Deconstructing the Gender Euphoria/Dysphoria Binary

Updated: Apr 21

Queer Sex Ed CC is continuing our new series all about breaking down binaries! For this zine, I broke down the often assumed binary between gender euphoria and dysphoria. In this zine, I worked to define these experiences, break down the myth of the binary experience of transition, and discuss the joy and usefulness of gender euphoria as an integral part of being transgender and/or gender non-conforming.


Understanding the complexities of gender euphoria and dysphoria as nonlinear and unique is essential, not only for transgender and gender nonconforming folks but also for anyone invested in the health and happiness of transgender and gender-nonconforming people! So with that check out the zine, read on for information, definitions, and a bit of personal reflection regarding my own experiences as a gender divergent person navigating a cisgender world. Let’s learn together to break down this binary!



Definitions


Gender Euphoria: A feeling of intense happiness when your gender (whatever it may be) is being affirmed. Gender euphoria comes from within, it is a “this feels like it is affirming me” and sparks joy, acceptance, and euphoria from outer stimuli. What affirms one person may not affirm someone else, learn what sparks gender euphoria and do that thing.


Gender Dysphoria: An experience of discomfort/distress that can occur when someone's gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.


Both gender dysphoria and euphoria are feelings. Dysphoria has been medicalized and pathologized and was defined as a mental disorder until 2013. This has contributed to a negative framing of transgender and/or nonbinary experience as a disorder, rather than a personal, emotional, and physical experience.


The Myth of Linear Experience

See zine, page 3 above for a visualization


There is a false assumed binary that gender dysphoria and gender euphoria are separate and you go from one to the other through transition.


Like any other identity, being transgender and/or gender nonconforming is complex and intersectional. Feelings of gender dysphoria and gender euphoria are nonlinear, unique, and each has its own personal triggers. They can also both exist in the same timeframe!


Why can the focus on gender dysphoria be harmful?


Conversations around transgender and/or gender nonconforming folks’ experiences of transition, especially in the medical/psychological circles frame gender dysphoria as an essential element to the experience of being transgender/gender non-conforming. Until very recently representation in TV and movies of transgender characters focused on distress or dysphoria of being transgender. This created a harmful narrative surrounding transition that ignores gender euphoria, joy, and the unique complexity of experiences that each individual can have in relation to their gender identity.


Many researchers and transgender people and activists showed support for the declassification of gender dysphoria as a “disorder” as it reinforces a binary system of gender and further pathologizes and medicalizes transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Further, this criterion of gender dysphoria is based on Western models and understands of sex and gender which are based on white supremacist, heteronormative, transphobic ideals.


The single-minded focus on dysphoria normalizes distress, defining pain and suffering to be integral to the transgender and/or nonbinary experience and stops us from asking:


Would gender dysphoria even exist without the gender binary and cisnormativity?

AND

What about being transgender and/or gender nonconforming is beautiful and euphoric?


No one can answer these questions for sure, of course. However, as a sexuality educator, queer theory scholar, and a person who experiences both gender euphoria and dysphoria, I can confidently say that my experience of gender divergence would be significantly less dysphoric if my gender and body were not assigned, managed, and rejected by a hetero-cisgender system of sex and gender.


By defining gender dysphoria as a personal condition, rather than the distress caused by a transphobic, binary culture, it shifts blame from the society to the individual.

  • Gender dysphoria medically defines who is “legitimately trans” enough, subjecting transgender people to medicalization and pathologizing their unique experiences of gender as a mental affliction.

  • In some places, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is required for gender-affirming procedures meaning psychological distress is a prerequisite for medical gender affirmation.

Because of the focus on dysphoria, many may assume that pain steers the experience of transgender and/or nonbinary folks. Gender euphoria can also steer that experience!


Gender euphoria is an essential tool!


Gender euphoria comes from within. It is a “this feels like it is affirming me” moment and sparks joy, acceptance, and euphoria from outer stimuli. What affirms one person may not affirm someone else. Learn what sparks gender euphoria and do it!



Moments of gender euphoria are as unique as we all are, here are some examples of things that may spark this feeling:

  • When someone uses your pronouns/chosen name

  • When certain clothes fit exactly how you want them to.

  • An action, toy, or role in a sexual scenario that feels good, or "right."

  • A medical transition such as hormone replacement therapy or surgeries (for those whom these procedures are affirming for).

  • Being with a person or group who makes you feel good, comfortable, and respected in your identity.

  • Being in a queer space, surrounded by a community you don't need to explain your identity to.

The biggest takeaway: There is no single “trans experience”


Experiences of both gender dysphoria and gender euphoria are unique to each person and can be triggered by different experiences. What’s euphoric for one person, may cause someone else to experience euphoria. It’s also possible that something that used to make you feel euphoric or dysphoric shifts as you explore your gender identity further.


More than anything, we need to honor, discuss, and celebrate transgender and gender-nonconforming joy. Uplift and advocate for folks to define their own experience and support them in affirmation. Together we can fight the binary and celebrate euphoria!


As usual, we would love your thoughts, feedback, and ideas on these subjects. Please feel free to like, comment, or reach out to us on Instagram or via our website/email. As usual, Thank you all for reading!


Sources

  • 10 Reasons to envy trans people- https://transmagazine.nl/gender-euphoria/

  • “Rejecting, reframing, and reintroducing: trans people's strategic engagement with the medicalisation of gender dysphoria: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30484870/

  • Recommendations for Revision of the DSM Diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder in Adults: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15532739.2010.509202

  • Sex, Gender and Culture: Issues in the Definition, Assessment and Treatment of Gender Identity Disorderhttps://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1359104502007003004

  • Gender Dysphoria vs Gender EUPHORIA, ft. Ash Hardell!! - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnkrhYAkWPs




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