Transgender Shame

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In accepting a nomination for the Liebster Award, I answered ten random questions from a fellow blogger (read the questions and my answers here). Several of those questions made me contemplate my own emotions in relation to my transition, and how transitioning has affected my perception of myself.

When asked what I thought about forgiveness, I said that forgiveness is a good strategy to have when we expect too much of ourselves. I also said that this applies to transgender people in the sense of forgiving themselves for being transgender. This is an interesting discussion to have, because being trans is not a bad thing.

And yet, I often feel (and I don´t think I am alone in this) that being trans is somehow deplorable. When this is discussed in different forums around the web, people tend to frame this as “internalized trans phobia”. I think this is a bit rough. If transgender people were inherently trans-phobic, they would not transition. Ever.

And yet I know a lot of people who transition and feel shame. Which kind of makes sense. I mean, our society revolves around discussions about which bathrooms we are “allowed” to use, which is inherently humiliating and dehumanizing. We are growing up in an environment that regards us with suspicion and mistrust.

As a child who grew up in this type of environment, I think I can safely argue that if your value in society is constantly questioned, you are bound to start thinking that you indeed must be rather despicable. While not trans-phobic (in my honest opinion), we do internalize the fears and negative bias that society holds towards us.

This brings up an important question: how do we get over feelings of shame? How do we let go of judgement, and stop beating ourselves – figuratively, and in some cases, even literally. The first step towards a changed perception is probably the realization that they are wrong. Period. In devaluing ourselves, we contribute to their erred perception.

More on this in a later post.

Controversial Issues

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It´s been a little while since I wrote. There are several reasons for this… there are many issues that I´d love to address, but they are controversial, and they are also deeply personal for me. Topics such as transgender identity versus mental illness; feminism and the men´s rights movement, the constant battle between liberals and conservatives.

Trans identity versus mental illness is a touchy topic for me; because I have experienced mental illness and I also happen to be trans. Feminism is a tricky topic for me, because I have directly witnessed violence against men at the hands of women; and I think that there are many flaws within modern western feminist thinking.

Liberal and conservative views are complicated for me, because while I have sided on the liberal side of things for the most part of my life, I find that as I am nearing my thirties, I am shifting more towards the political center. This puts me in direct conflict with some of my liberal friends and co-writers.

Topics such as these tend to divide people in different camps, pit people against each other, and results in terms such as “SJW´s” and “Snowflakes” for the same exact reason I am hesitant to actually dive into these matters. They are highly personal, people on both sides feel as though there´s a lot at stake.

Coupled with my on-and-off depression, this hostile atmosphere between “factions” (you could almost call them that) causes me to hold back and wonder whether discussing them at all will do any good. Like everyone else, I prefer to be happy and enjoy my life. At the same time, these topics are worth discussing.

Taking my own health into account, I´d like to think that I can explore these issues in relative sanity, from an informed point of view, without the use of derogatory terms, and without dividing people further. Whether I will succeed at all those things remains to be seen. Feedback and opinions on those future posts will be appreciated!

Let´s Talk Gynecomastia

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Gynecomastia, a disorder of the endocrine system which causes an increase in male breast tissue, is usually attributed to cisguys. It is caused by an irregular amount of estrogen in the body, either due to a hormonal imbalance or the use of anabolic steroids (which will make the body produce estrogen in order to counteract testosterone).

I´m grateful for cisguys who speak up about this issue, because just like transmen, they deal with self-esteem issues, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts because of this. Many said they very much wanted to “shave off” their chest, and were too ashamed to take off their shirt or go swimming, some even having been ridiculed by women.

I´m glad that cisguys talk about this because they understand the ways in which even a benign condition, medically speaking, can destroy your confidence and turn your world upside down. Since my coming out, my experience is that there are people who tend to talk it down, even saying that “if they had breasts, they would not mind…”.

Obviously there are people with breasts who do not mind, and that´s fine. However it kind of bothers me when people who have no serious dysphoria tell me that if they were me, it would not be a big deal. You just have to love yourself, is what they say. Or it doesn´t matter if people judge you, as long as you cherish your own body.

Although such advice is probably well intended, I have a very hard time believing that these people have such superhuman levels of confidence that body-shaming and dysphoria would not faze them at all. I still to this day have to meet the person who is confident with everything while having dysphoria, trans or otherwise.

It´s encouraging to know that there´s cis folks out there who go through similar problems, that being trans isn´t about having unique problems that will just go away by upping your confidence. I say kudos to anyone who can love themselves despite it, and to the others; hang in there, this situation isn´t permanent.

Pain and Strength

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Before I start, you need to know something. This is not a post where I romanticize pain by saying that any hardship you go through, will make you more resilient. I went through a lot of traumatic pain in my life and it has not transformed me into an ubermensch who can handle the most difficult of hurdles.

It transformed me into a mess. For a long time, I was not able to handle anything. Chronic pain, whether physical or psychological, has a negative influence on the function of your body and your brain, and decreases your ability to withstand strong impact in the long run, rather than make you invulnerable to pain later on.

Having gone through physical and mental abuse does not mean that I can handle transition any better than those who are healthy. Transitioning does not make me any stronger than people who are not transitioning – and believing so is a load of horse-shit. All it means is that I will need to process this whole experience later on.

