Shoes as a metaphor for gender dysphoria

So I was writing my broad coming out letter tonight (it’s a little early, since I plan to wait for my voice to drop, but I was thinking about it, anyway), and I was anticipating what some people might say, sort of generic people rather than specific friends or family members.

One thing that I kept coming back to was the feeling of gender dysphoria, especially as a vague “something isn’t right” way that I had. How could I explain to cis folks the difference between questioning one’s gender identity (some flavor of trans) versus just going along with the assigned one and never really thinking to question it (cis, generally)? In trans spaces, there’s a common idea that if you’re questioning your gender, you’re probably not cis, or something like “cis people don’t think about their gender like trans people do.” An example from a gender therapist is here. Other examples are googleable.

I decided that shoes are a surprisingly decent metaphor for this. If your shoes are comfortable and they fit you, you don’t really notice them as much while wearing them. Maybe some passing thoughts, but not constant. On the other hand, if your shoes don’t fit in some major way, maybe they hurt or are way to big and slide around, walking in them means thinking about them much more than otherwise. Perhaps constantly or maybe just occasionally if you’ve learned to ignore the discomfort, but it’s always there in some way, shape, or form.

This is like the degree to which one’s assigned gender fits. If it fits, there’s little reason to think about or obsess about how well gender fits or how non-uncomfortable it is to present that way. I’ve talked with Fergus about his experience as a cis guy, and certain things just never occurred to him to personally consider. It just worked, right out of the box, no assembly required. For a trans person, however, the disconnect between internal gender identity and assigned gender is uncomfortable and readily on one’s mind.

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