LGBT+ Glitterati caught up with Laura Kate Dale, journalist, podcaster and author, to chat about Laura's most recent book, Gender Euphoria, and discuss why trans joy and positivity is so important, especially right now.
I wondered if you could tell us a little bit about yourself and your work. I know you do a number of different things, career-wise - what are those?
So, my main day job is I work as a video game critic and podcaster. I produce weekly videos about how video game developers can make their games more accessible to disabled players in a series called Access-Ability, and tell people what I think of new video games and video game news on a podcast called Podquisition.
Outside of that I am an author with three books so far released, and a few more on the way. My first book, Uncomfortable Labels, is a memoir about living at the common, but under-discussed, intersection of being both trans and autistic. My second book, Things I Learned From Mario's Butt is a silly illustrated coffee table book of video game character butt reviews. My most recent book is an anthology titled Gender Euphoria, where myself and 19 contributors share real life gender affirming stories about our positive experiences as trans and non-cisgender people. It was written as a direct response to the negative media onslaught currently being aimed at the trans community, and aims to show trans lives as positive, joyous, and worth celebrating.
Outside of work, I am also currently helping to organise a Trans Rights Protest outside 10 Downing Street on August 6th.
When did you come up with the idea for the Gender Euphoria book, and what made you want to bring the project together? Also there were any particular people, within the trans community or otherwise, who inspired it?
I initially came up with the idea for Gender Euphoria as an anthology project in the summer of 2019, shortly after the release of Uncomfortable Labels. My memoir, somewhat out of necessity, had focused a lot on writing about difficult topics that I had experienced at the trans / autism intersection, and I had found the book pretty draining emotionally to write. At the same time, anti trans news pieces were starting to pick up in intensity in the UK, and I felt for my own sanity I needed my next project to surround myself with a bit of positivity.
I spent a year or so trying to pitch the book to various publishers, with the main sticking point being the number of contributors I wanted to be able to pay to contribute to the project, to get it done the way I envisioned.
In the summer of 2020, a few months into the Covid-19 Pandemic, I ended up pitching the book to Unbound. It was becoming apparent that we were going to be having a year without any pride events, and in that vacuum anti trans rhetoric was picking up steam unopposed. I knew I needed some positivity as the climate of anti trans hate increased, and I suspected that others might to, so I set to work trying to get the book done within a year, so that hopefully by the next Pride month I'd be able to put that little bit of happiness out into the world.
In terms of inspirations for the book, I try to surround myself online with positive trans people who remind me of the positivity of trans lives when we're not under attack. It was the positivity of the trans community at large that I wanted to try and capture most of all.
What is the origin of the term “gender euphoria” - when was it first used and who came up with it?
As early as the 1980's, Gender Dysphoria has existed as a medicalised term to describe the experience of a trans person feeling discomfort with their birth assigned gender. Medical diagnosis manuals very much viewed being trans as a suffering to be relieved for a long time, because under that viewing lens it's justifiable to offer medical treatment to alleviate that suffering. As far as doctors were concerned for many years, the justification for being trans was escaping discomfort.
Gender Euphoria, the reverse of that term, has only really existed in popular cited use since around 2010, but anecdotally the community has used the term for a great m,any years prior to that. The first cited source I could find using the term in an academic context is the research paper “From gender dysphoria to gender euphoria: An assisted journey”, written by E.E.P. Benestad in 2010. But, as I said, anecdotally for many years prior trans people used the term to describe their own experiences.
Discomfort with one's birth assigned gender, and a desire to escape that, is not the only valid reason to transition. Gender Euphoria is a feeling of joy, positivity, and comfort experienced through a gender identity outside of the one assigned at birth, and it's just as valid a reason for someone to transition. If being a different gender makes you feel joyous and more comfortable with yourself, why should that not be reason enough to be who you are and nurture that feeling?
The book includes pieces by 19 different trans, non-binary, agender, gender-fluid and intersex writers - how did you go about finding the contributors for it?
The process of finding contributors for Gender Euphoria was a pretty lengthy one. I put out a public social media post asking for people to pitch their stories of gender euphoria, and got over 2,000 responses in around a week. Whittling that list down to the 19 contributors we eventually settled on was a difficult process.
