Where did the idea come from that it is acceptable to hate or judge someone because of their gender identity? I spoke with a transwoman today who fears leaving her home since she has been verbally attacked and threatened with physical harm. She has also been criticized by others who are trans because she has not embraced a gender binary.
A few years ago, she began the transition to what she perceives as her true self and not the gender assigned at birth as male. She had lived as a man for much of her life, married and had three children; all of whom she loves and who are supportive. She is a professional who lost her job, once she came out and is now seeking other employment, albeit with trepidation.
Like many, she has internalized transphobia. As self-loving as a person may be, it is often challenging to stand up to disapproval at least and threats on safety and life itself at most. It is also difficult when one doesn’t meet gender norms, in appearance as is so for this person. Compounded by the increased likelihood of physical danger either by random strangers or those the person knows, this is not a metamorphosis to be taken lightly.
There is also a high suicide rate among the population. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Williams Institute conducted a study regarding suicidality. What they discovered was staggering.
- Suicide attempts among trans men (46%) and trans women (42%) were slightly higher than the full sample (41%).
- Cross-dressers assigned male at birth have the lowest reported prevalence of suicide attempts among gender identity groups (21%).
- Analysis of other demographic variables found prevalence of suicide attempts was highest among those who are younger (18 to 24: 45%), multiracial (54%) and American Indian or Alaska Native (56%), have lower levels of educational attainment (high school or less: 48-49%), and have lower annual household income (less than $10,000: 54%).
As a cis-gender woman, I can’t fully comprehend her experience, but I can be an ally as I assured her. To me that means speaking up when I hear someone disparaging, using threatening transphobic language or mis-gendering. That came up in conversation with a client in my therapy practice who is an adolescent female to male transgender person whose mother is in a huge amount of denial about her child’s identity, Throughout our sessions, she insists on referring to him by the name and gender assigned at birth, I walk a tenuous line in this situation, since I want to validate my client and not alienate mom since she brings him to the appointments.
In the initial meeting, I told them both that I would use the name my client chose and refer to him with the male pronoun. This young person presents as gender neutral, sometimes coming in with dyed hair, wearing ear gauges and ripped jeans. Other times he is wearing clothing that would be considered culturally feminine.
Mom contends that it is a phase and is influenced by other young people who are going through similar explorations. She has no frame of reference to comprehend her offspring’s perception. Added to the mix is mom’s religious orientation that informs her beliefs that “God doesn’t make mistakes,” and her “daughter” was born a girl and should remain one. I attempted to provide education and support that would assist both of them in coming to terms with the situation. In an effort to reframe, I asked her what it would feel like to have her own reality altered and that her orientation be considered pathological. She was not able to accept that.
I have no doubt that she loves her child, but at the moment, is in denial that anything beyond her own reality is possible. She expressed that her concern was along the lines of the dangers of medical intervention that might take place, should her child pursue the transition. When I pointed out the other hazards involved, such as culture norms and risk for life and limb, she seemed to discount the severity.
There are, however, people who have successfully undergone the transition to counter gender dysphoria. One such is Nicole Bray who is a documentary film-maker married to her wife, Lori Cichon Bray. They were wed as husband and wife nearly 10 years ago and their story is reassuring that with love, support, communication, solid psychological and medical care and commitment to the process, triumph is possible.