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Poll Results – Hiding and Gender Variance

I’ve been interested in the issue of hiding and its effect on the personality for transgender individuals for some time and have had a poll going on my website to ask questions about it.  Even though the results have been “open”, not all results are visible (the text answers), so I’ve now closed the poll and am publishing the results here.  It’s a four question poll.  It was up from April 2011 till Sept 2013.

1. Was your family aware of your gender variance when you were growing up?

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                                                    # of responses                     %
they were not aware of it             24                                  33%
not sure, probably not                   16                                  22%
not sure, probably were                18                                  25%
they were aware of it                      14                                  19%

2. For how long did you keep your gender variance secret from those closest to you?

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                                                                                of responses              %
I never hid it                                                                   10                      14%
Less than a year <1                                                         5                        7%
one to five years 1-5                                                      3                       4%
five to ten years 5-10                                                     2                       3%
ten to twenty years 10-20                                            26                      38%
more than twenty years >20                                       23                      33%

3. If you actively hid your gender variance, what do you think the positive (if any) effects were on you?

                                                                                                        # of responses           %
I didn’t hide it from others                                                                     10               15%
Hiding my gender variance had no positive effects on me        47               72%
Other:                                                                                                               8               12%

(text results for “other)

“Passing as cisgender normal allowed me to use male privilege and advantages.”

“It gave me time to figure things out, and prepare for negative reactions. “

“I didn’t have to fight for treatment before I was grown up and able to figh “

“This action has given me time to understand myself better.”

“Kept me safe “

“I have had a very satisfying family life. “

“i kept friends and family”

“Independence”

4. If you actively hid your gender variance, what do you think the negative (if any) effects were on you?

                                                                                      # of responses        %
I didn’t hide it from others                                                                 10                23%
Hiding my gender variance had no negative effect on me        5                11%
Other:                                                                                                          29               66%

(text results for “other)

“suppressed sociability”

“Huge”

“it almost killed me”

“I was lonely and in denial”

“Living life as someone I wasn’t has hurt me emotionally.”

“depression, anxiety”

“delayed transition, disastrous personal relationships, low self-esteem”

“regret because I did not hide it as well as I thought I had”

“I am always questioning my own perception of reality”

“bad coping mechanism, burnout, acute stress disorder and in the end job loss”

“Anxiety, Fits of Rage, Not feeling right between the brain and the body “

“Feeling more alone.”

“it has caused me to be alone and asexual”

“Mental & physical stress”

“low self-esteem, not comfortable as self, suppressed personality”

“always worried someone would find out and ridicule me”

“i felt like my relationships weren’t solid with the people i cared about”

“Terrible dysphoria and guilt late in life”

“It cost me a lot of my life”

“trauma, depression, self-loathing, distrust, anxiety”

“Got dpressed”

“low self esteem, anxiety, depression”

“plentifold of which emotional isolation had the biggest impact”

“Inability to express oneself.”

“I wasn’t me”

“My more dysphoria due to people calling me she”

“lonliness”

“No feedback, therefore no dealing with problem”

“emotional dishonesty”

A Response to New York Times ‘Ethicist’ Chuck Klosterman

In the February 3rd New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman (‘The Ethicist’) addresses the following Question from a reader:

I’ve been living the life of a married man for 20 years. I have a successful career and three children. All this time, however, I have battled gender dysphoria and the deep sadness that comes from living a lie. From the earliest age, I’ve been unhappy being male. I believed I would find happiness only once I was true to myself. I recently had my self-diagnosis confirmed, and I’m initiating a transition to living as the real me. There is a cost involved: pain to my family and stress on my career. Ethically, is it right to be “true to myself” even if that authenticity ends my otherwise happy marriage and damages the emotional stability of my three children? If I had to maintain the lie, the emotional cost would be tremendous; a transition would share the pain with all who love me but might result in happiness. What’s the ethically correct thing to do? NAME WITHHELD, MASSACHUSETTS

The following is my response (which I also sent the the New York Times).

In Response to Chuck Klosterman’s February 3rd ‘Transition Point’.

Ethical Issues Gender TransitionChuck Klosterman (The New York Times ‘Ethicist’) response to a (natal) Massachusetts man’s question on gender transition wraps itself around the idea of measuring happiness.  He talks about the potential happiness of the transitioning man vs. the loss of happiness of his wife and kids.  He notes that there already “is happiness in your life”, and that the transition “might do damage” to the children who “lack the intellectual and emotional maturity to comprehend what’s really happening”.

