As someone who struggles with body dysphoria (a feeling of mismatch between your physical body and your gender identity), some of the mainstream body positive movement's rhetoric doesn't often resonate with me. While I certainly have enormous appreciation for the community, I haven't found popularized body positivism to be all that helpful when it comes to my dysphoria or my desire to forget about my breasts and vagina.
The easiest way to shift my thinking has always come in the form of mantras. Repeating phrases like, "I am enough," and "I deserve to be here and take up space," has done wonders in shaping my beliefs into ones that foster greater self-confidence. Ultimately, many of the mainstream movement's mantras rooted in body acceptance — such as "all bodies are good bodies" and "my body is perfect just the way it is" — don't speak to me as a trans person.
Ideally, I want my body positivity to directly target and alleviate my gender discomfort so I can feel more comfortable in and loving towards my trans form, and not gloss over my experience with dysphoria. With that in mind, I've tried to come up with some mantras that personally resonate with me and my trans identity. Hopefully some of these will be of use to you as well.
1. "My vagina/penis does not make me a woman/man"
One of my main issues with dysphoria-related strife has to do with society prescribing gender on genitals and other parts of our bodies. For this reason, my relationship with my vagina is complicated.
I know that I don't want bottom surgery because keeping all sexual pleasure and sensation down there in tact is of utmost importance to me. And while I immensely enjoy the act of making love, I skirt around treating my vaginismus (a condition that makes penetration impossible for me due to tenseness in my vaginal muscles and pelvic floor) for fear that using my vagina to be penetrated by my partner's penis would emasculate me.
This mantra serves as an important reminder that my vagina existing and being penetrated doesn't make me a woman. Rather, it's just another part of my body that society wrongfully views as inherently feminine.
2. "My chest is masculine"
Taking androgynous model Rain Dove's lead, I've been trying to think of my breasts as big pectoral muscles (she refers to hers as "pecs" in many of her Instagram posts). This approach is incredibly helpful in my own journey towards body positivity, as this cool reframe allows me to accept my chest without resigning to the "fact" that it's feminine.
The more I say "my chest is masculine," rather than trying to accept it in the way I was taught to perceive this body part, the easier it is for me to see the masculinity I feel reflected in a figure that I'm often told is completely feminine.
3. "This isn't forever"
Usually, mainstream body positivity discourages its followers from living in the future, holding onto hope that their bodies will one day change. But for trans folks looking to embark on hormonal therapeutic and surgical paths, I think it's acceptable to use the future as motivation.
Transitioning is possibly the most body positive act for certain people, and I think it's best to embrace it as something that's done on the path to self love. While you wait to move out of an intolerant family member's house, for insurance coverage, or for the date of your first consults and surgeries, I think it can be super helpful to look to your bright future as a self-actualized human with physical traits that make you the most comfortable in your skin.
Transitioning takes work, so you deserve to revel in your efforts towards a better future for yourself.
4. "I am strong"
Body dysphoria can truly feel like torture. Personally, it makes me feel trapped in my body and hung up on features that don't feel like they belong to me. But just by affirming my struggle with dysphoria with a mantra as simple as "I am strong," I alleviate the guilt and questioning I feel over whether or not my feelings about my body are normal or valid.
Dysphoria is valid. Remember to congratulate yourself for being as strong and brave as you are to live in a body that doesn't feel quite like home at least half of the time.
5. "My body loves me"
The opposite of this phrase — "I love my body" or "my body is perfect as is" — never feels authentic to me when concerning gender dysphoria. But saying "my body loves me" has proven to be exceptionally powerful.
Since I often feel that I was born in the wrong body — and since things like having sex or getting dressed can be incredibly challenging due to said dysphoria — my body almost always feels out to get me. But when I say "my body loves me," I remember that we're in this together.
My body, though limited by flesh and parts that betray my masculinity — is there for me, and is just as trans and fun-loving as the soul inhabiting it. On days when my dysphoria is really getting me down, this helps me ward off any internal verbal abuse.
6. I'm a man/woman/genderless person. I have been and I always will be"
Giving yourself a daily and loving reminder of who you are will hopefully help ease the pain of a body that sometimes feels betraying. Because no matter what our bodies look like, our gender identities are not determined by them.
7. "My dysphoria is beautiful"
Dysphoria is a common experience among trans and gender nonconforming folks. And for people who, like me, don't plan on getting surgery or hormone therapy anytime soon, it can be lifelong.
With this mantra, I hope to see the beauty in my mismatched gender and body soon, embracing it as I would my traumatized form, my disabilities, or my multiple skin conditions.
Through the use of these mantras and more, we can hopefully begin to bring the conversation of dysphoria into mainstream body positive rhetoric. And we can hopefully make the day-to-day just a little bit easier for ourselves.
Images: Meg Zulch; Andrew Zaeh/Bustle (1)