My Trans Experience Is Defined by Joy, Not Suffering

Danny Reinan, copy editor

Photo of Danny smiling with pink hair and blue glasses on the beach. They are topless, the scars from their top surgery proudly visible.
Photo of Danny topless on the beach one year after top surgery. Taken by Danny in 2019 on Escambrón beach

Toxicity within LGBT communities is, unfortunately, all too common. But while I see an increasing number of people stepping up to call out biphobia, lesbophobia, and asexual and aromantic exclusion, there are comparatively few who step up to the plate to denounce transmedicalism, a gatekeeping, restrictive and dehumanizing ideology that plagues the trans community.

Transmedicalists posit that being trans is contingent on experiencing gender dysphoria, a sense of unease, distress, or depression brought on by a perceived disconnect between a person’s gender identity and assigned gender. Moreover, some transmedicalists go even further and insist that a person must pursue medical transition in order to be trans enough, completely shutting out trans people who can’t get hormones or surgery due to cost, safety or inaccessibility, as well as trans people who simply don’t want to. This dysphoria-first framework gatekeeps huge swaths of the community and quickly turns trans validity into a contest in which only the people who experience the most dysphoria – the people who suffer the most – are really trans. 

Gender euphoria is the opposite of gender dysphoria, referring to moments of congruence, comfort and authenticity related to being trans and it isn’t discussed enough. Contrary to what the transmedicalist mindset would have you believe – that transness inherently hinges on suffering – there are so many unique joys that only trans people can experience. Only trans people can understand what it’s like to go on hormones and start to see the first signs of change show themselves in the mirror. Trans people experience the joys of outer expression through things like clothing and hairstyles on an entirely different level. Dale Carnegie famously said that, to every person, the sound of their own name is “the sweetest and most important sound in every language,” but this idea is even more resonant to trans people, who often only find their names after years of soul-searching. As long as we center our understanding of transness solely on dysphoria, we miss these moments of bliss that shape our understanding of who we are.

Photo of Danny grinning. They are topless, the scars from their top surgery proudly visible.
Photo of Danny topless one year after top surgery. Taken by Danny in 2019 on Escambrón beach

When I look back on my gender journey since coming out as trans at age 12, the memories that leap to the forefront aren’t painful ones – they’re joyful ones. I think of the moment when I discovered that I was non-binary – when I stumbled upon the term completely by accident while doing research for a school project and felt it just click. I think of the first time that I introduced myself by my own name, in my freshman year at my new high school, to a group of people who never had to know me as anything else. I think of the first time I ever swam shirtless in the ocean, on the first anniversary of my top surgery, feeling truly like myself, but also simultaneously at one with the waves and seafoam and sand. I think of all of the times when other trans people have come out to me, with an eager, resolute spark in their eyes, and told me that I helped them to come to terms with their identities. To me, these euphoric moments are what define my trans identity. Shouldn’t those uniquely joyful experiences be just as important – if not, more important – than the painful ones?

As long as our community identifies itself solely by dysphoria, we exclude people who experience little or no dysphoria. We shut out people questioning their identities, who come to believe that coming out as trans means opening themselves to an onslaught of pain and little else. We lock ourselves into a singular narrative, in which suffering is the only thing that matters. Denying gender euphoria, denying the unique happiness that can come from being trans, and denying joy means denying ourselves the full spectrum of our humanity.