I’ve been trying a lot of new foods lately.
Well, they’re not new. They’re just new to me.
That’s often what the case is when you try something new, right? There’s nothing new about burritos, or oxtail stew, or sashimi, or roasted duck, or tikka masala, or onigiri. But it’s new to me, which feels very exciting and adventurous.
I think most people would agree that it’s good to try new things. It’s fulfilling to give things a shot, and it’s even better when you land on something that becomes your new all-time favorite. Plus, then you get to join the millions of other people who already have loved those foods their whole lives! We grow, we change, we develop new tastes.
Likewise, it’s exciting to explore new music, TV shows, and movies. Again, pretty non-controversial take.
Alas, as a kid I was not very good at trying new things. I liked to stick to what I knew. I was not adventurous, and likely not very exciting either. I ate hamburgers with just pickles on it because cheese tasted “too strong” for my taste buds, that’s the sort of kid we’re talking about here. I was a “chicken tenders for dinner” kind of guy for a long time. Beyond that, I didn’t experiment much with my taste in clothing, hairstyle, or honestly even my taste in media or fiction. I generally stayed in my own little box, enjoying the things I enjoyed (and enjoying them greatly, to be fair!), being the same old me I always was.
When I tried something new, it was because it jumped out to me (“Hey, I might like this!”) or because it was a progression off of something I already liked (“Hey, this reminds me of something I already liked!”)
I didn’t really think too deeply about it. To be fair, there was never much reason to, right? If you know what you like, life usually finds a way to serve you up a twelve-course meal of more things like that. If you’re like me and your favorite flavor of life is plain hamburger, you’ll probably be able to get a plain hamburger wherever you end up.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of “euphoria” lately.
Euphoria. That’s a pretty intense way to describe your emotions, isn’t it? I don’t think I could imagine myself feeling a state of “euphoria” very often, especially not growing up. Going to the store to pick up vanilla ice cream because you’ve always loved vanilla probably wouldn’t make the cut as being described as euphoria. The happiness that plain burgers and vanilla ice cream elicit is fair and valuable in its own way: reliability, comfort, security, nostalgia, the feeling of home. Those are all fantastic. But I’d definitely raise an eyebrow if someone described that experience as “euphoric.”
Usually when I hear the word “euphoria,” it’s in the context of sexuality, gender, or topics of self-identity. I usually hear it from trans and nonbinary writers or peers, describing that feeling of unlocked happiness when everything in life is finally starting to click into place. It’s not just simply feeling happy (although that’s something everyone obviously seeks), but this elated, intense, lighter-than-air feeling. It seems to usually follow something in life suddenly feeling comfortable or “right,” whether that comes from something external or from your own internal sense of yourself.
Sounds pretty cool!
(Of course, it is probably more complicated and specific than that…)
I don’t think I’ve ever personally experienced something that could be described as “gender euphoria.” As a cis, straight guy, I probably won’t ever. Which makes sense, since I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve got going on. But the reason that euphoria keeps lingering on my mind is because something else started happening to me as I got older, and it wasn’t just the decision to finally start putting cheese on my burgers when I got to college.
Over the course of years, I started feeling this strange feeling. It was sort of like a burst of happiness, but it was more than that. It was this elated, intense feeling. This feeling of feeling lighter-than-air, even if just for a moment. And although these moments have been scattered across months and years, I was eventually able to connect the dots about what they had in common.
You probably know what it is.
I’ve been thinking about TV shows lately.
A common through line in the marketing of children’s shows and animated shows of the past has been: if the main character is a girl, girls will like it, if the main character is a boy, anyone can like it.
I wish I could erase this notion from all of media history.
I mean, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, right?
When the world decided that all kids’ shows, toys, games, and clothes should be separated by gender, they dug the line in the sand deeper than any kid would have dug it on their own. Kids don’t separate things like that unless the world teaches them to.
There’s blue stuff and there’s pink stuff. Stay in your own lane, bucko! That’s where the stuff you’ll like is!
Naturally, I didn’t question this growing up. There was no need to. I stayed in the “blue aisle”. That’s where all the stuff I liked previously had been, so why start being adventurous now?
And if the “blue” stuff is often mainstream enough to be liked by boys AND girls…why bother with the “pink” stuff anyway? Through the way these things are usually talked about, it was implied that the “pink” stuff must be lesser, or not worth checking out because I already like the things that are “mainstream” and “for everyone.”
Oh how wrong I was.
Y’all, I could’ve been watching Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Tinkerbell, Precure, whatever I wanted, this WHOLE TIME?
Sailor Moon was even on Toonami, the same block of TV I was sitting down every day to watch Dragonball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho on. Like two ships passing in the night, I didn’t stop and give it a chance.
Childhood me was doomed from the start. No matter how long I was well aware that Sailor Moon was A. famously popular and B. really well-regarded, it didn’t matter. Why would I watch it? It was about girls and hearts and skirts and feelings. Thus, it was either “for girls” or it was for men who like the boom anime babes that make them think the wrong thing. And I wasn’t either of those things! Yuck!
