In a heartfelt Instagram post, Elliot Page opened up about his ongoing journey as a transgender man, addressing both his gender dysphoria and the “joy” he has felt since announcing his transition in December 2020.
“Dysphoria was especially prevalent in the summer,” Page wrote in the May 10 post, along with a shirtless image showing the scars on his chest left from upper surgery, a gender-affirming breast removal procedure.
“It’s so good to bathe in the sun now, I never thought I could experience this, the joy I feel in my body,” the post continued. “I’m so grateful for what gender-affirming care has given me and I look forward to sharing more of my journey soon.”
Page’s post prompted comments from many trans people about the emotional and psychological impact of gender dysphoria on their body image – as well as the freedom they say they feel after receiving gender affirmation care, a range of health services which sometimes include surgery and hormone therapy.
Such conversations are helpful, experts say, because gender dysphoria is a deeply personal and often misunderstood experience. Raising awareness, they add, can help us better understand ongoing conversations about gender and sex.
Dysphoria: what is it?
According to the definition of the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is the “psychological distress that results from an incongruity between the sex assigned at birth”, based on the external genitalia, “and gender identity”, that is, the psychological sense of its gender.
This should not be confused with body dysmorphia, an excessive preoccupation with an imaginary flaw or defect. On the contrary, notes Natalie Zhikhareva (“Dr. Z”), a California-based gender psychologist, a trans person with dysphoria will look at one part of their body — their chest, for example — and only see what’s there.
“They see their chest clearly and express a disconnect with what they see while acknowledging its existence,” she tells Yahoo Life, defining gender dysphoria as the “emotional distress one feels as a result of the incongruity between the gender assigned at birth and her authentic gender”. “
This experience can manifest at any age, adds Dr. Michelle Forcier, a professor of pediatrics at Brown University’s Alpert School of Medicine, who has had trans patients with dysphoria into her 70s. However, it is seen more frequently in new patients in clinical settings “before or around puberty”.
For some, she says, “it can manifest as anxiety, depression and lead to self-harm or suicide and other mental health issues.” For others, she adds, “it may manifest as an eating disorder – overeating to hide the body or overeating to constrict the breasts, muscles, hips, etc.”
How does dysphoria impact body image?
“If you’re experiencing gender dysphoria, you’re almost always tied to a disconnect with your secondary sex characteristics because of how society genders your body,” Zhikhareva says, which leads to a feeling of not being grounded. the present and to struggles “in relationships”. , intimate encounters and friendships.”
As a result, she explains, “you may never feel completely complete and grounded and comfortable, and I would even say affirmed in yourself, if body dysphoria is strongly present.”
This is why many (but not all) of those who suffer from gender dysphoria find treatment through gender-affirming care, an array of health services that can sometimes include feminization or masculinization surgeries to help trans women (those born biologically male) and trans men (those born biologically female) to look more masculine or feminine; or hormone therapy, a wide range of treatments to help align a person’s physical body with their gender identity (through estrogen for trans women or testosterone for trans men).
For many, this care is a vital step towards a full life, backed by leading health organizations like the American Psychiatric Association, American Nurses Association and World Medical Association. And while these interventions are “not essential,” says Zhikhareva, many transgender people will decide to go this route because their dysphoria is so severe that it will seem like the only option.
That’s why “many of those who decide gender transition is for them feel like they’re alive for the first time in their lives,” she says, noting that was the sentiment conveyed by the latest Page’s message.
Understanding the psychological benefits of transitioning, she adds, could make a huge difference in building compassion and empathy for trans people.
“I often hear people say, ‘Why can’t you just learn to love your body?’ referring to trans and non-binary people,” Zhikhareva says. “And it saddens me that they are so quick to project their own beliefs when they themselves have always taken their gender for granted and have no idea from the pain of incongruity.”
That’s why “access to gender-affirming care should not be up for debate and should be available to those who need it,” she adds, pointing to the onslaught of policies and of anti-LGBTQ legislation in states like Alabama, Arkansas and Kentucky. , Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia that limit or prohibit gender-affirming care for young people.
“Right now, there’s so much misinformation out there,” she concludes, “and I feel like we’re neglecting to listen to those who have gone through gender transition, and their stories of how it’s improved not only their relationship with their body, but their well-being.”
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