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Posts tagged ‘bias and stigma’

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.

What is the Difference between Gay and Transgender?

This may be a very basic post for some and if so I invite you to skip it, but it is one of the most frequent search requests that land people on my blog, so I thought I should write a very clear answer to this query. (I wrote previously about the difference between some experiences of gay and transgender people here.)

OK, to begin with let’s define some terms.

‘Gay’, ’Lesbian’ and ‘Bisexual’ refer to sexual orientation, in other words – who you are attracted to.   A man who is attracted to other men could identify as ‘Gay’ or ‘Homosexual’.

‘Transgender’ is often used to mean ‘Transsexual’(Transgender refers to a larger group of people than that) has to do with one’s gender identity.  Gender Identity is how one identifies in terms of maleness or femaleness.  For a transgendered or transsexual person one’s gender identity is different from what one might expect given ones natal or biological sex (‘Sex’ here refers to one’s biological sex – how one was born.)  Gender is not always the same as one’s sex.  ‘Gender Identity’ is how one feels inside, and Sexual Orientation is who one is attracted to vis-à-vis your current gender presentation.

To get back to the question ‘What is the Difference between Gay and Transgender?’ – we see that the difference is one has to do with sexual orientation (who you are attracted to sexually) and the other has to do with gender identity (who you feel yourself to be).

Why then all the confusion?

I think it has to do with the fact that queer folk – (i.e. gay lesbian and bisexual) might have more overlap with gender queerness than other (heteronormative or ‘straight’) folk.  In other words – among gay men – there may be a larger percentage of gender fluidity – or those who identify as somewhat more feminine than among straight men and the same with gay women.  This is their natural ‘Gender Expression’.  Indeed Freud remarked on the biological characteristics of gay men back in the early 1900’s.  Therefore it is possible to confuse or conflate sexual orientation with gender identity.  In addition, much of the stigma and discrimination suffered by gays and lesbians over the years has more to do with their visible gender non-conformity than with their invisible sexual preference.  The world has very little tolerance for gender non-conformity, although the world is changing.

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

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