Gender Dysphoria and Body Positivity

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OKAY Y’ALL. This is a topic I have brushed over gently in my mind, but never really explored. Why? Because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being wrong or saying something problematic. And I still think it’s an important conversation to have. I keep finding myself wondering, can body positivity and gender dysphoria coexist? Am I abandoning body positivity every time I feel dysphoric?

Lets start with some definitions

What is body positivity?

A quick Google search will find this definition for you:

“Body positivity is acceptance and appreciation of all human body types. It is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, and be accepting of their own bodies as well as the bodies of others.” – The encyclopedia resource on Wikipedia.

This is a simple and basic definition that doesn’t quite delve deep enough for me. I personally believe it has more to do with separating the intrinsic value we place on people based on their bodies. It requires a commitment to challenging societal standards of beauty which are generally unattainable, often unproductive, and unhealthy physically and/or mentally.

Now, what about gender dysphoria?

The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender.”

Interesting. There could definitely be some key word changes in this definition to make it more inclusive. (Also important to note that the level of discomfort could vary depending on the person. I in no way want to paint gender dysphoria as mild for all who experience it.)

Are they really at odds?

So, if body positivity involves radical acceptance of my body, and gender dysphoria is  discomfort I feel because of my body, how can these two both be true? If I experience gender dysphoria and take action to make my outward appearance align with my internal identity, is that considered body negative? Or is it body positive to believe I am deserving of feeling aligned with myself and live more authentically?

If I know my worth transcends physical form and isn’t tied to how I look, am I still body positive if I bind my chest? If I admit that I don’t like a certain part of me?

I know that I’m trans enough, non-binary enough, and queer enough, simply because I say I am. If I truly believe that physical appearance (or even genetic make-up) doesn’t matter when it comes to being trans, why do I still want to hide my breasts?

How much of this is about how I feel? How much is about how I am perceived by the world?

Bodily autonomy

There’s a reason body positivity has been embraced by marginalized people like my super-fat sized queer trans self. I’ve been stripped of my bodily autonomy. My body has been policed, neglected, abused, discriminated against, judged, and minimized my entire life. I missed the opportunity to explore and discover myself in my teenage years. I haven’t had the ability to live a life free of external control/influence because if I dared to, my body would be subject to even further alienation, othering, and reduction.

So I’m a late bloomer. I’m exploring gender and embracing body positivity in my late twenties and trying to sort out what it all means. I’ve reclaimed my body, finally. I said a big old FUCK YOU to society’s unattainable standards of beauty and worth, and now have to figure out what actually feels right.

Body positivity is a practice

Body positivity requires reclaiming your body from societal ideals, pressures, and definitions of what a “good” body is supposed to be. You must abandon the notion that one’s worth is attached to their body based on how well they adhere to those norms.

Body positivity serves us best when it’s utilized as a practice, rather than a state of being. If someone says they are body positive, they subject themselves to the possibility of feeling shame when they aren’t able to maintain the Ultimate Body Positive King title 24/7. They’d be setting themselves up for high highs and low lows. The goal is to always be practicing, learning, and growing. And doing this through a body positive lens, as opposed to committing to an all-or-nothing mentality that is unattainable.

This shit is COMPLICATED

To my trans friends who are practicing body positivity: You’re allowed to make changes to your body. You don’t have to abandon your authenticity. And you’re not abandoning body positivity by exploring. I think you can be body positive and make changes to your body.

You’re allowed to dye your hair, get a boob job, get top surgery, or seek out other medical transition. The point is to stay committed to thinking critically about your intentions when making changes. You don’t have to change a thing to be completely legitimate as you are.

Why do I want to look x, y, or z? What feelings are attached to my desire to make this change? Am I feeling pressured to do this? Are there ways I could attain the same confidence without making that change? Is this for my safety?

Its no joke that intersecting identities make everything super complex. I don’t have all the answers, though I wish I did.

I think the only time this dichotomy has ever really made much sense to me was when I spoke with a therapist specifically about my gender dysphoria. I was considering medical transition at the time and wanted a second therapist to explore that possibility.

He, a trans man himself, allowed me the space to blurt out all of my confusion. He urged me to consider who I want to be in this world and how I want to be perceived by others. He said, ask yourself, what feels most affirming to me? Framing it this way helps me find balance when grappling with practicing body positivity and feeling gender dysphoria.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on practicing body positivity while experiencing gender dysphoria? It can feel impossible for trans folks to simply “#loveyourself!!” when your body and gender don’t align. Does it all just come down to thinking critically throughout it all and knowing your worth, regardless of changes you may want or even need to make to your body?

8 Comments

  1. I really appreciate this post about intersecting identities. It’s an idea that had never occurred to me – that body positivity could be at odds with gender dysphoria. I think it’s terrific that you’re starting the conversation and don’t need to have it all figured out right now.

    • thanks for reading! i’m glad you enjoyed it. i’m definitely trying some radical acceptance in not knowing all the answers!

  2. Well, I honestly see no contradiction between body positivity (though not a great fan of the term, I prefer body respect) and transgenderism or other desires to transform ones own body. Because as every meaningful term body positivity needs interpretation. And via that one we should realize that without body autonomy body positivity makes no sense (as a term born out of a liberation idea/movement). If we took body positivity literal it also would mean that we couldn’t heal our body if it was sick etc. so obviously that kind of view cannot be right. Every intrinsic desire to change our body to bring it into harmony with our personality/desires is legitimate, if it is not born out of unreflected conformity to cultural standards. I would even argue even if you want to go conform to cultural standards, go ahead! Just be concious about your choices. If you want to go blonde or grow a tail, we are free to choose if we do it from a place of inner autonomy.

  3. Hey J thank you for your blog. I have to confess to finding it very challenging to me. I’m afab and recently embarked on transitioning. I’m desperate to lose weight to help with that as our healthcare system is quite rigid on only providing care to those within healthy weight ranges (their definition not mine). I’ve found it very difficult as I’m frightened that weight loss may intensify my dysphoria as my ‘natural’ shape emerges from under my obesity. I’m in awe of your self-affirming outlook and I wish you well.

    • our healthcare system is so fucked. I’m sorry you’re having to endure this. please take good care of yourself and go easy with your internal monologue. you’re doing the best you can <3

  4. This one is one I struggle with a lot. The conflict between the trans approach to happiness – which is modifying your body and the body image approach – which is self acceptance. When I hear the question “what feels most affirming” my answer is “to be thin” which I know has been informed heavily by the trauma I’ve faced via culture but nevertheless it also feels true. Its something I still struggle with and I’ve yet to find a good synthesis.

  5. I think about this a lot, not just as a trans and super-fat person, but as someone with chronic pain. Sometimes, I hate my body. I hate that it hurts, and that I can’t move the way I want to, that I’m limited by my body. I hate that I have body parts that feel wrong. But, I have developed the ability to separate that hate from my fatness. I don’t hate that I’m fat, most of the time. I realize that some of my fatness is potentially in response to my chronic pain and illness, an attempt to protect me from some of the worst health outcomes related to my issues. So my fatness I’m good with. But I struggle to call myself body positive.

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