As I sit on the sun-soaked grass surrounded by the ones I hold dearest, their voices mingling, rising and falling like the breath within my chest, I am overwhelmed with a sense of pure contentment that can only be described as euphoria. To be in the presence of those to whom I don’t need to explain any aspect of my being; those I chose to be my family and who chose me to be theirs – there is a validation to be found here that is truly unparalleled. We speak openly about heteronormativity, binary gendered expectations, binders; about compulsory monogamy and healthcare (or lack thereof) – but we also don’t need to speak. The silence that settles between us is comfortable for we understand the pain. But we also understand the joy. The unadulterated joy of kissing all our friends hello and goodbye; of caring and providing for one another when nobody else will; of gender euphoria.
Non-binary writer Andy Connel wrote in the Guardian, “When young trans people experiment with presentation and self-conception, they’re paying attention to what feels good as well as what feels bad. Along with the push of gender dysphoria, there also breathes the pull of gender euphoria: the sense of fulfilment or joy that comes from living as the gender you feel yourself to be.” For me, this extends also to queerness – there is a euphoria in living authentically as a being that doesn’t conform to society’s expectations; of being part of a community that collectively resists through mere existence, love, and care. I experience queer euphoria when I care for my inner child – one who starved, shrunk, and contorted themselves to fit in the cookie-cutter shaped like society’s perception of a woman. I experience queer euphoria when I watch my community rise up against hate; when our bodies writhe as one on a sweaty dance floor; when I am showered with unconditional love from those who have no obligation to provide it to me.
To be in the presence of those to whom I don’t need to explain any aspect of my being; those I chose to be my family and who chose me to be theirs – there is a validation to be found here that is truly unparalleled.
Far too often for far too long, the stories of queer individuals have focussed on our pain and our trauma. While it is extremely important to raise awareness of these experiences in order to advocate for a future that is safer and happier for the LGBTQIA+ community, it is equally as important to uplift our joy. Our suffering and oppression at the hands of those in power has been used to collect profit in the pockets of those very individuals; Pride has been corporatised and pink-washed worldwide; homonormativity, palatability and superficial representation are taking centre-stage.
In a world that continues to marginalise and exploit us, to tell us that we are an abomination or an embarrassment – and at a time when we face ever-rising bigotry and an increase in overt transphobia – it’s absolutely crucial that queer individuals, our allies, and the wider world, can sit with, revel in, and understand the timeless euphoria that we share as a community, and the ways in which it has only furthered our drive towards our liberation.
There is a euphoria in living authentically as a being that doesn’t conform to society’s expectations; of being part of a community that collectively resists through mere existence, love, and care.
To mark the start of this Pride Month, and to perhaps spark the glowing flame that will allow us to reclaim this narrative and centre the joys of being queer, four individuals share their personal experiences with queer and gender euphoria.
When I first came out as trans, the words I had to hand were ones of suffering. The way I came to understand my body was through suffering; the way I came to define the trans-ness in me was through suffering. I saw that it was the only way that my trans-ness could be understood by cis people at the time. I saw it in the people around me, who would ask me to justify my identity and would only understand it once I demonstrated the suffering I felt. It was like I had to show them the presence of transphobia rather than the presence of trans-ness.
It took me many years to go about displaying my trans-ness through joy. Gender euphoria is not only a magical experience, but it is also radical — to hold pain in one hand and yet reach out for joy with the other. Gender euphoria is a feeling of home, a feeling of safety, a feeling that your body is where you belong. I’ve come to celebrate this feeling through dance. I am in me, being me.
It almost feels weird for me to describe it as gender euphoria when it almost feels like gender has nothing to do with it. Dance, or any way I choose to express myself is purely the result of feeling secure and safe within myself. Gender gets placed on top of that. A lot of, if not all of, the ways I express myself are gendered. We are handed rules about how we are allowed to express our euphoria, and there are ways in which we are told that we are not allowed to do it. But I’ve gotten to a point of solidity within my ever-changing self that I’ve started to let go of a lot of those things. Let go of the ideas that hold me back from being. Sometimes an outfit needs a pop of red lipstick, sometimes my body wants to walk with the broken machismo of Captain Jack Sparrow. All of it is expression. All of it should be celebrated, but sadly sometimes gender gets in the way of that. To not let gender get in the way of you being you —that is gender euphoria. Essentially, for me, gender euphoria is letting go.
Born intersex, I was outwardly raised as a boy, but I had the great fortune of parents who did not police my expression. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced “gender euphoria” but, to be honest, that doesn’t bother me – it’s not something I crave. My understanding of gender was fluid, I had older siblings of different genders and a mum who would describe her teen self as a “Tom Boy”. Yet, as I was growing up, society taught me that gender was in the eye of the beholder; I was judged on every aspect of my being.
Gender is an experience in every sense of the word – it leaves an impression. Whether we agree with them or not, all of us are taught from a young age the specific traits and responsibilities which “belong” to our gender. Working with children, I often hear this active regulating of gender roles – from choice of toys to acceptable behaviours. Gender euphoria will only be achievable through acceptance – and redefining and unlearning our discomfort.
I’m a dancer, choreographer, and movement director. I got into it because dancing is basically the only space where I can really taste euphoria – which, for me, is also about freedom and being unbound, even if temporarily or moment by moment. It’s the place where I could marry my desire for freedom – high vibrational shit – with an otherwise interrogative gender-fucking approach to movement vocabulary, style, and vibe.
When I first started out, it really showed me how I sat outside of the traditional modes of gender, sexuality, and performance because of how I moved, how movement marks our social bodies, and how quick I was to attach myself to a form of making art that is fleeting, always changing, ephemeral – and with a rude-ass attitude, too.
For me, gender is formless and always in flux, so the varying degrees of euphoria brought about by the endless vastness of this human existence are equally as nebulous to me. Rarely does it arise from one place, because I myself have no locatable singular origin. So much of my “identity” is constructed out of necessity. Yes, I use they/them pronouns, but this facet of my being doesn’t originate from some innate place inside me, all these words and identifiers are insufficient, chimeric necessities in a world ordered by language and so, like Victor Frankenstein with his creature, I suture them into a recognisable explanation for my existence, one that makes me legible to other people.
Yet it is in ambiguity that I find joy, in the absence of language, in the wordless understanding of others that don’t probe or ask me to make sense of myself in a language that wasn’t built to accommodate my existence, mostly in queer spaces or around loved ones. When I’m dancing in a dimly lit room or lounging about in the park or sitting at a dinner party, I look around and I don’t think about my existence, my identity, or any of the arbitrary explanations the world demands I make in order to be understood. I simply am, and I’m surrounded by people who know this, acknowledge it, and don’t question it. That is when I find gender ecstacy.
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