Gender dysphoria is the distress transgender people can feel in a body that doesn’t match their identity. Here, Charlie Craggs shares her experience
The story of a woman born in the wrong body
Pictures covering one mirror, a blanket over the other, lights dimmed to their lowest, I spent my early twenties going to great lengths to avoid looking at the face and body that sickened me. I was experiencing gender dysphoria and, in my male body, I didn’t just feel ugly, I felt wrong. I was four years old when I first told my mum I wanted to be a girl. My parents always let me be who I wanted to be and, as I grew older, I befriended girls and started wearing make-up. Everyone, myself included, assumed I was gay. Sure, I had to shoulder some insults on the West London council estate where I grew up but, for the most part, I could handle it. That is, until puberty set in. Confronted with the reality of my adult male body, I began to hate myself. At the boys’ school I attended, I had no friends – whole days would go by when nobody would speak to me, except to deliver homophobic abuse. I slipped into a depression so severe that, despite multiple stints on medication, by 16, I was contemplating suicide. When I left school to go to art college in London, my mental health only deteriorated further. Suddenly surrounded by gay people, I quickly realised that I wasn’t one of them. Instead, I gravitated towards the thriving drag scene. I had no interest in wearing full drag make-up and performing, but it gave me permission to wear foundation and a Topshop dress and grow my hair – and permission was what I needed. The louder the trans thoughts became, the harder I fought them. As far as society was concerned, trans people were murdered prostitutes on CSI or ‘freaks’ to be paraded on The Jerry Springer Show. If homophobic bullying had almost driven me to suicide, I reasoned, I could never cope with the abuse levelled at trans people. Then, one night, while shaving my beard, I turned the clippers on my hair. I hoped that once it was all gone, I’d see myself as a man. But all I saw in the mirror was a sad, scared little girl. I saw for the first time how sick I’d made my soul from trying to be someone I wasn’t. Transitioning would be hard, but it couldn’t be harder than living like this. In that moment, nothing and everything changed. I still had a man’s body but, for the first time in my life, I’d accepted myself. It was a moment so profound that, shortly afterwards, I came off antidepressants and haven’t needed them since. That’s not to say life was easy. Two years passed before I could get an appointment at a gender identity clinic to start taking female hormones. That period of living androgynously was one of the toughest of my life. Strangers would laugh, take pictures of me or even approach me on public transport to ask me outright what gender I was. The trans community was misunderstood and I was determined to remedy that. In 2014, I created Nail Transphobia, a pop-up nail bar where visitors could talk to a trans person, while getting a free manicure. I also learned that I could do little things for myself. Before a doctor could alter my biochemistry, I could fix my hair; when female hormones made me gain weight, I could take pleasure in moisturising my stretch marks. I didn’t have to wait to start caring for myself. The sad reality is that 48%† of young trans people have attempted suicide. It breaks my heart to think that any died because they couldn’t see a way to exist in our society. That’s why I published a book of letters by over 80 trans women – to show that we can live boldly and beautifully in this world as anything we choose: as politicians, as entertainers, as businesswomen – and most importantly, as ourselves.