For five days in July, I had the privilege of attending Camp Pride, a leadership conference for college students through Campus Pride. While at this event, I connected with other queer student leaders about effective campus organizing and collaborated with small groups to draft “action plans.” This experience was one I will never forget. I not only learned so much from those around me but was also in a purely queer space filled with the utmost love and support. The lessons and resources I gained from Camp Pride will stay with me as I return to Tufts University in the fall and beyond, into my professional career.
While at Camp Pride, I also had the wonderful opportunity to lead a peer-to-peer workshop on trans joy, a concept I have become enamored with during the past few months. While planning the workshop, I was filled with doubt – who was I to lead activities on trans joy? I was not sure how my perspective would be received. Being trans is such a unique experience that trans joy can be felt in a variety of ways, and can intersect with other identities such as race or religion. Condensing it into one fifty-minute period ran the risk of over-simplifying the emotion.
Therefore, the activities and discussions I led were intended for purely individual reflection. I did not want the space to turn into giving others unsolicited advice on things that may not be applicable to their unique circumstances.
After short introductions, I began the workshop by inviting my fellow students to shout out words that came to mind when thinking about the concept of trans joy. Perseverance, community, bravery, validity, and courage were a few of the responses.
We then migrated into sharing short stories about our experiences with trans joy. I spoke about swimming shirtless for the first time after top surgery. Another student shared about how an Uber driver came out to him as trans after hearing his story. We heard from a young woman that her culture greets men and women differently, and the day she was finally greeted as a woman sparked this joy. What stood out to me about these stories was how minute some instances were. Simply having a trans friend to joke with could spark joy; grandparents referring to them as their grandson or granddaughter for the first time could evoke it. While huge medical milestones are a crucial part of many (not all) trans people’s experiences, it’s often the small acts of affirmation that make all the difference.
I then spoke about a thought I had been having over the past few months. When I returned home from school, I came across old childhood photos of myself before I had transitioned. These photos created an inner conflict as I began to feel regret for taking away the young girl’s chance at womanhood. I found myself experiencing what I can only describe as “trans guilt.” However, as I have come to realize, framing these experiences in a different light brought upon a newfound sense of self-acceptance and trans joy. I began to appreciate how far I have come since being that little girl in the photo. This story then led us into our next exercise: writing letters to our current selves, from the perspective of our younger selves. I asked the students to imagine they were six years old again and met their current selves. What would they think? Would they be surprised? Confused? Happy?
I invited others to share what they had written, if they were comfortable doing so. The letters were emotional, reflective, and at times humorous. I listened as my peers shared confusion —yet childlike excitement — as they read aloud. The exercise was extremely moving; I felt inspired to share it with others, so they could have that experience, as well.
Following the heaviness of the letters, I ended the workshop on a creative and lighthearted note: collaging. Spreading various magazines across the floor that I had collected over the past few weeks, I encouraged the participants to flip through them, cutting out any words, phrases, or pictures that described what trans joy was to them. While listening to a playlist composed of purely happy songs by trans artists, we passed around the magazines, sharing aspects of our personalities with the parts we chose to cut out. I found myself drawn to nature scenes and animals, while others focused on photos of musicians or jewelry. Phrases such as “getting there,” “a life of discovery,” and “helping them find their voice,” were added alongside such images, encapsulating different trans experiences. Looking around the room, I noticed every single collage was vastly different from the next, once again highlighting that the trans experience is far from monolithic.
Simply sitting in that moment, laughing alongside fellow trans and queer individuals brought an immense amount of trans joy. We were simply existing. But we were also creating. We were creating pieces of art that portrayed our identities. We were creating a space for trans folks to express themselves. It was peaceful. I only had to worry about when a pair of scissors would be free, not about the numerous bills attacking my identity.
As part of a broader project regarding trans joy, I also created a form on the Campus Pride website for trans students to share their stories. The form had three questions: how do you experience trans joy; what sparks your trans joy; and why is trans joy important.
One theme in the responses was the importance of community in experiencing trans joy:
“Navigating my transition and sharing experiences with trans friends brings me so much joy” – Jordan, Syracuse University
“Going to college and being able to find a community of other trans/non-binary people…I didn’t fully realize there could be better things but I found them and it was like a vice had been removed from my heart.” – Noa, Tufts University
Another pivotal aspect of trans joy according to the responses is the spark from within, the beauty in the courage to be oneself. Transness itself is joyful.
“I find joy in the confusion of gender. It’s such a complicated concept that there’s no way to totally know what your gender is, whether you’re cis or trans. The chaos can be fun to navigate.” – Willa, Tufts University
“Being able to show up as my full self” – Aster, Clemson University
One of the most consistent responses affirmed that trans joy is a form of resistance:
“Trans joy is important because right now, our very existence is being targeted. By simply being ourselves, we are fighting transphobia and hate, but by experiencing trans joy, we are not only fighting it, but experiencing a normal life full of joy- just as anyone else who is cisgender would. It is proof that we are not a phase, we are real people just like anyone else.” – Siddy, New York University
“trans joy is important because it’s powerful, it’s where we have a voice, where we feel connected, it’s where we become humans to each other and it’s what keeps me going.” – Blake, Ithaca College
Reading responses from trans individuals and connecting with them in the workshop brought about a newfound sense of appreciation for being trans. I truly love being trans. A few years ago I would not have said the same thing. Through community and positive reframing, I have been able to appreciate my journey of gender. And yes, being trans today is not easy. Yet being able to find just a touch of joy has ignited a flame of hope and beauty for my future. At a time when it feels like the cards are stacked against us, that is one of the most powerful things I can ask for myself.
Learn more with the Campus Pride Trans Joy Resource Guide.
Add your trans joy to these voices – tell us about your trans joy.
Plus you can share your story with us.
Madison Greenstein (they/them) is a sophomore at Tufts University studying sociology. They are a 2023 Campus Pride Intern. Outside of school, they can be found playing guitar, hanging out with their dog, and doing crossword puzzles.