An unpublished story of an 18 year old: How I found peace with my dysphoria
I struggled with dysphoria on a daily basis, I hated my breasts, I had visceral dreams in which my body was male, but I could not continue ignoring how drastically the lives of trans teens around me differed from the glamorizing stories presented online.
I am an 18-year-old girl and this is the first time I am daring to open up about my life story online. I grew up in a liberal Helsinki household reasonably free from gender norms and expectations. I spent a lot of time with my dad as a child: he would take me swimming, ice skating and on long walks in the woods. He is a biology and chemistry teacher, which lead to me understanding the functions of biological sex and reproduction at a very young age. As a child I was fascinated by these concepts but could never see myself relating to them in real life, instead I saw myself as a researcher studying these things from afar, like the biologist I dreamed of becoming at the time.
The first time I experienced sexism was in day-care, when I tried to join a group of boys playing salibandy during lunch break. At the time I was neither particularly feminine nor particularly masculine: I had long hair but also wore baggy trousers, I played with trains and with dolls, my friends included children of both sexes. When the boys first rejected me and then humiliated me for wanting to join them, I felt a sense of shame like never before. For the first time, I wanted to be something other than I really was, seeing myself as inferior due to the biology I already somewhat understood.
I received top grades and several academic awards throughout my basic education. Though I was never directly bullied, I was often made fun of by both boys and girls for my eccentric mannerisms and over-enthusiastic, perfectionist attitude toward my studies. During the winters of primary school, I would wear thick outdoor pants indoors to hide the skirts and tights I dared not tell my mother I didn’t like. I developed a huge crush on my female friend but failed to recognize it as such.
LGBT community made me question my gender
I started consciously questioning my sexuality in ninth grade, when gay rights became a prominent topic due to the debate around same-sex marriage. I started reading endless Instagram posts by accounts run by LGBT youth. Many of them were trans-identified females: Instead of hearing that being a lesbian is OK, I was bombarded with posts on how to bind, how to pass as male or what it’s like to be gender fluid. My attraction to women remained largely unexplored, but I started wearing tight sports bras to further masculinise my already tomboyish appearance.
My upper secondary school was among the best-ranked in Finland. I pushed myself further and further, my grades rose, my weight dropped as I started to deprive myself of food. This was around the time I actively started to wish I was a boy; my male peers were always taken seriously, whereas I felt permanently disabled in my female body, weaker, repressed, sexually numbed. I considered coming out as trans or non-binary, but two things stopped me. My knowledge of biology kept me from completely dissociating from my body, in addition to which I was already noticing a worrying trend among my peers.
Every trans youngster I knew (including my best friend since infanthood) was female, mentally ill and had a history of trauma, abuse or other family issues. As my suicidality reached its peak, I was lucky enough to receive the medication and therapy I needed. I was also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, which did explain many of my issues including sleeplessness and incessantly worrying about what other people thought of me.
Through cognitive behavioral therapy I have realized that my discomfort with my body (both weight and feminine characteristics) stems from a desire not to conform to the gender norms imposed on anyone with a female body. I realized that my womanhood is not something I can shrink away or identify out of, but a biological reality that leaves plenty of room for self-expression. I also became able to explore my attraction to women: my first kiss was just after I turned eighteen, with a girl I met at a party. It changed my life.
I finally understood that ignoring the reality of my lesbianism was not going to work anymore. This did not, however, rid me of my wish to be a boy but increased it more than ever. I struggled with dysphoria on a daily basis, I hated my breasts, I had visceral dreams in which my body was male. I still didn’t adopt a trans identity as it was around this time that my belief in gender ideology started to crumble.
Our world did not match with online trans stories
During the brief time we dated, the girl I met at the party told me she spent years identifying as non-binary before desisting. Another friend of mine, who had identified as a trans boy since before we had met, also decided to return to living as a woman. I could not continue ignoring how drastically the lives of trans teens around me differed from the glamorizing stories presented online. My search for a different narrative began in earnest.
The discomfort I feel from my female features is intrinsically linked to my homosexuality, specifically to internalized homophobia. The reason I wanted so desperately not to be female was fear, fear of unemployability, fear of being seen as a freak, fear of judgement from others when they see me arm in arm with another woman. However, I have also discovered that loving women as a woman helps me accept my femaleness. I am attracted to female characteristics - why should I therefore hate them on myself? Why should I punish my body and mind for being akin to those I adore? I am writing this not long after being intimate with a woman for the very first time - and to my surprise, my body felt more my own during those moments than ever before.
What I want to say
My message to dysphoric, questioning or trans-identified people is this: take your time. Your identity is not an assignment with a deadline. If you do choose the path of medical transition, do so with deliberation and only after exploring yourself, your past and your subconscious from other perspectives than that of gender identity, preferably with the help of a licensed therapist. Do not erase the fact that in most cases, women are a societal disadvantage because of their biology, not because of a feminine identity relying on gender roles or stereotypes. Gender nonconforming lesbians are nothing new. We should stop policing their bodies and assuming they are not female just because the are not what society currently sees as feminine.
My message to gender critical people is this: respect trans people and do your best to understand their experiences. The tumultuous rise in young females wishing to become males is not really comparable to teenagers “going through a phase, maybe trying out a new style for a couple of years”. These people are in pain and deserve your utmost care and respectful attention. Listen to trans teens, offer them a different perspective. Shift your focus from rich, older males to those who have always needed the most help to survive: the children who will only find whichever path they need to thrive through knowledge delivered to them with care.
The writer contacted us on July right after we published the Kirjo website. She wants to stay anonymous, but you can reach her via our website.