I want you to look in the mirror or your phone front camera. Not to sound passive aggressive but do it right now. Your hair might be short, long, or side parted if you're a millennial, dark, light, or a fancy ombre if you have the patience and funds. Are you wearing make up? Is your nose pierced? Are you due for a brow tint or perhaps you need to shave the mountain beard as it gets into summer? Do you like designer clothes or are you channelling your inner middle class 90s kid in plain baggy t-shirt and jeans? However you appear, it's because you want to look that way. But what if you couldn't? What if society or culture challenged you? What if you were limited in your own physical body and could not express yourself through your appearance?
This is called gender dysphoria and it is not a phase or a disability. It is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. These individuals may identify as transgender. Some feel at ease with their bodies either with or without intervention but still may experience intermittent dysphoria.
My name is Amy and my pronouns are she/her. I am a cisgender female so my biological sex matches my gender. I denote my respect to the transgender community in this blog. It is privilege to write about a diverse and headstrong group of people.
The Oxford Dictionary still defines sex and gender as synonymous terms. Perhaps since its second edition has not released a new volume since 1997. In contemporary non-binary terms, sex is assigned at birth with XX, XY or even multiple combinations of those chromosomes. Gender is socially constructed as norms, roles and behaviour that reflect masculinity, femininity or both.
Let’s throw it back to inside the womb. Sexual differentiation in the brain occurs much later than gonadal (sex organs) differentiation. Much like cancel culture, the controversial difference between male and female brains can be a touchy subject. However, they both have structural and functional differences. Males generally have a larger cerebrum and cerebellum, while females generally have higher density left frontal lobes and larger volumes in right frontal lobes. Studies have concluded that transgender brains are both structurally and functionally more similar to their experienced gender identity than their biological sex. Inherently, gender is in your brain not in your pants.
Even though The World Health Organisation dropped transgenderism from their list of mental health disorders and science has validated the understanding of transgender people, they still experience more depression, anxiety and dysphoria than the general public. Transgender people are protected from discrimination by law here in Australia but still some are not accepted by family or friends and bear the weight of that emotional pain. Suicide risks seem to decrease after gender transitioning, but medical intervention is a choice and does not ultimately define one’s gender.
I spoke with my friend Alex (he/him). He is a transman and proud his journey to express his gender. He took me back to his high school days experimenting with girls but also lamenting on how his true gender peeked through his childhood. He wanted some male characteristics; a number two haircut, one earring, not two, and pretending to shave with toothpaste as it was less obvious if that was used up. His parents were accepting of his tomboy wardrobe and after school sports until he reached high school. Then he was told girls aren’t meant to be muscular and how he should sit like a lady. I assumed the manspread position during our interview and he nodded and laughed.
The school psychologist suggested he attend the Freedom Centre in Perth, but his parents didn’t oblige and told him to just focus on his grades. Once he left school, he starting rebelling and doing more of what he wanted, namely expanding his circle of LGBTQIA+ friends which his parents restricted. He met a gay male friend who helped him to accept himself while also cutting ties with people he thought were homophobic and did not support his growth as a person. He became more sexually active with females, but didn’t feel like a female himself and more “like an alien”, quote, and didn’t quite fit in like a lesbian. This was when his Google search history piled up with the trans- prefix.
This was it. It made sense. He was transgender, but with his parents being “so terrible”, quote, with his lesbian identity, he didn’t want to disappoint them again coming out as trans. So, he sat on it for five years. He was under pressure during this time, not thinking properly, making poor financial and relationship choices, and suffering from anxiety. He wasn’t thinking about the future because he never saw it. He felt like he was drowning so one day he made the life-changing decision to write his parents an email coming out as transgender. They did not take the news well at first, but Alex explained it was do or die, this is who I am, this is who I need to be to survive in this world. His dad said he didn’t know much about transgender people but brought up how Chaz Bono (Cher’s trans-son) wasn’t a happy person back then and perhaps Alex was simply a depressed person like him. But in the end, it was the catharsis that I was hoping for; “we love you, this will be okay, but I want you to make sure that this is what is going to make you happy, we don’t want you making a mistake.” With the acceptance he wanted for so long, Alex cut his hair and his anxiety and built a better relationship with himself and his family.
Alex spoke about his experiences with doctors and starting testosterone injections. One doctor wanted him to match the mould of masculinity in order to start male hormones by taking his ear piercings out because that was considered a feminine trait. So, he did. Anything to start testosterone. He now visits other doctors, one a transwoman, who are more educated working with transgender patients and placing them on a healthcare plan. He also has a different view on what traits are considered feminine or masculine. None. Back then, it was his long dark hair that had to be the first to go. He said nowadays he wouldn’t mind growing it again because long hair doesn’t discriminate.
I asked him about his top surgery he had 8 months ago. A smile crept under his whisps of a moustache. Recovery was quick and virtually painless but that is nothing compared to way he feels post-operation. He described his old mentality as dysphoria which turned into euphoria. He said even though his body isn’t perfect it’s nice to look in the mirror and be happy with himself. He would often cancel plans because of how he looked in clothes but now has no limitations. He and I went out for drinks with a few people a month before this interview and told me that was the first time he was able to confidently dance the whole night. He finished by saying coming out and transitioning will be the best decision a trans person can make if they have crimpling dysphoria every day. Tell the people you want to know, if they love you, they won’t hate you for it. Do your research in finding a suitable GP who can refer you to an endocrinologist that specialises in transgender patients.
I would like to thank Alex for sharing his journey of gender expression and transitioning to the man he always was. To me, changing his physical attributes to suit his gender, personality and interests are no different than how a cisgender person does. There’s make up, beauty treatments, supplements for bigger muscles, treatment for hair loss, cosmetic surgeries… I could go on, but it’s all the same. We choose how to express ourselves and expect no judgement. So why shouldn’t the transgender community? Everyone, be proud of your gender this Pride Month and how you express it to people that deserve your energy. What kind of person should you be when you want to make people accept you? A good one.
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