Out On The Couch
You’ve probably heard or read about gender dysphoria, but how much do you know about gender euphoria? Chances are good that you’ve talked about it with some of your clients. But if you’re relying on a few anecdotes or basic information, you may be missing out on the big picture. We want to share some things you might not know (but probably should) about gender euphoria as an affirmative therapist.
Not All Trans & Nonbinary People Experience Gender Euphoria…
In the media, gender euphoria (and dysphoria) are often described as universal aspects of trans-ness. For many people, they can be extreme, radical experiences. But for many trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people, gender euphoria is an uncommon experience or one they don’t experience at all. Additionally, the sense of satisfaction in one’s gender settles later into transition, and can be expressed as a quiet sense of calm and relief, rather than ecstasy.
…And That’s Okay!
There are lots of reasons why a person might be comfortable with their gender expression but not experience feelings of elation. Many neurodivergent people may feel limited connection to their body and/or their emotions, which may make finding joy in a gender experience difficult idea to conceptualize, much less experience. Some people also may feel that their internal experience of gender is less connected to their outward performance of gender. Still others, especially nonbinary or agender people, may feel very disconnected from traditional ideas of gender at all—it’s hard to feel euphoric about something that you are inherently neutral about!
In all of these cases, and many others, a lack of euphoria does not imply a lack of transness or a problem. Some people might want to feel gender euphoria, in which case pursuing that may be an excellent therapeutic goal, but for others, feeling pushed to find a sense of gender euphoria can feel invalidating.
Cis People Can Also Experience Gender Euphoria
While most discussions of gender euphoria focus on trans people and how important it is for trans people to be safe and accepted, gender euphoria isn’t solely experienced by trans people. Much like gender-affirming care, gender euphoria is experienced and even sought out by cis people. For many cis and trans people, the language to describe these experiences has been lacking, so it can be useful to explore anyone’s relationship with gender.
What Causes Gender Euphoria Can Change Over Time
There are many “touchstone” experiences that are associated with gender euphoria: wearing high heels or a binder for the first time; hearing someone call you by a new name; physical effects of hormone therapy. But the things that bring a person euphoria at one point may change over time, or even vary throughout the day.
Relatively Small Changes Can Have a Huge Impact
Not every single experience needs to be a major milestone, but sometimes small things can either add up, or just mean a lot on their own. In some cases, these might be routine habits, like shaving or skincare, that can help a trans person feel connected to and joyful in their body. In other cases, something like being called sir or ma’am (or for many an enby, noticing a momentary pause before someone opts for gender neutral language) can give an emotional high. Gender euphoria isn’t limited to radical life changes, and it’s worth identifying where and when a person notices it.
Everyone’s Experience of Gender (Euphoria) is Different
This should be obvious, but we’re going to say it anyway. Don’t assume that one trans person’s experience will be relevant to another trans person. Just as you probably don’t assume that every cis woman feels beautiful and sexy and feminine in pointy high heels, don’t assume it of trans women, either! And in many cases, making these assumptions, and being wrong, can also feel invalidating for your client. This can be especially important for therapists who have specific ideas about gender expression. This is another reason why it is so important for affirmative therapists to continue to explore and understand their own biases and stereotypes about gender.
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