I never understood why I used to dread going clothes shopping until I realized I was transgender.
I always thought that the vague “nothing here seems correct” was due to never thinking about what kind of style I actually liked, and how tall and lanky my body was. Thankfully, I’ve come to recognize this as a sign of gender dysphoria, the feeling of anxiousness that pervades trans people when their assigned gender doesn’t match their identity.
Since coming out I’ve had to rebuild my wardrobe entirely as I socially transition. Because transitioning doesn’t magically solve all the anxiety you have built up in your life, this has been a slow process full of hesitation on my part.
Then, I realized I had finally been vaccinated from COVID-19 and was able to re-enter society at large and go out in public. Like other trans people I had barely begun my social transition at the start of the pandemic, and was a completely different person by the time I was vaccinated.
So, I stressed about what to buy and was terrified of going into stores to try on clothes because of my anxiety. I managed to do it because I had no other choice, and a very generous partner who was there with me every step of the way.
This is where I found myself earlier this summer biting the bullet and buying a summer romper because I saw a friend had bought one and it looked good on her. After some shipping delays it finally came, and—to my surprise—it fit perfectly. Even more so, I've been able to wear it in public and not face confused stares by strangers who try to parse my gender in the moment leading to an awkward exchange for everyone that only serves to heighten my anxiety more.
The more I wore the romper the more I enjoyed being, well, myself. I get excited when I take it out of the wash knowing that it is clean to wear again. I enjoy going out as myself in public when wearing it.
This phenomenon is known to trans people as “gender euphoria,” the polar opposite of gender dysphoria.
Gender euphoria makes everything about being trans click, and reveals transition to be the wonderful self-fulfilling experience it is. It is hard to explain gender euphoria to cisgender people because rarely do they ever have to contemplate the gender they’ve always lived their lives as. But for trans people who understand what it is like to have that feeling, gender euphoria is one of the best things to experience.
While “gender euphoria” is not a clinical term, its root comes from euphoria being an antonym for the word dysphoria, which has been around since the 1970s. The term has been used by the trans community to show how feelings can emerge that are the opposite of the clinical distress that some trans people need to get a diagnosis of to have access to gender-affirming health treatments.
“It was a true moment of joy”
2021 has been pretty much hell for trans people across the country. Violence against our community is rising, and state legislatures across the country want to prevent trans youth from transitioning or playing sports in high school. Some have gone as far to compel businesses to let customers know that trans people could be using the same bathrooms as them.
It is not the happiest time to be a trans person. Yet, for many of us in the community the pandemic afforded us something that many did not have access to: space. Being locked down gave us space to explore ourselves and our gender identity and presentation without judgement or scrutiny.
And now with much of the world opening up, trans people are getting to present as their authentic selves in public, experiencing euphoria at a time when we are getting over our collective trauma caused by the pandemic.
“I didn’t know I was missing,” CJ Higgins told The Daily Beast about the first time they realized they were not worrying about how their body felt when playing sports at a family gathering.
“Not only can I now do summer activities for the first time since 2019, I can do them with confidence.”
Higgins comes from what they describe as an active family in New Jersey. In the past, they have come to realize that they were more reserved around family members when they took part in games and playing sports because they felt uncomfortable with their body.
After coming out as a non-binary trans person and getting top surgery in October 2020, Higgins says there are just so many more sporty activities they feel comfortable doing now knowing that they don’t have to feel self conscious about how they look and how their body feels.
“About two months ago, I was playing volleyball with my family and my team's players started taking off their shirts to represent a shirts vs. skins round,” Higgins said. “So I took off my shirt and realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I get to take off my shirt!’ I got to feel not just okay, but happy to do so! My chest got to feel the sun! It was very wonderful.”
Sometimes it is just the littlest moments that trigger a flood of gender euphoria.
For Nat Buchbinder that moment came when they and their partner were making a dinner reservation for their anniversary during the pandemic. Despite having started hormone replacement therapy in the beginning of 2020, Buchbinder said that they repeatedly would get called “miss” or “ma’am” in public, triggering gender dysphoria.
It was this phone call though, where things started to change. They would be called “sir” by the maître d’ at the Italian restaurant without hesitation when confirming the reservation. Buchbinder identifies as non-binary or agender, but not being referred to by female gender pronouns was enough to validate so much of their transition and trigger the gender euphoria.
“I was honestly kind of stunned,” Buchbinder told The Daily Beast. “I thought I must’ve misheard but the guy on the phone said it two to three times. When I hung up, I was just elated and thrilled, and I told my partner what happened right away. I think I might remember it as much as the anniversary.”
Euphoria not only comes in the little moments; sometimes it can hit a trans person like a ton of bricks when recounting everything in their life that has taken them to this point, creating a sense of pride at what transitioning has given them.
Precious Brady-Davis was on vacation with her family after getting vaccinated when this wall of gender euphoria hit her. She was laying back poolside with her family in Hawaii when tears began to flow realizing at the life she had created and the successes they all had worked so hard to take in.
“I grew up poor and in the foster system. My family never, ever went on vacation because we couldn’t afford it,” Brady-Davis told the Daily Beast. “But here I was now, sitting with my trans husband and beautiful child that we created together: a gorgeous, perfect family of my own—far from the turbulent childhood I experienced.
“I have had countless successes in the past ten years. But even with all of those professional successes, being on vacation with my family, as a former foster child who thought they’d never find happiness, was soul-affirming for me. It was a true moment of joy, after a very hard year.”