Spending my work days tuned into the anti-trans legislation that’s being passed in states across the US can be exhausting. It’s difficult to balance the need to be informed and keep up with the latest developments, while also not becoming consumed by negativity and fear about the future. Many of the trans people I know are also struggling with this balance, and often fall on one side of the extreme or the other: spending their time consuming all the information they can, or intentionally disconnecting from any news about anti-trans developments. These are both completely understandable responses to the current political climate for trans folks, and both can also contribute to feelings of overwhelm or disconnection.
Today – March 31 – is Trans Day of Visibility, a day that has traditionally been an occasion to celebrate and recognize trans and nonbinary people, issues, and communities. A lot of what is “visible” about trans communities and issues revolves around legislative and political challenges to our existence.
This is why it feels important, at this moment in time, to actively uplift experiences of trans joy. These moments of positivity and hope help to counteract the negativity we often encounter in the news, on social media, and in person, and remind us about sparks of joy that continue despite the challenges we face.
“I think folks are carving out spaces of joy in their everyday life. The trans community has always been here. We have always found ways to survive and thrive. And I love that our community does that in the face of all of this legislation.” – Raquel Willis
Throughout the month of March, FORGE asked trans/nonbinary community members to share what trans joy means to them. The responses we received covered a lot of ground, with some highlighting similar meanings: freedom, comfort, affirmation, and community. Others talked about specific moments that bring joy, like hearing their chosen name used, “smoking a cigarette with black nails,” or being in community with other trans people.
Others shared the political power of trans joy as resistance. Briggs shared: “Trans Joy is being alive. My existence as a queer kid IS resistance. Protect Trans Youth.”
The message that hope and joy serve as powerful antecedents to hopelessness and fear came through in many of the quotes that people submitted. And although many people felt the transformative power of trans joy in the face of anti-trans policies and attitudes, others found joy hard to access in the current political climate. While searching for quotes to share about trans joy, one article included the perspectives of trans people who felt joy was out of reach.
“Sophie Lynne… tweeted, ‘I don’t have any joy. Ever.’”
An anonymous trans man shared:
“Personally, I’ve been having a very hard time. All the normal problems of life and healthcare that we are all dealing with, plus the near certainty that we are heading towards ‘liquidation.’ What else is there to do but batten down the hatches and support my community?”
In our own call for submissions for quotes about trans joy, some responded similarly to the above article. One person commented that trans joy “doesn’t exist” during this dark time of rampant anti-trans legislation.
I understand why some trans folks are struggling to find any amount of joy these days. I feel that way too sometimes. Those feelings are real and pervasive, and can slip into just about every part of our lives. It’s hard to imagine space for joy when we are focused on survival. And while it feels important to uplift trans joy where it does exist, we also can’t overlook or ignore the fact that many trans people are struggling to find joy in their lives and the world around them. There are barriers to trans joy everywhere, and it’s sometimes impossible to disconnect from all the negativity when it affects our lives so directly.
But hearing from so many people in the trans community about what trans joy means to them reinforced, for me, that trans joy absolutely does exist, despite the darkness and uncertainty of this present moment. We may not feel it ourselves all the time, but hearing how others experience trans joy not only lights up that darkness, it also resists anti-trans messages that imagine our lives as filled with suffering and pain. As journalist Gillian Brandstetter puts it:
“Even when forces larger than us try to break our spirit, we can respond as forcefully and effectively with joy as we can with anger, defiance, and protest.”
It’s more important than ever that we see trans joy in our lives and communities, even when it’s hard to access for ourselves.
In addition to the many quotes that community members shared with us, I wanted to reflect on one particular article by KB Brookins that focuses on the importance of self-care as a form of trans joy.
When we’re tuned into anti-trans news and media, that tension lives in our bodies:
“I was clocking in over twelve hours of screen time looking at the many ways Texas, the state I live in, hates trans people like me. I was also experiencing anti-fat and anti-Black sentiments online, at doctor’s offices, and in any interaction where I had to present my ID. “Put a shirt on” and “what is your birth sex” and “well if they just cooperated” crowded my mind and body so intensely that I couldn’t focus or pour time into anything I once loved. My on-and-off back pain was on more often.” (KB Brookins)
This is another reason that it’s so important to take intentional breaks from the media we’re consuming to check in with what our bodies are asking for, and meet our basic needs for food, water, movement, and connection.
“Joy is such an abstract term on its own, but here’s what I’ve learned to associate it with: good food, good time spent with my chosen family, the feeling after a good exercise, writing until I’ve discovered something beautiful, laughing so hard that my body vibrates a little, and safety. When joy is in my life—ideally, all of these things at once—I feel less like this life is too much to handle.” (KB Brookins)
“For too long, trans folks have been taught to disconnect from our bodies. Listening, taking care of, and celebrating this Black, trans, fat, disabled body is an act of defiance within itself. When occupying a state that would rather me go without sports, gender-affirming care, or a slew of other rights, it is vital for me to do what is best for my health. These days, staying offline long enough to live my happiest trans life and liking what I see in the mirror comes easier.” (KB Brookins)
Trans joy can take many forms. Most importantly, trans joy can come from those simple moments of paying attention to what our bodies need and caring for them. While trans joy often feels out of reach, reflecting on the many ways that others in our community experience joy has brought me a lot of inspiration and optimism about the future, and I hope that uplifting these experiences of joy can multiply their effect on others.
What does trans joy mean to you?
