Privilege has followed me in so many ways. I’ve never had gender dysphoria and as a transgender individual I think of this as a major benefit. In this blog post I try to explain roughly what this means to me. I also discuss why in my opinion it’s mostly a positive, though not always.
This write up can be summarized by saying that I’ve never had gender dysphoria. Rather I experience gender euphoria. But just like everything, there is more to that. As they say, the devil is in the details.
To set the groundwork, let me transcribe some of what the dictionary says about these two words.
- dysphoria |dɪsˈfɔːrɪə|
noun [ mass noun ] Psychiatry
a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life. The opposite of euphoria.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Greek dusphoria, from dusphoros ‘hard to bear’.
- euphoria |juːˈfɔːrɪə|
noun [ mass noun ]
a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.
ORIGIN late 17th cent.: modern Latin, from Greek, from euphoros ‘borne well, healthy’, from eu ‘well’ + pherein ‘to bear’.
Furthermore, most trans individuals at some point in their life suffer from gender dysphoria. Having said that, not all trans people experience it. In this case I’m one of those rare cases where I never had gender dysphoria.
Really? You Never Had Gender Dysphoria?
From an early age I knew I was different. With a strong desire to experience life in the opposite gender of what I was assigned at birth. I have all sorts of early memories growing up, none of which involved distress or dissatisfaction. If anything the main worry I had was that anyone would learn about my strong desire. But at no point ever, the question of ‘why I was not born a girl’ offered difficulties in daily functioning.
If you read the diagnosis of gender dysphoria from the American Psychiatric Association, I simply don’t meet the criteria. The key missing element is “the condition must also be associated with clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”.
I never questioned my assigned sex at birth. I was fine with it and for the most part had an average life being a guy. The idea of changing my gender expression and presentation was not in the cards. Though, everyday I wondered what life would be like, I navigated my gender curiosity just like every other aspect of life.
Most of my life I’ve been ok with the way people saw me and how I saw myself. Being aware from an early age that I was different made it normal for me. Socially I was conscious that my interest would most likely be seen as deviant at best. Knowing that, I simply kept my interests to myself. It was my most incredible and deepest secret. Though it felt similar to the way you don’t share your bank card PIN with anyone. Now sprinkle that with a little bit of shame if ever my secret were to be exposed.
All my life I played around, in hiding, with my gender expression and presentation. Every time I did it was exhilarating like the most precious memory you can recall. Though every time it was short lived. Once I experienced the ecstasy it was time to hide every trace of what I had experienced. Just to clarify, it was hiding any physical or external evidence, like what I had just worn. It was never hiding that experience or the reality from myself – never suppressing it. Quite the opposite, I still cherish so many of those memories. It was fun AF!
As a middle age person I went through a phase of extreme exploration. That phase of my life in 2011 is what I call my learning explosion. It was only then that I truly felt gender euphoria. I simply can’t find words to describe the almost overwhelming sense of frenzy. But, very similar to my experiences growing up, once the ecstasy came and went it was time to hide the evidence. In those years I was living a secret life, separate from my public gender expression.
It was during the summer 2015 that I considered seeking medical help to move forward and start HRT. This is what comes to mind thinking of the time around when I started HRT:
(Gender Euphoria) x (Freedom to Untether) = Take Action to Move Forward
Imagine being happy as a clam in high water. Now add, no, rather, multiply that by a sense of freedom and untethering to do what you ALWAYS wanted to do. That’s a vague approximation of what late 2015 and onward felt. By opening up and seeking medical support it felt like any tethers or inhibitions about my gender expression were severed. I was free to present and express however I wanted.
Consulting with the psychologist one day, I first heard of Gender Euphoria. After having a chat about my past experiences and my demeanor to the whole thing she told me I was experiencing gender euphoria. I absolutely agree with her. It was an intense feeling of excitement and happiness. It’s still feels like that to this day, but probably not as intense. The new-car-smell has sort of faded out a bit. Nevertheless, looking at the mirror everyday now is, in most cases, euphoric.
Euphoria With Benefits
Often times I think that having gender dysphoria is comparable to having foggy vision. I don’t feel fully qualified to assert that because I’ve never felt it personally. But it’s not hard to find about people that made rush decisions to alleviate their dysphoria. An extreme example I’ve came across multiple times is how some trans women have been disfigured from getting illegal silicone injections (AKA pumping). All with the main objective of reducing their dysphoria but without truly paying attention to the risks and consequences. Not that it happens to everyone, but dysphoria can cause distress and impairment.
