Interoception, Tokophobia, and Dysphoria: Sorting Out Gender in a Confused Body

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I have a phobia of pregnancy. A full on, nightmares and panic attacks phobia (it’s called tokophobia). When I think about the idea of my body growing and changing in ways that are out of my control and often highly unpredictable, I feel sick. The idea of another being using my body is terrifying. Add in the fact that pregnancy and childbirth often come with weird and wacky side effects that either no one tells you about or no one can predict, and I am 100% out. These are all the things that terrify me about having a body and that lead me to instantly imagine diving headfirst back into my eating disorder.

Unrelated fact about me (but maybe it will be related soon, we’ll find out together): when I was a child, I had some issues with going to the bathroom. Not like I wet myself. Like if I held my pee for too long, it would reverse and give me bladder infections. All of my earliest memories are related to these experiences: I remember the awful bubble gum flavored antibiotics I had to take every night. I remember the testing they did, where I’d go to the hospital and they’d pump my bladder as full as possible to see when it would happen (while my mother desperately tried to distract me from the pain and discomfort). I remember the surgery I got to correct it, which left a scar right over my pubic mound. I spent somewhere between 3 and 5 days in the hospital. I didn’t eat or sleep. I spent one full day after abdominal surgery puking. I just remember pain and boredom.

That was some personal shit, so let’s talk instead about genitals and reproductive organs.

You’ll notice that neither of these stories revolves directly around my experience of my genitals or my experience of clothing/gender roles/etc. Instead, it relates to my internal experience of my body (a sense called interoception). I don’t have great interoception. I’m pretty bad at noticing when I’m hungry or when I have to pee or when I’m thirsty (I used to think thirst was just a craving for ice cream. Not a joke). However, to me, it is still intimately tied to gender and sexuality. Most of these internal experiences come from the area around my genitals, the areas tied to sex and reproduction. While my bladder isn’t directly tied to giving birth, my stupid lizard brain only knows that it’s the same area where I get period pain and where sex happens, so it all gets tied in together.

My experiences of my own body feel foreign and fearful. I don’t know how to interpret this in my gender. Reproduction is so deeply gendered in our society that giving birth is intimately tied to being female (despite the fact that non women do give birth, and many women do not give birth). My phobia of pregnancy is inherently gendered because of that fact. I have dysphoria around experiences that in this society are explicitly “female”.

Where does this leave me in terms of gender? I KNOW that one of the elements of my gender identity is not only that I do not want to reproduce but I don’t want the ABILITY to reproduce. The fact that there’s still a uterus in me makes me vastly uncomfortable. My period makes me want to die (and for reference, my period is literally the chillest period ever to period. It lasts 5 days tops, is always a light flow, and rarely comes with cramps. But it still makes me hate myself and my body). I have dysphoria about these parts of my body.

What I don’t have is a particular desire to be a man. A penis with fucking sperm in it sounds just as bad as a vagina that makes babies. I don’t hate my genitals per se. But I have so much fear and anxiety about them that it almost translates into that.

I don’t have any clear bow to wrap up this series of thoughts. I’ve never heard a story like this one before, where the dysphoria is almost entirely about internal experiences and reproduction rather than the social role that is gender. I so rarely hear the discussion of “is this I hate my body or is this gender dysphoria?” How do traumatic body experiences create gender? I don’t know how to fit it into the narratives that currently exist. I don’t know how to name it.

Add in to the mix the fact that hating pregnancy is seen as an attack on women and you’ve got a recipe for silence and exclusion. So here I am. Talking about it. Letting it be seen. My gender is the kind that doesn’t reproduce. The kind that’s no uterus, no penis, no ovaries, nada. I’m me, not a parent. That’s it.