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Internalized Trans-Phobia

I recently wrote a short section on “internalized trans-phobia” for a forthcoming book.  So I thought I’d share it here.  (Note it’s aimed at a somewhat young audience).

What is it and how do you get it?

Internalized trans-phobia refers to feelings some people have inside about their being trans that they might not even be aware of.  It refers to how some people hate that part of themselves and are ashamed of it.  The phrase comes from the similar experiences of gay folk who sometimes have “internalized homo-phobia”.

How does this happen?  This happens because of discrimination, ignorance and stigma in society against people who display gender non-conforming behavior.  In other words against men and boys who appear feminine or girls and woman who appear masculine or “butch” or people who are more gender-queer and don’t appear to be completely male or female.

Historically, trans-folk have been the butt of jokes, been made fun of, laughed at, been misunderstood and have been the object of derision and violence.  Transgendered people have been seen as “less than”.

This attitude has been widespread and so to finally arrive at the idea that this could be you; that you could be a member of this hated group can be very scary.  Not only that, but by growing up in a culture and society where this attitude is common, you take it in and part of you believes it whether you want to or not. This can happen because we often learn the attitudes and beliefs of those around us before we become self-aware enough or wise enough to start questioning them.  We often learn these things from trusted people around us – parents, teachers, church leaders, etc.  so that we tend not to question them.  We learn that a certain group of people can be mocked before we know that we are in that group – and then we are stuck in the position of hating something about ourselves.

Sometimes the messages or feedback we get from parents and teachers when we are very young contribute to feeling bad about being gender variant.  Like a parent disapproving of acting too “boyish” or “girlish”.  These messages can be very quick and subtle, like a Mother telling her young son not to “stand like a ballerina”.

This is what causes internalized trans-phobia.

What are the effects of Internalized Trans-Phobia?

Feelings of hate and shame for yourself which you might not even be aware of can result in low self-esteem and depression.  They can cause you to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and inferior, even unlovable.  They can make you feel like hiding a big part of yourself or pretend to be someone else.  They can make you to not want to be around people, to withdraw or be a loner.  These feelings can certainly make you feel very unhappy and angry.  Some people take a long time to come out as trans because they have so much internalized trans-phobia.  It can hold you back in life, not only in terms of finding a way to be the gender you are, but in many areas of your life such as forming deep and satisfying connections to others.

Sometimes internalized trans-phobia can keep you from connecting with other trans-folk.  When one has a deep hatred of the gender-queer inside it can get confusing to be around other trans-folk.  You may see them in the way you learned early on – as freaky, or not good-enough in some way.  The negative feelings can get pushed outward in this way.

What can you do about it?

The first thing to do is to try be aware of it.  Try and acknowledge it if you have it. This is hard to do because we usually automatically try to avoid things about ourselves that we are embarrassed about.  One can feel ashamed of being ashamed!  It gets complicated so it really helps to have a therapist who is knowledgeable about gender issues to do this work with, but a supportive friend or a support group can work too.  It helps to have lots of people in your life who are supportive and positive about your being trans.  It takes time to “undo” deep down beliefs about gender-variant people, just like it took time to get them.

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

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16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yes Yes Yes! thank you for a very important subject topic street science we need. We all feel it, but it doesnt feel good and it might initially or for years bother our sense of ourselves not to be able to fully accept trans-being-ness… I still feel it sometimes but knowing what it is helps me deal with it in an ego-syntonic fashion (ie by still loving myself). I do believe that my internalized transphobia is best dealt with a good dose of gender fluidity ie being more fluid and accepting my fluidity….hanging out with gender fluid type people whom i love dearly most of the time. that kinda thing. thanks. -K

    March 25, 2011
    • thanx, you make a good point about the importance of “acceptance”.

      March 26, 2011
  2. catkisser #

    It should be noted that this is one of the insults hurled at post corrected women who are fully binary identified as just plain women……and that is bull. Being born transsexed is a medical condition that is cured once you remove the problem and there is no more internalised transphobia in being cured than there is internalised appendix-phobia when one has an appendectomy.

    March 26, 2011
  3. BestGoldTold #

    Internalized transphobia is quite common in the transgender community. That is why even transgender people are more comfortable with “passable” than “non-passable” individuals. Until we can accept our own transgender feelings, we will not be able to accept others with transgender attributes.

