For years I looked at girls in the summer with envy. They were at Target wearing short shorts, flip-flops, and tank tops that showed off their smooth and hairless arms and legs. They walked through their backyards with their bare feet gently caressing the grass without a care for who was looking. They laid out on the beach wearing bikinis that showed off their beautiful bodies with no outward sign of physical discomfort.
I’d look at them and then myself: arms, hands, legs, and feet hairy like a gorilla. “Why can’t I look more like them?” I could always just suck it up and be one of the guys, of course. Plenty of hairy men walked around outside in the summer with their arms, legs, feet, and sometimes chests exposed without a second thought, so why couldn’t I? Because I didn’t want to.
Gender dysphoria isn’t just being uncomfortable with certain body parts like how someone might be self-conscious about stretch marks or a chubby belly; it’s feeling like alien invaders have planted foreign objects onto your body. That’s what I thought whenever I looked at myself naked in the mirror and saw my skin—from head to toe—covered in a thick coat of black fur. Can I trade my body in for a new one?
Dysphoria also doesn’t have to be something that slaps you in the face day and night; sometimes it’s a still, small voice whispering, “Something’s just not right.” Sometimes you don’t even know what that something is, which only makes it worse. When I was a teenager, the beginning of spring meant the beginning of anxiety attacks. Every muscle trembled day as I had to peel off more layers of clothes and expose my body. It got so bad that I couldn’t eat; my stomach rejected food. Eventually I managed to calm down enough to eat, and pushed myself through the rest of the spring and summer while waiting for sweater weather arrive.
When I turned 20, I discovered a world with language to describe what was going on: transgender, transfemme, genderqueer, non-binary, etc. As I slowly explored this new way of doing gender, I eventually bought some new clothes, Nair, and shaving razors. That night I looked in the mirror, and thought: “Much better!”
Summer’d ending. Soon it’ll be time for hoodies, long jeans, and pumpkin spice lattes. I’m not going to miss the unbearable heat and mosquitos, but am looking forward to next year when I can once again lie in my backyard barefoot and wearing mini-shorts, feel the grass brush against my smooth and hairless skin, and not worry about how I look.