The Gender Dysphoria Trap
Detrans man's take on the term 'Gender Dysphoria' and why we should stop using it
We must stop using terms that have no meaning. Gender Dysphoria is one such term, it is so broad in scope, unspecific, and could easily relate to many other common and treatable issues.
In this piece, I’m going to provide my experience, thoughts, and reflections on how useful this terminology is. I’m not a scientist or a sociologist, I’m just another lost boy trying to make sense of what happened.
Part 1 - Laying The Trap
For years I struggled and blamed myself for not being able to fit in, being afraid, feeling shame, guilt, depression, and unending senseless anxiety. I had my first major panic attack at four years old, landing me in hospital as a suspected asthma attack, but no asthma was found. I can’t remember what happened to have caused it, I can barely remember my childhood as is, let alone when I was four years old, not many can. It’s not entirely uncommon for children that age to experience panic attacks and it’s not always because of something sinister.
I can remember being slightly older though, sitting in the back seat of the family car, with my arms behind my back as I desperately tried to give my diaphragm a chance at grabbing what air I could. Every single breath felt more fruitless than the last and with that, my panic would escalate further, with the sheer weight of the anxiety crushing my chest. It felt like I was suffocating.
Daily crippling panic attacks would become part of my norm and I could even predict exactly when they would happen, knowing the only thing I could do was brace for it. Whether it was at home or school, I would find myself struggling to catch my breath and those panic attacks were always waiting for me, like my antagonists at school waiting in the hallway or the classroom with absent teachers, I was on constant high alert because I was never wrong, something always followed to prove me right.
Everything was made worse when my parents went through a rough divorce, separating when I was fifteen. It seemed like they were holding on until we all reached a certain age to divorce, ‘staying together for the kids’ cliché. My elder siblings had fled the nest already, but I was still in school and it seemed like my Dad, who was already working away just became sick of waiting.
My mother had to end up leaving the family home at that time, because of my Dads actions. He tried to force his way back in once, ending with a dramatic intervention with the police just before I was sixteen. After that, I still saw my mother but stayed in the family home to finish off school, which in itself was a disaster and I ended up leaving in the first year of sixth form (senior).
I’ve always struggled with being a little socially behind but academically ‘gifted’. This contradiction caused a great deal of strife and confusion growing up, internally and externally; no one could understand how I could be so intelligent yet so naïve and easily led. If I trusted you, I would believe anything you told me and I would do anything you asked. This was catastrophic for me online, especially when I was a child.
Growing up, I was living in a world that openly ridiculed effeminate men and gay people in general. I knew what it meant when I crushed on other boys and it was this fear that was the main fuel for my anxiety. If you showed the smallest hint of being a little gender non-conforming or gay, it would be up to your family to ‘drill that shit out of you’, especially in the 80s and 90s.
By my early twenties, my issues around my mental health reached the most dangerous point, and I was very close to folding. I just couldn’t take it anymore, I had so much baggage, pain, and grief that I became lost in the depression and spent so much time grieving and trying to lick my wounds I quickly forgot how I got there, to begin with.
My only solace was spending time playing online games non-stop, without interruption and that didn’t last forever. Eventually, even the games I loved became boring, the friends I played with progressed with their lives, getting married, having children, and living their life to the full.
It felt like a ship had sailed with everyone but me on it, I started to panic and began scouring my mind, the internet, and those around me for reasons why I was the way I was.
Then I found the term Gender Dysphoria and I could feel the immense weight I was carrying lift off my burdensome shoulders. This was my epiphany, but what it represented, was allowing myself permission to discount everything I had been through and unfairly attribute it to this one single condition. Finally, I had an explanation for why I was the way I was.
Let’s be real, what’s easier? Digging up and analysing all the hurts and pains from your childhood or being able to conveniently and neatly tie up all your suffering into one all-inclusive package under the guise of ‘gender dysphoria™’? This prospect becomes even more appealing when it’s affirmed at a legal, medical and social level. With that, we permit ourselves as we are given permission by others to dump the responsibility of all our complex needs onto one single unspecified thing.
When I detransitioned and told my mother, her first reaction was “I always knew you were gay.” I also had a sneaking suspicion the rest of my family did too. My elder brother hated me hanging around as little brothers often tend to orbit, and I could see the fear in him that he knew I was a little soft, gay and as big brothers do; he tried to make me into a guy. He would get me to call girls in my class, even though I didn’t want to, and encouraged me to get really short hair when I liked it long.
