Writing Gender Euphoria
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!
A couple of weeks ago, a reader reached out to me and asked me for some writing advice regarding a transgender character, and in that email asked how to write gender euphoria. This made me realize that, while I have written about writing dysphoria before, I haven’t yet discussed the opposite side of that essential coin
As someone who feels that we should more widely think of gender identity in terms of what feels good than what feels bad, this was clearly a glaring hole in this blog! Therefore, this week I’m going to talk about writing gender euphoria.
What is Gender Euphoria?
Writing gender euphoria well requires that you understand what it is. Broadly speaking, gender euphoria is a feeling of intense joy, pleasure, or happiness you get when some aspect of your gender identity or expression is validated.
Some people experience physical or expressive euphoria when they wear certain clothing, style their hair certain ways, or see the physical effects of gender-affirming healthcare like HRT or surgery. This is the opposite of the standard idea of dysphoria, in that it’s a joy in your physical being, rather than a despair of it.
Social euphoria can also occur when someone is gendered properly, when their correct name is used, or when they are otherwise clearly perceived as their gender identity in public. This can be as simple as a trans man being called “sir” at a restaurant, or as subtle as a trans woman being invited to her first girls’ night out.
Gender euphoria can also take some less obvious forms. Some non-binary folx feel a sense of gender euphoria when people can’t discern their gender at a glance, or from more subversive or divergent style choices than those that fit cleanly into the gender binary. Social euphoria like correct naming and pronouns, however, are pretty similar for both binary and non-binary trans folx.
Honestly, I don’t think gender euphoria is really just a ~trans thing~. Plenty of cis folx feel a sense of satisfaction or joy when aspects of their gendered identities are validated, it just doesn’t hit quite the same way because their gener identity is not really in question like a trans person’s is. For a solid touchstone on what gender euphoria is like, think about what aspects of your own gender bring you satisfaction or happiness.
Writing Gender Euphoria
In that email I received, the author was wondering how gender euphoria could be distinguished from simply writing happiness, joy, or satisfaction. The answer, though, is that gender euphoria is all those things — but the context is the most important part.
“I am not a girl in that moment, or a boy, but a person-shaped beam of light, and we see each other as we are, as energy that has willed itself into these bodies…” –Zeyn Joukhadar, “The Thirty Names of Night”
Gender euphoria is, essentially, joy. Therefore, writing gender euphoria is writing joy in gendered contexts.
Think of the examples above. A cis man might not blink at being called sir at a restaurant — he might even be a bit annoyed at the formality of it. To a trans man, however, that can be a moment when it becomes clear that a stranger has perceived them correctly. That can bring on intense feelings of joy and satisfaction, or euphoria, in a situation that would be largely unremarkable to a cis person!
This joy can also be entirely self-directed — a trans woman loving the way she looks in a skirt, or a genderqueer person loving the ambiguity of their new undercut, or a trans man rejoicing in the flatness of his chest after top surgery. Gender euphoria is not solely sourced from the cis folx around us!
A trans person also won’t necessarily be overjoyed each time a cis person deigns to gender them correctly. Eventually, that sir will be just as unexciting to a trans man as a cis man, and it will be a given that a trans woman is invited to girls’ night.
When writing gender euphoria, consider what situations your character would authentically feel joyful in. These are often new experiences, but don’t have to be. Often while walking around in public, it will suddenly occur to me that everyone around me is properly perceiving me as a woman. This is hardly a novel experience — I rarely get misgendered in person, these days — but every once in a while it strikes me, and I feel a little surge of contentment and joy.
Another potential challenge to writing gender euphoria is when your POV is outside your trans character. In this case, you don’t have their internal dialogue to explain how a situation feels euphoric or gendered to them.
You can have another character, often a friend or loved one, recognize the gendered aspect of the situation. They might realize that their friend’s beaming smile is connected to the waitress calling him sir, and feel happy for him (perhaps after a brief moment of confusion, if they weren’t thinking of their friend’s trans identity in that moment.)
You can also have the trans character say that something makes them feel good. A trans woman can confide in her closest friend just how much the acceptance into girls’ night means to her, and how much joy it brings her to be involved in the festivities. Again, your cis character might not immediately have realized this gendered connotation.
Whether you’re in a trans person’s head or a cis person’s, whether the situation is new and exciting or joyful for how routine it’s become, remember that writing gender euphoria is writing happiness. The situations in which that feeling arises may be slightly different than for cis characters, but the core emotion is largely the same.
If you can write a happy, confident, self-assured, or otherwise joyful cis character, you’ve got all the tools you need to write gender euphoria — you just need the right context!
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with another installment of Queering the Narrative, but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!