Gender euphoria! — Illustrated by Jan Broekhuizen
‘You have to realise that these people are not in an enviable position,’ says Ellie Lust. Along with Rik van de Westelaken, she reports on Pride 2019 for NOS. In the background, a festive boat full of dancing trans people moves through the canals of Amsterdam. Party music resounds through the city and people on the quays wave at the boat.
Ellie evokes the image of the tragic transgender struggling with inner conflict and social exclusion. Of course transgender people have many obstacles to overcome. However, there’s good news too: trans people also experience some fun things that cis people could never understand. This we call: gender euphoria.
To a certain extent we can thank the disproportionate attention given to gender dysphoria in the media, in healthcare and in the transgender community itself for this image of the tragic transgender. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as follows:
Gender dysphoria\ ˈjen-dər dis-ˈfȯr-ē-ə \ noun
a distressed state arising from conflict between a person’s gender identity and the sex the person has or was identified as having at birth
Gender dysphoria can be divided into two categories: social and body dysphoria. I personally suffer, from social dysphoria, which occurs when interacting with other people. When people see or hear me, they assume I’m a woman: the cashier in the supermarket who greets me with a ‘hello, madam’; the train conductor’s announcement starting with ‘ladies and gentlemen’; or a colleague who refers to me with ‘she’ and ‘her’ in a conversation. At times like those, I experience social gender dysphoria.
Luckily body dysphoria is less of a problem for me. Having my period does bother me, and from time to time I am extremely unhappy with my hips. In general I’m able to deal with it quite well, though, with a little help from certain clothes and various other tricks. Other trans people have a tougher time with body dysphoria than with social dysphoria.
In short, gender dysphoria takes different shapes for different people. And yet it is one of the main criteria for eligibility for trans healthcare.
The opposite of dysphoria is euphoria. This concept remains marginalised in public debate about trans people. It’s not even in the Dutch Van Dale dictionary. I’m going to make it easy for them. I would like to make it the Word of the Year 2020.
Gender euphoria gen·der eu·pho·ria noun
a feeling of well-being arising from affirmation of a person’s gender
Euphoria doesn’t receive nearly enough attention in healthcare, either. In my opinion it should be added to the (medical) checklist that psychologists use to determine whether someone is trans or not. After all, it’s a feeling that cis people certainly do not experience.
When do trans people experience euphoria? And what exactly does it mean? I put out an online survey for answers to these questions. 28 trans people responded with a number of beautiful, unique and diverse answers. I used their contributions to compile a list of ten advantages of being transgender, which you’ll unfortunately have to live without if you’re not trans.
1. Hi, my name is…
Trans people get to pick their very own official given name. Many choose to do so because their old name doesn’t suit them. Freedom! Imagine being cis and being stuck with the same name all your life…
The moment you introduce yourself to others with your new chosen name and the moment they use that name when talking about you… Those are moments of gender euphoria.
2. He/him, she/her, they/them…
It’s wonderful when someone finally refers to you with the correct pronouns: he, she or they. Pronouns have been a hot topic recently: singular “they” is finally recognised as a non-binary pronoun in English-speaking regions. The Netherlands are not without their own regularly occurring debates about the grammatical correctness of the neutral pronouns ‘hen/hun’ in the singular. It’s worth noting that it’s mainly cis people who refuse to budge in these discussions. They, of course, never get to experience gender euphoria, which is something that I do feel when someone refers to me with ‘they’.
3. Happiness is not in money, but in shopping
Shopping makes many people happy. What’s it like for a trans person to have their first proper look around in the right department of the clothing store, and the first time putting on the clothes they’ve wanted to wear for so long? What’s it like to look in the mirror and see that things are right? It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to consciously experience this first time shopping. Most cis people don’t remember their first time shopping.
4. So long your hair’s looking good!
Hair is important for many trans people: short hair, long hair, hair that starts growing on your body because of hormones, or hair that you have lasered from those places – there’s a lot going on with the hair of transgender people. A common answer to questions about euphoria is the following: the feeling of euphoria when you finally get the haircut you really want at the hairdresser’s. For me, buzzing my hair for the first time felt liberating. I felt like I was myself at long last.
5. Are you a boy or a girl?
Many trans people enjoy no longer getting asked if they’re a boy or a girl. For a trans man; being greeted with ‘Hello, sir’ on the phone with a call centre employee. For a trans woman; being addressed with ‘Excuse me, madam’ in the supermarket. Total strangers who don’t hesitate about your gender have a very affirming effect. People start receiving the signals you’re trying to transmit about who you are and address you as such. That too can cause a unique feeling of gender euphoria. It’s different for everyone. Non-binary people may enjoy being asked ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ by a child sitting across from them in the bus. Ambiguity about their gender identity can be affirming to them and cause euphoria.
6. Look, we’re on TV!
For trans people, it’s a relief to see themselves represented in a positive way in media. The recognition feels good. Particularly when the trans people in question simply act in a film, are interviewed, sing a song or tell a joke without having to explain their gender identity. Because usually that identity isn’t even relevant.
7. My body belongs to me
Imagine you have breasts, but you don’t want them. In fact, your breasts cause you all kinds of trouble, for example: people assign you the wrong gender or the wrong pronouns. It’s incredibly liberating to wake up with a flat chest after the operation you’ve waited such a long time for. This part of being trans is hard to understand for many cis people. Why change your body if there’s nothing wrong with it? But that’s the entire point, the body was wrong, and that’s why you fix it. What a great feeling when your body ends up being okay after operations and hormone treatments! It’s a promise of a life in which you feel more like yourself. Euphoria!
8. Touch-a, touch-a, touch me
Remarkably little has been written about transgender sex life. And yet, trans people get asked (often inappropriate) questions about it all the time. Trans people themselves are also preoccupied with this subject: several of them mention having sex, being naked and their own genitals as sources of gender euphoria. Isn’t it amazing to explore all over again what you like and what you don’t, with or without a partner, in your reborn body?
One of the best things about being trans is getting to know other trans people, recognising and identifying with people who understand exactly what you mean. If I tell a cis person that I’m non-binary, I find myself having to lecture them about gender diversity immediately after. That’s not necessary with other non-binary people and I can really be myself. They can help me figure out gender-related things for myself without judging me. This is a very important source of gender euphoria to me. Particularly because being non-binary sometimes make me feel like a fake; not trans enough to join the transgender community. The trans people I have gotten to know recently have made it clear to me that there’s no need to worry about that.
10. Mirror, mirror on the wall
The first time looking in the mirror to admire your new appearance and truly see yourself is a moment of supreme happiness to many trans people. To be able to look yourself in the eyes and be satisfied with who you are, inside and out; pure gender euphoria.
There you have it, Ellie. Plenty of reasons to envy trans people!
Do you want to share your own gender euphoria experience? Check out: send your story!