Expect Problems

A transition blog.

I read something recently, a short description of the lot of the experiences and feelings that a fellow trans woman remembered having as a young kid. Things that eventually lead to her realisation about her gender dissonance and eventual transition.

A lot of the things she spoke about were familiar to me. One or two weren't. A handful of my own experiences which she either didn't have, didn't talk about or didn't remember popped into my head. So, I decided I'd focus for a single post on a lot of my earlier (and not so earlier) experiences with gender dissonance / dysphoria.

As has become increasingly obvious to me over the past six months of talking to far more trans people than before, not everyone who identifies as trans has anything close to the same experience.

These are mine - things which always used to either confuse me, make me ashamed, or something similar. Things which suddenly made perfect sense the moment I accepted that I was trans.

In no order except what comes to my mind...

  • When I was little, a common compliment for girls was "pretty", and "smart", for boys. Years later, of course, I realised what a shit form of sexist priming that is. But back then, I was just upset that I "couldn't" be pretty, too. But I was even more embarrassed that I felt that way. Why didn't I get to wear dresses like my girl friends?
  • When I had to use the toilet at school or somewhere else with gendered facilities, I would get deeply uncomfortable. Scared, even. I remember once, at my worst, I was so horrified of going into the boy's toilets that I held it in for three hours, eventually running all the way home to use a toilet there.
  • An extension of this would happen when we were broken up at school into boys' and girls' groups, for any reason. I couldn't shake this feeling that I was in trouble, or would be, if they "found out". I didn't think in terms of being "found out", but it's the best way I can describe it. In short: I felt out of place when I was grouped with boys, and when it happened (say, for sport) I could never shake this fear that someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and scold me for being in the wrong place.
  • On the subject of sport, I was encouraged by my parents to do a wide variety of sports and hobbies. I (however briefly) played soccer, did gymnastics, sung the Australian Youth Choir, played piano and played guitar. Then there were the huge number of random sports we were made to play at primary (and then high) school. I hated sports. Not so much because I wasn't interested in physical stuff (I loved climbing, being strong, riding BMX bikes for hours after school, etc) but because most sports I did were gendered. And that feeling? The "I'm in the wrong place" feeling? That never went away, and so I was never at ease. Gymnastics was one of the few sports where girls and boys were in the same rough groups - and as a result, I was much more comfortable doing that than any other sports.
  • When we began to hit puberty, life became an even less subtle form of hell. I hated what was happening to my body. Everything felt wrong. I'd look at girls becoming curvier and prettier, while I was becoming "hairier and uglier", in my mind. Soon the disgust at my body got so bad that the idea of being naked or even not-fully-covered in front of people absolutely took over. Just going out in shorts during summer was usually more than I could manage. And my voice? It felt foreign, once it got deeper.
  • As my female friends hit puberty, something else happened: girls and boys treated each other differently. I still had girl friends who were awesome, but I was suddenly aware of being treated differently by most of them, at least some of the time. I was a boy, and they were girls. So sometimes there'd be jokes about boy germs, or jokes about kissing me. Conversations would halt when I turned up, because they were talking about Girl Things. (And oh god how I wished I had girl-germs - which, amusingly, was what the oestrogen gel I had to take for several months during HRT got nick-named by my housemates.)
  • As my male friends hit puberty, there'd be the inverse of this. Conversations about girls in a way that I found uncomfortable. Even if they weren't saying things that I found gross or demeaning, I still had this feeling I shouldn't be hearing this. Once again, like I was in the wrong place. That any minute now one of them would say, "Wait, what're they doing here?"
  • Conversations about kissing or sex were where things got very confusing for me. Because I wanted to kiss girls. I knew that. I'd daydream about it, even before I finally did. But on some level it still felt... wrong. Hearing about sex in the very bland, cis/het normalised way that you tend to be at school seemed weird. "I have to do THAT?" I couldn't get past the uncomfortable combination of wanting to sleep with girls, but finding almost every part of what I was told sex 'was' bizarre and uncomfortable to hear about. Note: it's this problem (knowing I was attracted to women but not being even close to comfortable with actually having sex with them), that caused me the most problems for many years. It didn't make sense, and caused huge confusion for me regarding my sexuality. I wasn't gay, but if I wasn't gay, then why...?
  • Quite young, I remember several times putting on girls' clothes when nobody was around to find me. When I realised that my fantasies about being with girls suddenly "worked" in this context, I got deeply ashamed, confused and began to hide how I felt. For years I thought I had some kind of fetish. Even when I began to explore the idea that maybe - just maybe - I was trans, I still saw the fact that I found wearing women's clothing "sexy" as some kind of sign against it. What I didn't realise was that it wasn't wearing women's clothing per se that I found attractive - it's just that without it, or at least imagining I was a girl, I couldn't escape my own body and couldn't find myself comfortable enough to be excited.
  • For years I had a fixation with pregnancy - the ultimate expression, in my mind, of femininity. Again, I put it down to a fetish that I became - yep, you guessed it - deeply ashamed of. Later on, when the internet became a big part of my life, I found that unlike many pregnancy fetishists, I didn't want to sleep with or idealise or even really sexualise pregnant women... I just liked the idea of being one. I also realised that it wasn't anything specific about being pregnant... it was just that this was a female experience that I realised I could never have.
  • It was this that drew me to erotica. I had been exposed to porn as a teenager, of course, but it always seemed wrong. A guy and a girl, in a plasticky, contrived situation? Blech. And the guy... oh god no. The moment a guy was involved, I had no ability to enjoy it at all. (It'd take me many, many years to find ANY porn that did much for me, as most porn seems to be very male-centric, so even lesbian porn often seemed contrived or a fantasy show for men.) But erotica... it was different. As long as it was written (and written well), descriptions of love, lust and sex from a female perspective did it for me. (I justified only really liking erotica from a female perspective any number of ways, but mostly because "guys all love lesbians, right?". I mean, my friends love lesbian porn, right? This is just that... but written.) I even wrote quite a few of my own over the years.