I weeded out a lot of responses from cis allies who had ignored my request that only non-cis writers apply, removed a lot of responses from people who had not followed my submission guidelines, removed a lot of submissions that overlapped topics with other writers, removed a lot of submissions where the pitched story didn't fit the brief or focused too much on negativity, and eventually had a shorter, but still lengthy, list of promising applicants.
From there, I made an effort to consider the balance of the book. I wanted the stories selected to have as little overlap in topics as possible, and cover as wide a range of experiences as was manageable. I wanted to get a variety of experiences from disabled writers, non white writers, writers outside the UK and US, and writers of various gender backgrounds, to ensure the anthology gave as wide a perspective on the trans experience as possible, and didn't fall into the trap of portraying a narrow set of experiences too similar to my own.
The process of getting from 100 promising essays down to the final 19 was a difficult one, and a lot of very promising sounding essays were left on the cutting room floor. If I have the opportunity to create a follow up in the future, there are many equally wonderful stories I would love to approach authors about including.
I wonder if you could describe the spectrum of experiences that are covered? Is there any particular essay that affected you the most powerfully when you read it?
I tried my best with Gender Euphoria to cover a wide variety of experiences, where no two stories overlapped too much in either the focus of the story, or the background of the author. We've got young adults sharing stories from their school years, such as a trans man getting crowned prom king at school as an act of affirmation, through to trans adults sharing stories of the joys of trans sex. We've got stories of trans women finding joy in their identity while living in Brazil, through to a Muslim author exploring how his faith and gender could coexist.
I don't like to pick favourites from the book, as every essay is fantastic and worthy of praise, so my answer to this question will change depending on when you ask me. But one of the first essays from the book I remember moving me to tears during the editing process was "Mr Mr's Mr", an essay by Miles Nelson about his experiences making his wedding Gender Affirming, in spite of the UK's currently flawed trans marriage system.
I wonder if you could describe your own moment of “gender euphoria” which you write about in the book?
So, I actually write about several moments of gender euphoria throughout the book, around 1/3 of the book's essays are written by me. But to pick one at random, one of the essays I write in the book concerns my experiences in the month after lower surgery as a trans woman.
To simplify the story, there was a turning point several months after lower surgery where I started to notice that I was mentally rewriting aspects of my life pre-surgery, in a way that felt very affirming. I knew logically I used to have a penis, that is a fact I don't deny, but there was this mental tipping point where that because almost comical to think back and try to imagine. I looked back at a couple of photographs taken before surgery, and my body looked almost comical. They felt so disconnected from my new lived reality. My brain was ready to accept my new genitals were exactly what I had always had, and that was really reaffirming that I had made the right choice with surgery. At no point did I feel regret, my brain simply jumped to "Yep, this is what should have always been here, no need to entertain the idea things were ever different.
Do you think the narrative around the trans experience has in general been too focused around trauma and suffering?
Without a doubt, but not without good reason. Trans trauma narratives exist because the medical establishment recognises them as the only legitimate trans experience worthy of affirming treatment and care. Trans trauma narratives are the only narratives cis allies seem to care about, amplify, and mobilise behind. For many, trans trauma narratives are presently real, because of outside societal pressures.
I wish more people would talk about trans stories of joy and positivity, but that needs to come with allies sharing those stories too, doctors accepting those as valid experiences, and needs to happen in a world that allows that positivity to exist.
I think people outside of the trans community cause trauma and suffering, require us to have experienced trauma and suffering, and only care when we discuss trauma and suffering. Pushing positive stories through that, and getting people to pay attention, takes work.
What part does the media and the media landscape in the UK play in creating an environment where trans people are not encouraged to talk about their experiences of happiness and euphoria enough?
In your question, you ask what role the media plays in trans people not being encouraged to talk about their positive experiences. I'd argue we're not encouraged by the media to share our stories full stop, positive or negative. The UK media is completely and utterly dominated by cis authors writing hate stoking rhetoric, with trans authors not given any form of ability to publish responses or critiques.
Beyond that, when the media landscape is the way it currently is in the UK, with daily hit pieces scaremongering about the trans community, our activists, as well as just members of the trans community, are basically forced to spend every day debunking harmful lies about ourselves. We're tied up in bureaucracy, forced to debunk the same arguments day in and day out.
