In September I was jaded from feeling gender dysphoric, so I threw back an eclectic mix of alcoholic beverages, starting with an olive-pierced martini and ending with a cheap rum and coke at Toad’s. There were several American white lagers in between, and a glass of red wine as well. The next morning did not bode well: At 6 a.m., my ethanol-infused body awoke to the incessant beeping of a heart rate monitor at Yale New Haven Hospital. Thirty minutes later I trudged back home with the remnants of the night before splattered across my jeans.
Despite my alcoholic fiasco, a peculiar kind of serenity pierced New Haven. It was the gentle here-and-now of truck drivers preparing their morning deliveries, and reminded me of how cream spills silently into a cup of coffee. I was surprised by how much pleasure I took in the blue collar bustle of that morning, which diverged so sharply from the sometimes creepy smoothness of my elitist bubbles. The presentness and physicality of New Haven’s working class stood in sharp contrast to life behind Yale’s iron gates, where erudite elites over-intellectualized the surrounding world.
I’m angry at this over-intellectualization of the surrounding world, because I used it, ever since puberty, to bask in the feeling of not feeling—or, more accurately, the feeling of deliberately not feeling to avoid feelings that were too scared to be felt at all. Perhaps there’s a word for this desire for an emotional vacuum in some obscure psychiatric lexicon, but that thought elicits images of lab suit-clad scientists taking sadistic pleasure in clinicizing profound emotions. I know they aren’t really sadistic, but once again I’m angry—angry at these scientists for rationalizing the irrational.
Emotions should not be picked apart like laboratory rodents to be duly displayed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5). Clinicizing an emotion such as gender dysphoria disrespects its existential fibers and elevates its societal stigma. Gender dysphoria is not a rigid definition on a thin page of the DSM 5: it’s a tsunami that hit my body’s beaches with so much ferocity that it electrified the optic nerves behind my eyes and almost blinded me to the most vivid shades of joy. Gender dysphoria happened when the bones in my body came to the rather troubling epiphany that they were pushing up against the wrong flesh and skin. At least for now, waxing poetic feels appropriate. There’s a supernatural essence to my mostly unmapped qualms.
Grounded back in reality, the psychiatrists who penned the DSM 5 enumerated some of the side effects of dysphoria:
This condition causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
This is true. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conducted a study called Injustice at Every Turn in 2011 that found a shocking 41% attempted suicide rate among 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming respondents nationwide. Forty-one percent. These individuals filled out online and paper surveys from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their pain is real, and I empathize.
This prologue, then, is a dedication to the 41% of these 6,450, to the remaining 3,805, and to every other human being who struggles with gender variance in any way shape or form. You deserve to love and be loved in return.