A Day In the Life with Gender Dysphoria
By Mila Madison
I always had a strange relationship with my reflection. For as long as I can remember it has been a problem. It doesn’t matter if it is a mirror, a window, a lake or even a photo of myself staring back at me. The effects of seeing my own image can sometimes be catastrophic. Sometimes not as severe, but it almost always ruins my day.
“IT WAS ALMOST AS IF MY REFLECTION WAS NOT STATIC. IT WOULD LITERALLY MORPH BEFORE MY EYES. I COULD NEVER FIGURE OUT WHY.”
It would start when I got out of the shower. As I approached the steamed up mirror in the bathroom I would usually like the fogged up version of myself staring back at me. I was not sure why at the time. As I would wipe away the fog it would usually result in disappointment as I saw what I thought to be the real me. I would spend so much time trying to be comfortable with what I saw. I would mess with my hair in a million different ways, desperate to fix the way I looked. I would often change clothes to hide the body I saw. It was not comfortable for me to look at it. My jawline, or jowls as I often refer to it, used to just bother me. It was almost as if my reflection was not static. It would literally morph before my eyes. I could never figure out why.
I would get myself ready the best I could. I would almost always be late to wherever I was going, be it a performance as a musician, a family event or just meeting with friends. I was always too embarrassed to explain why. I felt guilty for being so vain. I was always someone who prided themselves on keeping it together mentally, but here I was entrenched a midst these moments of weakness. Then as I arrived at my destination I would wait for the defining moment that would cement what was going on in my mind. It could be a day where I thought I looked my best. I was happier with myself only to be asked if I was okay because I looked horrible or tired. Sometimes it was the other way around. I looked like garbage only to receive compliments when I arrived.
“I BEGAN TO REALIZE THAT MAYBE I HAD NO IDEA EXACTLY WHAT I LOOKED LIKE.”
I remember doing tons of photo shoots in my music career. I was always amazed at how I appeared as a completely different person from shot to shot. Often more bad, never really good and usually settling on the most acceptable result. I began to realize that maybe I had no idea exactly what I looked like.
It was not until I began dealing with the gender issues I had all my life did I realize this was a result of gender dysphoria. As I first sat down with a therapist I shared my story about the mirror. Something I never shared before. It was the first time I was asked about what exactly it was that I didn’t like as I looked at my reflection. As I described what I saw feature by feature including my jaw and the body issues, she quickly pointed out that these were masculine features that bothered me. I felt stupid as I never thought to equate my gender struggles with my mirror problem. The reason I could not get out the door or some days not even get out of bed. The reason I often felt crippled. I just never made the connection. From there I was officially diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.
With my new revelation I did everything I could to understand what this “dysphoria” was. I read countless articles, books and medical journals. I learned that everyone’s experience with it is different. I also learned that what I had always known as a severe case of vanity and self-loathing combined with severe mental issues was actually a physical problem. I had a physical disconnect between my female brain and my physical body. I would later learn that both my brain and body were craving estrogen. The mental issues I was experiencing were a result of this physical disconnect. I realized I liked the fogged up version of myself in the steamed up mirror because it hid those masculine features. I saw Mila in that fog and would always be disappointed as I wiped her away.
“I CHISELED AWAY AT THE EVIL ATTACKER I USED TO SEE IN THE MIRROR. THE MASCULINE FIGURE THAT RAPED ME WITH TESTOSTERONE. THE PERSON I HAVE BEEN RUNNING FROM ALL MY LIFE.”
Now armed with a wealth of knowledge and the help of my therapist I considered myself an expert on the subject. I was ready to beat it as my body was now getting the hormones it needed. I was strong enough mentally to deal with this, at least I thought.
Things did start to get better though. I was armed with the proper hormones and countless hours of laser and electrolysis. My body began to change and sometimes I would even like the way it looked. My face became fuller and I grew my hair longer like I had it when I was younger. I chiseled away at the evil attacker I used to see in the mirror. The masculine figure that raped me with testosterone. The person I have been running from all my life. Though sometimes he would still appear, it would be in bits and pieces.
I could never accept that my therapist told me my mind is seeing things that aren’t really there. Just one hair on that jaw and I swear I look like Paul Bunyan. Though my wife and everyone I know will say they can’t even see one hair, I don’t believe them. As far as I am concerned I am ready to audition for the band ZZ Top when I look this way. I literally bounce from room to room, from mirror to mirror until I find one where I look good. This has become part of my daily routine.
Though I am not sure if it will ever fully go away it certainly gets better with transition. It also helps to understand what is going on. I started to look at lighting and photography with the hope that I may find some clarity along with a little reality for what I was seeing. I learned the concept of masculine and feminine lighting and how the angles of this light will affect what you see in the mirror. I Learned that this was the reason the mirror I always had the best luck with was the one by my front door. I liked this mirror best because it was in a spot where the light would shine through the window at just the right angles through most of the day.
I then stumbled upon this video which demonstrates what I am talking about when it comes to angles causing masculine and feminine lighting. It literally freaked me out and to this day it triggers my dysphoria. It is with warning I share it with you.
So now I was aware that all the crazy things I am seeing is often triggered by lighting and angles. It made me realize that in order to get out of the house on a daily basis I will need to do something about the lighting where I get ready every day. This was now essential to my survival.
In the world’s most romantic move by a spouse, my wife went and built me a vanity. She even incorporated my favorite mirror into it so I could use it to get ready. I am the luckiest girl in the world as she may just have saved my life. We then went and bought strip lights and attached daylight bulbs that most resemble real sunlight. With this new setup not only would I no longer see one shadow on my face, but Major League Baseball teams could now play their games in my bedroom.
I am not sure if I will ever beat gender dysphoria. I certainly have gotten better at dealing with it. Especially with my new vanity. Only time will tell. I still get scared when I am about to swipe the mirror clean. Sometimes I am happy because I see Mila, sometimes I am sad because I see Paul Bunyan. And when I do there is always tomorrow.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and peace,
P.S. – Click here for a good video on how to build your own vanity