I used to think he was a bit of a prick at this time, but I think he was scared too. He knew just as well as I did how unkind the world was to people like me.
When I told him I was going to transition and was leading up to the announcement, he said “You’re gay, aren’t you?” with a little smirk. When I said no “I’m transgender and I’m transitioning” - he was devastated, he knew something was wrong. It was like he had the wind knocked out of him, I’ll never forget that look on his face. That was the last time I saw him, he called me months later to tell me to never contact him because in his words I was “not well”.
My father equally didn’t take it well. During my mid-twenties I felt that we were making a mutual effort to repair our relationship after years of tension and it was going well. Then I transitioned and like my brother, he didn’t take it too well.
This rejection, though I knew it was coming reaffirmed my struggle, it showed me real proof that no one in the world could understand what I was going through, except professionals and other trans people.
This rejection, along with all my other problems helped neatly lay my gender dysphoria trap.
Part 2 - Defining the Undefinable
One of the common statements I hear from parents is that “My son/daughter is extremely intelligent, I don’t know how they could fall for this”. To which I normally retort that I’m fairly intelligent, but I fell for this too, not because I lacked academic skills, but because I was in a world of distress, and being able to critically step back isn’t easy when you’re in deep turmoil and you don’t have the emotional toolkit to handle it.
I want to show you how easy it is to fall under the dysphoria trap, and to do this we’re going to look at the UK’s National Health Service’s website and what they say about the condition. Let’s check out what they say Gender Dysphoria is:
“Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.”
Signs of gender dysphoria
becoming withdrawn or socially isolated.
depression or anxiety.
taking unnecessary risks.
Many people reading this may think “Well that’s quite broad, I could tick some if not all of these symptoms off ” and that’s exactly part of the issue. So let’s break down each of these against my own experiences and you can see why someone like me may fall into the Gender Dysphoria Trap.
Before I break it down, I just want to acknowledge that on the same page where they confidently define Gender Dysphoria, they also cannot confidently define what causes it. I will call bullshit on this, I think we know exactly what the causes of each of the above symptoms are from, yet why do we pretend like this is a mysterious problem with no obvious causes?
Let’s see what the NHS says:
“What causes gender dysphoria?
The exact cause of gender dysphoria is unclear.
Gender development is complex and there are still things that are not known or fully understood.
Gender dysphoria is not related to sexual orientation. People with gender dysphoria may identify as straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.”
And let’s see if we can solve this conundrum…
1. “Low Self-esteem”
This isn’t a mystery, it’s well researched and documented amongst health professionals. A simple search will reveal a plethora of books, research articles, parenting columns, advice, and even resources for helping children & adults dealing with this issue.
Causes of low self-esteem can include:
Disapproval from authority figures or parents
Emotionally distant parents
Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
Contentious divorce between parents
Bullying with no parent protection
Guilt associated with religion
Social beauty standards
Unrealistic goal setting
Nowhere in the article that I’ve quoted does it say this leads to Gender Dysphoria, neither do others.
2. “Becoming withdrawn or socially isolated.”
This is pretty broad again, and it could be down to a few things. Social withdrawal is a topic that is researched in academia and again, it does not point to one specific cause or issue. It’s well studied and documented, have a look at the table below from this article that goes in full depth about developmental hurdles that can cause social isolation.
There is also a great deal to be said about the loneliness that comes with being autistic. I have spent a great deal of my time alone and I’m comfortable living that way and have been for many years, social interactions leave me exhausted, confused, and sometimes even guilty. I find a lot of solace in being able to do my own thing, whether that’s good or bad I don’t care anymore.
3. “Depression or Anxiety”
Depression and Anxiety have ruled my life, reinforced with fear, shame, and guilt I have been besieged for decades. I may have a natural disposition to be a little more anxious than others, as it’s certainly a trait in some members of my own family. But again, depression and anxiety are largely down to social rejection and school has a big part to play in this too.
Let’s go back to the NHS website for this one and see what they say about the causes of clinical depression:
Alcohol or Drugs
The NHS website also has detailed knowledge on the subject of Anxiety;
How then is it, that these causes aren’t covered with the detail and diligence that they require during an assessment for gender dysphoria? If anyone claims they have such discomfort with their body and they wish to take immense risks, the first thing anyone should be doing is finding out the potential causes of that discomfort and addressing it through any other means first.