Transitioning, for me, is a traumatic experience. From day to day, I can´t be sure of my continued survival, and I inflict physical harm upon myself because I don´t know how to otherwise deal with the extreme stress that it entails. And I am not talking about taking hormones or having surgery. Those are actually easing the stress.

I am talking about the red tape. About being forced to undergo psychological screening, even if doing so triggers old traumatic experiences, about being forced to deal with dysphoria because gender  reassignment surgery is viewed with less urgency that say, genital reconstruction for a cisgender person.

If I survive this, if somehow I make it through, this is not a statement about my personality. If anything, it is a testimony to how ridiculously difficult transition becomes when third parties, such as insurance companies, are allowed to interfere in the process and demand that someone´s gender identity be psychologically tested.

 

Beneficial Rage II

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Any negative emotion conveys power regardless of the message we choose to draw from it. If we merely accept that we feel insufficient or lacking, and project this unto other people – or unto ourselves, then hatred is damaging. If on the other hand, we choose to harness the hate and take a look at our selves, it can be constructive.

I´m telling you this because hate is a predominant topic in my life. I´ve felt hate very often. Most of the time, the anger and resentment I was feeling stemmed from being made to feel inferior and obsolete. As I internalized these feelings, it was easy to believe that I was truly inferior, and consequently hate the world for it.

The emotion of hate stemmed from a gut feeling that the world was wrong for putting me in an inferior position. And so, by accident, I had discovered my own truth: that the feeling of inferiority was untrue. The hate I was feeling told me that I should drop the idea that I was inferior and embrace my own power.

Unfortunately we are human and we never learn our lessons at once. Instead we stumble on and repeat the same old tired pattern until we´ve fooled and bruised ourselves a thousand times. Hence, despite these things I´m typing, I still deal with the same old tired emotions of inferiority and rage.

The difference, after taking hundreds of hits, is that now it takes me three months to recognize the nature of these emotions – instead of six months. And when I do, I can stop fooling myself and stop believing that I can be conquered by dysphoria. I can choose to look myself in the mirror and embrace the force of these emotions.

It´s a journey without end, for us to recognize and wield our emotions as a force for good, instead of becoming entangled in them. And while negative emotions can drive us to despair and even unto the brink of suicide, it is the same force that can give us that push we need to stay alive, and trust ourselves.

Beneficial Rage

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Quite a while ago, I posted two posts that dealt with hate. In those posts, I stated that hate, as an emotion, is not always negative. The feedback that I got was (understandably) that hate is necessarily bad and that it isn´t constructive. I disagree. By this I do not mean that hate crimes are great and hating other people is fantastic.

No. I don´t mean that. What I mean, is that hate, as well as other overwhelming negative emotions, often conveys messages and insights to us. Most of the resentment, intense anger and hate we feel results from either suppressing ourselves (for example, denying our own sexuality) or being actively suppressed by others.

Hate and rage carry overwhelming power. And I mean overwhelming. They can be so devastating, that when people project their feelings of insufficiency onto the world, it often results in violence. Other times, the feeling of not being sufficient is projected unto ourselves and we direct this violence towards ourselves.

Nevertheless, if we choose to look into the mirror with witch these emotions present us, there is quite a lot we can learn. They tell us that we are actively ignoring or suppressing a part of ourselves; and that we are not harnessing the power of these emotions to live up to our entire potential. Instead, we use them to hide from ourselves.

The fact that people are scared of these emotions makes sense. Because – when we feel these emotions, we often feel that we are lacking, or criticized, or inferior, anything horrible and negative that you can think of. We actively judge these feelings of hatred and resentment and turn them into something that they are not – damaging.

There is one thing that is present when we feel intense negative emotion. Raw power and unfulfilled potential. Rather than letting them destroy our sense of self, and using them to inflict violence, we can wonder what these emotions are trying to tell us, and how they are trying to help. When understood and embraced, they show us who we are.

Giving Good Advice

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In my previous post, I wrote about the honest efforts people make to help their transgender friends and family members along. Also, I described how the best of their intentions might sometimes miss the mark. Comparison with cisgender ailments, in particular, might make them feel misunderstood.

I´m not saying that you can´t say anything to a transgender person. Or that you should think twice about helping them, because they might not take it so well. However I think it is good to have a sense of things that make your transgender family member or friend feel better, and things that make them feel worse.

Most important of all, I think, is to acknowledge their struggle. The trans struggle is an incredible pain in the ass, from dealing with dysphoria (sometimes lifetimes) to coming out, to being screened by therapists, going through endless waiting lists, to covering the cost of surgery, to facing transphobia.

In most cases the struggle takes years. Although there is no average transition time, three to five years is relatively short. That´s a good deal of time and an incredible amount of energy that is being sacrificed to become who they are. There is no greater reward than that; but also there is no other reward than that.

For all these reasons, it´s frequently easier for trans people to discuss hardship among themselves. Explaining gender dysphoria, and its side-effects (possible anxiety, depression, possible self-harm or suicidal feelings) to cisgender friends and relatives can be somewhat scary. If they do, don´t dismiss their feelings.

Transition is a kind of limbo for many. The hope to get hormones, surgery, and finally resemble who they are (and were all along) makes the whole thing somewhat bearable. In the meantime, it helps to work on emotional and physical strength and resilience. These are no solution, but they do help get to the other side.