Al Albertson (they/them)
Definitions and identities intersect but very rarely align.
Realizing I was non-binary was more difficult for me because I didn’t fall evenly between the euphoria/dysphoria binary in the same way as many of my trans and nonbinary peers. This lead me into about four years of self invalidation and internalized fear of not being trans or nonbinary “enough” which in turn lead me to not advocate in the ways I have the right to for folks to use my pronouns and treat me in ways that affirm my identity.
One day years later, I was chatting with a friend of mine (another not cis person) about their experience of gender. We were both studying gender and sexuality so our conversations were often dripping with a combination of personal experience and heavy theorizing. We were speaking about our experiences of gender and transness, and we realized how ill-fitting “gender dysphoria” felt to us. To be clear, I’m not talking about it not invalidating the experience of dysphoria, but for me, I don’t like it, and here’s why:
Gender dysphoria is often interpreted to mean that there is something wrong with the person who is experiencing this dysphoria; that they are their dysphoria. Dysphoria is a pathologized condition that is framed as solvable and linear. Queer and trans folks are automatically placed on a spectrum of dysphoria→ to → euphoria. (We’ve made a zine about it! Check out the Euphoria / Dysphoria Binary.)
Placing the burden of “fixing dysphoria” on the trans person who is experiencing these feelings of enormous discomfort is misplaced. This leads us to the question, what makes a person dysphoric? Is it an internal disorder, or is it the oppressive system of gender around them? Are they hurting because they feel like they do not fit in their body, or that their body does not fit within the current system of gender?
We see this as an interaction between multiple binaries. There is the mythological gender binary (i.e. that people are either men or women), and the euphoria / dysphoria binary (i.e. that people must either be completely comfortable or uncomfortable in their bodies and with their identity). When you don’t fall into either of these binaries, you are alienated from the system of gender.
Alienation, as defined by Ankony (1999) is “a condition in social relationships reflected by a low degree of integration or common values and a high degree of distance or isolation between individuals, or between an individual and a group of people in a community or work environment.” We argue that dysphoria is the result of being alienated from our system of gender that is rigid and inflexible identities that are vast, varying, fluid, and ongoing. Therefore, dysphoria is not necessarily a trans problem, but a societal problem.
In essence, I began to realize that feeling of dysphoria is not my fault, as a not cis person for not fitting, but rather a result of gender alienation. There is nothing wrong with my nonbinary body or self, and anything I experience in terms of dysphoria is a symptom of being alienated from a system of gender in which I do not fit.
Dysphoria is very real to me, but it is a result of a system that alienates anyone who does not fit within the current binary. The system that makes us feel wrong and small in our bodies, makes us feel like the goal is to be like cisgender folks in their gender, to “pass” as cisgender. I want to be clear, again, any way any trans person wants to transition is a-okay with me and should be for everyone but as a person who does not want to medically transition, the only times I consider it are when I am constantly alienated from the system of gender, meaning I am othered and not taken seriously as non-binary in the body I currently occupy. I do not want to get surgery just so people use my pronouns correctly, and I don’t think I should be diagnosed as dysphoria because cis people can’t degender their world and see outside of their cistem of the gender they maintain through their contrast to non-cis folks.
Connecting to the queer community at large, transness is not always or not entirely an issue of being uncomfortable in one’s own body. Some trans people are not interested in medical transition, and some only feel dysphoric about specific parts of their body, or only feel dysphoric in specific social situations. Dysphoria, like identity, is fluid and can shift and change over time. We see the larger issue as a societal failure to accept and love and validate trans bodies. G
ender alienation recognizes that being trans isn’t an issue to solve. It is an identity to be celebrated.