Question: Dysphoria support

A reader asks…

How can I help a genderqueer friend cope with gender dysphoria?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on April 13th, 2011 at 04:00 pm

Category: questions 17 comments »

17 Responses to “Question: Dysphoria support”

  1. nicole

    you’ve probably already been told there’s no cut and dried answer, and that everyone’s different, which is true. but i’ll share some things that work for me, on the off chance that they might help.
    although i’m sure everyone experiences dysphoria in a different way, what hits me hardest is feeling like i’ll always be in limbo. there’s male, there’s female, and, hell, there are masculine-identified women and feminine-identified men and all sorts of trans people, too – but i hit a point where, after examining all these identities that seemed to be definitively at one certain point on a spectrum of male and female, my belief in the concept of male and female just evaporated. feeling like an outsider in both camps in such a gender dominated world has a way of making you feel completely crummy, and while i don’t know of any way to change that, sometimes it helps to have someone understand just how… out of it you feel. i don’t even know how to appropriately convey the feeling, but having a friend listen to me ramble helps. i think one reason might be because when you’re genderqueer, there isn’t much you can do to feel ‘visible’ when you’re just out and about. if you’re trans then being able to pass can totally boost self esteem, because it ends up affirming the masculinity you feel inside. but there’s a strange sort of stress that comes with being genderqueer, like you’re not being seen, which can start to erode your sense of self. if you get the chance to explain the whole nine yards to someone accepting and supportive, you know that when they see you, they see you the way you see yourself, and that makes life so much better. the fact that you want to help your friend is wonderful, and i’m pretty sure that just your understanding itself will be one of the best gifts you can give.
    some advice for dysphoric ftms has helped me, since that’s the anatomy i’ve got, and – my personal situation – if i hadn’t become so disillusioned with the concept of separating human identity into ‘male’ and ‘female’, and was able to believe in gender, i’m sure i would have identified as trans. i don’t associate with my female body at all, and actually really wish it was ‘male’. there are all kinds of genderqueer, and the way i identify as genderqueer may not match with someone else’s, or your friend’s, but binding, packing, and using an STP make me feel a lot better about myself. whatever your cup of tea, i think it’s really important to remember that you’re doing whatever you’re doing because of what it means to you, and not necessarily because of how others perceive it. sometimes they go together, but sometimes not. i know some ftms pack because they’re concerned about being seen with a suspiciously bulge-less crotch, and there’s obviously nothing wrong with that. same thing with using an STP – for some people, it makes using the men’s bathroom easier. but anybody can pack for whatever reason, however they identify, and for me, it’s just because i like the feeling. i happen to use an STP in the women’s bathroom, which to some might seem to defeat the purpose, but it means something different to me. i’m only mentioning this because i feel like sometimes people are afraid to do something because of what it may imply to someone else. i’d advise anyone coping with dysphoria to set their own standards for themselves.
    i can wear a skirt, and i can wear boxers, and i can get off to straight porn with a strap-on, and it doesn’t mean i’m trying to genderfuck, or that i’m a crossdressing transguy or a butch lesbian. to someone else it may, and i’m not discounting their identity. but a lot of my anxiety about being genderqueer is feeling like i’ll never be able to be myself, or be recognized as myself, the genderless whatever that i am, because no matter what i do i’m seen by others as some variant of one gender or another. and that makes me feel unreal, like my identity can’t be seen and doesn’t exist. when that feeling isn’t just coming from the outside world but really gets inside your head, my experience is that dysphoria morphs into an even worse state of mind that makes living seem unbearable.
    i’m really sorry for the long response, too :X
    the best thing i think you can do is be someone your friend doesn’t feel invisible with; try to see them the way they see themselves, it might make them feel more confident and can definitely combat the dysphoria. some of my best days have been when i was with people who saw me the way i saw myself, when being with them validated my identity, and when i was able to enjoy living rather than worrying about how to live.
    some of this is a little difficult to explain, so my word choices might not be the best, but yeah.
    good luck, and you’re definitely an amazing friend for caring. :)


