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Posts tagged ‘integration’

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.

The Need for Post Transition Support (Part 2)

A follow up to the Mike Penner/Christine Daniels saga.

The LA Times posted a long follow up article on the suicide of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels, the late LA Times sportswriter who transitioned on the job (and which I wrote about in a previous post)

A few things stand out as contributing to the suicide:

  • A very painful separation and divorce from her wife.  Complicating matters was the fact that they worked in the same office and wife expressed her wish to avoid all contact with Christine. (I’m certainly not blaming the wife for contributing to the suicide; I’m just saying that the separation and circumstances were painful for Christine.)  There was also the loss of the wife’s family, who Penner was close to.
  • Being a public figure, she got some harsh (and ignorant) public criticism of her ability to “pass”, which was hard on Christine.
  • Christine being thrust into and accepting the role of spokesperson for transgender issues when she probably wasn’t ready or personally strong enough to deal with the media scrutiny.  Then having disagreements with trans activists who objected to Daniel’s emphasis on appearance in her blog.
  • Daniels withdrew from friends, church and public appearances.
  • Daniels’s mother died.
  • Daniel’s focused on her transitioning as the root of all her problems and tried to de-transition in hopes of reuniting with his wife.

What are the lessons that can be gleaned from this?

  • There is a great need for support during and after transition.  Don’t underestimate the need for supportive people and institutions.  Including friends, family, support groups, therapy, religious institutions, knitting circles, etc…  Its like drinking water in the desert – you have to do it even if you’re not feeling thirsty – if you feel thirsty its too late – you’re already dehydrated.
  • Withdrawing is not the answer.  It will only make things worse.
  • Very often when people find themselves a part of a new group they feel they have to be a spokesperson/activist/possess complete knowledge of said group.   That’s great if you want to do that, but it should be a conscious choice and not an obligation.

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


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.


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