Empathy is a Knife

Here’s what it feels like to be trans, in a nutshell

Trying to describe the distinct pain of gender dysphoria isn’t easy. It’s a feeling that hits everyone differently, and trans folks aren’t a monolith. But when we talk to cis folks in the interest of helping them understand what we’re going through, having a familiar trope to lean on—like the controversial one of “born in the wrong body”—can be a big help.

It’s a hard thing to accomplish, but transmasc TikToker and musician Sasha Allen might have just hit on a perfect metaphor.

“I think a lot of people are transphobic literally because they can’t just empathize with what it feels like internally to be transgender,” he says in a recent video. “The way I’ve come to describe it is,” he continues, “think of a time where you went somewhere and you were wearing something that just sucked. You were like, why the f*ck did I wear this. You’re wearing the ugliest jeans in America. You’re like, ‘everyone’s looking at me,…I feel dirty and disgusting and f*cking ugly.”

Got it? Good. “Now think about wearing that outfit,” Allen continues, “from the moment you pop out of the womb til’ forever on.”

It’s an oversimplification, yes, but it gets remarkably close to the mixture of self-hatred, embarrassment, self-consciousness, and dysmorphia that hits trans kids early. “You’re wearing these jeans every day,” he continues, “and you’re like, ‘my butt looks flat and horrific. You say to someone, ‘hey, I’m thinking of ending my life because every day I walk around with a flat, disgusting a**,…I don’t feel comfortable in these skintight jeans that flatten my a**’, and the other person is like, ‘no you’re just mentally ill…keep the jeans on and go see a psychiatrist or something.”

Honestly, spot on. While others might minimize that feeling of extreme discomfort and chalk it up to a mental disorder, most trans folks are aware of just how painful it can be for your body to not look or feel right. We’ve all experienced the horrifying feeling of being stuck in public in a bad or embarrassing outfit—the difference is, most people can simply go home and change, removing the offending clothing and never thinking about it again. For trans folks, it can feel like you just can’t get away from this desperately uncomfortable, ashamed feeling that sticks to you wherever you go, no matter what you’re wearing.

“That’s what being trans feels like,” Allen concludes. “It’s like you’re wearing a tankini to a f*cking wedding.”

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Tags: TikTok Trans
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