  2. Els

    I would like to second nicole’s comments. I am a genderqueer who also uses the label ‘neutrois’ (neither male- nor female-identified; rather than a mix of the two genders, I see myself as sort of agendered or neutral). Passing is the root of most of my dysphoria in the sense that it has more to do with how others read me. In a perfect world, I would like to not have to be read as gendered. In fact, I think that it is startling how much the cues and codes we use to read other people, even without explicitly realizing it, are based on gender models. Since I do appear sort of ambiguous or androgynous, I get a lot of stares (especially since I live in the US south, and not every one is very open-minded). On the one hand, I can take the stares to mean that people don’t immediately know how to read me– which means that on some level, I succeed in ‘passing’ as not immediately legible as one gender or the other. On the other hand, being stared at by strangers on the street is never comfortable, especially when it is accompanied with weird looks or a sense that I am being negatively judged– which means that it can lead to dysphoria as well. It is a catch-22 that I am never sure how to deal with. It is always uncomfortable to be read as the wrong thing: I am female-bodied and I think that’s pretty obvious to most people, so I do get “ma’am” or “miss” a lot, and that feels deeply uncomfortable. “Sir” doesn’t necessarily feel better though (even though I do secretly take pleasure in that I am not immediately being read as female) because it is still wrong. The problem is that the category of genderqueer is not universally recognized by society at large, so I will always inevitably be misread. Being read as female or male is wrong, and being read as a freak to stare at feels awful. So until people at large can read and accept me as genderqueer (unlikely to be anytime soon) or until gender simply doesn’t matter as much (also unlikely to be anytime soon), I know that I can only really combat my dysphoria by being as true to how I see myself as possible– not being afraid to dress and act as I would naturally, without conforming just to avoid the weird looks. It also helps that I have a couple of close friends with whom I can talk openly about these things, and that’s the best advice that I can offer to you for your friend: just be a safe space for your friend to talk and process their feelings, and as nicole said, try to see them as they see themselves. When someone sees you as you see yourself, you can feel it, and that makes a huge difference in a world that doesn’t know how to read or recognize us genderqueers. And I also agree that you are clearly a great friend for caring and seeking out advice on your friend’s behalf.


    Samson replied:

    ANOTHER SOUTHERN GENDERQUEER! Props and love to you! If you feel comfortable telling me whereabouts in the South you are, my email’s listed on my blog–I’m always looking for buddies here.


    Alex replied:

    I was beginning to think that Southern Genderqueers were non-existent! yay!!!! :)


  3. ian c.

    one thing that I really appreciate in my housemates is that they never tell me anything unsolicited about my body or appearance. an occasional “hey, that shirt looks nice on you!”, or “oh, cool haircut!” is a really nice thing to hear… but comments that go further than that, even well-intentioned ones, about one’s appearance or body or decisions can be really frustrating and stick with you for days if not weeks or longer. so I would say, first off, no unsolicited remarks especially having to do with gender, femininity, masculinity, whether a certain aspect of gender presentation is “successful”, etc… urg. nope. none of that.

    otherwise… ask them how they want to be seen, and work on adjusting your personal lens of vision so that you see them that way. this takes practice & time & energy — but imagine the adjusting they are forced to do every day when confronted with their body, and/or with how people perceive them, and/or with how clothes fit or don’t fit them… or whatever their struggles are with…

    there are many strategies you can use to shift your vision: maybe this process consists of repeating their name & preferred pronoun together to yourself, or looking at them and shifting your eyes/thoughts a little so that you no longer see them as “boy” or “girl” (or whatever their identification is not), or maybe it is making a drawing or taking a photo of them that helps you re-envision them in the way that they identify….

    it can be a struggle, but it’s worth it when you realize that you have adapted your vision to truly not see their gender anymore, or to see them as the gender or identity they wish to be seen as. when someone says, “oh, so-&-so, he… ” and your immediate gut reaction is, “no, not ‘he’, that’s wrong!” (or whatever the relevant pronoun is…) that reaction is what you’re going for.

    building up your own instinctive, internal support for your friend — so you and they know that you are totally on their side & see them how they want to be seen — that is super important. if you can change your own mental processing for the sake of backing up your friend in the core aspects of their identity… that’s an amazing friend right there.

