Centering LGBTQIA+ Black, Indigenous, and people of color, Prism’s Gender Justice for Liberation series draws from current events and lived experiences to explore the roots of today’s most urgent issues and oppressions, and highlight how we are reimagining a world transformed by gender justice and all of its joy, abundance, community, diversity, and promise.
When Cole Campos got top surgery, they couldn’t shower for a week.
They felt disgusting—so whether their surgery was affirming wasn’t exactly the first thing on their mind. It was Campos’ parents who first noticed a positive shift.
“Both of them made comments about how much happier I seem and how much more confident I am, and they’re grateful that I got to have this happen and be in a body that feels comfortable,” Campos said.
The “very, very vocal” affirmation they experienced from their parents while undergoing top surgery represented their family’s larger understanding of their identity, said Campos, a Latine nonbinary lesbian.
“Most people see somebody coming out as nonbinary as a pronoun change and not an identity or being or self-change, and I don’t get that from my family,” they said. “It really does seem like, ‘Oh, there’s an inherent part of this person that has changed, not just the language we’re using for them.’”
It took around six months to a year after Campos came out for their parents to really start deconstructing their binary understanding of gender, though their parents were always supportive, Campos said. It took conversations on both sides to reach the point they’re at now, but Campos credits their parents for doing a lot of the work on their own.
“The way I am treated and the way I am viewed in the family is still met with unconditional love and respect, and an understanding that they get to know their child better than they have before because I came out to them,” Campos said.
Overlapping systems of marginalization complicate the experience of being a trans or gender non-conforming person of color, but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t beautiful, healing or joyful. People expressing their gender in ways that feel affirming to them—creating gender euphoria—can be a process of introducing their family to their most honest self, deconstructing their understanding of the gender binary, and questioning existing systems of oppression. While cultural expectations of gender can be a barrier to receiving support from biological family, trans and nonbinary people of color say that family—whether biological or chosen,—is a crucial component of what helps affirm them.
What is gender euphoria?
Gender euphoria is the positive counterpoint to gender dysphoria, a term coined by the American Psychiatric Association to indicate someone’s discomfort with their gender identity and assigned gender at birth.
While the term is relatively new, researchers like Will Beischel say it’s one coined by and for trans and nonbinary individuals, though they are not the only ones who can experience gender euphoria.
Beischel, Stephanie E. M. Gauvin, and Sari M. van Anders published a paper in the International Journal of Transgender Health last year compiling interviews from those familiar with the term to fashion “community understandings” of gender euphoria.
In the paper, the researchers define gender euphoria as “a joyful feeling of rightness in one’s gender/sex.” For several trans and nonbinary individuals interviewed by Prism, it feels like a sense of peace with who they are.
And the paper details how gender euphoria can occur through internal validation, familial or friends’ recognition of one’s gender, or external choices.
Kalani Van Meter, who identifies as Indigiqueer, says her euphoria comes from seeing her queer friends confident in and celebratory of their identities.
“In terms of gender euphoria and feeling validated for who I am as a person, that definitely comes from my friends,” Van Meter said. “All I feel from them is love.”
She recalls an experience at Jacob Riis, a queer nude beach, where she says she felt like she could exist without justification.
“I was like, ‘yo, she/they titties out,’ this is great,” they said, adding: “It’s very beautiful, where it’s just, a bunch of queer people—like, ‘frolic, frolic, gay people!’”
Eighteen-year-old Teo Nalani, a trans man, calls gender euphoria “full freedom.” It’s “like living without shame,” he says. It often comes from nicknames from his friends, like “baby boy” or “boxer.”
He struggled with dysphoria around his chest when he was younger, but he remembers associating internal comfort with the ocean.
“I’m just the body in the ocean,” he recalled, thinking of times he’s gone swimming. “I don’t want to be anything else other than that.”
Historic gender ideas can create comfort in the present
Nalani, who is part Native Hawaiian, says the Māhū—gender non-conforming people of Native Hawaiian culture who were often respected teachers, priests, and healers before Western missionaries intruded—are a reminder that trans people have always existed and were respected by his people.
“Knowing that my ancestors would have accepted me fully gives me affirmation,” Nalani said.
Van Meter is a citizen of the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma. Like Nalani, Van Meter says she gathers strength from the history of genderfluidity in their ancestral traditions.
She says understanding how her Indigenous ancestors expressed their gender identity is an inextricable part of understanding her own gender.
Genderfluidity was often normalized in traditional Indigenous communities—Two-Spirit people were considered sacred, said Van Meter, and coming from a culture where respect was historically given to gender non-conforming identities makes it difficult for them to express their gender in a context where that respect is no longer given.
It isn’t just transphobia that dulls the significance of Van Meter’s gender. It’s white colonial ideals.
For example, Van Meter feels like the way white queer spaces can reduce the experience of being nonbinary to pronoun usage detracts from the cultural significance genderfluidity has to them, even though Van Meter likes it when their friends use they/them pronouns for them.
She is also Filipino and looks up to trans and nonbinary Asian Americans who have chosen to live authentically.
“So often, we have our basic identities stripped from us because of the need to assimilate,” Van Meter said about being Asian American. “We don’t even get to delve into taboo topics like gender and sexuality.”
Dom Chatterjee, 35, like Van Meter, is biracial. They are multicultural South Asian, with family both from the north and south, and white.
Holding the gendered expectations of those two different races and cultures is something Chatterjee credits with helping them grapple with the complexities of gender.
“I’m failing at gender in two different cultures and two different racial groups,” they quipped. “Being non-binary has given me the space to process that, to really be with that and realize I feel a sense of guilt and shame about not being able to live into a particular kind of monoracial identity.”