  • Even well into my late twenties (in fact, I still got this often right up until I started HRT and went public) my fear of being 'found out' any time my gender was a factor in what I was doing kept up. But as an adult, this happened in different contexts. At a bar and having to use the men's room? I had to psyche myself up. Sometimes, if I was in a bad place or feeling unconfident, I couldn't manage it. I remember a few instances of deciding I'd just make an excuse and leave early, rather than brave a particularly busy or gross men's room.
  • I could never use a urinal without feeling that I was doing something 'wrong'. I eventually trained myself to do it without feeling too weird on my own in a private bathroom, but in a public bathroom I just couldn't do it. Even at age thirty, I couldn't. I'd sheepishly find a stall, even if it meant waiting for one.
  • I generally used to wear what were generally fairly androgynous clothing choices. Things that, had I been in a different body back then, could have worked as a kind of tomboy look. Whenever I was force to wear what I thought of as 'hyper-masculine' things - tuxedos, suits & ties, for instance (but even things like polo shirts felt faaaar too uncomfortable for me to wear) I felt very, very discordant. This made formal things such as weddings tough. Extremely tough.
  • Partly due to my (what then seemed strange) feelings of discomfort being gendered as male, I found it harder to make male friends than female friends. Much harder. However, just why this was the case took a while for me to parse. And I think the reason is this: most of the time, women treated me like... a person. Few women I'd meet would seemingly treat me too differently to how I saw them treating their female friends, or other women they'd just met. (Note: I later found out this often wasn't quite true, once women REALLY started treating me as another woman... but back then I still found interactions with women easier.) But men... so often, I felt like I was being caught in some kind of weird game. Ways of greeting men as a man yourself felt awkward. Shaking hands felt strange. If they spoke about women, I got very uncomfortable. Even if they didn't... that feeling came back. "Getting caught". Like I had a dirty secret and that if I kept having to talk to this man-I-just-met, he'd figure it out eventually.
  • As a result of this, I taught myself "how to talk about women like men do". At times, during my early twenties, this meant I'd say some pretty sexist, gross things. Because I'd trained myself How To Be A Man. I played up masculine mannerisms based on watching men behave. I deepened my voice an octave or two to seem more masculine (to lessen the fear of being 'found out').
  • I hated small-talk with men. Small-talk usually revolved round sport or other things that held little interest for me. By contrast, now, small-talk with people I barely know often revolves around clothing or makeup - two things that I actually do find interesting, and am quite happy to discuss at length, if the other woman also finds it interesting.
  • When I discovered that there were video games where I could play as a girl, I was amazed, and I often played them for many hoiurs, even if the game itself wasn't very good. Ultima VII, as I've written before, was a huge deal for me, and future RPGs where you could create custom characters in any way were hugely important to me. I even remember learning that in one of Leisure Suit Larry games you could play as a girl - Passionate Patti! The fact that due to copy protection and puzzle-toughness issues I never got far enough to play as her really bothered me.
  • For a long during my '20s I fixated on fiction that focused on unpacking or dissecting masculinity, either intentionally or not. Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk were clear front-runners. I found that I had such difficulty "being a man", that these kinds of stories helped. Both to make me feel better about being a "freak", and so I could figure out more about how I was "supposed" to feel and act.
  • In a similar way, I often found war stories fascinating. Not so much because the horrors of war were interesting to me, but most stories revolved round groups of young men interacting with each other - and interacting with men was always tough for me, so on some level these kinds of stories acted a bit like a 'primer' on male interaction... if only as a guide to rather shit behaviours to avoid. These kinds of stories don't interest me so much any more.
  • At no point did I ever "think I was a woman". Not consciously. How could I? Every moment of every day I was confronted with the physical fact of having a male body. But despite saying this, sometimes I'd find my subconscious would override what I knew on some level. Without thinking about it, I'd find myself having to stop and consider carefully when confronted with two toilets. "Wait, which one do I go into again?" Once or twice a year I'd even accidentally walk into - or almost walk into - the women's, despite knowing full well I was supposed to be a man.
  • When I was about 18, I wrote a novel. It took many years, and it had a male protagonist. He was a total prick. Thing is, he was never the character I cared about. Even though it was told from his perspective (and his perspective existed as a way for me to make sense of the horrible misogyny and power-games I saw amongst some of my extended social circles back then) it was one of the girls in the story that I really cared about. In fact, she was in a sense a variation of this character...
  • When I was in my mid-teens, I began to fantasise about a girl who didn't exist. In my mind she lived next-door. She liked similar things to me. Computers. Bike-riding. Playing games. She had long, beautiful hair, but was a bit of a tom-boy. When we were younger, she'd tie it in pig-tails if we were riding bikes. As we got older, it'd just be a pony tail or a braid. She wore pants and t-shirts mostly, and would often want to do stupid things like go out late at night for whatever mischief was going on in the neighbourhood. She didn't really seem to like boys (I'd later on realise I made her a lesbian, without knowing what that meant or why), but she liked me despite this. She was confident, happy, smart and funny in complete contrast to what I saw myself as. I remembered a name which I was was told was a front-runner for if I'd been born female: Elissa. (At least, that's the name I remember being told, though nobody remembers the conversation now.) It took me many, many years to realise that this fantasy girl who I would day-dream about even into my twenties wasn't the girl I wanted to be going out with - it was the girl I wanted to be.

