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Brilliant analogy explains what gender dysphoria feels like and why it’s so hard for trans and non-binary people

Vic Parsons January 7, 2021
Gender dysphoria explained to cis people with relatable Reddit analogy

Transgender people and their supporters march during London's second Trans Pride in September, 2020. (WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Gender dysphoria can be a hard one to explain to cisgender people. How do you understand something that you don’t experience?

While cisgender people understanding dysphoria may not be the most pressing issue facing trans and non-binary people right now, understanding is a route into empathy. The more cis people can empathise with transness and see our shared humanity, the more cis people will support trans liberation.

Trans men, women and non-binary people can experience gender dysphoria, although not all do and it is not a prerequisite of being trans.

However, despite the World Health Organization dropping being trans from its list of mental disorders in 2019, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a prerequisite for trans people to access healthcare in many countries, including the UK.

To understand what gender dysphoria is, it’s helpful to first understand its definition. The word ‘dysphoria’ comes from the Greek word ‘δυσφορία’, which refers to a state of discomfort or unease. Paired with ‘gender’ to create the phrase ‘gender dysphoria’, the term takes on a more nuanced meaning.

When referring to trans people, gender dysphoria is when a person feels immense stress because their innate gender identity does not match up to the gender they were assigned at birth. People can experience physical, social and mental or emotional gender dysphoria.

One Reddit user has finally come up with an analogy that cis people can relate to, writing: “This is an analogy I used to tell people, I don’t know if it helps but maybe.”

What does gender dysphoria feel like?

“Gender is a lot like a pair of shoes,” the analogy begins. “If you have on a good, comfortable, well fitting pair, you don’t notice it or think about it. As you walk around you aren’t constantly thinking about your shoes and the comfort, it’s just there and fine and normal and it doesn’t concern you one single bit. It’s almost hard to notice because if they feel fine it seems to silly and unimportant to spend energy thinking about it.

“But if your shoes are too small and tight or there is a rock in them it’s all you can think about. Every step is annoying and miserable and you don’t want to do anything else until you fix this damned rock. Doing anything else seems crazy until your shoes stop hurting you.

“So I think in that sense, most people probably can’t really conceptualize the feeling of their gender well because it just fits right and always has, so it’s hard to imagine how all the small, normal things just constantly feel wrong, even if you are alone in your home.”

The treatment for gender dysphoria is transition, be it social or physical. Some prefer to think of ‘gender euphoria’ as being a better way to describe the experience of transness – also something that cis people don’t experience – which is, as the name suggests, the euphoric feeling a trans person might experience on being gendered correctly by others or by feeling an alignment between their perception of their gender and the way their body looks.

More: gender dysphoria, gender euphoria, trans healthcare, World Health Organization

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