Social support comes with adjusted expectations, strengthened relationships
The interplay between gender and race has been a crux of Chatterjee’s relationship with their family, whom Chatterjee didn’t speak to for about six years. During that time, they founded Rest for Resistance and were able to come back to their family after the period of distance while asserting the importance of talking about their race and queerness. Before then, Chatterjee says, their family just didn’t talk about race.
For him, biological familial acceptance extended to holistic understanding and a dismantling of heternormative expectations.
But they also try to approach repairing relationships with their biological family with the perspective that dismantling gender expectations needs to happen both in greater society and in all the communities Chatterjee is part of, including their biological family.
“I don’t want my parents to treat me like I’m still the person I used to be, and I have to offer that to them as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, he finds affirmation from other trans and nonbinary people, like their chosen siblings.
Sol Jimenez Palacios, 26, says her parents “have come a long way” in supporting her.
“When you’re living as an immigrant, as undocumented people, when we come into this country, it really is just survival—you don’t have the capacity to really care for your kids’ gender,” Jimenez Palacios said.
They say they see their family’s growth showing up in small ways, like a family member changing her Netflix profile name to Sol, to bigger gifts, like their mom gifting them a gold butterfly necklace adorned with pink stones.
While they were working on their relationship with their parents, one source of support Jimenez Palacios had was their partner, who is also a trans woman and was the first to know when they decided to go by Sol.
Seeing other trans and nonbinary people, especially their partner, be unabashed about their bodies is also a source of support and euphoria for Jimenez Palacios.
“Clothes can be affirming, but I find they can be a bit constraining—when we’re at home, we’re often nude,” she said. “Our bodies speak for themselves. That’s really affirming, being around each others’ bodies in that way.”
Gender euphoria is not just proper pronouns, but an interrogation of the gender binary
Showcasing gender euphoria is an integral part of the Instagram page @nonbinaryjoy, which Filipino nonbinary lesbian Mak Aruta founded earlier this year.
The page highlights anti-imperialist queer and trans people of color wearing outfits that bring them joy. For Aruta, personal expression through outfits is part of a set of gender-affirming practices, and they created the page after reflecting on an overlap: Gender non-conforming people and radical organizing.
“There’s a lot that’s been done with trans representation and nonbinary representation,” they said. “But I wanted to specifically highlight the intersection between the two and show nonbinary people looking great, looking fantastic.”
Better understanding their own gender and finding gender euphoria went hand-in-hand with Aruta unraveling the idea of gender as a binary. Aruta realized he was nonbinary in college through being in organizing spaces with other anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist queer and trans people of color.
“Being nonbinary and having radical politics are complementary to each other,” he said. “Because once you start to question the structures that are gender, sexuality, heteronormativity specifically, you start to question pretty much everything else—the stereotypes, the structures, the oppression that you see impact yourself and other people.”
Being queer—and having radical politics—is something they take very seriously.
“The violence that manifests from transphobia and homophobia puts literal people’s lives on the line, because that intersects with racism, misogyny, classism,” they said. “At the end of the day, as much as it’s important that you get my pronouns right, I am more so concerned about whether or not you see me as a person and that you see me as worthy of being safe and happy in this life.”
And while Sheng Zhang, 28, sees gender euphoria and affirmation as “sources of happiness,” she also likens them to the “antiparticle” of dysphoria and repression.
“If from the start, I felt like I grew up in a society where being trans was completely understood, completely accepted and I was allowed to be who I am from an early age, I almost feel like I wouldn’t have gender euphoria or gender affirmation, at least not the way that it’s currently recognized,” she said. “I wouldn’t have any sort of dysphoria or repression to compare them against.”
A broadened understanding of gender goes hand-in-hand with gender euphoria for Zhang. While she identifies as a binary trans woman, she also says she rejects the gender binary and that her euphoria is more tied to dismantling the idea that all people are either “man” or “woman” than performing as a binary woman.
“I adore having a feminine appearance, personality, voice, all of that. At the same time, I don’t think that’s something that’s necessary for me to be a woman; it just happens to be my own personal expression of it,” Zhang says.
Supporting others in pursuit of gender euphoria
For those who are gender-questioning or hoping to support someone in their lives who is, Zhang acknowledges there is a lot of uncertainty, fear, and pressure around adopting a label.
“This whole journey is really scary, and if you had to make a decision from the start with no information, you probably wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said. “So instead, just move in whatever direction you want to explore and just enjoy the small moments of happiness, and use those to learn about yourself.”
Campos added that coming out as trans or nonbinary often isn’t just one conversation.
“It can be very confusing, again, with how much society puts pressure on everyone to fit into gendered boxes,” they said. “So it’s a lot of unlearning. And it’s a lot of patience.”
Unlike Campos’ parents, Roni Burren had always been surrounded by queer and trans Black people—she calls it growing up “under the rainbow.” So when her son came out to her as trans and nonbinary, she mostly took it in stride.
The most difficult part for Burren was the emotional connection to the name she gave her son, she said, and she grieved after her son changed their name.
“Watching them be that sure about themselves, and that sure that they wanted to be called Mars, that was really a growth point for me,” Burren said. “They were just so sure, and I was like, if they’re that sure, then who am I to say that’s not what their name is?”
Burren says the biggest way she offers support is by making it her responsibility to educate and correct people on her son’s identity.
When Burren’s son changed their pronouns and name, she made sure to send a mass text to everyone in their circle to let them know. She also corrects people when they use the wrong pronouns and has gone through old social media to remove Mars’ deadname.
Burren told her family and friends to ask her and her husband the questions they have, and if they don’t have an answer—well, “Google is free.”
“Being that shield for them,” she says, “is a way that they feel safe and protected in our home and in our family.”