I apologise in advance. This one is going to be far less considered than my usual blog posts - and much more stream-of-consciousness.

As time passes, I find something funny is happening as I think back to my life pre-transition. It seems... different somehow. It's not like my memories are fading any more than usual - in fact in a lot of ways specific memories and patterns of my old behaviour are clearer now than before, I suppose because they have a different and more important context when I recall them.

It's more that when I remember feelings associated with those actions, they seem... displaced. I can vaguely recall feeling a certain way, in an abstract sense, but not just how that feeling was.

In some cases it's almost like the memory isn't quite mine. Like it's implanted somehow, and I'm just stuck with someone else's past.

This mostly interests me because I don't think my emotional reactions have changed much in the past year, otherwise. In intensity, yes, and often in clarity, but not just what they are. The same things make me frustrated, angry, happy or sad as before. (Well, plus some new additional ones like being catcalled or harassed in public, which weren't really an issue before with any regularity.)

So the idea that my reactions in my memories seem somehow 'wrong' is interesting, as I suspect if the same things had happened to me now, my response would likely be similar - if either a bit more mellow, measured or intense.

I increasingly feel like I'm staring back at another life, which, in a sense, I guess I am.

Recently, I had reason to be out with a bunch of old friends I hadn't seen as a group since before I began transitioning. I had seen most of them individually, but not in the same group as before. While out with them, I had a very strong and uncomfortable dysphoria attack (I wrote about it here).

After I began unpacking just why I had such a bad reaction that night, a friend who I was with pointed out that it may have been the old group of friends being there.

