Personal Stories

What Is Trans Joy?

Trans joy is about claiming one’s identity and celebrating it, and also about reshaping the world that has insisted on cishet norms.

Each year between November 13 – 19, people and organisations around the country participate in Transgender Awareness Week to help raise visibility around transgender people and the issues they face. However, when much of the narrative of the trans experience is built on overcoming obstacles, it can become problematic.

This is where ‘Trans Joy’ enters the picture; to combat these ideas, and reassert the reality that Trans people do find happiness because of their identity, and not in spite of it. Finding joy in marginalised identities has become a form of resistance.

Trans joy is about claiming one’s identity and celebrating it, and also about reshaping the world that has insisted on cishet norms. We spoke to 5 people and asked them what ‘trans joy’ meant to them and how the concept has played out in their lives.

Being their true self

“Trans Joy for me is being who I am and proud of being who I am. The life is struggle but I’m glad that I was born as a Transgender Woman. Else I might not have understood the inequality in this world. When I go outside as my true self, that gives me confidence, happiness and peace of mind and [that] for me is my Trans Joy,” say Ritushree Panigrahi.

Ritushree recounts the first time she went out in public as herself. “It was the Delhi Pride Parade [in] 2019. As I was making my way from the hotel to Barakhamba road, where the pride was supposed to start, I was so nervous about what would happen but the moment I got [out of] my cab, I felt a peace that I [had] never felt in my entire life. That was the moment I discovered what life [is],” she explains.

Society is ignorant about the issues of the community. “Seldom do they report anything. Whenever they report it, [it] is mostly about the atrocities on Transgender persons. The world is gloomy and trans people are battling discrimination, Transphobia, mental health issues, lack of job opportunities, inadequate access to health care and more,” she says, citing these daily struggles as a major reason for the high rates of suicide amongst transgender persons. “In these times, we need some positivity. It is necessary to prepare for the long battle,” she adds.

Not conforming to cishet norms

Aryan Somaiya, co-founder of Guftagu Counselling and Psychotherapy Service, says that Trans Joy refers to the euphoric moments in one’s life. “With or without surgery, it is those many moments that may not conform to the normative ideas of celebratory moments that make up Trans Joy. Be it finding a partner, changing your name on social media accounts, meeting the community for the first time or during distress, wearing or buying a bra for the first time, wearing lipstick, getting waxed, or passing for the gender you identify with,” he says.

For him, it was many such moments that helped him discover the idea of Trans Joy. An important moment for him, he says, was when he chose a name for himself. “It was great to create an email account with the new name, and every time people call me by that name, I experience joy. Trans Joy would look different for different people,” he says.

Celebrating and feeling joy for our experiences is an act of resilience in a world divided by the binary, he says. ‘This is also a source of hope for the next generation and our fellow non-binary and trans brothers and sisters,” he says. Trans Joy is also about reclaiming space with joy and happiness. “It is a statement of our presence and our existence. This unitedly helps us to fight for our rights, participate and organise our fight and struggles. All in all, in this cishet world, finding our joys and happiness is our way of rebelling and letting them know that nothing can take away our celebration and also invites more allies,” he adds.

Changing the paradigm

Writer, performer, and activist Doel Rakshit says that Trans Joy is becoming more and more important because people are talking about it and it allows for a narrative that doesn’t center around the idea that the lives of trans people end in tragedy. “Yes, it is a real possibility and a lived reality for many, but if we only keep depicting that version in art and culture then that becomes reductive. People will associate grief with trans people and that mindset becomes institutionalised,” she says.

Trans people, she says, also want joy just like anyone else. After having suffered grief for a long time, concepts of Trans Joy and gender euphoria allow for a change in the paradigm. “Earlier, we used to call it gender dysphoria, which was reductive. I do feel dysphoric about some aspects of life but there are many aspects I feel euphoric about. The term ‘dysphoria’ reduces Trans people’s experience to something negative,” she says.

The road to change is a long one and the government alone is not responsible. “Accepting trans people in public spaces is easier than it is accepting them in your personal life. An employer might be open to hiring a trans person because they want representation, but the whole situation changes when that same person is their child or relative,” she explains. While she agrees that it is not the responsibility of society at large to make life comfortable for trans people, they do have a responsibility to act with sensitivity. “Don’t ask them on dating sites what is between their legs or if they have gone through surgery,” she says. Society letting trans people simply be is one of the biggest stepping stones, she adds.

These changes come from deliberate learning and unlearning and it won’t happen through institutions. “In public spaces, acceptance and tolerance are performative; it is done to protect oneself socially. These ideas need to be taught in primary schools. Kids should know about different gender identities and understand that there is a possibility that many of their classmates might be trans,” she says. Sensitisation efforts, she adds, should go beyond schools and parents too should be taught these ideas so that the learning continues.

Fitting in outside the boxes

Zainab P, a human rights activist and development professional, says that as a trans woman who has seen a fair deal of personal struggle, Trans Joy is a concept that is extremely close to home. “Most people don’t want to talk about transgender identity or issues because our lives are not linear or binary. For me, trans joy is about being my true self 365 days a year. It’s not about celebrating your identity, but just being whatever you identify as,” she explains.

Zainab believes that trans people should work towards moving away from the boundaries that we try to attach ourselves to. “We shouldn’t try to fit ourselves into those same boxes we tried to get out of. Non-Confirming means that you don’t identify within those boxes. So why go back to those boxes that society gives us?” she opines. Identity and expression are personal choices and they should be respected. “They don’t exist in binaries. You shouldn’t break free and then re-box yourself. For me, that is what Trans Joy is about; not ascribing to the majoritarian ideas,” she explains.

As a successful working professional and an outspoken activist, Zainab has gained some clout, not just among the trans community, but across the country. “When they see me, they see someone who is doing well as a person who is articulate and successful, the conversation moves towards creating clones of me. Have you ever asked a trans person whether they want me as a role model?” she says. Having no role models to look up to, Zainab says that she worked towards being a role model for herself. “When you decide I am someone to aspire to be, you are also deciding who is acceptable within the trans population,” she says. This, she says, is why trans people shouldn’t be viewed as a community, and rather as a population that has come together because of certain social disparities.

Mode of resistance

Zoya Razdan says that she never understood the concept of labels. “I am not sure whether they do more good than harm or vice versa. But at the same time, I understand that to talk about something or to put a spotlight on it, terminologies need to be defined. So keeping that in mind, for me trans joy is plainly existing and living the way I would like to be. My trans journey has been one of resistance – internal & external followed by self-acknowledgement,” she says.

Trans joy is less about her ‘becoming’, but enjoying the moments of her transness/life. This can simply be hanging out with friends or being with her partner in a space that they have made their home, or getting decked up and going out with other trans friends without fear of any repercussions.

Her first experience of pure happiness was when she was able to converse about herself with a fellow Trans person. “After, we got ready just for the fun of looking pretty. For me, it was just a moment of happiness but now one can label it Trans Joy,” she says.

However, she believes that more than Trans Joy, we need to talk about countering hate. “It just feels like there is so much venom in our surroundings. People need to see others without the various lenses that this hyper-masculine, patriarchal society has put on these days. The concept of embracing joy isn’t new and only for trans people, take for example the ‘Black Joy Project’,” she explains. In general, as a society, we should see ourselves as global citizens battling so many issues collectively – where various communities, especially minorities, being voiceless in their respective locations are not exactly ‘joyous’, she adds.

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Armed with a B.A in English Literature from St. Xavier's college, Mumbai she set out to become a writer about a year ago. When not binge eating and watching reruns of any show she can get her hands on you will find her talking animatedly/ day dreaming/ glued to a book.
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