Gender euphoria is the opposite of dysphoria. Where dysphoria is the distress and discomfort felt by not fitting in the gender that suits you best, euphoria is the elation and rightness you feel in those moments where everything aligns just perfectly. I never heard the words gender euphoria until long after I started my transition, and to me that’s really sad because if it had been something that more people talk about I might have realized who I was far sooner.
A close friend of mine made a comment today that really hit home. We were talking about how If you asked me early in my transition, I would have said that I didn’t experience much gender dysphoria. There were a few intense instances of dysphoria that I’m not going to go into, but largely my dysphoria was subtle and unassuming. It was a wrongness that I couldn’t explain. It was the feeling of something missing, something not being quite right about me. A queerness, if you would, but beyond that I couldn’t have told you that I was dysphoric.
The more I read about being transgender, the more it clicked with me, and the more I began to realize my own dysphoria. Part of this is because I learned what to look for, but a lot of it was a deep wishful thinking that I could be like the beautiful transgender women brave enough to post about themselves. Another problem with dysphoria is that it can be easily misinterpreted as depression, anxiety, self-hate, and any number of other issues, and all of that hides the true source of the problem. Looking back, dysphoria isn’t what I see in my past. It’s the euphoria that I see, and that needs to be talked about more.
One of the biggest points of gender euphoria that I’ve experienced is when Blizzard made race changes available in World of Warcraft back in October of 2009. From WoW’s launch until that point I was playing a male forsaken. The moment race changes were available I changed my character to be a female blood elf. One of the items I had in the game was a coin that you could flip and it’d post in chat “<FrozenSolid> flipped her coin and it landed on HEADS” and the first time I did that after race changing it was the strangest feeling. I even remarked on it to my best friends in a very naive closteted manor. “I really like that it says ‘her’ isn’t that weird?” Of course we were all naive and didn’t think too hard about it until nearly a decade later when I finally came out as transgender.
Another notable instance of gender euphoria is playing the online roleplaying game that my friend ran. In this game everyone played multiple characters using unique accounts on LiveJournal. The first character I created was a guy, but almost every character after that was a girl. My friends would constantly remark that I always seemed more comfortable with the characters that were girls. For some reason that I couldn’t explain at the time it was so much easier to get into the fictional headspace of a girl. Meanwhile, all the guy characters I’d play were awkward and stunted, and felt like I was either trying too hard, or simply unable to really get into character when playing them. The best guy character that I roleplayed was a gay nobleman, and the more I think back on that game, the more I think that even that nobleman would have been transgender if I had really known what that meant back then.
The moment of euphoria that struck me the hardest is when my fiance at the time and I were talking about Halloween costumes. Legend of Zelda Hyrule Warriors had just come out with the character Linkle, a female version of Link, and she had found a costume on Etsy of the character. She, I think, jokingly said that I should dress up as that character. After very little consideration i agreed.
That Halloween was amazing. Wearing the costume out in public was the first time I’d ever presented femme. I shaved my legs. My fiance put a small amount of makeup on me. I honestly can’t describe how right and wonderful it felt. It was nerve wrecking and anxiety inducing, but at the same time it just felt right.
My fiance knew I was questioning. I had come out to her once, three months into our relationship. It went poorly, but every once in awhile she’d ask me about transitioning. My response was always the same. I didn’t think that I could ever do it. I was unknowingly lying to myself, and her. I had a family, friends, a career, a life. I couldn’t just uproot everything and transition, especially not in the midwest. Especially not at a job run by a tea partier.
That Halloween felt so good, that all of my thoughts of not being able to transition went away. We went to a Halloween party, and my female friends commented that I pulled the outfit off better than they could have. I didn’t pass in the slightest, I’m sure, but it was a wonderful evening. I was devastated when it was over.
When I came out the second time, and for good, the euphoria continued. Sure, the dysphoria started to ramp up as well, but nothing like the euphoria did. Simple things that I used to hate, such as clothes shopping, brought me an amount of joy that I can’t begin to explain. The dysphoria about hating men’s clothing wasn’t something I could really pinpoint, despite constantly complaining about hating shopping and work clothes, and largely hiding myself in baggy pants, tshirts, and hoodies. Meanwhile, the euphoria I felt shopping for gender affirming clothing is something that I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to get over. Even little things, like my first time wearing tights, buying nerdy patterned leggings, clothing that showed off my figure that I’d have never dared to wear as a guy felt good and right.
Then of course there’s the non-superficial euphoria. I don’t mean to discount the feeling of gender affirming clothing, but it definitely feels superficial compared to the euphoria from having the right hormones in my body. The first few weeks of hormone therapy were a rush of emotions that I hadn’t felt, or let myself feel, for three decades of my life. The mood swings were rough, but brought on a new level of euphoria that I can’t begin to explain.
As the hormones began making their physical changes, the euphoria escalated yet again. The first thing I noticed was how soft they made my skin. It made my skin feel like what I always thought skin should feel like. I know that’s hard to understand, but one aspect of my dysphoria that I couldn’t have told you about until long into my transition, is that my body always felt like it wasn’t mine. Like I could rip off my skin and reveal a whole new person underneath, as if I was wearing a human suit that was ill fitting.
As my shell broke, and I got closer and closer to coming out as transgender, I would look at myself in the mirror and hate what I saw. I’d push my sides in, wishing for curves and wondering what I’d look like. I’d hold my hands over my flat chest wishing that my cupped hands would be filled with flesh. The euphoria I gained as my breasts started growing was only matched by the dysphoria of them not growing fast enough and having to hide them from work. For what felt like years they were misshapen and small, but two and a half years later I’m a solid C cup, and I can tell they’re still growing.
I look down at myself, and for the first time I feel like I’m seeing myself. I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to imagine what it would be like and if I could actually make it happen.