    I can count on one hand (maybe two, sometimes…) the people I know who truly see me as the gender I identify as… but I know that they are a solid, solid crew who will not let me down.


  4. g

    As someone who identifies as genderqueer and is in the same position as your friend, I really appreciate your post and the responses it has solicited. I am consistently gendered female by everyone I know (save the select few who I have trusted enough to be honest with about by identity) and it never, ever gets easier. Most of the time it’s okay, I can deal with it, but every once in a while it hurts down to my very core. Spaces like this one, and people like you, are what helps. :) Thank you.


  5. R.J.

    I was born in small town in Texas, and although I am only 26, no one that I knew of, personally, was “out.” I had hints of my much older sibling’s sexuality/preference, but it was a matter not to be discussed. I knew of one friend that was “bi”, mostly leaning towards lesbian; in my homophobic/closeted years, I would prove my “heterosexuality” by making hetero-normative/phobic statements and punchlines.

    Later, I was accepting my feelings. Long story short, my “bi” friend became my first same sex contact and, subsequently, my first female partner at 18.

    I mention all of this because I feel that it may be necessary to examine a person’s background and setting. This could be a vital component of esteem. For me, I did not “come out” to my mother for many years, after over three years of a relationship, hide every possibility of myself being found out. Even after moving from my hometown I did not confide my relationship or self to people.

    The aforementioned coupled with my limited scope of the expression left me feeling stranded at points. Identity dysphoria ambushed me. I felt the binary of “female” or “male”/”straight” or “gay.” Now, I am aware that different identities exist; I am not alone. If your given anatomy doesn’t match the societal constructs of gender that has been perpetuated for generations in Western society, well then, accept it, empower yourself, don’t fear it. So many people have gone through surgical transitions because of disillusionment. The fear of breaking the binary and disrupting society has led psychiatrists and doctors to believe that individuals must be “fixed” to fit into the mold.

    Everyone wants a simple answer. Mr. of Ms.? Him or her? Generations have been programmed in such a fashion. After so many years to confidently “out” myself at school or work as a lesbian, I feel that the description doesn’t match my identity; I am privileged enough to work where I can express myself however with dress, piercings and hairstyle.

    I’m going through the definition stage. Definitions change with language mutations; time’s a factor. I think that researching and internal searching are key to accepting expression. It will take time. I’m still not exactly sure, but I feel as if one of the terms I would currently accept would be “genderqueer.” If I had not met someone last year who identifies as genderqueer, I would probably still be comfortable presently/projecting myself as a lesbian.

    My mother still refers to me as “Mi’ja”; my siblings as “sis”; my partner by my given name; bartenders as “sweetie” (which has always been a no).

    It’s impossible to expect the world to immediately accept and accommodate change. Even though there is such a swelling of hatred towards us, the “others,” I feel as if the spectrum of expression is advancing.

    I hope this stream of consciousness helped. These are my thoughts. I am still struggling for acceptance as a person void of gender represented by my creativity, musicianship, personality, and intellect.


  6. R.J.



  7. Clare

    Just be his friend – with an open heart and ears


  8. Jessica

    Be open. Don’t damn your friend’s genderqueer with faint praise. Don’t be critical, unless invited to be so. Then be honest, but be prepared to be proven wrong.

    Maybe it’s easier to say what not to do:

    Do not disbelieve in their gender identity or call it a phase or ignore it. Don’t belittle the importance of their choices. Do not trivialize them or make excuses for them.

    If called upon by others to take sides, don’t. Tell them that this person in your friend and you’re trying to be supportive and helpful in the changes of their life. Tell them that you don’t always understand, but that you don’t have to understand a person to do the right thing and stand by them as a friend should. Everyone should have the right to be who they are. Do not allow them to extend their transphobia to you. Don’t participate in their transphobia by disavaowing or dismissing your friend.

