Working with Transgenders
Working with Transgenders
denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.
Over the past few years I have had the opportunity of working with two transgender individuals. It has challenged my assumptions, my unconscious prejudices and my ignorance about what it means to be transgender.
There has been a lot of discussion the past few years about the rights of transgenders and attention on the difficulties of being transgender.
I remember being on a yoga retreat a few years ago with a group of older and younger women discussing this. Needless to say, the divide between the generations was vast and polarised. What I noticed was how at the root of the discussion was fear… fear of difference, fear of not understanding and fear of engaging with another way of thinking.
Working with Transgenders:
Jade* walked into my consultant room 5 years ago. The minute I went to met her in the waiting room I had two conflicting thoughts. One was that I had never seen a more stunning women and the other was an odd feeling ‘something wasn’t quite right’. Throughout the initial session, I was waiting for Jade to tell me a secret I suspected was around but I had no idea what that secret might be. When finally, in the last 15 minutes she told me about being a transgender woman. Suddenly, everything made sense and yet… it didn’t.
As I continued to work with Jade I found myself experiencing her as a man, then a woman and then I was just confused. I started to think about this in terms of Jade’s experience of becoming a woman and how confusing it must have been and still was for her. Often, therapists use the countertransference to understand what their client might be feeling but I was in unchartered territory and I stopped myself from assuming this might be the case. I found myself asking a lot of questions and admitted I was ignorant and didn’t understand anything about being transgenders.
What I gradually understood was that it was my discomfort not Jades and the frustration of not being seen and accepted by others is at the heart of the transgender experience. Suddenly, I was the one required to challenge my own narratives. I started to do more reading about transgenders and listen to what Jade’s experience was so as not to get caught up in my own assumptions. This enabled me to more fully appreciate Jade the person she was and work with the issues she brought as a woman. Without a doubt, accepting a new paradigm is essential to create changes in attitudes in regards to understanding transgender and to see that there is no them and us but we.
Helpful things to know about Transgender people
Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask. Language is important.
Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know, ask.
Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person.
Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resource.
*Jade is not her real name