Being transgender is often a trauma in itself, and we like to have great empathy for individuals who are trans when welcoming them to Bridge House. It is important to fully understand what it means to be transgender before treating or supporting a person who identifies as such. To be transgender simply means that a person identifies as a different gender than their biological birth gender. Research has shown that people who identify as transgender often possess the brain of the gender with which they identify, and not their biological gender assigned at birth (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).
Trans people are often victims of violence and discrimination. An open transgender status frequently finds individuals forced into unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and/or survival sex work. In 2019, at least 22 transgender and non-conforming individuals have been victims of fatal violence. This number also does not accurately depict the number of deaths because many police reports have misgendered these victims (Human Rights Campaign, 2019). Trans women of color face some of the highest levels of discrimination in any population nationwide (National LGTBQ Taskforce, 2019). Access to healthcare is very limited, as they are frequently turned away by doctors, therapists, and medical professionals due to personal beliefs, fear, or not specializing in transgender care. They also face daily persecution due to others not using their preferred pronouns, which results in daily revisiting of trauma and magnifying what the individual sees as “wrong” with them.
Most people who are transgender learn from an early age to feel uncomfortable in their own bodies—they look in the mirror and see the parts that aren’t supposed to be theirs, they look at what’s wrong with them. There was an instagram post by @TBESTIG that circulated social media recently about what it was like to be trans. It shared about how people who don’t fully understand often say, “I identified as a dinosaur when I was six, kids that age are too young to know they’re trans.” The post then continues, “Nah, mate. You didn’t identify as a dinosaur. You didn’t cry yourself to sleep because you couldn’t figure out why you had no tail. You didn’t feel inexplicable sense of shame at your lack of claws. When you saw yourself in a mirror in a dinosaur costume, you weren’t upset about all the non-dinosaur bits you could still see. When others saw the costume, you weren’t brought to tears by them treating you like a child-wearing-a-costume instead of a real dinosaur” (@TBESTIG, 2019).
Being transgender creates an identity crisis from an early age because your body—something that you should be able to rely on and trust—is telling you that you are not allowed to be yourself. This results in struggles with self-confidence, self-esteem, and difficulty finding a place in society because transgender individuals often feel like they don’t belong in social settings due to their foundational feeling of not belonging in their own body.
When we approach treating people who identify as transgender, the most important thing we remember is: if someone says they are trans, we believe them. When this person shares their preferred pronouns and names, we use them. Not only does this validate who they identify as, but it validates them as a human in a world that often treats them less-than. A person who is trans has already decided their gender and their place, it is not anyone else’s place to decide that for them. We are not here to change their identity, but we are here to support them through the process of reinforcing who they are and who they want to be.
People who identify as transgender are not seeking attention and are not “going through a phase.” Being transgender is a risk in today’s society—it is unsafe, it is a target for discrimination and violence. It is imperative to consider how important it is for someone to transition if they are willing to face the risks of transitioning (violence, discrimination, loss of relationships, loss of family, homelessness, poverty, etc.), versus living as the wrong gender. This isn’t a choice, but the individual’s biological makeup, as shown in the Cleveland Clinic research (link below).
In understanding a person’s experience in being transgender, therapy can often lead into the exploration of the person’s relationship with gender throughout their life. Being trans inherently brings trauma, and it is important to explore this in therapy in a non-threatening approach that builds from a non-judgmental foundation of safety in the therapeutic relationship. People who have experienced trauma often will resort to behaviors of survival.
Being trans isn’t bad, and it isn’t something to change. And when we step out of the individual’s way and don’t try and change who they identify themselves to be, we empower them to take control of the life they want and deserve.
Cleveland Clinic (March 27, 2019). “Research on the Transgender Brain: What You Should Know.” https://health.clevelandclinic.org/research-on-the-transgender-brain-what-you-should-know/
National LGTBQ Taskforce (2019). Website: www.thetaskforce.org
Human Rights Campaign (2019). Website: www.hrc.org
Interview with Connie Anast-Inman (November, 2019), Executive Director for TEA (Transgender Education Advocates) of Utah from April 2011 to June 2015.