This TDOV, we celebrate and uplift the many different ways that trans joy fits into our lives. Thank you to everyone who shared a quote and photo!
Robyn Amber Ryan
“Trans Joy to me means having the peace of mind in knowing I am being true to myself in mind, body, and spirit.”
“Most of the time we only hear about the bad and tragic things that happen to trans people, so seeing other trans people survive, thrive, and pave the way for trans youth to be able to be happy, truly who they are, and loved and respected by their families and communities, is incredible and what we all need to see and feel. So we are able to see the amazing things that come with being trans, instead of just the bad things that so many of us experience.”
“Trans Joy means to me, is being yourself in any form of expression. Trans Joy alone is revolutionary!”
“Trans joy means living authentically and safely in my body. It’s hearing my chosen name echo back to me. Trans joy is evolving, a revolution of sorts, and it means carrying on the legacy of trans elders and ancestors so there’s joy for the ones to come.”
“To me, Trans Joy is realizing that no matter how far in my life or transition it feels like I am, I am miles ahead and steadily growing from any place I’ve ever been. I know younger me is proud that I never stop growing and loving and reaching new grudges especially when the world gives every reason to give up.”
“Trans Joy is being alive. My existence as a queer kid IS resistance. Protect Trans Youth.”
“Trans joy means finding family in community and knowing they have your back, even if they’re a complete stranger.”
“Trans joy means being able to finally live as my best authentic self, the person I prayed someday I would be.”
“Trans joy means being proud that I made it. Being overjoyed that I look more like myself with every passing day.”
Jenna Lee Dunn
“[Trans joy is] breaking the chains of society’s control and overcoming childhood trauma and living my true life and being happy and complete.”
“To me, trans joy means embracing every iteration of myself and telling the world who I am rather than letting the world tell me.”
“trans joy is a form of resistance, a romance with the rituals of daily life. tugging on my sleeves a little too hard, sighing with relief when the binder comes off, smoking a cigarette with black nails, walking like i know myself. trans joy is a participation in the divine act of creation, an alchemy of the self, a great unfolding. trans joy is defiant, invincible, soft, and bleeding. trans joy was the color of my cheeks every time i got called a pretty boy and the swell in my heart when i’ve been called a good man. and lastly, trans joy is the spiritual connective tissue between me and all my siblings across the world and its centuries. every breath i breathe in euphoria, i know i do not breathe alone.”
“Seeing in the mirror the happy woman I’ve always known myself to be and connecting with other queer people. This after decades of pretending to be a man, and a miserable one at that.”
“Trans joy is silence.
Trans joy is not being seen.
Trans joy is under attack.
Trans joy is vibrant.
Trans joy is exploding light beams.
Trans joy is important now and ever.
Trans joy is the way we ‘fight’ back.”
“Trans joy means comfortability in myself! It means that I finally love myself. It means that I not only survive but I thrive.”
“Trans joy to me is about freedom. So often as trans people, we are worried about how we are perceived, respected, and how we navigate the world. It often feels we can’t escape this. But trans joy is about letting go, it’s about realizing how truly magical and beautiful it is to be trans. Trans really is a form of resistance against the systems and people who tell us to be small and shameful. Trans joy is unapologetic, beautiful, loud, and it is freeing.”
“Trans joy means being connected to my childhood spirit.”
“Trans joy means we can be who we want and have that be celebrated, while at the same time have our struggles be noticed, acknowledged, and worked on to further our care and comfort.”
“Trans joy, to me, is a basic human right and it is something I was denied for most of my life. It is something that so many trans people like me are denied and we deserve better. Trans joy to me is so important because all joy is important. Trans people deserve to feel affirmed and comfortable in our own skins.”
“Trans Joy means living free. We know ourselves because we do the work of understanding how the world we live in shapes up and intentionally curate and choose how to live, move, present, rest, and learn.”
“Trans joy is beyond happiness, it is more than just gender affirmation. It is pure exhilaration, it is a strong sense of belonging but to me, trans joy is defiance; it’s living normally, living however I like, living comfortably as a teenage boy, meeting other trans people who understand the struggle, it is feeling represented in my interests or mainstream media, it is wearing my most favorite outfit that hides my hips and breasts, it is feeling like the boy that I am; just then, it was the salty tears streaming down my face learning the forgotten trans history of the American west. Trans people have always existed, and so has our joy, it is just as intrinsic to us as our struggles and our identity.”
Eli (The Gender Doula)
“Trans joy is engaging in sacred self-sovereignty, regardless of all the attempts of others to constrain us. It is being in a lineage of fierce and incredible communities who have found ways of being that existed outside the realm of other’s possibilities.”
“In a heavy world, trans joy is the lightness I feel when I am my authentic self or when others see me for who I am. It is both peace and celebration. Most especially, trans joy is when I am in community, and we are all able to feel that freedom together.”
“When I experience Trans Joy, it’s like I forget the boxes society has tried to force me in even existed in the first place. In those moments I feel the most loved, the most free, and the most creative. It’s electric ⚡️”
“Trans joy is a celebration. Being trans means I can feel comfortable in my skin when prior to coming out I didn’t know that was possible. Trans joy is a celebration of me being happy with who I am and trans people feeling happy about who we are.”
“Trans day of visibility to me means letting my soul dictate my being in this world more than the opinions of systems designed to restrict and kill. It is about abundant life outlived.”
“Trans joy means being able to live in and share my authenticity. I have a powerful story, and I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to share my experiences to help uplift others in the community.”