Notes on Gender Role Transition

Anne Vitale Ph.D. Editor

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A Meditative Approach to Gender Dysphoria

Editor's Note:

By Lawrence M.  Tunis  Ed.D. LMFT

The term "gender dysphoria" probably means something different to almost everyone who experiences at least some level of discomfort with the gender to which they were identified at birth. For some individuals on the less intense end of the gender disturbance spectrum, there may simply be an undercurrent, a discomfort, a vague longing or an infatuation with a different gender expression. Yet for others situated toward the other end of the gender scale, the phrase "gender dysphoria” may actually sound much too tame. It may be that this latter group experiences gender discord as extremely intense and disturbing feelings, perhaps bordering on an overwhelming and growing desire to change their sex or an extreme preoccupation with their thoughts and feelings to the extent that they interfere with almost all aspects of their lives. If a gender transition is not in the cards for you or if you would simply like to keep your disturbing preoccupation with gender at bay most of the time and be more at choice about it and not so much at the effect of it, a meditative approach to gender dysphoria may be right for you.

This is not about trying to get rid of gender dysphoria because, sadly, it appears that there's no way that we can get rid of it. Gender variant feelings are one aspect of being human and for better or for worse, they are in the “hand that we have been dealt”. Disturbing preoccupation with gender variance often generates feelings of guilt and shame which actually may be part of their allure. Unwanted thoughts and feelings lead to fear and anxiety. Sometimes we may have fear and anxiety or disturbing thoughts for a very good reason. We need to pay attention or act on them at these times because they may have actual survival benefits. Most of the time though, as in the case of unwanted gender dysphoria, we don’t need them. It's when our thoughts and feelings begin to become troublesome and when we start to apply them to areas of our lives where it's not necessary or where it's not helpful, that they begin to become destructive. And that's when gender dysphoria becomes a real problem that we may want to address in less self-destructive ways other than to obsess about it.

So take this as a starting point. This is not about getting rid of your gender dysphoria, but about changing your relationship to it and becoming more at ease with it. Fundamentally, it’s about being okay with your often unwanted feelings when they arise in the mind so that you don't need to buy into them to the point where they greatly disturb and derail you. With this concept you don't push away from your feelings and you don't pursue them, but you also don't resist them. Instead, you become able to just watch your thoughts and feelings come and watch them go. That is a much more comfortable and really healthy place to be in relation to these emotions. Let’s be clear about what your motivation should be if you opt to successfully deal with your gender variant feelings with this approach. This isn't about getting rid of these feelings no matter how strong your drive to do so may be. This is about changing your relationship with these disturbing thoughts and feelings. And accomplishing this is not just for your benefit, but also for those around you. For if you are less stressed and more at ease with yourself, others around you will be more at ease, as well.

In grappling with the discomfort of gender discord and learning to live with it with less stress, it doesn't really matter where you are on the scale of gender variance. This approach may be of assistance to you whether you are dealing with mildly disturbing feelings relative to your gender conflict or really intense ones related to strong, often unwanted or plaguing thoughts and feelings of gender variance. This approach is about altering your relationship to gender dysphoria on a long-term basis and creating a greater sense of space in the mind regarding your concept of who you are. Note that the same instructions apply wherever you are in your gender conflict. We're talking about changing your relationship with gender dysphoric feelings and in so doing, changing your perspective toward them. This method is one to incorporate for the long term. It is not a short-term fix or a band-aid. If you have suffered from gender dysphoria for many years, your feelings may have become almost hard-wired. It would be unrealistic to expect in applying this approach that you can deal with them rapidly. Although doing this takes some time and dedication, you may find actually some quick relief here. If you do though, there is the danger that you may stop the exercise prematurely and your disturbing thoughts and feelings may creep back in.

So try this approach with a meditative and mindfulness exercise that is magnificent in its simplicity and really works. Sit in a comfortable position. Try counting your breaths. Count “one” with the rise of breathing and “two” with the fall. When you get to ten, stop and start over again at one. If you forget where you are, go back to “one” and begin again. Eventually you can learn to let go of the counting and just be present with the mind. Notice if what is coming up is “thinking” or is it “feeling”? Observe if you become distracted by the chatter of your mind. Note what is occurring. Is it a thought or is it a feeling? Imagine that what you are experiencing is like clouds floating across the sky. Just practice letting them float by and refocus on your breathing. And when you're done with this identification process, remind yourself to gently bring the attention back to the breath and back to the rising and falling sensation of breathing and counting. The idea is to work towards a place where this really feels quite seamless and comfortable.

Again, be realistic in the idea that this is a long-term move towards a sustainable sense of ease in the mind and freedom from gender dysphoria. This isn't some kind of quick fix strategy or that overnight your disquieting feelings will simply just disappear. You need to come to terms with the idea that this is not about eliminating anxiety in relation to your gender dysphoric feelings as this method is about a longer-term approach of learning to let it go. Accomplishing this is a large part of the meaning of this exercise. Do the exercise on a daily basis for 10 minutes each day. Remember, practice makes perfect.

I wish you every success!

Very truly yours, Lawrence M. Tunis, Ed. D, LMFT