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Subtle Discrimination – How do transgender individuals cope with it?

This incident of subtle (and not trans related) discrimination really stuck with me from a book I read recently called My Freshman Year: What a professor learned by becoming a student (Nathan, R. 2005. Cornell University Press).  The professor is interviewing ‘Pat’, a student of color in a largely white university campus:

When I asked Pat, a Hispanic-Native American woman, whether she had ever considered rushing a sorority, she told me that she had in her freshman year, but “I could see that it wasn’t really right for me, because I’d pass by all the sorority tables – you know how they call out to girls to come over and take a look – well, I saw they called out to other girls but not me.  They kinda ignored me, not hostile or anything, but not interested either”. (p. 61)

This type of discrimination is undoubtedly a common occurrence for transgender individuals, particularly those who are in-transition or who are “read” as transgender.  They are at times (perhaps unconsciously) not-included, not invited to participate and ignored when in a “mainstream” environment.  This can be particularly jarring for one who has presented in the past in such a way as to not incur any discrimination (like those who have presented as ‘straight white men’).

When it’s unnoticed

I think it’s likely that a lot of this discrimination goes unnoticed by a transitioning individual in part because of their satisfaction and happiness with transitioning (and thereby being less concerned with how others are reacting to them), and in part because it is indeed subtle.  This not knowing you are being discriminated against can at times be an advantage, because one just proceeds as usual, and perhaps overcomes barriers by their non-acknowledgement of any prejudice coming their way.

When it is noticed

When you recognized that you are being discriminated against in some way it is extremely frustrating and upsetting.

I think one way for the trans person to deal with this is to proceed as if no discrimination is happening, even if you know it is.  I think letting oneself get angry or defensive can only be counter-productive, even when one has a genuine beef.  An unfortunate  consequence of the transitioning process is that one becomes more visible at a time when most people would prefer to be less visible.  Developing coping mechanisms around discrimination are essential to making it through.

I’d like to turn the question out to all of you to find how people have dealt with this and to discover what has worked well when you do want to engage with the people who are discriminating against you.  What do you do when you want to be accepted by a school group or any other group.

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


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amber #

    i realy appreciate finding what you wrote. i am of the experience. i know transition. i was once out about it, to help educate the community, but now i can go stealth i do go stealth…. its been a struggle to say no to panels that invite me to help share. i really really enjoy doing that. but i think im gonna leave it behind for good now, as i have suffered systemic leaks of info that have brought some people close to me into a questioning circle of gossip that ultimately comes back to me via one of my closer friends (who does not know), telling me how someone who i thought i could trust was telling others that i am a man. based on info sourced from a contextual situation in the past i decided to come out to a particular group of people. the ramifications in 3 month time have been minimal, i have defended myself quite easily as the truth is i am a woman. so i can stand behind that, yes. but the internal ramifications have increased my suffering and pain, as i never know if people around me who once had no doubt, may now be talking about me or studying me like i have caught some doing out of the corner of my eye. i relate deeply to what you said about the downside of self-awareness, being aware of the subtle threat coming from people who radiate fear of other type fear, and would discriminate and outcast (if not commit a greater hate crime known to our community) me and actually do in a way that i sense. i was told by a dear friend who had psychic capability, that i have mystic capability…which i can only understand as a hypersensitivity to energies, which makes me conducive to deep interpersonal connection and at the same time vulnerable to various waves of fear, dislike, discomfort, hate, anger, negativity. this makes my life an energy drain sometimes and i look to find ways to enhance my energy all the time. exercise and this kind of writing to heal, and speaking my truth stand out as some of my best ways of healing self so to then carry my healing powers to the suffering people i serve in my community as a caregiver. i am certain i am not sane. i am certain i have traveled far and wisely and with few regrets. i am certain i exemplify the complicated truth of my authentic self to a measure most people leave up to dreams to fill in. i am proud of the great courage i had to become me. i am still often confused how to repattern my social experience. i am often feeling alone. i am easy to love those who try and give like i try and give. once we reach this common ground, we can vault to delicious new space of intimacy over time. i love life and live with a passion. i am so grateful yet sad for it all. i yearn to live in the mystery of the journey, i often live there, and sometimes i wish it would end, all the pain. the love comforts the pain away, so far. yet even the end of life is not an end, so i am not afraid of what may happen in the dangerous waters of stealth living. i trust i will always be a step ahead of any hater. though the stress and panic sometimes of ongoing attempts to flow with the cultural river coming up behind me, wears my patience thin and my CNS begins to shiver. mindful breathing, grounding, nature, love, writing, are frequent wells i tap into to kick in the GABA and calm my nerves to a semblance of comfort, or on a lucky day by the stars, sweet solace. thanks for listening.

    June 8, 2010
  2. Katherine #

    I agree this is very frustrating. I see it and try to ignore it but it is so hard. The one thing many of us want is just to feel normal (whatever that means) and knowing others do not see us that way despite our best efforts can be quite disappointing.

    July 19, 2010
  3. -JustMe- #

    Even once I will do an SRS, I know I will never fit in. Cause once they know you was a ‘man’ or ‘transgender’ or ‘transsexual’ – You will always be like that. In this year, 2010, two times I needed a shower to clean me from the ‘dirty side’ of society. Just let the dirt on your body comes down and let it flow in the sinkhole. I do not like mimiking or copy a false woman identity, but they have to take me for who I am, I am not putting plastic smiles on my face. Who that do, are simply not coming in anymore: That are sometimes Real or Biological born woman, they put a smile on their face, cause they cannot cope with us. Even here in Belgium, I have the feeling that they merging ‘Gender in your head’ with the psysical ones. So, we get an answer like this : ” We can not protect you on the law of Gender, only when you did a SRS. “. And if people say ‘Sir’ to me, even for discrimination played out, by the rule of the law there is NO discrimination. People do not see in my pants, but if they know you did not a SRS. The same for police, if they are not willing to accept you. The one thing I learn is : ” It’s not about WE CAN’T DO THIS, but more like THEY ARE NOT WILLING TO DO SOMETHING to help us out. “

    December 22, 2010
  4. Jack Wahlquist #

    I don’t mind people at my school making fun of me. They’ve done it for other things as I don’t limit myself. In general, people “grow up” and feel embarrassed to play and have fun as adults. For example, puppetry is a beautiful art that is prominent in Asian cultures still, but Proper Corporate All-Business America pushes people to drop playing with puppets after 10. I never let that pressure get to me, as well as a few other people I know. Thus, people already see me as childish or on drugs, so that’s no big deal. It’s the same teasing, just replace childish with some FTM slur.

    What erks me most is actually people being obnoxious and cruel without even realizing it. I met a girl on Omegle, purely an anonymous chat, so I could be a guy without any worries or cares. And somehow I ended up telling her I was transgender female to male. So she replied, “oh haha you have a vagina.” It was the most disgusting and horrible thing a person could say to me. A terrible insult I do say. She didn’t even realize it was offensive even when I told her not to say that again. And if I say “it’s not your fault” it feels like I’m enabling her so she and others would just say it all over again. It’s all so complicated.

    August 14, 2011

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