I think he may have had a point. In itself, there was nothing wrong with seeing my friends. It was lovely. But some of my discomfort may have stemmed from that group taking me back to old reactions - thinking about unpleasant (for me) responses and coping mechanisms, that I was either stressed thinking about or simply scared of regurgitating again.

I wonder if this and my feeling of memories being somehow 'wrong' now are related: I can remember minor responses, sounds, and people reacting to me as if I was male. So even though my emotional reactions may be similar, all the trappings and little details seem wrong.

It may seem like these are minor things, but I suspect they add up.

Even little decisions I'd make - when to go home from a place, how to do it, or what I was wearing, seem increasingly wrong - even knowing full well I was presenting and identifying as male back then.

I will be curious to see how this feels in six months, a year or even a decade from now. How much weirder will it be to think back to my other life?

I have begun to notice a lot of questions that I get asked with some frequency, and I've decided to do the typical thing of jamming my common responses all in one place.

To be clear here, I'm not writing these angrily with two fingers because I'm tired of answering them necessarily, but because it's interesting and damnit, I'm procrastinating! So if you've asked me these in the past, please don't instantly think it's a passive-aggressive sledge aimed at you or anyone else specifically.

As always, these answers are a combination of my own experiences, talking to other trans people, and reading articles & books on these subjects. So please be aware that, as always, if you are talking to someone who isn't me, they may happen to prefer different terms, have different answers, or be bothered by different questions than me.

Q: So are you going to be dating men now, or...?
A: No. Sexual attraction is independent of gender identity. I am still attracted to women.

Q: So should I call you a lesbian, then?
A: Short answer: Sure. Long answer: If you like. This is one area where I am largely okay with whatever label you prefer. While I am predominantly attracted to women, I have on rare occasion had feelings for men, albeit not really in the realm of sexual attraction. When I refer to myself, I tend to just use 'queer' as a term, unless I have reason to be very specific. While I don't expect my sexual preferences will change (at least, certainly not as a result of HRT, which tends not to alter sexual preferences), I am also cautious not to make any more assumptions about myself, given how well I was able to sit in denial about my gender dissonance for so long.

Q: When I'm referring to you in the past-tense, should I call you Elissa?
A: Yes. Anything else would be deadnaming (referring to someone by their pre-transition name).

Q: What about your gender identity in the past tense? Do I refer to you as 'he' back before you came out?
A: No. Generally speaking, it is polite to use someone's preferred pronoun retroactively, regardless of how aware or public they were about their gender identity at any stage in the past.

Q: What about the extremely past-tense? Would I be okay to say something like 'when she was a little girl'?
A: This is where it gets a bit fuzzy. It does seem a little strange to use a specific term like that, as even though at a very young age I felt deeply uncomfortable and 'wrong' being referred to a boy, and even explicitly knew I didn't "want to be a boy", but I did not actively think of myself as a girl. But generally, I'd say this: there's no need to use gendered terms in that way. "When she was a little kid" works fine.

Q: If terms and pronouns get retroactively applied, does this mean your past relationships should also retro-actively be referred to as lesbian relationships?
A: So, here's the thing: at the time of all my past relationships, I thought of them, as did my partners (I presume) as heterosexual relationships, as did (presumably) anyone who saw us together or knew us as a couple. So to retro-actively declare them 'lesbian relationships' seems both not-quite-right and also dismissive and unfair (to me, anyway) to people who are in lesbian relationships and have to deal with whatever social issues these relationships cause.

The only complexity here comes in, I guess, with my most recent relationships, where I became accepting of my gender identity before the relationship ended. But even then, I still think it wouldn't feel 'right' to attempt to classify the relationship as lesbian.

This is a personal one, though, so please don't assume my feelings on the subject are somehow reflective of all trans people in similar situations.

Q: Are you going to get sexual reassignment surgery?
A: Short version: Why are you asking me this? Long version: I want you to imagine talking to a cis woman friend of yours. Imagine asking her, "So, hey, are you happy with your vagina and other lady-parts? Have you thought about a vaginoplasty? A labia tuck? Or have you considered a hysterectomy?"

It seems incredibly rude and invasive to ask such a personal question. And if you knew the person well enough to actually want to broach a subject like this, you'd probably be incredibly cautious about your wording and the context in which you asked it.

The same is true here. That it's okay to just randomly ask trans people about their genitals is a bizarre thing that people often seem to independently decide is okay, when they'd never dream of it with people they assume or know are cis.