    March 26, 2011
  4. Jill Edwards #

    I am what I call a non-participating Transgal. I will not dress, transition or even present as female. As a result I am also not accepted in my own trans community for being non-conforming.

    I have been going to therapists for many, many years now. All specializing in Transgender issues and have never had this put to me this way. The idea of being trans-phobic about myself is an interesting point of view that is probably a very accurate description of me. I wish I would have found you years ago it would have saved me a lot of explaining. Thanks for putting this out there.

    I believe I originally started out like many with my female gender identity going back as far as my memory goes which was before school and at least 4 years of age. I was caught cross dressing at 15 by my father who beat me to the point of being hospitalized for 2 days. ( It was a very long time ago) I have never cross dressed or participated since.

    The reason I mention this is that I wonder if you might know of some research of the long term affects on non-transitioning older folk like myself. My level of disporia is becoming difficult and have been trying to find any info that may be available.

    Thanks again

    Jill Edwards

    July 4, 2011
  5. rem #

    Is it possible to get rid of the internalized trans-phobia? or the most you can achieve is a reduction in negative feelings?

    August 10, 2011
  6. J. #

    It’s all so complicated. I have some internalized trans-phobia, but it’s different. I’m only 16 now, so know that for reference. When I was younger I remember thinking of drag queens as strange and interesting to stare at (not freaks though, not negative). That is, men who look like men to me in makeup and dresses. (so if the person appeared to be a woman I didn’t notice) Otherwise I didn’t care who kissed who or who looked like what. There are a lot of masculine women in my extended family. My mom defends them and says I could be a masculine woman too, but I don’t want that. I’m a female-to-male transgender.

    My fear is, I wonder if I talk about transgender-related things too much. Everyone at my job and school knows I’m transgender. We joke around about it sometimes, or talk about it here and there. I just don’t know how to talk about it casually without over-doing it because my parents, verbatum, “don’t want it shoved in my [their] face [s]”

    It’s pretty scary to assume your parents are accepting and the find out how transphobic and homophobic they really are. My parents both grew up in the countryside, and now because of them I don’t know how to handle various situations. I’m so shy about talking about being transgender. A good friend and co-worker of mine is bisexual, so we swap stories sometimes. But she started it. She talked about how some people accuse her of not being bisexual because some girls fake it to feel secure and cool and blah blah blah. Then somehow we got onto her asking me how I knew I was transgender.

    On the outside I look fine and I feel so happy people actually care and aren’t offended and just… they respect me. They see me for me. And it freaks me out. Because I always hear that little voice of mother and father in the back of my head saying “you’re shoving it in their faces; quit being obnoxious and embarrassing.”

    Thanks for the article, it does help in its own complex way.
    - J.

    August 14, 2011
  7. Puh-lease. This is just a lot of excuse making for being selfish, delusional, or oblivious.

    When you transition, you cause devastation everywhere. Your spouse, family, kids, friends, all have to deal with this devastating news. Most trans people lose their spouses, and frequently their children. The news is horrific and causes enormous emotional distress to a lot of people who care about us.

    It costs us our jobs. Don’t believe me? Read the statistics gathered by the NCTE. We can expect a lifetime of job discrimination.

    People generally don’t like us. Being visibly trans causes significant discomfort for most people, and outright disgust by a significant portion of the populace. The ones for who experience discomfort usually do their best to hide it out of politeness, and we perceive it (mistakenly) as acceptance. FoxNews contributor Keith Ablow was speaking for something like 35% of the population when he did his piece on Chaz Bono suggesting he’s delusional, should be locked up and pumped full of anti-psychotics.

    If being trans doesn’t make you feel sadness or regret out of empathy for the people it affects besides yourself, or at least make you recognize that your life would be a lot easier if you weren’t trans, then you’re either selfish beyond belief, or oblivious to the point of actually being as delusional as Ablow thinks you are (but for different reasons)

    August 20, 2011
  8. Jill Edwards #

    Personally I don’t believe anyone should tell another how they should live or what decisions are best for them.

