Look, lots of people post things they call trans joy but they’re just celebrating having queer friends (set the bar higher!) or consuming other trans people’s creative content (cool, but make your own!). Those things are fun and all, but have you ever tried really living in your body and thriving in it?

There’s a quotation attributed to lots of people (Einstein, Mark Twain etc) that appears in a lot of inspirational memes: “dance like nobody’s watching”. The wording actually originates in a song written by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh in 1987, Come From The Heart. which makes it even more gloriously naff. Kathy Mattea and others had hits with the track.

I hadn’t heard that song the day I pitched this piece. I’d danced like nobody was watching a thousand times at home, especially during lockdowns where I took dance cardio and voguing classes on Zoom and failed heroically to master any kind of choreography. Nobody was watching because nobody could watch, apart from when I put the camera on and hoped for a shout out from the instructor on the rare occasion that I could manage part of a routine.

I’d told myself I was dancing like nobody was watching at gigs and clubs and discos over the years, but it was a lie. Even if I threw myself around like a teenager chain-chugging Monster, I was usually trying to persuade a group that I wasn’t boring or desperately hoping to be noticed but be seen as myself for once. Not an awkward girl with a porno chest. Yeah, I get it, I look funny. No, I don’t drink. Yes, I can have fun, shhh.

I finally got the point of the daft “dance like no-one is watching” inspo meme the other day. The tune I danced to most vigorously was Work Bitch by Britney, because I love it, but I also twerked and twirled wildly to music I’d never listened to before and have no real desire to hear again.

There I was in the middle of the afternoon, dancing in a dark room, and nobody was watching for the vast majority of the time. Nobody else was dancing the majority of the time. Nobody talked to me or acknowledged my existence most of the time. It didn’t matter. I felt good. I felt hot. I was good and I was hot. And I had my ass out. BUTTS.

BUTTS? It was the room run by Leeds Fetishmen at an alternative Pride event, so I was wearing a mesh top, harness and leather jockstrap. I took my shorts off when I entered, grateful to get out my glutes in the ridiculous heat. There were other guys in backless singlets and assless chaps, alongside more fully-clothed folk in leather and rubber and lycra. People of all shapes, sizes, genders and races proudly wearing gear and it not mattering if they had birthmarks or mobility devices or any of that stuff. If you feel hot you are hot, you see. That’s the trans joy I’ve recently started to feel.

To be honest if I had been shouted at, ridiculed, filmed and put on the internet for mockery…it would have been nothing I hadn’t had before. At one point I grew my hair long and dyed it golden blonde and wore fem clothes to try to escape the regular comments and white van horn honks where I live. It barely worked. There’s nothing I can do to fool or appease the bigots and bullies who will always smell it on me.

Back to the trans joy, butts & dancing. I was pulling out all the big moves from the Zoom classes and Steps videos, doing them extremely badly, and chucking in attempts at back bends from the yoga that got me through my PhD thesis and book drafts. My friend dropped in for a while and I twerked against them for a couple of tracks. A guy called James handed me the controls for the smoke machine and we went nuts for a while. I left for the bus home at about twenty past seven — in the evening, not the morning — a sweaty and exhausted mess.

Pride is the opposite of shame, so I’m not going to feel ashamed that I wasn’t there with a big group of friends or being applauded for wanging my arms around like a wally. I’m proud that it didn’t matter, that I had a great time anyway.

Real trans joy doesn’t come from other people accepting you or from feeling represented in the media, but from accepting and representing your true self. I was always trying to be something before or trying to get people to like me. What “passing” as a man gave me, such as it is, is the confidence to act on the impulses that were always in my head without fear. I’m never going to take a social risk bigger than openly medically transitioning after 40 and speaking out against transphobia so I might as well go full throttle.

Real trans joy comes from getting your arse out! Making the filthy jokes! Loving the things you work on in the gym and the clothes you choose to wear! The choices you make are yours and you shouldn’t feel restricted from doing anything that consenting adults can legally do together and alone. Including dancing provocatively in public for no audience whatsoever.

As Britney would say:

Hold your head high, fingers to the sky

They gonna try and try ya, but they can’t deny ya

Keep it building higher, and higher

Keep it building higher, and higher