4. “Taking unnecessary risks.”
The causes of high-risk taking, misusing substances are rooted in PTSD & Depression
This is something I still struggle with, I have probably shortened my life span by decades for the way I have neglected my health and body, not just through HRT & Surgery but through addictions too.
I have also done some fairly stupid things in my life, putting my safety at huge risk, because I simply didn’t care if anything happened.
5. “Neglecting themselves.”
Social isolation plays a huge part in our self-esteem. It is extremely unfair to ask someone who is depressed, anxious, and traumatized to simply ‘love themselves/be kind’. It doesn’t work that way, you need self-esteem and self-worth to be able to do that, and most of us never had that, to begin with.
Many people on the autistic spectrum will internalize any criticism and as a result, will feel immense levels of shame and guilt. I could rip myself to pieces in a hailstorm of harsh, undue, and unfair criticism for the smallest mistake.
Why then would I want to make an effort, why would I care about how many cigarettes I smoke or how much I drink? What does it matter if you don’t see a future for yourself? I felt like I was always living on bargained time and my number would be called at any moment.
Part 3 - Ditch the Dysphoria
Gender Dysphoria as a term is redundant. If we as a collective society want to retain this phrase, it will require much due attention; especially in the context of how we use it and when it’s applied. Let’s also, not shy away from talking about difficult topics and be free to discuss male and female sexuality, trauma, addiction, abuse, bullying, social isolation, and autism.
Worthwhile Questions We Should All Ask
Instead of just putting it all down to gender dysphoria, if you or anyone else says they have discomfort with their bodies, we should be asking more questions - not assuming that this is the single root cause.
Were they bullied? Have they talked about it?
Even bullying in the early years can ripple long into adulthood.
Do they have a personality disorder?
Have they been supported for a diagnosis?
Are they dealing with anxiety & panic attacks?
Have they been taught coping mechanisms? Been given adequate treatment?
Did they experience abuse or neglect?
Not all abuse or neglect has to be severe to leave a significant impact. This isn’t about looking for someone to blame, it’s about helping the individual rid themselves of self-blame and ridicule as many abuse victims tend to engage in vicious self-destruction as a means to cope.
Did they experience trauma?
They may have never told you or anyone, but trauma comes in many forms, and this must be explored in a professional setting.
Do they spend too much time alone?
Who doesn’t like downtime? But all your time alone? There are limits, even for ASD people who tend to manage quite well once they’re in a routine, but even autistic people desire closeness, company, and affection.
Are they Autistic/ADHD?
By the time I got to my thirties, I learned the hard way, through trial and error. If I was diagnosed much earlier I think it would have certainly helped, especially in employment.
Are they dealing with addiction issues? (Internet addiction specifically)
It doesn’t have to be a cigarette or a bottle to be addictive. I have probably spent more time in front of a computer screen than I have to do anything else, including sleeping.
ASD people in particular often repeat the same actions and routines because of comfort and ‘stimming’. It’s why we like to listen to the same song on repeat hundreds of times in a row or why we watch the same tv show again and again.
Are they gender non-conforming? Gay?
As a young child, I wanted to be a ballerina, a baker, a construction worker, a fireman, a teacher, a doctor and I wasn’t like my brother at all, I hated getting dirt on my hands. I used to do a wicked impression of the headteacher and would always assume a matriarchal character, placing my hands on my hips and putting on a funny accent as I pretended with the others.
This didn’t mean I was trans, it meant I was exploring social roles through play, which is a normal thing children do. This, however, was used as retrospective evidence that I was indeed trans, least of all by me but more so by gender therapists.
How is their relationship with their parents?
My parents love me, I do not doubt that. But my relationships are strained, with both parents. I love my mother dearly but always felt like I was taking care of her feelings, not mine. My father once told me that ‘emotions are for the reign of women’ and I think I took that message quite literally. I was an emotional child too, so this was one of those things where I realized I was far more like my mother than I was like my father.
If you have anything to add please post it in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.
Use Descriptive Terms
My final tip is to expand your vocabulary! If you or someone else you know has these feelings, calling it dysphoria doesn’t help, because that is in essence a free pass to ignore other co-morbid issues like attachment, trauma, anxiety, and the whole package that comes with feeling like you’re not in your own body.
Verbalising, writing, and even drawing help me understand my thoughts and feelings when I feel that unease - everyone will have their way.
As usual, take good care my friends and as always stay safe <3