Dysphoria = Dissociation

Dysphoria, particularly sex dysphoria, is a disconnect between the body and the mind. It is a person saying they are something separate from their body, and that their body needs to change. Their body is somehow making them unsafe, preventing them from being who they are, or just feels wrong to them. This is a kind of dualism, saying that we are something separate from our bodies, when on some fundamental level we are our bodies.

To become separate from the body is to be dissociated. Dissociation is not necessarily bad. It is a mechanism that evolved to escape from pain, and to escape from trauma. In moderation, it is a healthy response. When it becomes habitual, it becomes problematic. Habitual dissociation often arises in response to trauma. It is a great way to escape from pain, particularly if horrible things are happening which you have no control over. This mechanism provides a way to survive the trauma, and to maintain sanity. Unfortunately the habit of dissociation remains long after the initial trauma has passed.

However, there is a cost to be paid for dissociation. Dissociation means to be disconnected from the real needs of the body. Long-term dissociation is often done by retreating into the conceptualized self, which is the story that one tells about oneself. It is possible to become completely disconnected from the body and live in a conceptualized self. There is a price to pay for this. For one, such compensations are fragile. On some level the person knows this is false and requires validation from others to maintain the compensation. Also, the person mistakes the conceptualized self for the embodied self which leads them to following their conceptualized self rather than what is truly nourishing for them.
Finally, it is never enough. The original need that the dissociation was created for has never been healed.

For me, I suffered from intense sex dysphoria. I hated everything male about my body, from my size, to my large hands, to its hairiness. Changing my body did not heal this. My body became softer, more hairless, and curvier. I did not always pass, but I was often seen as a woman by others. This did not heal my relationship to my body, and my body was frequently wracked in tension. My back was twisted in knots. I thought it was because I could not change it enough. I contemplated various kinds of plastic surgery, but never went through it.

I did not think my body tension had anything to do with my gender, but as I began to heal my relationship with my body I discovered its natural way of moving and being. The very source of the tension was the attempt to present myself as female. Unwinding this tension was a slow process as I had to work through my negative feelings about being male, both feelings that it was unsafe to be a feminine male, and feelings that men were evil and it wasn’t good to be one.

However, once I did that I found that things such as body hair or other male characteristics did not bother me anymore. I even welcomed their return when I went on T. I also found that I was no longer plagued by frequent dissociation and intense tension in my body. Things are certainly not perfect, but much better than they were. I still have tension in my body, but less. However, the dissociation is gone. For me dissociation and dysphoria were intricately linked.

6 comments

  1. I do not think presenting “dysphoria” as a discrepancy between mind and body is very helpful. Often the term “dysphoria” serves to obscure the affiliations which are represented as “dysphoria”.

    In regards to the dysphoria on part of “AGPs” (masochistic emasculation fetishists), much of the basic constitutive affiliations will be parallel to the emotional affiliations which tend to accompany sexual desires of any kind. Longings, gut wrenching nervous excitement, even love. In the absence of explicit sexual stimulation, it isn’t quite as easy to recognise the feelings as sexually derived, as it would for the “average” male longing to fondle breasts, and even more difficult for the prepubescent male with little conceptual idea of sexuality. Often those that represent their feelings in terms of “dysphoria”, claim that there are no negative feelings of discord with their body, simply there articulate a desire to feminize themselves, “be a woman”, have female anatomy. Also there is the assemblage of affiliations which often come to be represented and idealised as an “inner female identity”, which will progressively (and self-fulfillingly) felt to be ad odds and suppressed by the “male identity”.

    1. I agree the term “dysphoria” which really just means discomfort is overused and people often aren’t talking about the same thing when they talk about dysphoria. I was mostly talking about my own experience which was that moving into a female identity fundamentally represents a dissociation and a disembodiment. To think of myself as a woman was to be dissociated from my body, because even after hormone therapy and surgery it still possessed many male attributes, and by trying to act and move in accordance with an idealized self created a disconnect from what was actually going on.

  2. Dysphoria is not dissociation. Dysphoria is a mix of anxiety, irritability, apathy, emptiness.

    May be after x years with it you can feel some dissociation as a consequences of the dysphoric more or less constant state.

    Hating oneself and supposing it is because of the gender if not gender dysphoria.

  3. So, is this to say that all people who experience dysphoria should just ignore their feelings, refuse transition, and “heal their relationship with their bodies”? Or are you speaking on behalf of only yourself and your experience.

    1. I never said anyone should ignore their feelings, just that you might be able to choose how you respond to your feelings.

      I don’t think my experience applies to everyone, I don’t think it unique either. Some people have found what I write helpful in working with their dysphoria, others have not.

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