How Grey’s Anatomy Helps Me Cope with Gender Dysphoria

Writer Jam Bridgett shares their experiences in dealing with gender dysphoria and how watching Grey’s Anatomy helped them explore their need for top surgery, and the aftermath of being cared for and healing.

I first saw an episode of Grey’s Anatomy at some point in high school. Then, I watched in disgust as much as I watched in awe. I was squeamish at the sight of blood — even my own. Still, there was something that fascinated me about the show. 

In the years since I first caught a glimpse of a random episode, I have watched the entirety of the 16 seasons five or six times. Something different draws me back every time. I love the depth and diversity of the characters. Other than Glee and Degrassi, I had rarely, if ever, seen lesbians on TV. I don’t know if I’d seen many Black doctors on-screen other than Doctor Doolittle.

But this isn’t a story about the beauty and magic of representation. More than the characters, I was drawn to the medicine and the mystery that is the human body. I liked learning about the body’s complexity. I liked learning about all the possible ways a body could be twisted and contorted in the name of healing. More than the medicine, I was drawn to the stories. Grey’s Anatomy is about the depth and pain that is being human. As a writer, I’ve always been drawn to stories that make me question my own and others’ humanity. 

Every other time I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy I have been watching for the characters, for the medicine and for the stories. Since I’ve been trapped inside my head and trapped inside my house in the name of our collective health, I’ve resorted to watching many of the old shows that once kept me company. In the past 6 months, I’ve watched Gossip Girl, Glee, and now Grey’s Anatomy (something about that letter G). I re-watched Gossip Girl and Glee for the sheer nostalgia. Now, six seasons into Grey’s Anatomy, I realize I began watching it for an entirely different reason.

The first thing I did when I came to the acceptance that I was indeed a trans person in need of surgical intervention to complete my transition was scour YouTube – for hours, sometimes for days. Now it’s been almost three years with this particular knowledge of self and in all honesty, I think I’ve exhausted all the resources YouTube has to offer. If someone has made a video about top surgery and posted it to YouTube, chances are I’ve seen it. Frankly, videos about top surgery just don’t scratch my itch like I need it to, like it used to. So in the middle of the night one night, instead of typing YouTube into my search bar, I found myself typing Netflix instead. And my love affair with Grey’s Anatomy began again.

I’m usually quite self aware, at least I think I am, at least my therapist says I am. Yet, it took me six seasons to realize what called me back this time. I found myself drawn to the incision sites this time around. I found my eyes following the scalpels as they worked their magic. Instead of watching hours of video diaries of others’ experiences, I buried myself in hours of episodes of pretend surgeries. Something shifted inside of me – it stopped being about top surgery specifically and started being about surgery in general. It stopped being about transition and started being about this elusive goal of being cut, being cared for and healing. 

Artwork created by author Jam Bridgett

Getting to watch countless episodes allowed me to reframe my thoughts around top surgery. Instead of being the patient alone, I get to be the doctors, the patient, and their loved ones. I get to be the healer, the caregiver, the one with all the solutions. I get to be the clay and the hands moulding it. I get to be the witness and the work of art. I get to acknowledge the multitude of people, of possibilities, of perspectives within me. 

Transition – altering one’s physical self, one’s pronouns, one’s expression of self – changes one’s relationship to the external world, just as it reflects one’s relationship with self. As I began to consider transition a possibility for myself, I started to see myself differently. I started to see myself as a doctor, not just as a patient. As the artist and as the canvas. 

Transition is about autonomy. I was born one day and my body was given a particular name that leaves a bitter, sour flavour in my mouth. So I decided to change my body’s name and my body. We don’t all choose to change both, but I have. Being able to make that choice, to make that change is the essence of transitioning. 

Surgery is not the foundation or end goal of transitioning. But they essentially come from the same need. When I had my knee surgery in the tenth grade, it was to alleviate pain. When I go on to have top surgery, hopefully one day soon, it will be to alleviate pain. Pain can come in almost any form. What’s most important is having a good doctor with the right diagnosis. As both the doctor and the patient, only I can decide what is the right course of treatment to relieve my pain. I am best able to advocate for my own needs and desires. I have to be the one to see this whole transition all the way through.

On Grey’s Anatomy patients come and go, and for the most part they leave the hospital happy and healed. The pretend doctors and the pretend patients make it all seem that easy. But trans people, chronically ill people, disabled people, Black people, fat people can tell you receiving one’s due medical care is never that simple. The interpersonal and systemic barriers marginalized communities face, particularly through the medical field, are rarely depicted in Grey’s Anatomy (bringing me back to my point about not fawning over all representation). 

As comforting as it is to watch skin being sliced, and bodies being ripped open, I also appreciate turning off my brain for hours at a time and filling it with stories and moving images. It helps distract me from the otherwise constant buzzing of dysphoria ringing in my ears. As I watch I don’t have to focus on my discomfort or my sadness, or my body, or what I can do to conceal it. I can instead embody the many people I see on screen. I can instead focus on the diagnosis, on the first cut, on the blood. I can focus on the idea that I will one day be in a hospital bed and call myself the patient. 

The author deals with gender dysphoria by watching Grey's Anatomy.

Artwork created by author Jam Bridgett

Watching Grey’s Anatomy allows me to watch people become. Transitioning is all about becoming — becoming closer to myself, becoming closer to my imagination, becoming comfortable and confident in my body, becoming home to myself. Some of the joy of watching Grey’s Anatomy is watching people become healed, watching people become whole, watching people become capable. Just like I will be after top surgery. 

Written by Jam Bridgett

Artwork by Skylar Kardon

Read more: 6 Films That Actually Feature Trans Actors in Trans Roles

Jam Bridgett

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