The Inner Anguish of Outer Appearances – The New Indian Express

By Express press service

CHENNAI: I recognized my trans identity only five years ago. I didn’t know the terminology or what LGBTQIA+ even stood for. But I had always known that I was different from the people around me. I loved playing with the dolls of my neighbors and I appreciated the dresses that my parents put on me while having fun. In class 4, when I developed a crush on my classmate, I thought I was gay. But this attraction was not correlated with my assigned gender (as male at birth). I felt like there was a girl in that body.

A tender and turbulent time
Shortly after, come the years of puberty, which are even more difficult to face. At this time, you develop mentally, physically, morally, intellectually, and the sense of your bodily organs and your sexual organs develops with it. At this tender age, society also tells you to act like someone you are not. I see myself at the age of 13-14, how I had to hide and all that had been lost in my adolescence. Presenting myself as someone else deeply affected my body dysmorphia.

The boys were asked to tuck in their shirts, wear a tie and shoes. With this dress code enforced, my gender dysphoria was at its peak. I was constantly uncomfortable in the clothes I wore. When dealing with a trans person, you often cannot separate gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia. Mine went hand in hand and sat constantly in the back of my mind. You can’t feel comfortable with your body when you know you’re a woman always forced to wear the outfit intended for a boy.

There is no doubt that a trans person can develop dysmorphia and dysphoria at a young age. This becomes a worrying condition. You’re not comfortable with your body, you think you’re ugly, ineligible, and maybe not accepted in society. Think what it does to a trans person of such an age when they are told that their body doesn’t match their senses.

It becomes difficult to concentrate on studies and dangerous thoughts wander through your mind. When my body was developing, I thought I would rather be dead than face this daily pain. I wanted to be one of the girls. My dysmorphism made me uncomfortable joining the boys when they were playing sports. I was alienated. Fevers and panic attacks sometimes took over when I had to go to school.

A fight, inside and out
As an adult, dysmorphia and dysphoria have always been part of my life. Transitioning can help some people (including me), but everyone’s life and experiences are unique; thus, some secondary challenges come with it. Once you get out, there is another battle to be fought, against socio-economic struggles and social constructs. Many, even in the community, may not accept transitions that lack female genitalia. Then there are those who will probe, ask you if you can have a child.

To cope with the condition, I turned to a psychologist. I had been looking since 2009 but it wasn’t until 13 years and 50 psychologists later that I found the right one. I have a weekly conversation with her so I hold back all week. I keep myself busy by binge-watching shows or videos but I know that in the background the dysmorphia is confusing me. It became obsessive and compulsive. Sometimes I sit for hours thinking my body isn’t good enough.

The constructions of society don’t help either. When society says a person should live openly but you lie every second, it creates a strong predisposition to body dysmorphia. People have to accept the diversity of society. By not doing so, we are paying the price for a high prevalence of body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria. I think it’s important to educate someone about LGBTQIA+ and acceptance from the age of 11-13.

Ultimately, I’m a woman who doesn’t want to transition, so I stayed in a man’s body. No one can take away this right of decision from me. Without a vagina or breasts, I’m still a woman.

The more you know

gender dysphoria
Gender dysphoria as a general descriptive term refers to an individual’s affective/cognitive dissatisfaction with the assigned sex, but is more specifically defined when used as a diagnostic category.

Body dysmorphia
People with body dysmorphic disorder are preoccupied with one or more perceived flaws or flaws in their physical appearance that are unobservable or seem mild to others; this preoccupation often causes social anxiety and avoidance.

Source: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

(As told to Sahana Iyer)

Shirlene J. Manley