Nearly two decades later, during the pandemic, I finally sat down to watch Sailor Moon. I had finally accepted with confidence that I would almost definitely love this show, and I needed to see it. I watched a few episodes and there it was. That feeling. The burst of happiness. The intense elation. The feeling of feeling lighter-than-air, even if just for a moment.
It was the same feeling I felt in high school (and ever since) listening to the soundtrack for the Broadway adaptation of Little Women, belting along with Jo March’s heartbroken number about Laurie’s clingy marriage proposal.
It was the same feeling I felt in 2020, binging through the delightfully mundane routine of the all-girls school’s Light Music Club in K-ON.
It was the same feeling that returned in 2021 when I watched The Slayers, enraptured by the self-confident sorceress Lina Inverse.
I don’t know if euphoria is a word I could ever use to describe something I’ve experienced, but this has gotta be pretty close.
And each time it happens it chips away at my old assumptions, and chips away at the lock around my heart that tells me what I can and can’t love. There was a whole world out there, that whole “pink aisle” of the world, that I had kept away at arm’s length all this time. I wish I could go back and give it a chance when I was younger. I wish I could tell myself to embrace different sides of my interests, and tell myself that I need to be able to see myself in the female characters. I would tell myself to try fun fashion dress-up games like Love Nikki-Dress Up Queen and colorful magical girl shows like Precure and Cardcaptor Sakura. I would tell myself to take the hints when I loved watching Powerpuff Girls and Totally Spies on Cartoon Network and couldn’t justify why the “girly day-to-day life” stuff was cute and interesting to me.
Make no mistake: the experiences I just listed would not have been the same if the “female characters were swapped with boys and the writing was kept the same.” It is, definitively, allowing myself to enter and see myself in the feminine experience that unlocks this new feeling of elated joy. Again, it’s exciting not because it’s new but because it’s new to me, just like tikka masala or onigiri. It turns out I could find joy in a wide spectrum of new flavors, something I clearly didn’t understand about media or, honestly, about food.
I’m not pretending that it’s a groundbreaking observation to say that “boys can like girl things too”, even though that clearly remains a controversial sentiment in some circles. What I’m saying is that even though I’ve known that fact, consciously, for more than a decade, it has taken so much longer to actually walk the walk. It’s easy to know something to be factually true (“It’s okay for boys to like Barbie dolls”) and another thing entirely to actually give yourself permission to be vulnerable and adventurous and go for it.
Can you remember the first time you ever called something “cute” or “pretty” out loud, in front of other guys, and didn’t feel weird? There’s a burning shame of embarrassment: not for finding something cute but for feeling so defensive against expressing your own feelings. Why should you be hesitant to say what you think about something? Why would you quickly swap out the word “cute” for “cool” before you compliment something?
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Why did I waste any precious minutes of my childhood watching Jackass, Viva La Bam, or Cops while flipping channels when I could’ve flipped a few more channels to Sailor Moon and discovered something that actually connected with me?
I’ve been watching The Matrix lately.
I recently watched The Matrix trilogy for the first time.
I went into the films already knowing that the Wachowski Sisters had intended the films as a trans allegory. If anything, this made me a lot more interested in checking the films out than I was before.
I liked them a lot! It was clear to see how these films had such an impact and legacy associated with them. I love the action, the special effects hold up and are charming (I actually kind of like that that fight in Reloaded looks very “video gamey”), and love its Y2K-era look at how the internet gives us an opportunity to be whoever we want to be.
One moment in particular really stuck with me. It’s when Morpheus is giving Neo the famous choice between Red Pill and Blue Pill, he says this:
“You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
[…]The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. […] Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind…
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”
This was the standout moment of the film for me, and it hit me in a way that I wasn’t expecting the trilogy to feel relatable. I don’t think it’s hard to interpret this moment through the lens of those walls separating our world into the “blue” and “pink.” I found myself nodding my head while watching. I have felt that invisible prison.
Telling you what you should and shouldn’t like, telling you what you should and shouldn’t wear, telling you what you should and shouldn’t think or do. It really is like a prison for your mind, where you’re telling yourself to not even try things before even giving them a chance. When you enter a store or shop online, you mentally filter out half of the products in the store. Things you’re telling yourself you aren’t allowed to like.
Again, I know that’s not an earth-shattering revelation. I think most of us know the separation of boy interests and girl interests is bullshit and corporate. But do you actually let yourself be free to buy whatever you want?
A lot of the successful pushback against the split has come in waves of “it’s okay for girls to be like boys” but it’s more rare to hear the other way around. I’ve very rarely been given the direct permission and support to dive into the other side. Instead, a corner of my brain wants to come up with justifications for watching Sailor Moon or being envious of women’s fashion because of objective “quality” or “prestige” or “aesthetic design” or something else to provide a reason for why I like something. Instead, maybe I just love Sailor Moon? Maybe I just think women’s clothing in the store looks amazing and wish I could pull it off?
I’ve known for years that the walls are meaningless but, in actual practice, it’s so much harder to move beyond them.
I’ve been thinking about human connection lately.
Life is really hard, y’all.
It’s substantially harder for some than for others, but it’s also just really hard in general.
