Opinion

An unexpected trans experience: Gender euphoria is what has steered my transition from the very start.

The tipping point for me exploring my trans identity came around 2016. It came in the form of me finally confronting something that, since I was little, I’d called the swooping sadness. I’d had it my whole life and I never really knew what it was, but I decided, and had the space and the time, to look it in the eye and try and work it out. So I did. I remember sitting on the floor by my bookcase, putting a book back on the shelf and thinking very clearly, ‘I’m going to stay with this feeling. It wants to go somewhere, and I’m finally going to follow it.’

It wasn’t when I realised, or when I really started finding out about trans stuff, but it felt like a literal tipping point. Something had been balancing on the edge of a precipice and I was aware of but ignoring it, and then by pursuing this feeling I felt the balance change and something started to freefall. The swooping sadness was always the feeling of something rattling around inside me trying to get free. When it met the dimensions of the things I thought I was and had to indefinitely be, it had to fling itself back and seek in other directions. If it was determined it would bounce about for days, swooping and saddening whenever it got shocked by the fences. The result was a bodily feeling that was stone-still, stiff, small. Everything that filtered through it – through me – was scratched and peeled and raked away at till it had no choice but to come out shocked and uncomfortable and full of tiring guesswork. Less than it could be. I was less than I could be.

These filters just weren’t sustainable. I was tired, and deeply anxious and sad, and, because it bears repeating, tired. I breathed into this moment, a gap in the barricades, and there was no turning back.

What has come since has been a surprise sometimes even to me. Since that first breath I’ve been constantly steered by gender euphoria, even when I didn’t realise I was, even sometimes, when my conscious mind didn’t want to be. Euphoria wasn’t something I heard about very often in relation to transitioning. While there is a lot of focus around gender dysphoria (the feeling of ‘discomfort’ in one’s gender) by medical professionals and even within the trans community itself, euphoria is often a secondary focus. However, even though my journey into realising I was trans started with something I’d always thought of as sadness, gender euphoria has actually been an equally defining feeling throughout my (still early) transition.

How then, does one start with sadness, and come to be led by something ‘euphoric’? For me, gender euphoria and gender dysphoria are two sides of the same coin. The word dysphoria comes from the Greek ‘dusphoros’, meaning ‘to bear with difficulty’. Euphoria, on the other hand comes from ‘euphoros’, ‘to bear well’. For me, this is the most accurate way of thinking about these two states as opposites. If gender dysphoria makes things hard to bear, gender euphoria makes things easy, even enjoyable. Consequently, to focus too much on one or the other does not tell the full story of trans identity for me. Dysphoria led me to believe that ‘doing things naturally’ was a tiring and upsetting sport for everyone. But it was euphoria that showed me that things could, and should, be different.

Clothes for instance, were something I did experience palpable dysphoria over – but something which it took me into my twenties to realise I had an unusual amount of discomfort around. Then, not long after I put that book back on that shelf and let myself follow that feeling for the first time, I started wearing men’s clothes. And when I did, I felt gender euphoria. And this made it so that even when it was scary – and it was frequently very very scary – I still pursued the need to explore my gender. When it at first felt like too big a thing to wear men’s clothes in front of other people, I found myself stealing my Dad’s clothes, my sister’s boyfriend’s clothes from the clean washing. I hid them in the back of a drawer til the early hours of the morning came, and I could put them on and look at myself in the mirror by the light of my desk lamp. Seeing my dimly lit reflection looking like that, is my first memory of feeling gender euphoria and recognising it for what it was. It felt like something clicked and suddenly everything was much less hard to bear. There was no way I couldn’t turn towards that feeling.

And then, as the fences inside me slowly continued to fall away, I started to experience some of the amazing things that gender euphoria can do. Euphoria is a strong word, but it is used for a reason. Even appearing at the smallest of instances objectively, it kept me heading towards what I needed. I knew that he/him pronouns were right for me years before I chose a ‘boy’s’ name for myself. That was because every time someone used he/him for me, I’d get an electric shock of goodness. Getting this throughout my day left me just feeling so so much better. Less like an anxious, sad blob. Calmer, happier – ‘well’.

Undoubtedly, the most euphoric moment of my life so far was getting my hair cut short. I’d been wanting to do it as long as I could remember, and it was the euphoria of wearing a men’s shirt here and there which let me know I could do it now, at twenty-four. I booked an appointment at my usual hairdressers and didn’t tell anyone my plans. I took a photo of a very androgynous model woman into the shop, but the instant the stylist started showing me more photos of women I couldn’t stop my insistence on ‘masculine masculine MASCULINE’. It was done, and at first I felt like I’d fallen off a cliff. I ran into a friend in town and she was surprised, said she liked it and then we went to look for some new work clothes for her – totally normal, and exactly what I needed. I realised I felt scared of the reaction of other people, but how I actually felt about the cut was the surest I’d ever been.

I got the bus home and turned up to find it empty. I went to the living room and looked at my hair in the mirror. I thought ‘I love it on a different level than I’ve loved anything before’. The physical sensation for me is like a sucker punch of the best happiness and the best calm, simultaneously. It’s hard to put into words, but it is absolutely the best thing ever, the kind of feeling that leaves you reeling and buzzing, on cloud nine. The calm in fact, is one of the best parts for me. The surety that comes with being properly socked with gender euphoria lets me exist as my best self in every way – not dark-grey tired, as I was before I started questioning. Ten minutes later my mum and sisters returned home. They were all fine. I realised none of their reactions mattered. Everything felt like water off a duck’s back and it felt so perfect. I thought: this is absolutely the feeling that keeps people going through expensive and painful and alienating transitions. This is the feeling that trans people run away from home for, march and protest and fight for, get up and live in their gender every day for. 

Things were not always easy, and it took me a long time to come out. I also have OCD, which gives me a lot of scary thoughts all the time, and I’m sure that interacted with the amount of stress my slow coming-out was having on me. But euphoria was my saving grace and became my constant guide. Every time I got a little stab of ‘Oh’ every time I saw myself do what I’d seen every guy in a button-down shirt do, I knew this was the only way I could be.

And finally, being my correct gender came without effort. I had breathed into the break in the fences, and now the gaps were growing without me even having to do anything. Euphoria was the feeling that always guided me towards unpractised, unaffected. The kind of happiness I’d subconsciously known was possible from living in your correct gender. I couldn’t not chase it now that I’d felt it. Letting my Spotify shuffle through my music library, I realised that all love songs had become gender songs. ‘I could drink a case of you, and still be on my feet?’ Yeah, I could. I never want to be without it. It will always steer me right.

For more information on being trans, transitioning and questioning visit: https://www.transgendermap.com/welcome/for-questioning-readers

https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/not-all-trans-folks-dysphoria/