Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Uma Dwivedi’s nonfiction piece, Gender Euphoria
Sommer: Your piece moves me to tears. It is such a celebration of all the ways to be gendered in our bodies. But more than that, it also draws attention to all the ways in which we are more than gender and all gender at the same time, which feels extremely liberating, true, and joyful. Thank you. Speaking directly to this, I believe you accomplish this by beginning your essay with the “list of personal gender delights.” The specificity and cadence of your language here is remarkable—a love letter, of sorts, to these items, which, later on, become your attire. Can you speak to how these objects become like a trail of breadcrumbs from dysphoria to euphoria, and how you were able to access them?
Uma: I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece! A lot of the gender delights I bring up in the piece are items that bring me sensory pleasure—the texture of flannel, for example, is very dear to me, as is the velvety feeling of shorn hair. I’m autistic, so I have a lot of sensory issues (jeans, for example, are nearly unbearable to me with their abundance of stiff seams), but I also have really intense experiences of sensory pleasure derived from things most might consider mundane. I love the sounds, feelings, and smells of rain to an unreasonable degree. The experience of writing with a smooth, well-made pen on smooth, well-made paper can basically make my whole day. In that way, my gender and autism are linked, because both have to do with what brings me pleasure and what brings me joy (and what very much does not). I find the dysphoria of wearing a dress is similar to the negative sensory experience of certain fabrics. Moving away from dysphoria, I can follow my pleasures and delights to euphoria, and those have to do both with transness and the peculiar workings of my autistic brain-body.
I love the metaphor of the objects clothing you, though they are not all clothes. You come to this realization via the written word: “I ink a fresh line on new paper and some voice in me, previously lip-bitten and silent, begins to speak, says, yes, yes, these are the clothes I want to wear [. . .].” How does being a writer, and the act of writing, contribute and lead to this sense of euphoria? Did writing into the euphoria take a lot of practice or has it always been fairly endemic to your craft?
It takes a lot of practice! I struggle with it a great deal. I’m actually not someone who is very good at pleasure. A therapist of mine once called it “reduced reward sensitivity,” which basically just means that I neurochemically experience less reward for pleasurable activities than the general population. Writing, for me, becomes a way to examine the small blips of my pleasure and reward. Without writing, I can’t magnify or identify the sources of delight very well, so I try hard in my work to write against the banality of despair and find sparks of euphoria.
Would you say your piece speaks to the transcendence of gender? I do feel enlightened after reading this piece, but I also feel grounded in the beauties and variety of gender. Just as euphoria is the “unacknowledged sibling of dysphoria,” perhaps transcendence is related to groundedness?
Some say that earthly attachment is the root of all suffering. That’s probably true. But I also think it’s the root of all delight. I wouldn’t say this piece speaks to the transcendence of gender, but that’s largely because transcendence is a concept I don’t really understand. What are we transcending? Why? What do we leave behind when we transcend, and what do we move towards? Personally, I’m uninterested in transcendence that removes me from earthly attachment. To me, earthly attachment is what makes life worth living. I think of Virginia Woolf’s phrase: matches struck unexpectedly in the dark. I like my matches, my little sparks of light. I’m not willing to give them up. Not even for enlightenment or inner peace.
This is a remarkable piece of creative nonfiction. I assume you write fiction as well? For you, what are the differences in crafting creative nonfiction and fiction, and how do you decide what shall be what?
I do write fiction! I also write poetry. I know a lot of writers who are interested in the interplay and membranes between various genres, but I personally like their separation and the clean differences between them. For me, I write creative nonfiction when I want to talk a) about myself and b) in a straightforward, linear, direct way. If the thing I’m writing about is too diffuse or nebulous for nonfiction, I turn to poetry, where I can dance and write sideways a bit more. Fiction is a different beast entirely. Characters show up at my door with a lot of baggage, and for those I fall in love with, I sit with them and unpack their bags for as long as it takes. It’s not about me, which is a relief. I’m none too fond of the spotlight, and self-examination can be exhausting.
And, finally, for the question I ask all the writers I interview: do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection? What keeps you going?
Honestly? I distract myself away from rejection. I get a rejection, I say, oh, time to submit this somewhere else! I feel bad about a rejection, I go watch TV. I take comfort in the fact that these are strangers, and not people I love. Ultimately, their opinion can only matter so much to me. A while ago, I promised myself that I would take feedback but keep at it no matter what, and I’m a man of my word.
Thank you for doing this with me, and congratulations!
Thank you so much!