    In my own experience, HRT changed me, internally, psychically, mentally, spiritually… it’s hard to explain. I found myself able to grasp and hold onto things that had always eluded me before. I also became more volatile and, in a sense, more difficult to live with. The physical changes gave me a sense of ownership and pride in my body that I had never had before. It made it important to me to be seen as beautiful… not that other people saw me that way, but like the song says, “ya can’t please everyone so ya got to please yourself.”

    It is truly weird for me wanting my changes, liking my physical self for the first time, but regretting the external changes and regretting the effect of those changes on others. But at least that’s a schizophrenia I understand.


  9. Anonymous

    check out some genderqueer peeps on youtube.

    heres one. hes really cool


  10. Jordyn

    Personally, i identify as GQ, and one of the thing that makes me most comfortable is when people are unable to “read” me as male or female. im genetically male, but have been on puberty blockers, so i look fairly androgynous :) on the other hand, as mentioned in a post above, i do get a lot of strange looks when i go out in public presenting as neither masculine nor feminine. it feels good to know that ive stirred up some confusion in the minds of the people who see me, but at the same time it kinda feels like im on display…… so in short, what u can do to help ur friend with gender dysphoria is always call them by the pronouns they request. i know from experience that when people call u by the wrong pronouns, it erodes your self esteem because you think you look like someone you dont want to be. also if you slip up on pronouns or forget, just apologize and ask what they wish to be called. if you are cool about it, it feels really good to know that somebody cares enough to ask rather than jumping to conclusions.


    Jessica replied:

    Yes, exactly. People who do not know me, give me looks as I am coming in or going out of the restroom. It doesn’t really matter which one I use. It can be quite comical sometimes… men look at my boobs and then at my beard, they get this really confused look on their face like I’m trying to pull some kind of fast one on them. Other times it’s hurtful, the angry looks, the “you don’t belong in MY restroom” looks.

    I guess I could pick one or the other and either shave my face and wear a dress/skirt or keep whiskers and dress totally butch, but I just want to be me and I really don’t give a damn which label is on the door, provided they’re both clean.


  11. Anonymous

    this probably isn’t anything that hasn’t been said, but just do what you would do for any friend: be there for them, when they need you to listen. respect their choices, even if you don’t completely understand.

    my best friend once told me, “I don’t see you as ‘female’ or ‘male’, just as -you-.” that’s probably one of the best things anyone has ever told me.


  12. Meike

    I’d say just talk with them, or rather let them talk with you. Make sure they know that they can talk to you and that they have your total support when they’re feeling dysphoric. You might also want to ask them if there’s anything you can do for them during the times that they feel dysphoric. I know last year I would go with my closest guy friend to the men’s section of Target whenever I felt dysphoria starting to creep up on me again, even though I didn’t consciously recognize it as dysphoria. But even now this same friend tells me that if I’m ever feeling bad about myself I should come on over and he’ll find some way to help. Admittedly, sometimes there’s really nothing you can do to alleviate the pain of your friend, but I think that their knowing that you’re always there for them is an incredibly powerful and important thing for anyone going through dysphoria.


  13. Courage

    This reminds me of one of my friends desperately trying to be supportive. I told him I was genderqueer, and he tried to give my outfit a compliment and failed miserably. He said,”That jacket’s perfect for you! Guys or girls wouldn’t wear it!” and meant to say,”I love how stylishly androgynous that jacket makes you look.”

    Needless to say, I was offended, but laughed it off because of his good intentions. My advice is to not try TOO hard to give compliments because it probably won’t end pretty. And just be there for them to ramble off and listen without telling them they’re stupid, crazy, and should act like a because that’s a big fear we have. Sometimes gender identities can be really, REALLY abstract, but never laugh it off or disregard it.


  14. Samson

    There’ve been some wonderful ideas offered here!

    One thing that constantly wears on me, as a genderqueer person, is being casually referred to in gendered ways–even some of my queer and trans* friends, whom I’m out to, continue to do this. “Hey girl!” or “that girl” or “Hey, lady!” or “all you ladies, come over here, please.” Most of these people have known me for a long time, and know I’m FAAB–and these things just come out of their mouths automatically. So–just being mindful of the gendered ways we all treat one another–because it’s part of what we’re raised to do.


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