It is really, really hard to bridge the inferential distance between gender dysphorics and non-gender-dysphorics.

Of course, all inferential gaps are hard to bridge. But I’ve been able to explain borderline personality disorder, chronic suicidality, autism, and depression fairly well, but gender dysphoria has continually stymied me. And I don’t think I’m alone– anecdotally, I see “what the fuck does gender dysphoria feel like?” a lot more often than I see “what the fuck does autism feel like?”

I think some of it is that gender dysphoria just doesn’t have a lot of analogues in most people’s everyday experience. This is particularly true of social dysphoria. Most people can understand what it means to have a body that feels like it doesn’t belong to you: they can imagine feeling phantom limbs, they can imagine the feeling you get after a really really radical haircut where you can’t recognize yourself in the mirror, except you never get used to it. But social dysphoria? The thing where I recognize that I have a uterus, breasts, a vagina, and as far as I know every other trait that typically leads one to classify others in the category “woman”, but the concept of being classified as a woman makes me want to sob? That’s bizarre. I honestly cannot think of another circumstance in which people have preferences about what categories they’re put in, completely separately from both objective facts and how the members of the categories are treated.

I also think that gender dysphoria itself makes it hard to feel like one is gender dysphoric. The sixth criteria for gender dysphoria is “a strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gen­der (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender).” Notably, this does not require that one actually have the typical feelings or reactions of another gender. Indeed, while my subconscious is firmly convinced that I have the feelings and reactions of a typical nonbinary, my conscious is not entirely sure what that would even mean.

I suspect this criterion leads to typical mind fallacy on steroids. In particular, I suspect that this criterion is what leads to the lack of recognition among trans people that cis people vary in how strongly they care about their genders. We believe we have the typical reactions and feelings of a [gender]; we feel enormously distressed when misgendered; by extension, people who are [gender] must feel enormously distressed when misgendered. This makes it a lot harder to bridge the inferential distance, because in addition to the normal tendency to underestimate how large inferential distances are, we have our gender dysphoria making us think our reactions are more typical than perhaps they actually are.

There’s another factor I think matters: the fact that people tend to rationalize their irrational desires. For instance, I struggle with a strong aversion to going outside. One of the ways this manifests is that my brain will come up with elaborate justifications about why browsing Tumblr is totally more important and urgent than buying food so I don’t starve to death. And the weird thing is that until I explain my logic to someone else– at which point I usually go “wait, this doesn’t make any fucking sense”– it makes as much sense as any other reasoning which I have.

So we gender dysphorics have this irrational desire to be classified in a particular group. Naturally, we wind up rationalizing why we want this. I know a lot of trans lesbians who think “girls are pretty and boys are ugly! Of course I want to be a girl, who is pretty, rather than those awful ugly boys.” I’ve met quite a few ardent trans male feminists who talk about the tiny box that patriarchy puts women into, making them feel trapped in a gender role no one could bear to live within; similarly, a lot of trans women wind up passionate about the soul-destroying ravages of toxic masculinity or, alternately, the many benefits unfairly granted to women because of female privilege.

None of these are, of course, the real explanation for why we’re trans. Cisgender men do not generally want to become women to take advantage of female privilege, free themselves from toxic masculinity, or finally get to be pretty. The real answer for why we’re trans is “I dunno, I guess I just want to?” But that is deeply unsatisfying, so we– often subconsciously– come up with better explanations. Unfortunately, these explanations are not true, and make it significantly harder to explain our experiences.