While considering any affirming treatment, I approach it with a clear mind. I try to look at my options with a certain level of objectivity. Maybe even with a degree of suspicion. I attribute this attitude to my gender euphoria, or at the very least to my lack of dysphoria.
As I understand it, the foggy vision I refer above comes from the significant distress or impairment caused by dysphoria. Probably an advantage from not experiencing it myself is that my judgment is not affected as much. I still make wrong decisions from bad judgment, but can’t attribute them to being dysphoric.
A subjective benefit I think is a sense of freedom to try things I always wanted to try. In some cases the euphoria lets me come across things that I didn’t necessarily wanted to try. For example messing around (that’s a good way of putting it) with guys trying to hit on me. Another example of something I wouldn’t have tried before was getting a large tattoo with flowers. Nothing that I was ever curious to try, but being euphoric about my gender presentation has given me the green light to check these things out.
Not All is Rosy
Having said all that I’ve written above, it feels like there are times my gender euphoria works against me. I can think of a couple of examples.
There are times where the sense of freedom goes unchecked. Due to my lack of experience in my chosen gender role and the high level of excitement, I feel I sometimes cross the line into a danger zone. An example is choosing an attire that may be too risqué for the occasion, or acting in a way that may come across with a different meaning. In the example of messing around with guys, they may think I’m interested in them. Or even worse, other women may think I want to compete with them for some guy’s attention.
Another example where I at some point feel my euphoria rubs people the wrong way is with other trans women. There’s cases when I’m not sensitive that others may not be in the same elated state I’m in. Thanks to some of the opportunities I’ve gotten from the sense of freedom, sometimes unwillingly I create awkward situations. Every so often I find myself sharing with another trans woman something that I did that may trigger their dysphoria. An example may be telling a friend about how amazing a shopping expedition was while the other person has a hard time finding options in their size.
Gender Affirming Treatments Without Gender Dysphoria
A close friend asked me, if I’m not dysphoric, why I chose to have gender affirming surgeries? The simple answer is that if I feel gender euphoria, the surgeries (and all other affirming actions) are to amplify my sense of well-being. In essence it’s the same objective as anyone with gender dysphoria but with a slightly different starting point.
Imagine there is a spectrum of the sense of well-being. On one side we have distress to the point that causes some kind of impairment (extreme distress). Then, on the other side we have utmost bliss. I believe that the average person lives within a range of ups and downs that fluctuate somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
I too believe that the fluctuation range for many trans individuals with gender dysphoria is closer to the extreme distress side. Then, having gender affirming treatments helps them push that daily range of life’s ups and downs closer to the utmost bliss side. In effect, the purpose is to be closer to or in a better range than the average person.
In this analogy, I’ve always felt that I started my life’s range comparable to that of the average person. Though, similarly to someone with dysphoria, the idea of gender affirming treatments is meant to push that every day life average closer to the utmost bliss side.
A Zebra Unicorn
It’s important to reiterate that what I’ve experienced is not necessarily common. Lots of times I share my understandings hoping others can see that they too can have positive experiences. Unfortunately sometimes it feels like privilege comes with a burden. So much so that I seldom talk about it. Amongst other personal characteristics, my gender euphoria sometimes makes me feel like a unicorn amid the unicorns. It’s like being a zebra unicorn; a trans person that doesn’t share a very common facet with the bulk of the transgender community.
Though I haven’t experienced gender dysphoria, from what people tell me and what I’ve seen first hand, it sucks balls. I do acknowledge and respect that. I am also cognizant that this is my life and I should take advantage of everything I can. I’ll gladly take the option of a zebra unicorn that has never experienced gender dysphoria.
P.S. The two images I chose for this post sort of remind me of the concept of euphoria. The header image is a closeup of the treads in a pillow we have. It shows lots of colour, patterns, and shapes. Though it’s perfectly organized, it also feels messy, like the dichotomy between euphoria and dysphoria.
The second images shows some wild flowers peeking from the seat of a park bench. They symbolize my decision to take action and seek medical assistance to start HRT. The blooms represent the euphoria that came along.