Content Warning: Triggers of Gender Dysphoria Discussed.
It happens out of nowhere sometimes — something you see or hear just sets you off, and what began as a great day becomes a mental Hell on Earth. The triggers are all varied and different for every trans person. Misgendering is probably the most common trigger for trans and gender non-conforming people. (i.e. being called a “guy” when one identifies as a girl, etc.) This even happens to cisgender people, but when you’re trans it triggers a landslide of negative emotions that can cause one to spiral into a pit of torturous oblivion. It can lead to hours or days of self-loathing and despair.
But being misgendered isn’t the only trigger we as trans people have. Being a trans woman I can only speak from that perspective, so the triggers trans men and non-binary/gender non-conforming folks experience won’t be addressed directly here. The fact is, that while you may have discovered all your triggers, chances are that there are some lying in wait which you never have known you had.
Case in point: I never wanted to have children. Ever. At all. Period. Not when even I was pretending to be a guy, married, and it was expected of me (by both family and society) to become a parent. I accepted that I was too irresponsible, too vulnerable, and too psychologically unstable to be able to be a parent. That being said, I was in Target recently picking up some vitamins and other personal care items when I found myself heading to where they keep the T.P. and I passed the Infants & Toddlers section of the store. It was right there, right then, that I started to choke back tears. I realized that the reason I didn’t want kids was because my body was never designed to bear kids.
In that moment, I wanted more than anything to be pregnant… to feel a life growing inside me… to feel my breasts swell with milk.. to look down at my swelling tummy, go down that aisle and find some gender-neutral colored jumpers, T-shirts and the like. And I nearly began crying. I had to choke back my tears and pretend that I was okay when I certainly was not. I’d heard other trans women discuss this particular chapter of dysphoria before, but it was the first time it happened to me. I was completely unprepared.
So what should a trans person do when one is unprepared for a Trigger?
BREATHE — In this instance I went to an adjacent aisle and took several deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. I even held on to the end of the fixture in case I hyperventilated. I STRONGLY recommend this tactic. It helped me get through checkout and back to my car where I safely cried for a bit in peace. (I forgot the toilet paper though.)
EXPRESS — Yes, crying is a form of expression, but it’s therapeutic to express your feelings to others who are supportive of you being who you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s in person, over Skype, Facebook or Twitter. Too many of us have a way of keeping our dysphoria bottled up, thinking no one will understand whet we’re going through. Getting it out there can help more than you think.
KNOW YOU’LL BE OKAY — Dysphoric spells pass. They always do. Sadly, they will come back and you need to be able to accept this. A dear friend of mine once said: “Dysphoria never goes away, no matter how far along you are in your transition.” I suppose it’s something we trans people will always have to live with.
WRITE ABOUT IT — Even if no one ever sees it, it helps a lot. (Case in point: This article.)
Another common trigger is a group of people near you laughing. For this you just need to tell yourself that whatever funny anecdote they are laughing at, it isn’t you. Even if it is, for your own sanity you’re going to need to dismiss it. Besides, they’re not important to your life anyway.
“I’m not trans, but my friend is. How can I help with their dysphoria?”
Before anything else, you must realize that you can’t always help. When dysphoria hits, it hits on an extremely personal level. This level can’t always be expressed in words. But be there for your friend. Listen. Don’t defend the actions of others. Just show love and support. If your friend can’t go into detail, don’t force them to do so. Coax once — JUST ONCE — and if they won’t discuss it, let it go. Tell them that you’re there for them. Show your concern and affection. That’s what they need from you right now.
There are too many triggers to go into fully… from when the mirror that tells you something that you don’t want or expect it to, to your singing voice not matching your gender. In the end, those four steps do help.
Friends & Allies: Listen. Support. Never say you understand, because unless you have experienced Gender Dysphoria for yourself, you can’t begin to fathom what we trans people go through.