    Yes there are life altering affects on everyone concerned but they are honest ones. Almost every trans-person you will every talk to will tell you they were always honest about who they were. It was the people like you that told us (and in my case beat it into) our brains that we were confused. We were treated like we were the ones that had no rights to happiness. We were told to deny who we were for the sake of everyone else. God forbid the family should be shamed by us being who we really are. This is where the lies and the crimes against transpeople began. The people we trusted only cared about themselves and their own pride.

    With denial at some point the relentless nature of our condition will become unbearable. Transfolk that have the courage to stand up and say no are the real survivors and have the right to be who they really are. It isn’t easy and the road is hard, but it is their right to have a chance at happiness. And yes I know some who are happy. And if the people near to us really love us they will try to understand or be lost. There is always a price for freedom and its never cheap. Nothing worth having ever is.

    Yes there is discrimination and discomfort for others but that is the only way acceptance will ever come. Human beings have an amazing ability to adapt but they have to be exposed to it first. Transpeople need to be seen and heard. Not for us, not for our children, wives, family, or employers. But for the next generation. So when some 4 year old tells their mother they are different or when some teenager gets caught exploring they will get help rather than lied to and beaten. They have a chance at a real life but it starts here.

    August 20, 2011
    • Jack Wahlquist #

      You are kind and eloquent in your speech. I can hear the pain in what is written, hear it even though they are just images on a computer screen.
      I understand you well enough, and in a more modern day world I have never been beaten by my family; they just disagree and refuse to call me by male pronouns and my chosen name.
      And yet, you speak so strongly and so simply, so honest, after going through much worse than I have ever gone through. I genuinely wish you well in life. And though I have never seen you, and have only known a tidbit of you, I know you are a beautiful person. That tidbit was enough.

      August 20, 2011
      • janice logue #

        if your family refuse to recognise you in your chosen role and name well youl have to draw a line under them as and hopefully when they see you so very happy of your choice at the end of your journey they will change there views if not its there loss be happy allways be strong love janice fea scotland

        September 8, 2013
  9. Jill Ewdards #

    Thanks so much for your kind words and understanding. But this blog is not about me and I realize that the tidbit you see is of a person who out of ones time and place. This blog is for those who are younger like you. I had no right to speak up. So as I will continue be Jill Edwards as I can be no other, I will cease to be that untimely lady in your presence.

    Thanks again

    August 23, 2011
  10. Jessica #

    > They can make you feel like hiding a big part of yourself or pretend to be someone else.
    > Sometimes internalized trans-phobia can keep you from connecting with other trans-folk.

    This part bothers me a lot, while technically I’m a “trans girl” according to my medical record I don’t identify as trans, I don’t even see it as part of me; it’s just something on my medical record. If I was going to be open about my trans status that to me would be pretending to be someone else because I just don’t see myself as a trans girl but just a girl, I don’t see why a distinction needs to be made in the first place apart from to abide by the cis/heteronormativity of the society we live in; in order to make straight cis people feel safe that they can split us from other girls so they know who and who will no threaten their sexuality.

    While I have no problem being in trans communities, what does bother me is the myriad of insults I get when I tell people that I’m not trans, these including: being told I have internalized transphobia, that I need to accept myself, that I need to learn to love myself, that I need to learn to not be ashamed of myself and that I shouldn’t hide that part of myself.

    These statements are what make me feel uncomfortable in the trans community, not an internalized transphobic, the fact that I have a different outlook on things from a lot of them makes them think they know enough about me to tell me that I’m ashamed and don’t love myself.

    I am not hiding who I am by not making trans a part of myself, I am being myself.

    April 9, 2012
  11. tshopesoul #

    Its hard for me to admit that I too have transphobia, but I realize that I have had transphobia my entire transition so far. I dreaded looking like the unpassable transsexual that everyone mocked and laughed at. and it wasn’t untill I became unpassable that I saw that I was truly transphobic and it was a eye opener. I now feel the pain and the suffering that to many of us face in our world.

    May 21, 2014
  12. Thank you Ami,
    I’m very happy that young trans people today have the internet and can find articles like this.
    Having been born a few years after World War II my feminine self was beaten out of me by my father and older brothers and the wider culture of boys and men in my life. So true we internalize the what others say about us when we are little and it takes quite a bit of self awareness to work with this issue within us. I wish everyone struggling with internalized trans-phobia my best wishes and warmest regards!

    August 23, 2014

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