An Exploration of Body Image, Gender Dysphoria, and Shame
*Before you read any further I must warn you that this piece is explicit, uncensored, and may be triggering to those with gender dysphoria, or body dysmorphia. Please understand this is my personal experience of experiencing extreme shame surrounding my body and gender. If you choose to continue I hope you find this to be deeply honest, and if it resonates with you — know that you, and your body, are beautiful/handsome, and valid. We are enough.*
The cover reflects back on me like a stain. Her body is soft, flowing, and thin — an image of perfect femininity and the form to which all beauty is judged. I look at her full breasts and proportional hips, her angular face, and luscious lips. She looks back at me with superficial daggers, her judgment and perfection shatter my reflection.
Who am I? Who was I before the woman on the cover? Who was I before the discomfort of seeing that haunting gash between my legs, that universal symbol of weakness we call “pussy”.
At once the image of her stabs into me with regret and so ambiguously the daggers become my own. Neither flowing and beautiful like her nor rugged and towering like that of the cover man. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my eyes must be broken, am I broken? What am I if not?
These thoughts haunt heavy on my shoulders on the bus, and the way my friend smiles into my eyes, she tells me, “you’re so pretty”. Blood rushes to my cheeks, her kindness, or deceitfulness, triggers a response without permission. She’s lying. What if she’s not?
Back and forth, the argument flies to my hips and my legs and pointed breasts with their oversized nipples. She’s lying, and my shattered eyes make sure that I know.
That’s how it began, that’s how I wound up here. Still staring into the mirror with callous judgment. I am the cover woman, just as cruel and not nearly as subduing.
The voice of my wife whispers love and reparation in my ear, but these broken pupils live on. She loves me, and she’s true. Maybe she has shattered eyes just like you.
A single moment’s peace, a single breath unmonitored by the demons that tug at those old nerves, whispering sweet self-hatred into my brain. They build their homes on the neural pathways of abuse and though long ended, they remain cemented in my mind like neighborhoods of shrapnel devils.
I want to let you love me, to see me through your eyes.
The fear that the image would look the same is petrifying, and yet why should I care? My heart is kind, my love is true. She knows, she knows the pain I work to see through.
Next thing I know, it’s three am and I’m watching videos of men who once rejected the bodies they were born in. They hate their bodies too, hate the gash, reject the widened hips and the over-sexualized lips. I want what they have. The confidence, the pride, the joy . . . A solution.
Three years and six months later. A jumbo Tide Pod container sits before me, filled with intramuscular needles that I inject into my thighs every week. They sold me the magic serum, the gender dysphoria cure, but I never heeded the warnings that my breakage went beyond a little extra body fur.
I would never find the confidence, nor the joy those self-made men had found. Three years and six months later, I stood in front of the mirror. Full beard and body hair, imagining my chest no longer being there. But for all the changes I had made, my eyes were still filled with hate.
I remember the woman in the cover and the happy men in reborn bodies. Heart-shattering as I admit, their solutions just didn’t fit. The pronoun he, initially empowering, robbed me of the androgeny I never expected to miss.
The bare cheeks and soft skin, full hair, and curvy hips, I missed the woman I used to be, even if that gender never suited me.
Comfort comes with anxiety as I look once more to see this reflection through shattered lenses.
Big nose, stubbled cheeks, muffin top, and too much nip. These are the things my brain hones in on first. Then the thinning hair, the sagging jowls, and hey is that a third chin now?
As I stand naked and ashamed before myself, two arms wrap around my waist. Lips kiss the back of my shoulder, tickling the hair that I wish was not there. “You’re beautiful.” Another kiss. “And handsome.” Her hand rests on my blubbery belly. “And I’ll always love you.”
The tears heal my shattered eyes and for one moment, a glimpse of beauty, a glimpse of joy. For one moment, in the presence of love, none of it matters. We are alive, we are love, and one shard of self-hatred dissolves in the tears. For that moment, the person in the reflection is whole, and that, in itself, is beauty.