Unpacking the Sausage: How the mainstream press forgets ‘gender euphoria’

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Transgender Day of Remembrance was tough this year.

Coming off a week’s vacation surrounded by loving trans folks in a purposefully news-averse environment, my return to daily life at the start of Transgender Awareness Week was smoother than it might have been. I had the softness of my fiancée and my cat and my couch. Twitter’s impending collapse and predictably useless election results were like a bit of sand in my otherwise fine oyster. 

Bre KidmanI’d brought a new playlist home from my trip, packed with songs I couldn’t wait to use for new performance routines. Most were some variation of electronic slow grinds, but one old vaudeville-style toe-tapper made its way into the mix. Irving Kaufman’s “Masculine Women! Feminine Men!,” off an album called “Wonderful Nonsense: Songs of the Roaring Twenties” had the whole group in stitches over how much it sounded like a Fox News rant:

Stop, look, listen and you’ll agree with me
Things are not what they used to be, you’ll see
You say hello to Uncle Joe
Then look again, and you’ll find it’s your Auntie Flo!
Masculine women, feminine men
Which is the rooster, which is the hen?
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today!

It’s hard to believe my people have been laughing at this through gritted teeth for over a hundred years. I get to cackle full-throated now, but it comes at the cost of being pretty isolated. As an immunocompromised phone-sex operator, coming home to a full inbox is the closest I generally get to any regular form of contact with most cisgender heterosexual people. 

Even there, I tend to find members of the community gravitating towards me. One such caller had left me a very sweet message to return to after my trip. I’d refused to humiliate him for his predilection for feminine clothing and, instead, asked him where his shame was coming from. In his message, he thanked me for my kindness in that moment and told me he’d sought out a therapist to work through his issues. 

He called the first night I returned and described some confusion around the joy he felt seeing himself dressed in a way that matched his insides. Having just learned he was a mental health professional, I didn’t want to overstep, but I gingerly asked if he’d ever heard the term “gender euphoria.”

He was quiet for a moment, and then I heard the telltale sounds of tears. He admitted he was familiar with gender dysphoria as a concept, but that it had never occurred to him that there might be more than the pathology to the whole experience of being transgender. 

We both wept as I explained to him, as concisely as I could, the immeasurable joy of being truly seen and understood — by oneself and others — as the people we hoped we might be. The longing for connection and the joy that comes from true community among queer people. What a gift it is to divorce things like “softness” and “strength” from such rigid sorting bins as “feminine” and “masculine.” It felt good.

Transgender Awareness Week, in contrast, felt like an assault of puff pieces about our community’s modest attempts to survive a genocide. Any unmuted comments sections were overrun by people who are furious that we want school children to have language we didn’t have so that they don’t have to grow up feeling the pain we felt.  

Then, in the early hours of the day we use to mourn our murdered each year, more queer and trans people were murdered at a nightclub shooting in Colorado, where a trans woman in attendance was able to do more harm mitigation with her pumps than all the G.I. Joe action figure cops at Uvalde. 

I wish more people understood that letting other people enjoy things you dislike or find unusual is fine. Living in a paradigm that demands anyone or anything to meet your expectation of what it “should” be is a surefire path to a lifetime of constant disappointment. Ultimately, that’s the root of gender euphoria: the joy in understanding no adjective — save perhaps “kind”— is compulsory for a person to be inherently valuable.

Maybe we’ll get to talk more about that at Transgender Awareness Week next year. We are forcibly reminded of our shared pain. The light of our shared joy is equally worthy of celebration.

Bre Kidman is an artist, activist, and attorney (in that order), and the first openly non-binary person in history to run for the U.S. Senate. They would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the political industrial complex at [email protected].

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