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A trans woman in Inverness opens up on dealing with dysphoria – 'I have gone through all these things, and it's being me that has got me through'

By Andrew Henderson

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The coming out process for any LGBTQ+ person is never easy.

It is not uncommon for someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual to grow up hearing homophobic slurs thrown around casually, or see people being excluded for their sexual orientation.

The impact of those experiences can often go untold. It can lead to mental health issues and prevent people from accepting themselves and coming out – but even when someone does come to terms with their identity, those learned biases can linger.

That can manifest in a number of ways. The most obvious is arguably depression, but it can also lead to extreme scenarios like hating members of their own community in an attempt to deflect, or trying to alter or change their sexual orientation.

All of that can also be applied to trans people, although internalised transphobia is not such a common discussion point.

One trans woman in Inverness, who wished to remain anonymous, found that to be an issue. Even in online spaces specifically designed to be supportive of trans people, she did not find much support when it came to sharing moments of doubt that naturally come with any period of introspection.

Internalised homophobia is a well-acknowledged thing within the LGBTQ+ community – but it is far rarer to hear about internalised transphobia. Picture: James Mackenzie
Internalised homophobia is a well-acknowledged thing within the LGBTQ+ community – but it is far rarer to hear about internalised transphobia. Picture: James Mackenzie

Despite realising she felt like a woman at around 14 years old, it took until she was 26 to move past the stage of denial, and only in the last 20 months or so has she began medically transitioning.

Now 30, it is still a difficult process sometimes despite feeling confident that it is the way forward.

"For most of the last 16 years I blocked it out and ran away from it, and was really quite transphobic to myself – these last four years has been a process of undoing all of that," she said.

"Internalised transphobia tears apart your sense of self and identity, and causes a lot of doubts, confusion and turmoil. Undoing that is being affirming to parts of yourself that feel good.

"I've had the vindication of feeling good as me now, rather than just feeling like a confused boy. I ask myself if I would be happy going back the way, and just the thought of that... no. That's when I tell myself to put my big girl pants on and feel good about myself.

"There's a gender specialist over in Los Angeles, who has over 18 years experience, who describes what I'm experiencing as a battle of the genders until one wins.

"I think it's quite unpopular for trans people to talk about their doubts, because there's a pressure from society to be absolutely certain. It's like if you have doubts, you're not trans enough, and your experiences aren't valid.

"My experience is that there are intense moments of certainty and happiness, and euphoria. Gender euphoria is real, absolutely. Sometimes when I experience euphoria it's like I'm on drugs – it's a feeling of complete awakening, seeing yourself as you are and feeling really good about that.

"It brings me to tears sometimes how good I feel, but then literally a couple of hours later the exact opposite can happen, and it's this intense self-scrutiny, second-guessing myself and it's tears in a different way.

"Dysphoria is a very individualised and nuanced experience, and sometimes people don't understand that. It's contradictory in nature, just by experiencing it, and it has been described as a beast that lies to you and seeks to tear you apart.

"I guess I want to highlight that. There are extremes on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to dysphoria and euphoria, and it's bloody hard."

Dysphoria is the key word when it comes to this woman's experience. It is a term often thrown about when discussing trans lives, and the NHS describes it as a sense of unease a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.

Triggers can be any number of things. Speaking, coughing, seeing herself in the mirror, comments from other people – they can all set off a crisis of confidence, and cause those doubts to come flooding back.

Dysphoria is a key term to understand when talking about any trans person's experience. Picture: James Mackenzie
Dysphoria is a key term to understand when talking about any trans person's experience. Picture: James Mackenzie

Social factors certainly play a role too. Until the last couple of months, our interviewee's family was far from supportive, and so she was forced to turn away from family for any sort of re-assurance.

"That feeling of being confused is mostly internal at the moment, but it was put on me until fairly recently by my family which further instilled that I was wrong, and my understanding of myself was wrong," she explained.

"I still see being trans as a problem, even today. I still see it as something really awful that has happened to me, but it's something that I have to accept.

"It's fear, but also a lot of the transphobia that has been projected on me by my family. I have been called abnormal, superficial, Gary Glitter, embarrassing, disgusting – all of those things.

"Having unconditional love and acceptance from people I don't know, to be welcomed with open arms, is something that I never thought I would ever experience in my whole life until I went to the Inverness Kiki Family.

"There have been a lot of times where I've gone home with a big smile on my face and in floods of tears – in the best possible way – because I'm so happy. It's called the Kiki Family for a reason, because it's a family, it's incredible.

"I've been through a lot with my mum. We were incredibly close, and for someone so close to me to say those things, you kind of believe it.

"People always believe their parents to be right, because you think they've always got your back and they know you better than you know yourself in some ways.

"This is a part of me I've kept secret from her, so she doesn't really know who I am. She is starting to understand now, literally just in the last couple of months she has done a complete 180 and understands where I'm at, and why I'm where I'm at.

"A lot of the negativity I'm experiencing is because of her, so she's like 'what have I done'. She held me the other day and told me I was not a freak, and that was amazing to hear. It was a completely transformational moment."

Part of the reason she still sees being trans as a problem is that she went through multiple traumatic moments that went hand-in-hand with significant steps along the journey to accepting she was trans.

The ending of a relationship that she thought would last a lifetime, becoming homeless, and – most significantly of all – the death of her best friend all proved to be turning points.

It sounds morbid, but being able to die as her authentic self rather than living while hiding was a hugely motivating factor.
It sounds morbid, but being able to die as her authentic self rather than living while hiding was a hugely motivating factor.

The latter in particular was a tough, but inspiring time. Seeing her friend, who lived androgynously, able to be their authentic self even in death was a wake-up call.

"In that moment, I had a complete realisation that he died as himself. If I got hit by a bus the next day, I couldn't have said the same about me.

"It was a really harrowing experience – not only seeing my best friend in a coffin, which was really hard, but him being able to express himself even in death.

"Nobody made him look like a boy. He just looked like himself. There was this amazing moment where I had the choice to either die as a boy, and have my old name on my gravestone, or I could die as myself.

"It's really morbid, but a moment like that was just this catalyst for dysphoria. In that moment, it was like dysphoria turned up and I couldn't turn it back down again.

"I could before, I could force it into regression by being horrible to myself, but that forced me to confront it. No matter how horrible I was to myself, it wasn't going to go away again. It wasn't a two-year cycle anymore, I had to deal with it and I didn't have a choice.

"That's why I still feel like it's this awful thing that has happened to me, because dysphoria is in control, not me. Sometimes when you feel you can't go any lower, dysphoria turns up even louder. It's just cruel.

"I like to think that once I've had a bit of therapy, and I start feeling a bit better about things, I will realise I can trust myself. I have gone through all of these other things, and it's being me that has got me through it.

"I've never had a good day at work and said it was because I felt like a boy. It was always because I felt like a girl, and I felt put together and could think clearly – I was dysphoria-free, and that only happens when I'm a girl. Everything else doesn't matter at that point.

"I just don't have complete control yet. I think when I do, I will look back on these bad experiences as tests that have validated my identity, because the good that I've experienced has never ever been because I was a boy, it was because I am a girl.

"It's not an ideology, I just need to trust myself and stop being an idiot. We absolutely need people to believe us, and we need to believe ourselves too."

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