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Posts tagged ‘identity’

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.  Transgender 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.

Coming Out and Integration.

I wrote recently about the ‘coming out’ process for the transgendered individual and suggested a particular method (the letter).  This post  furthers that discussion and talks about the concept of integration.

Coming out involves integration.

There’s the integration of what you suspect about yourself into what you know about yourself. This in itself can be a lengthy and difficult process and may or may not involve a full acceptance of the knowledge.

There’s the integration of what you know being known by others in your world.  This is what is typically referred to as “coming out”.   This involves letting others know.  There’s also the idea of the knowledge spreading, i.e.  people knowing who among other people in your life know and what they know.  When you look at it from a purely mathematical perspective, the permutations get very large very quickly.

Other people’s level of acceptance of you effects your level of integration into family, society, work and friends.  This can also change over time.  For example when you first come out to someone, you may be in a very beginning stage of accepting what you know about yourself.  Later on, you may have evolved with your self acceptance and integration, and the next time you talk to that person, you may be presenting a very different view of yourself.  My thoughts on this are – don’t fake it.  If you are ambivalent, or unsure or hesitant – then that’s where you are.  It may change in your own good time, but there’s no point in presenting yourself as super-trans when you’re not feeling it.  It’s ok, to take your time with your own self-acceptance process.

Perhaps the most important one is the integration of what you know about yourself being consolidated into your identity.  One small example would be having gone from suspecting you feel female to knowing you feel female, you then integrate that knowledge into your identity by wearing more female-type clothes.   This can start slow – I’ve often had people come into my office and tell me that they are wearing some male/female undergarment.

You can often tell when one has successfully integrated a sense of themselves as transgendered.   Very often people seem more comfortable talking about their trans identity and transition path and engaging in politics and activism and even forgetting about being trans and working on their careers or love lives.  This can often be confused with having attained hormones, or SRS or a new wardrobe.  The integration of being transgendered into ones identity is related to those things, but also separate.

The more fully one has integrated one’s identity, the freer they are to reach out to others, to participate in community and to engage in relationships.  I think everybody has seen examples of people with poorly integrated identity (trans, queer or otherwise) and It always has some kind of limiting effect on them.  For example, one might have a partner, but might not feel comfortable taking them to a family event.

Of course the main problem with integrating or incorporating a trans-identity into your personality is that its part of a stigmatized group and it takes some not small amount of courage to go there.  However, knowing that you are integrating an authentic part of yourself into your whole identity can help.

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


Thoughts on “coming out” as Transgender to family

This is mostly a posting about coming out to parents, siblings or other relatives or friends that you’re close to.  This is not about coming out to children; that’s for a different post.

Before you come out:

I think it’s important to start with thinking about the purpose of your communication, and that is just to come out to them, to come out of hiding and let them know who you are and what you’ve been struggling with.  I’m making the assumption that you also wish to remain as close as possible to your family, and be accepted and hopefully supported by them in the future.

There’s also the question of if you should come out at all. If you are dependent on your parents/family (under 18, or if they are paying for college, etc…) then you need to think of the very real possibility of their cutting you out or off.  The last thing you want to be is a homeless transgendered youth.  If this is the case, then it may be wiser to spend some time finding and getting support before proceeding.

If you decide that the time is right and it’s safe to come out to them then…

The Vehicle:

 

My experience has been with Transgendered clients, that a letter works best.  The letter has several advantages over face to face communications.

  • You get to take your time and think about what to say and word it perfectly.
  • You can have a friend, therapist or supportive person read it over first and give you feedback.
  • You can’t be interrupted.
  • The recipient can go back and read it again and take their time with it.

Why a letter and not an email?  Well, it’s more personal, email can be a little cold.

What to say:

I’m of the school of thought that you should just say it in your own words as clearly and plainly as possible.  I think it can be good to also include the following:

  • Reassurance that you love them and want to remain connected and hope that they will be supportive.
  • Reassurance that this is not their “fault”.
  • A little bit about your struggle with gender over the years, your experience, coping, isolation, etc… (be specific! It will help them empathize with you)
  • A few recommendations of books, articles or support groups in their area
  • and I recommend to ask them specifically not to respond right away, but to take some time (a week) before they respond.  Let them sit with it.  This will weed out any immediate bad response and let them cool down.

Just as you would tailor a cover letter for a job you may need to tailor your coming out letter for different family members.  Your parents are two (or maybe more than two) separate people, invite them to respond individually.

What not to say:

  • No need to talk about specific long term plans/timetables or surgeries in your coming-out letter. Remember, the purpose of the letter is to let your family know that you are transgendered.  Period.  Future plans are better left for future communications.  Why?  Because just digesting the fact that one has a trans son/daughter/brother/sister is enough to begin with.  Remember, you’ve had a lot of time to think about this and are ready to move ahead.  They are just learning of this for the first time and need to absorb it. I think its ok to gently allude to the fact that changes might be coming in the future, but I wouldn’t go father than that in your first communication on this topic.
  • There is no need to go into the etiology of transsexualism here.  There are too many conflicting theories biological and otherwise, and even if you knew the origin of your being transgendered, it wouldn’t change it.

Afterwards:

If you get a positive response that’s great!  Otherwise stay calm, even if you get a negative first response.  Give them time.

Don’t be reactive to a negative response.  Be the adult (or if you don’t feel it, just pretend).  Remember the long term goal is to have them be connected to you and supportive.  Keep the long term goal in mind in all your communications with them.

It does happen sometimes that parents have a very negative response and even reject you outright.  This can be very hurtful and disappointing.  When this happens, again, don’t be reactive no matter how you feel.  Keep the long term goal in mind.  It’s easy to “write them off”, but ultimately unsatisfying if you want to have your family.

A few things to do with a negative reaction:

  • Communicate that you are open and ready to talk when they are,
  • Be empathic with their difficulty in accepting/understanding/assimilating this information.  Understand that they need time and may have a religious/cultural basis of understanding that can’t be overcome quickly.
  • Express your wish and hope that it will change over time.
  • Ask what you can do to help them accept this?

Other Approaches:

You know your family best, so keep that in mind when crafting your coming out communication.

Here are some other perspectives on how to come out to your family:

coming out, hormone, surgery, and other letters

http://www.videojug.com/interview/how-to-come-out-to-your-family-and-friends-as-transgender video ‘How To Come Out To Your Family And Friends As Transgender’

http://www.hrc.org/issues/3455.htm
Article ‘Coming Out to Family as Transgender’ fromThe Human Rights Campaign

http://www.tsroadmap.com/family/index.html
Transsexual Road Map  – Family issues

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


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