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Posts tagged ‘psychotherapy’

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.

Parents dealing with Gender Dysphoria in young children

This NPR piece ‘Two Families Grapple with Sons’ Gender Preferences
Psychologists Take Radically Different Approaches in Therapy‘
by Alix Spiegel is from a couple of years ago, but its still relevant. “It wasn’t until Halloween when her 2 1/2-year-old son decided to dress as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz that Carol began to worry….“ (its worth reading the whole thing!) The article follows two children from ages two to six.

In the case of 2/1/2 year old ‘Bradley’ the family tries to convince him to be a boy by taking away feminine toys and directing his play resulting in Bradley’s withdrawal. It is another demonstration of the impossibility of authentically changing someone into someone their not, and the inadvisability of blindly following one doctor’s suggestions considering the enormity of the issue and potential consequences. (see a previous post on this issue here).

In the case of ‘Jona’, the parents reluctantly went along with the child’s direction of wanting to be accepted as a girl, and happened to find a psychotherapist that encouraged the approach, with the result of a happy, healthy and even popular child.

The article quotes Dr. Ken Zucker, the Canadian psychologist and (controversial) gender expert who treated ‘Bradley’ as saying: “Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? … I don’t think we would,”

What’s wrong with that question? I think it’s important to note that these kids had long-term, persistent and strong identification as girls since they were old enough to communicate preferences. The example that Zucker brings up would be something a child learned later on in response to prejudice. That would be something about their environment that they don’t appreciate, not something about themselves. Also, continuing with Zucker’s question, that situation would never happen in an environment where there were only black people. Transgender people are found in all environments and societies, even homogeneous ones.

The article brings up another concern for me, that of what I call the ‘hidden transgender’. Both children in the article were strong enough to try and push for their authentic identity with their families. (One was successful, and one not) Not all children can do this and some learn early on that they must conform and ‘pretend’ to be their natal gender (the gender they were born with). I’ve seen a good many of these individuals later in life when they can no longer tolerate living in their birth gender, and by the time they come in for therapy they have lived a life of pretending and suffering the emotional consequences.  The ‘hidden transgender’ doesn’t really come to the attention of NPR, parents or doctors, yet they suffer in silence for years.

 

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


The need for Post Transition Support

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the suicide of Christine Daniels / Mike Penner (October 10, 1957 – November 27, 2009). To briefly summarize, Mike Penner was born a genetic male, and around the age of 48 transitioned to female (Christine) and wrote about her transition and life as a sportswriter for the L.A Times. Because of her high profile, there was a lot written about the story (NPR).  The transition included a painful divorce.  About a year later she started using her old name of Mike Penner in her/his byline signifying some return to the male gender, and then suicide. So we are left with a lot of questions about what went wrong.

The incident raises the question of aftercare for post-transition individuals.

My experience is that people come into therapy when they want to transition, and very often their focus is on physical and practical matters, such as hormones, Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS), voice, facial hair, etc.. People have been focused on ‘transitioning’ for so long in their own private thoughts and the process is so involved that very often the individual and perhaps their therapist are not as focused on what happens afterwords. The gender dysphoria has been such a problem in one’s life that ‘transitioning’ comes to be seen as the solution.

Many other problems emotional and otherwise are understandably not addressed because of the overwhelming nature of gender dysphoria, and so it can be something of a rude shock to find these issues emerge after transition.

There also can be some level of dissatisfaction with the outcome of transition, one’s presentation, and various maintenance functions that are needed to maintain the gender identity.

Relationships with family, co-workers and others may be challenging.  While the transgendered person has had a lot of time to think about their gender and transition, other people in their lives have had much less time.

For MTF (Male to Female) transitions, there’s the problem of suddenly experiencing sexism.  In addition one might be suddenly seen to the outside world as lesbian, if one’s sexual orientation is towards woman.  If someone has been living life from a place of male privilege, and never having been in a discriminated against group before, this can be a pretty big adjustment to make.

I can only imagine that Mike/Christine suffered from some of these problems.   What has your post-transition experience been like?  Did you seek any type of help specifically for post-transition issues?

 

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


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