What We Want but Can Never Have
As a human, I have done quite a bit of pondering about the idea that gender dysphoria is unique among the experiences that are known collectively as the human condition. In a recent episode of the show “I am Jazz,” this dysphoria is characterized as a feeling about oneself that is “persistent, consistent, insistent.” Both people who experience this phenomenon, and people close to those individuals report this self-experience can last for very long timeframes. There are psychological and medical professionals who claim that this is a lifelong feature of an individual’s personality and/or body and that the only way to address it is by taking steps to make others view or accept one as a member of the opposite sex. The form of the change is up to the person -- anything from verbally announcing one is the opposite sex with no external change at all (because trans isn’t about physical attributes), all the way to multiple plastic surgery procedures that leave the individual sterile (to remove features of the body the individual links to the unwanted sex).
Whatever the degree of physical action the individual wishes to enact to decrease dysphoria, the consensus among trans ideologues appears to be that in addition to biological sex, there’s an internal sense of what one would prefer one’s sex to be, and that is “gender.”
I’m sorry, but I don’t think there is any such a thing as having an internal sense of who one is that would include a firm conviction that one’s bodily sex is incompatible with one’s real, true identity. I’m certain that it is possible, and probably not as infrequent an experience as one might expect, for people to be deeply disappointed with one aspect or another of the body one was born in. Exhibit A is the plastic surgery industry. Exhibit B, the makeup industry.
When I was a young teen, there were places one could go to learn to walk, speak, and present oneself in a more pleasing way. This unhappiness might even take the form of being disappointed about not being a boy or a girl. But unhappiness, disappointment, and even longing to be different in this or that way, is not the same thing as confusion -- even if the individual reports this unhappiness stretching back as far as earliest childhood memories. This feeling may not even go back that far, as people’s memories of childhood events often contain distortions from frequent retellings by the individual or by close family members, or the fading of memory as decades go by.
I want to offer an experience I think is an analogy for gender dysphoria. I have a lifelong experience of unhappiness about a very stubborn fact of the physical reality of my body, as well as experiences of coming to terms with things about my body that just were going to be as they were, and any disappointment fading away. I learned in grade school to accept that I would always be one of the shortest girls/women in any group. In high school, I accepted I was never going to be a va-va-voom kinda girl with a perfect hourglass figure and a traffic-stopping bust.
As I grew up, I enjoyed plenty of activities and interests. But there was one physical thing that I definitely, sometimes desperately, wanted to be a feature of my body if it could be done. In my youth, I probably would have said I’d give *anything* to change it, but had I encountered a genie in a bottle I probably would have refused certain exchanges. I wouldn’t have traded my auburn hair for baldness, or my green eyes for blindness. I wouldn’t have wanted to become a boy. But the longing for this one physical attribute has been part of my whole life. I even experience it in a wistful way right now.
The physical fact about my body that I cannot change is that I have always wanted to sing. Not just carry a tune. My dream was to have a level of skill and talent so rare that I’d be justifiably called a rock star. I had this desire from my days as a very tiny girl, watching rock bands on TV, dancing along, and holding a hairbrush up to my mouth while I tried to sing along. It wasn’t about the fame, which I didn’t understand when I was very small. My fantasy was about holding a microphone, belting out an upbeat song in front of a huge, happy crowd.
But I can’t sing a note. Trying to study music was a complete bust. I lasted about a year. When I told my music instructor I wanted to quit, he didn’t try to stop me. We both knew I didn’t have it.
By my mid-20s, I’d buried this desire so deep, that when I recently mentioned this longing to my husband of nearly three decades, he was surprised. In all the time we’ve known each other, I’d never mentioned it to him. I distracted myself from the knowledge it could never have been by focusing on the things I could do well -- art, sales, writing, gardening, to name a few. I even put some years dabbling in comedy. At one performance where I was part of a show performing for about 700 people, I did a short standup monologue. When one joke really landed, the crowd’s clapping and laughter reverberated in my chest. I knew as it happened that this experience was the closest I would ever come to the feeling I have desired all my life. And has been fine with me. I know what I’m never going to do so, I do the things that I can do.
Still, when I know I’m alone enough that there is no chance that anyone else can hear me -- in the car, or in the shower when nobody is in the house -- I’ll crank up a song that I love, and warble along as if that song had been written for “my” voice -- the beautiful, melodious voice that nobody has ever heard. There are many imaginings and longings in human experience that never come to fruition. The important thing is how we come to terms with those things that we want but can never have.