Are you familiar with the exhilaration of gender euphoria? It's the profound elation and comfort that we, especially those of us who are trans, nonbinary, and gender-diverse, experience when we embrace our authentic gender identity or gender expression. Unlike gender dysphoria, which is often characterized by distress and discomfort, gender euphoria celebrates living in alignment with one's true self.
As FOLX therapist Emily (they/them) puts it, “while dysphoria lets us know what we want to move away from, euphoria can let us know what we want to move towards, acting as a compass on our gender journey.”
Understanding Gender Euphoria
Gender euphoria manifests as a sense of completeness, a feeling of self-realization, or a confirmation of one's gender. It's the joy that comes from gender expressions that resonate with your identity and having those expressions validated by yourself and others. While external validation is affirming, internal validation is equally powerful and sustaining.
Transitioning from the pathologizing concept of gender dysphoria to the affirmative embrace of gender euphoria redefines the journey of gender identity exploration as a positive, strength-based experience.
The Shift from a Pathological to a Strengths-Based Perspective on Gender
The medical community historically framed gender diversity within a disease model, focusing on "gender dysphoria" as a problem to diagnose and treat. This distress-centric view, originated by Dr. Norman Fisk in the 1970s, has been the basis for accessing gender-affirming care. However, in recognizing the harm of such a pathologizing approach, pediatric models have evolved to a more developmental understanding that respects gender diversity as a normal aspect of human experience, not a disorder.
In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an important policy highlighting that “transgender identities and diverse gender expressions do not constitute a mental disorder; variations in gender identity and expression are normal aspects of human diversity, and binary definitions of gender do not always reflect emerging gender identities; gender identity evolves as an interplay of biology, development, socialization, and culture; and if a mental health issue exists, it most often stems from stigma and negative experiences rather than being intrinsic to the child.” Despite challenges from transphobic agendas, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2023 reiterated the importance of this affirming model.
Unpacking the Deficits-Focused Model of Gender Dysphoria
In the DSM-5 (5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), gender dysphoria is defined as “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender” that is associated with “clinically significant distress or impairment.” The DSM is a tool used by psychological and psychiatric professionals to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. This definition of gender dysphoria in the DSM-5, and similarly by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) emphasizes a discomfort and distress due to the incongruence between one's experienced gender and the gender assigned at birth.
This perspective often leads to a restrictive narrative for transgender individuals. Not all trans and nonbinary people experience gender dysphoria, and not all trans and gender diverse people feel they were “born in the wrong body.”
The Emergence of Gender Euphoria as a Concept
Gender euphoria, characterized by a sense of satisfaction with one's gender identity and its expressions, offers a more positive framework for understanding our own authentic gender identity and expression. Gender euphoria has been defined as “a distinct enjoyment or satisfaction” due to “the person’s gender identity and gendered features associated with a gender other than the one assigned at birth.” Acknowledging what you desire when it comes to gender expression is a joyful approach to gender affirmation. It can overpower the traditional medical model, where something is “wrong” and needs to be “fixed.”
The Power of Gender Euphoria in Trans Communities
Within trans communities, gender euphoria can provide a counter-narrative to dysphoria. It serves as a potent form of resistance and resilience, enabling individuals to embrace their gender identity with pride and empowerment.
Gender euphoria can be harnessed as a tool for building resilience and resisting societal pressures. Acknowledging your strengths and practicing self-affirmations fosters a sense of empowerment and confidence, contributing to a resilient mindset.
Using Gender Euphoria to Enhance Quality of Life
A 2022 study revealed four key processes for cultivating gender euphoria: exposure to affirming experiences, positive thoughts, and emotions that all contribute to an improved quality of life. Embracing gender euphoria as a guide can lead to more authentic gender expression and identity.
Strategies for Cultivating Gender Euphoria
Journaling, social media engagement, and connecting with trans and gender-diverse groups are practical ways to cultivate gender euphoria. Sharing your journey and celebrating your identity with others can reinforce feelings of joy and belonging.
You can foster euphoria in everyday life. Start with what makes you feel most comfortable.
Ideas for every day gender euphoria include:
- Put on, borrow, or purchase an item of clothing or accessory you have always wanted to wear. Take time to admire yourself. Notice how you feel. If you feel safe to do so, go out in public or wear it to work. Notice how that feels. You can even write about it after, and share your experience with your friends and chosen family.
- Make a list of specific experiences that makes you feel good. It could be a physical appreciation, a particular thought, or a feeling that inspires you. Maybe it’s your new haircut, and it makes you feel affirmed in your gender identity. Perhaps it is how strong you feel when you carry firewood to build a beach bonfire. Reflect on why these elements make you feel affirmed in your authentic gender expression.
- Make a list of everything that makes you feel empowered. Does it also make you feel aligned in your gender identity?
- Engage with groups who are accepting, supportive, and celebrative of trans and gender-diverse people. Look up events at your local LGBTQ+ center, check out queer-friendly facebook groups, or ask your queer friends to get together. Being able to share your wins with a supportive community is a wonderful way to cultivate gender euphoria.
Conclusion: The Role of Gender Euphoria in Authentic Living
Gender euphoria is not just a concept but a lived experience that fosters resilience and joy in one's gender identity. It's about connecting with the joy of your true self and using it as a beacon to guide your gender journey.
For comprehensive support in your gender journey, consider services like FOLX, where trans-specialist clinicians offer a trauma-informed and gender-euphoric approach. Connecting with the LGBTQ+ community can provide additional support and shared joy in your path toward self-discovery.
In the end, it's about embracing and finding joy in your identity, and celebrating the story of your authentic self.
FOLX Health is the first digital healthcare company designed by and for the LGBTQIA+ community. Our services include virtual primary care, gender-affirming hormone therapy including estrogen and testosterone (HRT), mental health care, sexual and reproductive health care, preventive care, and fertility consultations. FOLX memberships give you access to LGBTQIA+ expert clinicians, peer support, thousands of LGBTQIA+ resources, and more. Whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender non-conforming, or nonbinary, you can find LGBTQIA+-specialized health care that helps you meet your wellness goals. FOLX Health is health care that's queer all year. Get all the benefits of becoming a FOLX member and sign up today!