It's hard to find space to talk about positivity when there's an MP accusing people like you of being a paedophile sex offender, or a newspaper columnist saying that granting you rights will take rights away from cis women. Every day we have to spend fighting and countering lies that paint us as monsters is a day we can't spend talking about our joy, our happiness, and our positivity.
Do you think the celebration of “gender euphoria” is particularly pertinent right now, in the current political climate?
I feel like, at this moment, discussions of trans positivity are perhaps more important than ever.
Trans people are being painted as vicious monsters, or brainwashed masses. We can counter each individual piece of hateful rhetoric, but there will always be more of it thrown our way.
I think, at least in part, we need to get the message out there that we are just people, trying to live our lives. We just want to see our friends, fall in love, dress up nice, have stable jobs, be people who live our own lives.
If we can get the world to see us as people who have lives, and are part of communities, and are not harmful, that might be the best weapon we have to tackle anti trans rhetoric. As more and more people realise they know trans people, and we're just like everyone else, the harder it will be for those hateful lies told about us to take hold.
Who do you hope the readership for the book will be and what do you hope they will take away from it?
So, my hope with Gender Euphoria was that it would provide something different to a couple of groups of people. For Trans and Non-Cis readers, I hope the anthology will provide a bit of positive respite. A reminder that our lives are good, and positive, and that outside of this recent onslaught we can be happy and joyous.
For cisgender readers, I hope Gender Euphoria helps to make it clear that trans people are more than our suffering. We're complex individuals who just want to be happy, and find joys in very relatable things. We're just looking to be happy, and that's not something anyone needs to fear.
Visibility and hearing stories from across the community that people can identify with feels very important, especially for LGBTQ+ young people, is this a book you wish you'd had access to read when you were younger?
Oh, for certain. When I was initially questioning my gender back in my teens, the biggest barrier to my coming out was a lack of positive accounts of transition to give me hope. I only ever saw Trans people as evil villainous punchlines in movies, never as people who could be taken seriously as people, and could have positive lives. I needed to see happy trans people to have hope that transition might be worthwhile, and a book like this would have really helped.
What have been the reactions to the book so far from those who have read it?
So far the response to Gender Euphoria has been incredibly positive, far more positive than I had dared hope it might be. When working on the book I had a sense that it might be something special, due in large part to the wonderful contributors who lent their words to it, but the sheer level of near uncritical positive reception has been honestly really heartwarming.
I've had emails from people who a couple of essays deep in the book were already crying with second hand joy. I've seen messages from people rationing out the book, reading an essay per day so that the book will last longer, and they can stretch out the joy it's bringing them. I've seen major London book stores prominently place copies in their front windows, and keep them there after the end of Pride month.
I am incredibly proud of Gender Euphoria, and I can't express how wonderful it has been seeing everyone respond as positively as they have to it.
Here at LGBT+ Glitterati we're very much focused on strengthening allyship across the LGBTQ+ community, would you recommend Gender Euphoria to cis allies in the LGBTQ+ community?
Definitely. All too often the only stories cis people seem to see from the trans community, the ones that get shared, our the stories of our pain. Please, take the time to immerse yourself for a while in a book of pure trans positivity, and realise that we're just people, trying to find joy living normal lives very much similar to your own.
Lockdown is coming to an end, it has obviously had a huge impact on people’s lives - do you think it has had specific impacts on trans people’s lives, and if so what are those?
This past year, trans people have endured some of the most intense anti trans hate in the media we have ever experienced, with no in person pride events to rally back against those views, or feel solidarity and community in the face of them. It has been an isolated and lonely year, with healthcare waiting lists ballooning as our healthcare is treated as non essential.
As we see lockdown restrictions being lifted, expect to see a lot more in person protest events from the trans community. We've got a lot of issues facing us right now, and a huge amount of energy pent up to get loud about those issues.
In the fight for trans equality, what progress do you hope to see happen within the next few years?
So, on August 6th at 1pm, outside Downing Street in London, I'm helping to organise a trans rights protest. You can check this link to find out more about the protest, as well as read a list of our protest demands, which I think cover the changes I hope to see in the UK over the next few years.
You an get your copy of Gender Euphoria by Laura Kate Dale here:
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