Personally, I am generally okay with discussing this with my closer friends. But it's generally not my close friends who ask - it's often random strangers (no joke). So, please be cautious when asking this question of ANYONE. Just think of the vaginoplasty / hysterectomy example I used above and consider whether you'd be cool asking that instead.

Q: What does 'cis' mean and why do you use it?
A: Cisgender or cissexual are terms to denote someone who isn't transgender or transsexual. And like how the latter two terms tend to not be used so much these days, 'cis' or 'trans' tend to be the two ways of defining whether or not somebody's gender identity is in sync with the gender they were assigned at birth.

The reason for the term 'cis' existing is the same reason the term 'heterosexual' exists - because if you didn't have such a term, you'd be implicitly indicating that being hetero or cis is 'normal', and that somehow the other is 'abnormal' or even wrong.

It is not intended to be unpleasant or dismissive, and if you're cis, you probably have no more reason to constantly declare yourself as such any more than I have to prelude everything with how I'm trans.

(Oh, and if you're curious the etymology of 'cis'? It's taken from latin, as is 'trans'. Where 'trans' means 'across from', 'cis means 'on this side of'.)

Q: Shit. I just mis-gendered or deadnamed you! I'm so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?
A: That's okay. The best way to deal with this is just to correct yourself quickly and move on. If you dwell on it, you'll probably just make things awkward or uncomfortable for both of us and maybe others around.

The thing is this: especially if you've known me for a long time, the mental leap to changing your subconscious instinct to call me a different name or use a different set of pronouns for me can be tough to shake. So I don't hold it against you. It's only if it seems you're doing it constantly and not correcting yourself that I may really be offended, as that comes across as either lazy or malicious.

Q: How long does hormone replacement therapy take?
A: As my endocrinologist puts it, "we generally consider it a two-year process". As my GP puts it, "it's a process".

I am five months in at the time of writing, and am now on the highest dosage of oestrogen + progesterone I will likely ever be on. I will remain at this level for, most likely, another six months at least. At some point I will have my dosage lowered to 'maintenance' levels, and at some point physical changes will become less and less obvious and fast - although in the same way over time all peoples bodies change, I will probably continue to look more and more feminine even long after HRT has nominally been considered to be 'over', by simple virtue of weight going into different places, etc.

Q: Does hormone replacement therapy stop your beard from growing?
A: Not really, no. I am getting regular laser hair removal treatments to thin and (hopefully, eventually) remove my facial hair to both minimise any visible shadow, and stop the need to constantly shave it.

Q: Will your voice change?
A: Not really. Not as a result of any physical changes, anyway. My vocal range won't shift. That said, a few people have commented on my voice seeming 'different'. This is... largely unintentional.

There is actually quite an overlap between the typical vocal ranges of people who've been through both male and female puberties. A major factor in how we determine whether someone sounds like a man or a woman seems to be behavioural. We are trained to perform a certain way, and we often play up these masculine and feminine vocal patterns in certain situations, consciously or otherwise.

My vocal patterns might be a bit different now, and may continue to become slightly more different over time, but this will be a result of intentional vocal training on my part, or unintentional shifts in patterns.

However, it's also worth noting that I used to artificially talk deeper, when I was in denial and terrified of seeming 'girly' or feminine. I no longer do this. So what you hear now in my conversational tone and style now is natural for me; what you heard before wasn't.

You may have even noticed a shift before this - I used to tone up the machismo and deeper voice thing when I got nervous (when I was suffering from what I now know as particularly bad gender dysphoria).

But no, I likely won't magically start talking in a very high-pitched voice.

Q: So, to be clear... you're "trans"? What other terms do I need to know?
A: I am trans. More specifically, I am a trans woman. (The space between the words is important.) I was assigned male at birth (AMAB). I am currently transitioning (not trans-gendering or some other term), and that process began, effectively, the moment I realised and accepted my gender identity. This process won't really 'end' per se - and if I stopped referring to myself as being 'in transition', it's just a convenience. There is no simple way point at which to set some kind of end-goal.

Q: You don't seem to present hugely feminine a lot of the time. Are you going to do this more and more in future, or...?
A: This one's actually really complex, and needs some background. Bear with me, I'm going somewhere with all this...

Here's a good way to think of it: consider gender and sexuality as having three spectrums on which you can measure or identify yourself.

