What Are You Going To Do About It? (Deciding About Transition)

I’d like to talk about two very important arenas of working with transgender people: one is their gender identity, and the other is what they are going to do about it.  One is who you ARE, the other is what you DO.

A woman I was speaking with recently made reference to a transgender acquaintance of hers: “He is in the process of becoming transgender.” “Transitioning”, I said. “What?” she asked. “Transitioning is the process”, I said.  “Being transgender is who he is.”

One does not “become” transgender. One is born transgender.  What one eventually does with that is an entirely different issue, and is different for every individual.

Understanding, knowing, discovering, realizing one’s gender identity is a unique process for everyone. Some people understand what gender they are from the very start, never think about it, and never have to worry about it, not even once in their entire lives. These people are usually those whose biological sex match the gender of their brains. For transgender individuals, coming to understand their personal gender can look many different ways. Some have an immediate sense of identifying as the “opposite” gender (forgive my reference to the gender dichotomy!) and depending on temperament, family influence, etc. that awareness can cause very different levels of distress in the individual. Some are vocal about it, since childhood. Some guard it like a secret. Some don’t really know exactly what’s going on, but they have a sense there is something not quite right. Some individuals don’t realize their gender doesn’t match their biological sex until they are much older, but when they do, a lot of pieces fall into place. (Having a child or family member not realize until they are much older is often more difficult for the family members, but that’s a subject for another blog!)

By the time a client makes it to my office, he or she is usually pretty darn sure about his or her gender identity. In fact, MOST transgender clients I come into contact with are completely sure of what gender they are. I have been known to facetiously say, “that’s the easy part!”.

After understanding and coming to peace with one’s gender identity, the next task is deciding what he or she is going to DO about it. For those of you not completely savvy with all the concepts and terms, the process of aligning one’s biological sex with one’s gender identity is called “transitioning”.  Mainly this includes changing one’s appearance, name, and pronouns to “present” as the gender with which he or she identifies. It often includes hormones and sometimes includes surgery.

This is the hard part.

Much of the agony for my clients comes from not trying to figure out what gender they are, but what they are going to do about it. Transitioning from one gender to the other, and coping with all that entails, is a very scary thing.  Some clients will come saying they identify as “third gender” or something in the middle. (Of course, some people really feel this way, and they refer to themselves as genderqueer. In this blog I’m discussing those who ultimately identify as transgender.)  What usually causes someone who is transgender to say this is the fear of the transition. In this case it is the “what to do” wreaking havoc on the “who I am”!

In my experience with my clients, fear of transitioning mainly comes from outside sources.  They may fear the reaction of significant others, family members, co-workers, or society at large.  If the fear of this remains greater than the desire to make themselves happy by aligning their body with their mind, the transgender person may decide not to pursue transitioning. This does not make the person any less transgender. It just means too much got in the way of doing what they needed to do for themselves, to make themselves happy.  Having a transgender person decide not to transition is not cause for a sigh of relief, it is often cause for concern.  Not transitioning due to fear of reactions or to please others may be the recipe for an unhappy future.

For some, deciding to transition is easy, even if the process is still a challenging one. Once their gender identity is realized, transitioning to match their body and outer appearance is a natural next step. For many transgender individuals, transitioning is a very positive process, one that brings much relief, joy, and satisfaction.

It’s my wish that over time, with an increased understanding of what it means to be transgender and extensive de-pathologizing of the concept, the gap between who someone is and what he or she is going to do about it will become much, much smaller.

To my transgender friends, clients, and blog followers, I’d love to hear your feedback about this! Either comment on this blog or email me privately. Thanks as always for reading!

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 9:04 pm  Comments (10)  
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Pride Parade 2011: Marching with the “T”

 

 

I had the honor of marching with the transgender contingent in the San Diego Pride Parade on Saturday. This was my second time marching, the last time being 3 years ago. In 2008, some clients of mine were marching, and I knew others from the FTMI meetings I attended. This year, I didn’t know anyone marching ahead of time and I wasn’t sure what reception I would get when I introduced myself.  Trying to find the group, I walked past the bold, bright floats of the other contingents; loud music, dancers, bubbles, and of course, a lot of rainbows. When I got to spot #119, I almost walked past it. There were about 6 people; 3 sitting on a curb, 3 standing up. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, “This is it?” I shouldn’t have worried about the reception I was going to get; when I introduced myself as an ally and said I was there to march, those in the group were welcoming. Most of them commented on and liked my sign: “Celebrating Trans Bravery”.

 

As the time to march grew closer, more people gathered. One trans man who was slated to march with Canvass For a Cause (a very trans-friendly employer, I hear!) opted to march with the transgender contingent. When his co-worker walked by and asked why he wasn’t marching with them, he said “the numbers were kind of low in this one so I’m going to march here instead.” I was impressed.

 

I felt honored to march with these people; heroes in my book. To march and be recognized as transgender is a brave thing to do, especially considering (at best) the lack of knowledge about this group and at worst, the stigma.  Those who march are doing important work. As one sign said, they are sending the message: We Walk Among You. Without those daring to walk, the transgender community would be even more invisible than it already is.

 

One of my former clients jumped in near the beginning of the march and I felt a surge of pride walking beside him. It’s quite amazing to know his journey from pre- to post- transition and to see the man he has become.

 

At its highest, the number of people in our group numbered around 17. No music blaring, no bubbles blowing, no beads being thrown. Just 17 people with a banner, some signs, and some flags. Pretty amazing considering this parade is for the LGBT community; THOUSANDS of people marching to represent the letters LGB and 17 to represent the T?!

 

I’m sure there were plenty of transgender people marching with other contingents, for other causes.  I just couldn’t help but think of how important it would be to have a large, vibrant group to represent this under-acknowledged part of the LGBT community.

 

Of course, I would love to do a “call to march”; enlist my clients to walk with the group next year, explain the importance, coerce if necessary! But I wouldn’t do that.  I understand why most people opt not to march. It’s a private issue, and one that most people don’t care to broadcast. I understand when those who transition would rather move on than stay to be the poster children of the trans community. There is no judgment on this issue from me, and I respect each and every decision made about whether or not to march, or to be stealth. Those who have transitioned and are now stealth are also heroes to me; they have undergone a more challenging process that most will ever know.

 

Somehow we need to figure out how to get the numbers up; to make the transgender contingent better represented. Perhaps more friends, family members, and allies need to be stepping up to celebrate and normalize this group of heroes.

 

My client remarked to me that when he first started marching with the group several years ago, the group would get “crickets”.  Why is that? Is it because even in their own community, they are misunderstood? Does the crowd not know where this group fits in? Or are they picking up on the energy of the group? The mood of the group when marching can admittedly be hesitant at times.  This year, when those of us in the group marching would cheer, or wave, the reception was positive.  Gone are the crickets! Later my client said he noticed an improvement in the response of the crowd each year he’s marched.

 

A big reason why I march is because I want to say to everyone who will listen: “It’s ok to be transgender.” In fact, not only is it ok, but transgender people deserve a lot of admiration and respect for the process they have to go through to be true to themselves. So, because I can’t sit down with each person in San Diego and explain this, I cheered, I held my sign as high as I could get it, I waved, I smiled, and I looked at as many people in the crowd as I could.  I hope they heard my message.

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 9:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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