Transphobia, Internalized Oppression, and Gender Dysphoria: What They Mean to My Lived Experience


Gender dysphoria (GD) is an incongruity between a person’s physical self and their mental, emotional, or social sense of self insofar as sex and gender are concerned.(That’s my definition at least. The medical industrial complex has its own.) This is one of those terms that, by its very existence, complicates the efforts of trans people, advocates, and allies to have ‘transness’ treated as the natural expression of human experience it is.

The term GD turns transness into a sickness, which then allows poor, disenfranchised, and otherwise oppressed people (like myself) a certain degree of access to life saving hormone therapy and, occasionally, other treatment beyond just that.

However, the term turns being trans into a sickness. This sends messages to society at large and to trans people specifically that there is something wrong with us, when, and let me be perfectly clear on this, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being trans. There are times it is really hard for me to hold on to that truth because of the negative messages I receive from society and the medical establishment about my transness (which is transphobia). I have to be constantly wary of letting internalized oppression (the result of starting to believe those negative messages) seep into my thought processes.

All this I lay firmly at the feet of the medical industrial complex, both current and historical. It is not my fault that I am walking the path that my life is meant to follow. It is the fault of those external pressures that I was driven to the brink of suicide for years before my need overcame my fear. Then, once I started down the path, my fears were proven true, people can be really mean. I am not brave. I am just trying to survive.

I must, in all fairness to the human species, also point out while I have had to deal with all the bile and scorn of people who are possessed of hate, I have also found beauty enough to make me weep in the hearts of those who are possessed of love.
Not too long ago in one of the circles I am apart of (I’ll not say which, or when, or who takes part because… confidentiality) I was wonderfully embarrassed when one of the others of the group stated that seeing the way I carried myself inspired them to find their voice and speak truth to power. That they had happily gotten in arguments with others on my behalf about pronoun use and that I am a woman. I cried a little in the circle, then came back to the cell and balled my eyes out for almost a half hour. I’ve had people treat me kindly, make a concentrated effort to use the right pronouns and etc, but I had never had some one tell me I inspired them, especially not with such passion. I’ve never been good at taking compliments. I honestly don’t receive that many, certainly not enough to be well practiced at it. Actually, to be blunt, I may (or may not) have thanked them by saying “uck, you’re making me cry you bastard,” but I was overwhelmed at the time and officially deny everything.

So… you could say I’m perfectly wretched at taking a compliment. I’m honestly unsure if that’s an “internalized oppression” thing, a “recovering from low self esteem” thing, or if I’m simply one of those people that never get the hang of being thanked (like how Arthur Dent could never get the hang of Thursdays).
In any case, the pressures are very real, both internal and external, which leads nicely into a conversation that my penpal and I were having recently. They thought that it would be a good idea to take some time to talk about why getting gender-affirming surgeries are so important to me, and why I have selected the particular ones I feel I need. I was reluctant to do so because I feel like there is a certain fixation, a fascination, a “five-in-one” quality to the way physical transition is treated by a lot of the people I have to deal with on a daily basis. A cultural programming reinforced by day time television and patriarchal America’s ideas of physical appearance. However, the people I “do gender” with/for on a daily basis is a different audience than you, for/to whom I am writing. I am (oddly) finding I am more comfortable discussing my emotional state in detail than my physical state. Yet more internalized oppression perchance?

My current picture was taken just before I left Walla Walla roughly two years ago (I keep meaning to get a new picture taken). This was before HRT. At that time my height, weight, and measurements were:

Height: 5’9″
Weight: 117 lb.
Bust: 32.5″
Under-bust: 32.5″
Waist: 27″
Hips: 32″

I started E on June 14, 2017 and then was finally able to start a T-blocker on January 5, 2018 after much gnashing of teeth and arguing with medical. As of today, March 14, 2018 (Happy Pi Day!), my measurements are:

Bust: 34.25″
Under-bust: 31.5″
Waist: 26.5″
Hips: 32″
Height: 5’9″
Weight: 115 lb.

I was surprised when the under-bust measurement started to go down, then I realized that, thanks to years of yoga, I actually had some decent back muscles and the hormones were making them disappear (which I’m perfectly fine with, for the record).

I’m giving the bust and under-bust measurements separately because I’ve found three different ways to do the math off those two measurements to find cup size and two of them say I’m at the bottom end of a B-cup, and the other says I’m an A-cup so… welcome to the wonderful world of not knowing how to do a proper bra sizing? Thank you Rachael Ray for pointing out that that’s a normal experience for cis women too @_@

To my point, I’m happy with where I’m at with that. I have another year or so of breast development left to go according to WPATH so, no top surgery for me. Thank you DNA.

And while I would really like to develop something resembling a bum at some point in my life, I’m more concerned with having such a low BMI. It’s not healthy. I work hard to keep the weight on but between the terrible food here and my high metabolism, I’m not putting on any weight until after I turn 35 and my metabolism craps out me. Anyway, while my body type was “in style” 20-30 years ago, I’m happy to see the tide turning on that toward something healthier for us women, cis, trans, and otherwise. That, however, is probably a rant best saved for another day.

When I look at myself in the mirror I like what I see overall. Sure, my nose could be described as “unfortunate”, but it’s my nose and I can’t imagine my face without it. Same goes for most my features (except my cheekbones and my legs. I love my high cheekbones and I adore my legs). There are exactly four things that seriously urk me about my appearance because 1) they just look weird to me and 2) all four of them “signal” maleness. They are:

– my Adam’s Apple
– my facial hair
– my hair line
– my genitals (don’t worry, not giving details on that one)

Before I came to prison I would wax my facial hair, and tie a ribbon around my throat just tight enough to be uncomfortable in order to hide my Adam’s Apple and look like a girl. In prison I can’t do either of those things.

There has been a few occasions where I was super stressed out and all the pressure became too much. So rather than cutting, I took a pair of tweezers and plucked every single individual hair on my face. One at a time. Takes about 20 hours worth of work and depending on how stressed I am that will be done over the course of one to three days. But then… I don’t have to deal with that particular problem for a few weeks. It becomes one less thing.

As for my hair line, not much to be done here. It’s not terrible, but it is a very pronounced “widow’s peak”. If I wasn’t in prison I would definitely be looking into bosley or similar.

I want to get to a point where I roll out of bed in the morning and, aside from bed head that looks like Medusa and Mary Lou Who had a love child… I want to look in the mirror and be okay with what I see. I want to see the girl I am staring back at me. I don’t care about being super pretty. Despite how much I love dressing to the nines, I am no beauty queen (Sure, I’ve got an answer for them in the question segment, but they’re probably not gonna like it…). I’m a little rough around the edges and that’s okay. That’s just apart of who I am. I just want the face I show to the world to be a (more or less) accurate depiction of me. As things stand, I feel like my face is a mask I was born with and I’m going around trying to convince people that that mask is not me while still wearing it, which doesn’t really work because the world says “show me your face then.” And I’m like “I can’t.”

I hope that gives you a bit of understanding regarding why these surgeries are important to me.


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