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Gender, Queerness, and Dissociation

an LGBTQ+ Pride flag with black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple stripesI sometimes tell people that I am living like a ghost. Since I was a child I have felt detached from my body due to dissociation. Dissociation can be all-consuming, and a highly subjective experience. Sometimes, it feels as if I float above my physical body slowly, or incredibly quickly, and I lose any conception of self so much that I feel person-less, genderless, and transparent.

I have come to understand my dissociation as presenting itself in different ways. Sometimes I am away from my physical body. At other times I am still highly aware of my physicality, but just no longer myself. It can feel like waking up from a trance and finding a new body at the helm. Because my sense of self has been fragmented for so long, I am used to being different parts of myself, different ages, different memories, and different subsets of my identity. If you’re confused by all of this, don’t worry, I too am constantly confused by myself. However, I’ve grown used to it and I really appreciate how dissociation is a defense mechanism that has saved me in the past.

My dissociative disorders have always been tied to my queerness. Both are so intrinsically linked that they will always inform each other as I grow and heal. As I grew up in a Latinx heterosexual and gendered culture, I always felt removed from my community and how they strictly defined the way a body and mind should exist. In many ways, being queer means simply being “othered.” Existing in a differently presenting body or mind not only screams “other,” but it will always unabashedly confront an ableist norm. As a child, I hated being forced into femininity and the way femininity existed in very strict ways in my culture. There are simply “correct” and “incorrect” ways to be a woman and I always failed to meet the criteria. I failed in the tiny ways such as not dressing up enough, and in the big ways such as giving up on dating the opposite sex. Even as a child, I grew frustrated at myself because I couldn’t “perform” the part as easily as my friends. And I also grew deeply jealous because gender and sexuality just looked so easy to them. My friends were always effortlessly beautiful and comfortable. Meanwhile, I didn’t know how to explain to people that sometimes I did feel like a woman, but sometimes the word “woman” made me feel nauseous or made me feel unsafe, and sometimes I felt so androgynous that it would bleed into body dysphoria – the kind of dysphoria that caused intense self-anger because I felt like I was in the wrong body. The fact is, I’d rather avoid female pronouns on a given day because I am mentally somewhere else.

My relationship with gender, body, and dissociation changed when I understood the essence of queerness. I don’t think queerness is simply about sexuality or different genders. I understand it as a liberating sense of existing. We exist as “other” because we don’t have a choice, but also because we know taking up space as “other” is our inherent right. Queerness is a thrilling and soothing liberation that presents revolutionary new possibilities in the face of black and white worlds. My queerness is a radical form of love and self-love, and I welcome contorting my body and my mind to make space for myself, and space for those I love, in spaces that might not understand how I come to exist. I love existing as a shapeshifter, moving through different genders and ways of being. My inherent fluidity is complex, irritating, and sometimes traumatizing. But I also recognize it as a gift that breaks every mold I encounter.

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