It’s hard to be happy. It’s hard to be motivated. It’s hard to relax. It’s hard to form meaningful friendships with other people.
There’s no reason we should make it harder for ourselves.
I’m not writing this because I want to write about “blue things” and “pink things”, a meaningless separation that isn’t even truly real.
I’m writing this because I missed out on things that could’ve made me happy, and I still am missing out. I don’t want you to miss out too.
I want you to do whatever makes you happy. And maybe the stuff you do already makes you happy. Maybe your favorite stuff happens to be stuff that stereotypically aligns with your gender identity. That’s cool too! But just like with food, it’s at least worth trying other stuff out so that you know for sure what you like. I just want you to be sure that you are doing the stuff that makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
When girls grow up through childhood and hug each other and play with each others’ hair or put on make-up together, I’m not sad because boys are missing out on girl things. I’m sad because boys are missing out on human things. Things that bring us together as people and as friends. We weren’t encouraged to do that or to even watch TV shows where fictional characters do that on screen. The most natural way for me or guy friends growing up to express any physical connection was by wrestling with each other or jokingly punching each other in the arm.
Don’t rob yourself of the stuff that makes you happy. Don’t log onto a video game forum in 2009 and claim that you only made a female character in the character creator because “you don’t want to stare at a dude’s ass while you’re playing.” Just do the stuff you want to do without feeling like you need to be ironic. Let yourself make a character who’s a woman with a huge sword. Let go of the shackles.
The truly insidious thing that was holding back my happiness wasn’t the business plan of splitting the world into two aisles to better sell products and TV commercial slots.
The insidious thing was that it felt like boys weren’t supposed to see themselves in female characters, feminine aesthetics, or the experiences of women, period.
You’re not supposed to feel invested in the March sisters bickering and crying over looking dreadful at the holiday dance. You’re not supposed to think the Tinkerbell movies might be a genuinely great fantasy universe. You’re not supposed to think of Sailor Moon as an awesome hero. You’re not supposed to think that it would be cool to wear skirts or dresses or make-up or shoot beams of super heart energy.
You’re only supposed to feel one of two things about female characters. Either attraction (“I might have a crush on this person! I wish I was dating you!”) or a purely dry, platonic affinity for them (“You’re cool, you’re just like one of the guys! I wish I was friends with you!”)
When I grew older I realized there’s a third axis on that spectrum.
I wish I was you.
I look up to you and admire you and I can see myself in your shoes and I can see your complex humanity in me. I wish I could be you for a day, I wish I could grow up and be like you.
We all have this feeling. It permeates through almost everything that connects us. It’s the feeling I’ve had for every superhero I’ve ever loved, or every shonen protagonist I’ve ever cheered for. We feel it for our favorite characters, actors, and athletes. We have it for our real-life role models too.
It’s empathy and respect and admiration, maybe even with a little drop of envy. Something to aspire to. It doesn’t even have to be mutually exclusive from the ideas of being attracted to someone or having a platonic fondness for them. In the same way, liking yourself doesn’t have to be separate from finding yourself attractive. It’s all just a mix of ways we love ourselves and each other.
It was the missing ingredient. It’s that feeling I feel deep in my core for Little Women, K-ON, Sailor Moon, and The Slayers. It’s letting go of the shackles and knocking down the walls and actually letting myself like something from the “pink aisle” or with a girl as the hero with the same full-bodied joy and connection that I’ve liked anything else with until now.
And y’know, you should have that same full-bodied joy and connection with your own self, too.
When you look at yourself in the mirror, or when someone says your name, you should be so lucky to feel that same way about yourself. You should feel “I wish I was you” because you are you. Being you should make you feel happy, through the million different ways you live as yourself internally and externally. If your appearance, name, pronouns, or hobbies aren’t making you happy, you’ve gotta switch things up until you find a way that it does. What are you waiting for?
I don’t have anything eloquent or intelligent to say about gender or identity. I’m a pretty run-of-the-mill cis, straight dude. I like being me, I’m cool with what I look like, and I’m just living my life. If you think I’m being humble about the lack of eloquence, keep in mind that everything I’ve just said only touched on the divide between the most stereotypical “blue” and “pink” extremes, a binary that doesn’t even really exist like that and shouldn’t anyway. Smarter folks out there can explore it much more deeply than I can.
There are hundreds of stories from actual trans and nonbinary folks out there, at your school, at your workplace, in articles, in books, or online, that will tell you what that experience is like personally. When you start listening to those stories, you might hear some similarities. Feeling trapped in a life or body that doesn’t feel like your own, trying to find your true self, trying to present yourself in a way that finally feels right, giving yourself permission to explore fashion and interests that actually connect with you.
If you want to read something eloquent or intelligent about gender, close out of this tab, please go read those stories, and be attentive to the stories your trans and nonbinary friends, family, classmates, and co-workers share.
All I’M saying is: if that feeling of joy that I get is even the tiniest taste of the trans experience of “gender euphoria”…that’s a feeling of happily accepting yourself that everyone should be chasing.
Stop wasting your time. Leave the invisible prison behind. Don’t be like childhood me.
Find what makes you happy and get some cheese on that damn hamburger, already.