More often than ever before I see posts and comments on social media that are reinforcing the idea that to be trans is to have dysphoria; one cannot be transgender without dysphoria. But along with this argument stems a lot of misinformation, misinterpretation and miscommunication between parties on both sides.
Before attempting to answer this debate, we must first define our terms. The word ‘transgender’ is simply an adjective that means that the person identifies as a gender different to the sex they were assigned at birth. In this sense it is an umbrella term that encompasses a multitude of gender identities, including transmen and non-binary people. What about dysphoria? Well, there are different types of dysphoria; general dysphoria, gender dysphoria and body dysphoria, just to name a few.
General dysphoria is categorised as a ‘general sense of dissatisfaction or state of unease with life’. Gender dysphoria is the condition where a “person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity” (according to the NHS). Body dysphoria is the discomfort that specifically relates to parts of the body, usually induced due to a mismatch between them and gender identity. This is not to be confused with body dysmorphia, which is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance.
While its understandable to assume that body and gender dysphoria are the same, the distinction matters. Gender dysphoria is often elevated through a social transition (e.g. the use of the correct pronouns, name, etc.) whereas body dysphoria is elevated through physically changing one’s appearance (e.g. wearing specific clothing, HRT, surgery, etc.)
So, do you need to have dysphoria to be transgender?
To be transgender, one must experience gender dysphoria to a degree, but that does not mean that they must also experience body dysphoria. People often conflate ‘dysphoria’ with hating your body but that is not what it is, though the two are not mutually exclusive. Transgender people do not have to hate their bodies, otherwise it would be a terrible message to spread throughout a community.
Many trans people note that after they have medically transitioned, they feel little dysphoria, as their body now match their gender identity – does this mean that they are no longer trans? Of course not, as their gender still differs to the sex they were assigned at birth. Are some people more trans that others, due to their heightened degree of body dysphoria? Of course not, every trans person is transgender in their own right, irrespective of others.
So, why does this discourse matter?
More and more so lately, the trans community has engaged in ‘gatekeeping’ – which is something I feel that we should all be campaigning against. The cis world constantly tries to tell us that we’re not trans enough, particularly medical communities when we seek help. So, why do we reinforce this within our own community? The hostility that some trans people face from their peers, the very people that should be supporting them more than anyone, astounds me. I will never understand how someone else’s gender expression, identity or experience somehow infringes upon yours, so why is it down to you to determine if they are trans or not? While I obviously disagree with people who pretend to be trans, for whatever reason that they do so, it is not my place to intervene. I will advocate for transgender rights until they are granted, but I do not need to tear down others to do so. If conservatives (or anyone willing to deny me my rights) uses these ‘pretend’ transgender people against me, then I will simply note that while their gender identity may not be true to reality, mine is, and it is their responsibility to respect that.
To clarify the main points here:
Being transgender ≠ hating your body
Being transgender = having gender dysphoria
Being transgender ≠ having body dysphoria ALONE