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Gender euphoria: celebrating the joy of being trans

Article by Catherine Montambeault and Club Sexu

Illustration by Aless MC

The term “gender dysphoria” is well known in the trans community. First heard in 1980 in the DSM (that big manual that classifies mental disorders), this medical expression references the distress felt by some people regarding the gender assigned to them at birth.

But in the last few years, a new expression has slowly been gaining in popularity in the trans vocabulary: gender euphoria. And yet, if you type those words in your search engine, you’ll quickly realize that there isn’t much literature about the subject.

To dig a little further, we spoke to Henri-June Pilote, trans man, public speaker, and host of C’est quoi mon genre? podcast, and Morag Bosom, researcher and PhD student in sexology and member of the Club Sexu research team.

First things first, what is gender euphoria?

Henri-June Pilote: It’s a word that was created as a positive counterpart of dysphoria, to show that the trans identity isn’t just synonymous with negativity. Gender euphoria is simply when you feel great in your body, in relation to your gender. It’s a feeling that can be elicited by many things that make us comfortable and euphoric about our gender.

Morag Bosom: Basically, it’s to feel a sense of well-being, a feeling of cohesion with your gender. Often, when we talk about transition, we talk a lot about dysphoria, about suffering from not being perceived as belonging to our gender. But gender euphoria highlights that the transition also has its aspects of well-being and comfort with your gender.

Are trans people the only ones who can experience gender euphoria?

HJP: No, but it’s a term that was created to de-medicalize the experiences of trans people. So, everyone can experience gender euphoria, but I think it’s especially important to use this term in relation to trans people because it’s an identity that has been seen as negative and heavy for so long. I think we are in a bit of a new movement where we’re trying to attach happiness to being trans.

MB: It might be a feeling that trans people are more likely to identify with, because as cis people, we tend to take our gender for granted, so we may be less likely to question ourselves and wonder what makes us feel good about our bodies in relation to our gender. When you come out of a situation where your gender experience doesn’t necessarily match society’s norms, experiencing gender euphoria can take on a more powerful meaning. But I think anyone can experience events that make them feel gendered because the human experience is still very gendered.

And do all trans people necessarily experience gender dysphoria or euphoria?

HJP: No. The thing is that since our identities are so medicalized, we have to fit into a framework to have access to services and care. And the term that is used in the medical field is “gender dysphoria”. But the trans experience is so variable: each trans person can experience different gender dysphoria or euphoria, or none at all, it depends.

Why is it important to talk about euphoria and not just dysphoria?

HJP: To celebrate the joy of being trans. When I grew up, for example, I know that one of the reasons that made it take a long time for me to come out is that when we talk about trans, homosexual or queer people, it was always negative. It was a choice, a sad way of life associated to bars, to the HIV crisis, to losing your family… All very heavy things. I think that just in the last five years we’ve slowly been starting to see a more positive image of the trans experience, so people can come out earlier and feel more confident.

MB: I think that it’s important to talk about euphoria since the trans journey is very medicalized, we often talk about it in terms of “alleviating pain”, and we assume that all these people are suffering, whereas, without wanting to deny that some pain can exist, we forget that the transition can also be a positive experience for them. In terms of accompaniment, it also allows on one hand, to seek the ways in which one can cope with dysphoria, but on the other hand, to identify the experiences that arouse gender euphoria and to determine how we can emphasize this so that the person feels better in their transition and in their life in general.

How about you, Henri-June, what makes you feel gender euphoria in general?

HJP: Having had access to hormones and a double mastectomy for sure gave me a lot of gender euphoria. But I think that it’s a feeling that can be found as much in big things like that, as in small things like a sweater that makes me feel good or people who use certain terms that make me feel good about myself. It often happens to me just when I touch my chest, it feels like “Oh wow!” Or when I meet a man in the street and I think I look like him.

What attitudes or behaviors on the part of allies can contribute to the feeling of gender euphoria?

HJP: When you meet a trans person, I think it goes through respecting their identity, asking them their pronouns and all of that. But if it’s someone with whom you’re developing a longer friendship or relationship, it might be using certain words or giving certain compliments that you know can give them gender euphoria. It depends on the relationship you have with them. But I think we shouldn’t hesitate to ask people what terms they want us to use to talk about them, especially in French, since it’s such a binary language.

MB: It’s important to act in a way that makes the other person feel that they are being listened to, that they are recognized in their gender, that their gender is valid.

If you’re with an intimate partner, it means asking the person what makes them feel good about their gender, respecting their limits and making sure that when you have an intimate relationship with them, you sexualize them as they want to. This may seem simple, but sometimes, people don’t realize that when you want to touch parts of the body that the social norm associates with binary genders (female and male), such as the chest or the genitals, it’s important to ask the person how they like to be stimulated to ensure that the action respects their limits… we should do that with everyone, actually!

! In short, it’s simply helping the person to feel recognized in their gender.

How can sex toys help trans people feel gender euphoria or reduce gender dysphoria?

MB: Again, it depends. Because each person has a different relationship with their genitals. But often, to assuage dysphoria, people who are transitioning tend to want to get away from their gendered genitalia, so sex toys can help them reclaim their bodies and find a middle ground between gender euphoria and the pleasure that their genitals can still make them feel.

HJP: Absolutely, trans people who are experiencing gender dysphoria will often be uncomfortable about certain parts of their bodies. So, distancing themselves from those body parts with the help of sex toys can help.

For example, one of the first toys that made me realize that, was the Magic Wand. When you use a wand that vibrates, you don’t necessarily have direct contact with your genitals, but you still feel pleasure. And you can stroke the vibrator like a penis. That was truly a revelation for me!

There’s even a super expensive vibrator that mimics a penis, with a sleeve over it and a reservoir that allows you to “ejaculate”.

For trans masculine folks, harnesses, strap-ons, and prostheses can also be great.

MB: Some toys are made to be used when the clitoris is enlarged by testosterone in trans men. This type of toy stimulates the clitoris with suction, which allows you to have a manual gesture that resembles the way you would caress a penis. This allows you to stimulate the clitoris while keeping a certain distance with it and while giving the impression of stimulating a penis. For example, the FTM Stroker available on Afterglo.

HJP: For trans women, it can be even more complicated to create distance with the genitals, since sexuality is unfortunately very centered around the penis. But I’ve seen some trans women use strap-ons, for example, because it allows for penetration, even if it feels more like a lesbian activity, it puts a distance between them and their genitals.

MB: For trans women who have had surgery, lubrication may not be so great. So, they may not need a toy, but just lube. It can be something that allows for more pleasure and to feel more comfortable with her new transition.transition.

I’m guessing these specialized toys are not as accessible than other types of toys, in sex shops, for example?

MB: It’s indeed unfortunately still very niche. I think it is really important to have more of them in sex shops, or at least for have sections intended for them. Because seeing that there are specialized sections or toys available lets trans people know there is someone out there who can answer their questions.

Often, we tend to think that trans people know everything about that, but not necessarily: it’s not because a person is trans that they are specialized in trans sexuality! So yes, it would be great if sex shop employees were trained to answer questions from trans people and advise them on specialized toys.

Catherine Montambeault

Journalist and linguistic reviser by profession (La Tribute, Le Journal de Montréal, Urbania), Catherine geeks out on the French language and can spot poorly conjugated verbs or syntax errors from miles away. Anacoluth is her favorite error. Holder of a Bachelor’s degree in communication, writing and multimedia, she has been interested in sexology ever since she realized that she was spending most of her time listening to sexual podcasts and reading books on feminism. For her, sexuality is a magical parallel universe with endless possibilities.

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