Firstly, there's gender identity. This is the gender (as different from your biological sex) you identify as. It may be man, woman, non-binary, gender-fluid, or anything else, really. But the majority of people you know probably identify as a man or a woman, and a further majority probably find this identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth based on the external appearance of their sexual organs.

(If this seems confusing or 'overly complicated', consider that about 1 in every 1500 or 2000 babies born have variations in physical sex characteristics enough for this to not be as simple as it seems - these people are generally referred to as being intersex. This can be obvious, or not obvious at all. It has no bearing on their gender identity, but can be uncomfortable if medical intervention is made at a young age to 'fix' this, resulting in a physical sex that doesn't fit the gender identity of the person.)

Secondly, there's sexual orientation. Again, this is independent of the gender you're assigned at birth and your gender identity. This indicates what the predominant pattern of your sexual attractions. This might be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual/omnisexual, pansexual, sapiosexual or... a ton of other things. These categories / terms are usually self-described. But in a sense, these get a bit muddier when you consider gender identities as well. It's also worth noting that you'll sometimes find the term 'bisexual' is avoided, as it does play up the binary / essentialist (that is, everyone is "male" or "female") view of gender that is generally increasingly rejected as both imprecise and problematic.

And thirdly, there's another that is less frequently discussed or considered: gender expression. This may or may not match your gender identity perfectly.

A man whose gender expression or gender performance is a bit more feminine than is considered 'normal' in our culture might find himself labelled as 'camp', or even some other more derogatory terms. If he's heterosexual, he might find himself called 'metrosexual', or worse. This probably has no bearing on his sexuality.

A woman whose gender expression or gender performance is more masculine might find herself often being referred to as a tomboy, or 'butch'. She may prefer more traditionally-masculine clothing stylings, or have a more 'masculine' way of talking / behaving. This probably has no bearing on her sexuality either.

Which brings me to me. I do sometimes wear dresses (increasingly, as I find I like the way they fit on me and how they look on my body) but I still tend toward pants and tops. They tend to be tighter than they might have been before, as that is comfortable and a look that I prefer for myself, but they are almost always still clothes bought from the women's section of a clothing store.

Think of the number of cis "tomboys" you've known in your life. How you probably didn't think much of it. You probably didn't make assumptions about their gender identity or sexual preferences as a result of their personal style choices, either.

The only real difference between us is (probably) that I am trans. Plenty of trans women like very feminine stylings, and plenty prefer a more gender-neutral or even slightly masculine presentation, like me.

It has no bearing on our gender identity. Our identity is our identity, and our dress sense is our dress sense.

Not the most high-level of blog posts, but I wanted to make sure I wrote about this.

Tonight I had a very strong, difficult period of gender dysphoria in a way I haven't had in months. Or, to put it more accurately - in a way I never have before.

First, I need to re-cap a bit that I've covered (in slightly less detail) before...

I used to get frequent moments of discomfort, usually in public, but they weren't something I could pin down. It didn't fit the bill of anxiety or depression, but it was closest to anxiety. I didn't know why I felt so anxious so quickly, and I didn't know how to cope with them. My old coping mechanism when I was still trying to present and perform 'male', was to amp that up. I'd get macho and I'd try to dominate the social space around me, usually resulting in me acting like a massive twat.

Once I accepted that I was not a cis male after all, I began to realise what I was feeling was gender dysphoria. Once I had accepted that, it became easier to figure out what was triggering it (as it turns out, almost anything) and what I could do to feel better (as it turns out, almost nothing).

Once I saw doctors and had a date to begin HRT set, I began to feel a bit better. Not much better, but I could count on these moments of dysphoria maybe every day or two, rather than numerous times a day.

Once I began HRT, these moments very quickly began to vanish. Not entirely, but they became manageable. Even when I was still being taken for male, somehow knowing I was transitioning and knowing that at best I was just 'playing' at being male, like an acting gig, made it okay.

They would still sometimes happen, usually when far from a 'safe' space. (Home, a close friend's place, even the rare instance of a bar that I felt comfortable at - usually ones with unisex bathrooms. No, seriously, it's amazing how stressful just worrying about using bathrooms in public places can be.)

But they began to happen less and less.

Until tonight, when I had one of my worst few hours of dysphoria. But it felt different to what I felt before, to the extent that I didn't realise what was going on. Partly, I guess, because it'd been a while. If I'd realised what was going on I'd have told my friends - I was with a few that I trust completely. But I didn't, so it wasn't until I was finally at my doorstep that I broke down crying and began to unpack the whole night.

