Dysphoria, Body Neutrality, and Neutral Bodies
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Dysphoria, Body Neutrality, and Neutral Bodies

We spend at least 3 years of our school life learning reproduction in living beings, out of which 50% is about the plant kingdom. There is one chapter on human reproduction, which gives out extremely selective information about the biological reality of our species. There is never any mention of normal variations in chromosome combinations, or hormonal variations, or even variations of external genitalia (which occur more often than one assumes). In the guise of taking an extremely ‘scientific’ approach, we are indoctrinated into the binaries of sex and gender. We’re taught that breasts are secondary sex organs, instead of underlining the fact that their primary function is nutrition of an infant. We’ve been told that humans as a species are dimorphic in nature (which means that we have two starkly different bodies for males and females of our species) but nobody adds that of all the animal species- humans are the least dimorphic. 

Humans display relatively limited sexual dimorphism even when compared to other primates. Sexual dimorphism in humans is the subject of much controversy. To give an accurate picture of male and female differences one would need to show how many individuals there are in each category, and there is a considerable overlap. This means that we’re constantly trying to look for and prove that there exists an ideal or even an ideal dichotomy but are finding so many exceptions, leading us towards a wonderful realisation that even something as fundamentally biological as sex cannot be put into a neatly labelled box. In fact, it is now common knowledge that the determination of biological sex in the womb as the fetus develops is also a multistage process which is only partly governed by the genetic information available.

The “genetic switch” in sex determination acts only once at a very early point in fetal development and only determines whether the gonads become testes or ovaries. From that point on it is not the chromosomes (which still determine assignment of sex) but actually the hormones produced by these gonads that determine biological sex. These hormones act by mediating an extremely complex series of events that activates genes required to build male structures or by allowing the development of female structures. As sexual development continues, these hormone-mediated processes continue to govern the physical aspects of sexual differentiation.

With all of this information, it is safe to say that there are so many points of variability in the development of a body even before the child is born, let alone as the child grows older, that we cannot stick to the binaries of sex or gender without actively erasing the diversity of experiences – both biological and internal.

So much of our identity and expression is rooted in our bodies and how we and our society perceives it. No matter how secure we may feel about ourselves, our appearance has a major influence on our confidence. Confidence may not always be a static state of being, especially when we are faced with pre existing dilemmas about our own ideals as well as those of society. Our confidence and the love we may or may not have might fluctuate constantly. When you throw dysphoria into the mix, the soup created isn’t easy to digest. What do I mean by dysphoria? For some transgender or nonbinary people, the difference between the gender they are assumed to be at birth and the gender they know themselves to be can lead to serious emotional distress that affects their health and everyday lives. However, it is not necessary to experience dysphoria as a trans or nonbinary person.

Here is where body neutrality plays a large role in helping trans* youth and adults improve their self perception and be better able to tackle the struggles of day-to-day life. Because, sometimes it’s really hard to think good thoughts about the body you’re in, especially when the body doesn’t truly represent your Self. In such situations, the pressure to be grateful or compliment the body is colossal. Instead, finding things that are not necessarily good, but not necessarily bad about your body can help. For example – my right pinky finger can bend all the way backwards, which does not influence my gender identity in any way, but is still cool. The toes on my left foot are fused together since birth, and it’s not good or bad, it just is. It’s a slow process and it may not always make you feel perfect, but it does help at least pause the truly awful feelings. Sometimes it works as a stepping stone to acceptance, but sometimes it just stays neutral, and that’s okay too. Better than [insert your least favorite dysphoric experience here], anyway.

If you want to understand how to phrase your statements so that they’re not dysphoria inducing, or so that you’re more mindful – check out this link. If you want to understand in greater detail at how dysphoria interacts with the body positivity movement or how to make it better, you can check out this amazing Podcast with Dr. Allegra Gordon and LB Moore.

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