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Portraying gender dysphoria

Discussion in 'Research' started by Ireth, Feb 3, 2017.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    The MC of my latest WIP is a trans woman who struggles with dysphoria for the majority of her story (the resolution involves, in part, her coming to terms with the body she was born with, as physical transition is impossible due to the tech level of her universe and a lack of magic -- plus it would undermine the theme I'm going for). I want to show her dysphoria right from the start, but I'm not sure of how to go about it without resorting to the cliche of "main character stares into a mirror and comments on how they look". I do have plans for involving her negative reaction to her birth name, but that might require a different scene.

    If any trans/non-binary folks want to help a cis girl out, I'd be very grateful. ^^
     
  2. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    I guess you could have her exhibit intense envy for people with the body she wants. Internal monologue-wise, that would open the floodgate for all sorts of introspection.
     
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  3. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    I know a transgender woman with dysphoria. Send me a PM with your Facebook page or email address, and I'll see if she will be willing to talk with you, if you want.
     
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  4. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    The problem with guessing about such a sensitive topic is that you run the risk of being so totally off the mark, your words will be insulting to real people with real problems. Edit: That's not to say that being transgender is a problem, but dysphoria is.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2017
  5. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    Naturally. With subjects like this I would always recommend prioritising advice from people who have first hand experience.
     
  6. Alyssa

    Alyssa Troubadour

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    I would be careful about this. Some (most) trans people can get sort of annoyed at the implications of this, as if it is sort of something that can be overcome/come to terms with. Coming to terms with gender dysphoria is very, very rare. Suppression of emotions and feelings is far, far more common. Go onto asktransgender: questions and comments and make a post asking for "that cancer story on Susan's about the person who managed to "survive" without transitioning", I read it a month ago but they post so much there everyday it all gets buried. Very rarely does anyone comes to terms. It can be suppressed, but it will always come back to bite you later twice as badly as before.

    As for "staring in the mirror and commenting on how they look", that is the last thing someone with gender dysphoria would like to do. People with gender dysphoria are like vampires, not appearing in mirrors (or at least letting your gaze pass over yourself in the mirror without actually looking at it). Birthname is pretty shitty, so are feelings of arousal, even thoughts. Whether it is actually male thoughts (they are different, trans guys who go on testosterone get the 3Hs: Hungry, Hairy, Horny) and bad reactions to them (generally thoughts of a sexual nature, btw.) or accidentally misgendering yourself inside your own head. Envy of people. Hatred of your clothes, physical characteristics, voice, people's perception of you. Knowing that you're different and will never be a "real man/woman".

    Dysphoria, similarly is not one emotion. It's fear, anger, envy, rage, sorrow, hope-unfulfilled, horror and regret all rolled into one ball of pulsating agony. It's not constant, it comes in waves that ebb and flow. Some days are good, some days are bad. Good, being a relative term, since after bottling up and suppressing every emotion that pops into your brain (if you throw out the bad emotions, the good ones go out with it. and you can't get rid of all the bad, but you certainly can shut out all the good). It leaves the world profoundly grey, lifeless and pointless. You don't have any motivation either because you've shut down any and all drive to get what you want. And you've suppressed it so much that when the thing you want most in life only demands that you fulfill it with a tearing, vicious, brutal urgency that is only slightly over the line of unbearable, what is wanting something (a job, a family, a car, money, a house, an education) next to that. You end up trying to chase tiny sparks of light to brighten the darkness, family, friends, humour, drugs, etc. But the good feelings never last long before the blackness closes in.

    The number of people who accept the body they were born in (after puberty anyway) is small. For every one who manages to accept it, there are fifty more who don't, first killing their hopes, their emotions, and then themselves, or just living an empty life as a hollow shell, waiting in eternal hope for their last breath.

    It's not unbearable at first, but it wears you down. There's a reason Alan Turing killed himself, and i suspect gender dysphoria had a role to play in it (they stuck him on synthetic estrogen to chemically castrate him except it was massively overapplied resulting in him growing among other things, fully lactating breast tissue, another data point is this Chloe Sevigny opens up about wearing a prosthetic penis for new transgender role | Daily Mail Online)
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2017
  7. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Thanks for the in-depth response, Alyssa!

    I should probably add to the discussion that the story arc, at this point in development, follows this character as she learns of a wish-granting spirit (or something to that effect) and resolves to find it, meaning to wish that she be seen as the woman she knows she is (thinking she needs a certain type of body to achieve this). Complications arise when she learns that her father is very ill, and the wish would be better spent in asking that he be made well. In the end the MC does use her wish for her father's sake, while her betrothed, who accompanies the MC on the quest, wishes that the MC get what she wants to be happy in life. My intent with the MC simply accepting the body she was born with (while still using a female name and pronoun) rather than magically growing breasts and female genitalia is to emphasize that one does not need a certain type of body to be a woman, in an effort to be inclusive of non-transitioning transfolk in my writing. I do have trans characters in other writings, but 2/3 of them are Fae, and can simply use Glamour illusions to appear as they wish to be seen.
     
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  8. I believe that cultures exist where transgender people were accepted long before the technology was available for transitioning. You might look into that.
     
  9. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Oh, definitely. The MC isn't the only trans person in her world, nor in her own family (though said family member was much older and has been dead for a while now, so he doesn't enter the story aside from a mention by the MC's mother). I could very well have her encounter other trans people along her journey, come to think of it.
     
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