less and less, until suddenly they feel overcome with the shame and purge everything, vowing to never pursue those feelings again. This pattern repeats over and over again.

Dating and Romantic Relationships

Callie @Calliethulhu

I get the thinking. Trans girls grow up falsely believing they're guys, and so are assumed/expected/raised to experienced and express normative heterosexual attraction to women. If you're a trans lesbian, you transition, but you're still into women. So it's the same, right? No

Callie @Calliethulhu

So let's talk details. To begin with, it's worth pointing out that most trans lesbians don't exactly experience normative heterosexual attraction to women in the same way that cishet men do. Dysphoria and confused gender feelings mess with that a whole lot

Callie @Calliethulhu

Before I transitioned, just the thought of doing any sexual or romantic with a girl made me nauseous, because doing that would feel like I was adopting a masculine role - the role of the boyfriend, the male lover - and that kicked my latent dysphoria into overdrive

Callie @Calliethulhu

When I first transitioned, my family and friends assumed I was going to be solely or primarily interested in men. Every mainstream cultural message I'd ever absorbed about women (including trans women) told me I needed to be into men

Callie @Calliethulhu

Many trans healthcare systems operate on a really really crude system where a cis doctor asks you a bunch of stuff like 'what toys did you play with as a child?' to see if you match up well enough with what a woman is "supposed to be". And women are "supposed to be" into men

Callie @Calliethulhu

So, there's a lot of internal and external pressure faced by trans lesbians to disavow their own lesbianism and experience attraction to men. This is nothing like what any straight man experiences, but it is a whole lot like what cis lesbians experience!

Callie @Calliethulhu

One last thing is, the way it feels to be a trans lesbian experiencing attraction, sex and romance to other women. It doesn't feel like cishet attraction. It's not burdened by any of those weird, crude expectations. I don't recognize any of that in my life

Callie @Calliethulhu

When I read cishet experiences of their sexuality, I feel nothing but alienation. When I read lesbian experiences, they resonate with me deeply and I recongize those things in how I experience my sexuality with the people I love and am attracted to

Societal Dysphoria strongly comes into play with courtship rituals. Being forced into being the boyfriend or girlfriend when you are not a boy or a girl is extremely disorienting and often feels very unfair. AMABs may find themselves wishing they were the one being pampered, and AFABs may become uncomfortable with the amount of attention they receive from their prospective partners (beyond the discomfort that women experience, as this includes genuine attention, not just unwanted attention). The expectations placed on them by their partners to fill these courtship roles may feel like a heavy burden to bear. By contrast, dating as your true gender becomes euphoric. Buy a trans girl flowers and see how much she swoons.

A closeted trans person may feel so much pressure to conform to heterosexuality that they suppress their own instincts with regards to relationships and take on a performative role. Many a trans woman has attempted to play the role of a heterosexual husband to a wife, only to realize with transition that they are actually submissive themselves and would prefer to have a male partner. They may not even be attracted to women.

Beyond discomfort, many trans people realize that the dynamics of relationships that they have experienced simply did not fit the shape of how they appeared. Many trans people come to realize after transition that they had never actually dated like a cis person of their assigned gender, instead always having romantic relationships that fit their true orientation. Male to male and female to female relationships have completely different patterns from heterosexual relationships; different courtship rituals, different perceptions, different communication styles. Men relate differently to men than they do to women, and women to women differently than they do to men, even when they don’t know they are men or women.

For example, I myself realized after coming out to my wife that all of my previous dating attempts had absolutely been sapphic in nature. My first order had always been to become good friends with them. Dates would never be labeled as dates because we would just sit and talk somewhere, hanging out together. Consequently, several of my relationships ended simply because I was too scared to make the first move out of destroying the friendship. I would spend half my waking day thinking about them and wanting to be around them, not out of sexual lust, but out of personal infatuation. My first girlfriend straight up told me on our first date that I was unlike any man she’d ever dated because I enjoyed talking instead of just trying to get physical. She broke up with me two months later because I wasn’t as assertive as she wanted from a partner.

This all gets even more complex for non-binary people, some of whom can at best describe their dating style as Queer.