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 transgender 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 transgender 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 transgender individuals who grew up shy, and held back from participating more fully in life due to shame. For example many transgender people avoid or put off dating till after some form of transitioning.
How do you deal with 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.