Here's what having gender dysphoria feels like using an analogy everyone can understand

Transgender rights are some of the most controversial issues of the day. In recent years, there have been passionate fights in state and federal governments over transgender people's rights to serve in the military, gain access to gender-affirming healthcare, and use the appropriate restroom.

It's reasonable to believe that we could make more progress on these issues if people understood the experiences of transgendered people.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans have gained greater acceptance into mainstream society over the past few decades after becoming more visible.


When then-prime-time sitcom star Ellen Degeneres came out of the closet on her show in 1997 it was a landmark moment for gay rights because many Americans who weren't familiar with the community felt they knew Degeneres.

This led to greater understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

One way that we can help others better understand the transgender community is by explaining what it feels like to live with gender dysphoria. Many transgendered people experience gender dysphoria which, to put it simply, is the excruciating feeling of being trapped inside the wrong body.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, "Some people who are transgender will experience 'gender dysphoria,' which refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one's sex assigned at birth and one's gender identity."

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)1 defines it as "a marked incongruence between one's experienced/expressed gender and their assigned gender."

According to Black's Medical Dictionary, gender dysphoria occurs in one in 30,000 male-assigned births and one in 100,000 female-assigned births. A study published by Cedar's Sinai says that 73% of transgender women and 78% of transgender men first experienced gender dysphoria by age seven.

"Gender dysphoria can come from the body, where one may feel distress over a part of their anatomy, such as their genitals, chest, or hair," Jessie Earl writes for The Advocate. "Dysphoria can also come from social factors, such as not feeling comfortable wearing 'women's' clothing or being referred to by gendered pronouns.

These explanations provide a clear way for the medical community to understand gender dysphoria. But how do you get through to someone who's still stuck in an outdated mindset that being transgender is a form of perversion?

A Reddit user who goes by the name Cascadeon recently provided an easy-to-understand metaphor for what it feels like to live with gender dysphoria. Their simple answer is a great way to explain the issue to someone who has a hard time understanding what it's like seeing things from a transgendered perspective.

This is an analogy I used to tell people, I don't know if it helps but maybe.
Gender is a lot like a pair of shoes. If you have on a good, comfortable, well fitting pair, you don't notice it or think about it. As you walk around you aren't constantly thinking about your shoes and the comfort, it's just there and fine and normal and it doesn't concern you one single bit. It's almost hard to notice because if they feel fine it seems to silly and unimportant to spend energy thinking about it.

But if your shoes are too small and tight or there is a rock in them it's all you can think about. Every step is annoying and miserable and you don't want to do anything else until you fix this damned rock. Doing anything else seems crazy until your shoes stop hurting you.

So I think in that sense, most people probably can't really conceptualize the feeling of their gender well because it just fits right and always has, so it's hard to imagine how all the small, normal things just constantly feel wrong, even if you are alone in your home.

In the end, empathy is the key to understanding. By finding more effective ways to present the experiences of marginalized groups, we can bridge the gap between these communities and those who deny them their rights. Or, in other words, teach them what it's like to walk a mile in their shoes.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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