This gnawing fear had begun, that I looked masculine. Too masculine. That people were perceiving me as male.

I'm lucky. I've had difficulty passing as 'male' well enough to even have people accept my old photo ID for a good few months now (although that brings its own problems). With makeup on, I feel comfortable that I look feminine. At least, feminine 'enough' to make me comfortable. In fact, even without makeup on I'm increasingly comfortable with how I look.

Normally, when I get these moments of body/mental image dissonance (I often use the term 'residual self-image' from The Matrix to explain how my mind flicks back to thinking I look like I used to a year ago) I look in a mirror.

Or I stare down at my body to remind myself that I am increasingly feminine & curvy.

Or I take a selfie.

But tonight, nothing seemed to help. Maybe not helped by the darkness and the crowds, but little I could would settle my brain down.

The funny thing is that I am not enormously distressed by being mis-gendered. Even when I'm presenting how I was tonight, which is women's clothing with a punk/butch kind of style, being mis-gendered still happens and at worst I sigh a bit or find it a mild inconvenience.

But when I get it in my head that I look too masculine - that I have the wrong body - it can be hard to shake. And tonight, nothing I did would shake that.

My biggest concern about that is how bad I was tonight. How I didn't even really fully figure out the level of dysphoria I was feeling. How it happened somewhere that I'm normally comfortable (wandering around places I like with friends I am close to).

And how travelling away from any 'safe' places (emotionally) would make this more and more difficult for me. What would I do if this happened overseas? Or even interstate?

It's hard not to experience these kind of things and end up feeling very, very fragile and helpless.

Over the last while I've been increasingly noticing something that has gone from a minor annoyance to something I'm really quite frustrated with.

It'd been simmering for a while, but several people posting and re-posting 9gag article ("26 Times Men Recreate Clichéd Female Instagram Snaps And Nail It (By Bros Being Basic)") kind of hit the tipping point for me.

To be clear, many of the images in the article are pretty funny. Some are even rather hot, and/or simply very inventive. As it was succinctly put by a friend this morning: "it's less the content that's offensive, and more the curation of it".

There seems to be a general unspoken consensus that women posting selfies is one of those 'safe' things to mock. Certainly amongst men, but sometimes amongst women, too. It'd be hard to tell if any women in that number were bothered by this, as many of us are more comfortable sitting quietly through this periodic scatter-shot mockery rather than stand up for something which we're told is narcissistic.

The problem is this: women are constantly told that our appearances are important. The degree of expectation that we will present a certain way - the bare minimum expected effort spent on appearance - is generally much, much higher than for men.

Public judgement of our bodies and personal presentation is far more prevalent than for men, who can wander outside un-shaven, un-showered, in two-day-old pants and sandals without comment in many places.

What this has to do with selfies is this: there is a built-in acceptance that even though women are told our appearances are important, and that our bodies are public property for all to critique, even the slightest hint that we may take pride or pleasure in doing things we're told we effectively have to do anyway is narcissistic and wrong.

This is fundamentally fucked.

The very least that can be done is to not mock women who decide to actively enjoy the experience of playing with their personal style, and choose to be show even a hint at being happy with their body. It doesn't matter how you judge this woman's appearance, either. Whether she's larger, smaller, made-up or 'natural', wearing expensive clothes or op-shop-chic. Her desire to enjoy this aspect of her life that she may not easily be able to escape anyway should never be the target for ridicule or dismissal.

Thing is, this extends to men too. Men Who Take Selfies is almost an even bigger target for mockery, as they are daring to do something which is not only considered a 'feminine' and even immature thing to do, but also daring to take an interest in their personal appearance.

The same thing is seen when a rare event occurs: a new male fashion trend that escapes into the mainstream. Examples I can think of relatively recently are top-knots, which I saw people roundly mocking.

This, also, is fundamentally fucked.

The mockery of men trying anything with their dress and style that isn't ultra-conservative is enormously problematic, as it re-enforces the idea that style and appearance is feminine and that there is something laudable and masculine about not giving a shit how you look.

By engaging in any of this kind of derision or mockery, you are re-enforcing the damaging gender stereotypes that cause problems for people of all gender identities, and are also re-enforcing to young women that their looks, dress and style is not something they can ever fully take ownership or enjoy.