What is really happening?  As a therapist who has specialized in Transgenderism for the past 18 years I know that people of this age come to see me when they can no longer live with their Gender Dysphoria.  It’s not about happiness; it’s about no longer being able to continue as they have in the past.  Gender Dysphoria is an intense, psychologically painful and anxiety laden state which can intensify over time to the point of being intolerable.  Gender is our first and most intimate identity, and to have that be wrong in some way is deeply disturbing.  I have had many people say some form of:  “there is no choice, it’s either this or I kill myself”.  Furthermore, transitioning is a process of becoming who one authentically is.  I think that’s a pretty good lesson for kids.

The ‘problems’ inherent in all this is that there is significant stigma and discrimination around being transgender in our society.  The only way to combat this is for brave people to acknowledge and be who they are and try and maintains good relationships with those around them.   I think if we envision a person in other (and now less) stigmatized groups in Mr. Klosterman’s article, the issue becomes clearer.  For example – an African American man in, say 1940 wanting to marry a white woman, or a gay person of the same era wanting to be an “out” school teacher… all things that the individual’s family would have not been too happy about.  Transgenderism is at the point in its own unique history of discrimination evolution where these groups were 30 years ago.   Is it easy to have a family member who is a member of a stigmatized group?  No.  Is the answer to have that person disavow their membership and suffer in silence in order to not embarrass anyone?  I don’t think so.

Mr. Klosterman’s “advice” is a good example of a person attempting to grapple with the issue of Gender Dysphoria while possessing only surface knowledge of the subject.   When public figures, doctors, psychiatrists and others do this – they do harm.   This is decidedly ‘un-ethical’.  Mr. Klosterman  – please do your homework and write a better response.

Ami B. Kaplan, LCSW

New York City Psychotherapist

Member of the ‘Policy and Procedures’ and ‘Child and Adolescent’ Committees of WPATH – the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

www.amikaplan.net, www.tgmentalhealth.com

Some thoughts on Shame and being Transgender

There has been very little in-depth exploration of the role of shame in transgenderism, yet shame as an emotion is listed in nearly every trans-related history.  In this post I will attempt to examine the feeling of shame as it relates to transgenderism.

To be clear at the start, I am in no way suggesting that transgendered individuals have anything to be ashamed about or that they should feel shame.  What I do want to acknowledge in this post is that shame does exist for many trans folk (at least for most who are over 30 years old) and that it is largely unacknowledged and ignored, often with deleterious consequences.

Why do transgendered people have shame?

Simply being different is enough for any child to develop some shame, but being different and getting messages from family, teachers, other kids and society that your difference is undesirable, less-than or something to be made fun of can create shame.

Signs that shame is present:

Carl Goldberg(1991) wrote an excellent psychoanalytic take on shame, in which he notes that shyness – a symptom of shame involves “a shrinking away from one’s full presence in the world.” And that “a depleted sense of personal identity is an essential characteristic of shame”.  I have certainly seen transgendered individuals who grew up shy, and held back from participating more fully in life due to shame.  For example many transgendered people avoid or put off dating till after some form of transitioning.

How do you deal with shame?Transgender, about shame

This is one area where it really helps to be in therapy.  It’s hard to deal with alone because most people, left to their own devices will simply avoid dealing with shame.  So the short answer is: don’t deny that you have shame, acknowledge it, talk about it, try to understand it, look at it, and hold it up to the light.  Ask yourself what am I ashamed of?  – And try to honestly answer it.  Don’t skip over the answer by saying – “well, I have nothing to be ashamed of” – You need to understand that there is shame there and what it’s about.  For example: “I have shame that I was born a girl but am not more feminine, that I never liked wearing dresses, and that my family seemed embarrassed by me… etc..”.

Then you can move on to the question of if you should be ashamed.  And the answer to that is usually no.  But it needs to be dragged out into the light of day first and acknowledged.  It’s hard to do, but a very worthwhile endeavor. By the way, this process usually takes a long time.

Goldberg, C. (1991) Understanding Shame. Jason Aronson Inc, Northvale, New Jersey.

Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.

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