When did it Happen?
I don’t know exactly when it happened; I have no recollection of the exact moment in time when working with the transgender population became a focus of my therapy practice. Like all things in life, it was a confluence of events and knowledge, a synergistic melding of intention, experience, and information. It was a slow drip to the realization of one of my life’s purposes: to be there, to show up for people who need me.
It all started several years ago with a homosexual student at the college where I work. He began to educate me extensively about the LGBT+ community. I was enthralled and soon realized how little I actually knew. Then my nephew came out as a transgender woman (he has since gone back to his biological gender, so my pronouns are correct). My sister struggled mightily with this decision and was genuinely heartsick and that led me on an odyssey of exploration in support of her. I’m sorry to say that I continued to call my nephew by his birth name during this time of transition. It wasn’t in defiance, in hindsight, it was because I didn’t try hard enough to break myself of the habit of using his birth name.
Tony Ferraiolo Blasts It
A transgender male college student helped me work through my confusion and ignorance. He is an advocate and activist and is changing the world, so thank you Ben Crowley! He graduated this May, so I will need him on speed dial to make sure I get it right when working with trans clients in the future. And then the brilliant Tony Ferraiolo came to town. He gave a presentation at Three Rivers Community College and showed his amazing, award winning documentary, A Self Made Man. Simply put, it shook my world. My lingering heterodominant and gender binary biases were blasted to smithereens.
We Reject it Because we Don’t Understand it
And just about then the calls started coming into my practice from trans folk looking for support. I took every client. They taught me so much about the human experience—not just the gender one—for which I am forever grateful. As we sit across each other in my little living room and they share their stories, I am profoundly attuned to how universal our experiences are… and how dissimilar. I have gleaned that it is within these whispers of difference that the world germinates its seeds of cruelty to trans people. Why? My guess is because we don’t understand it and so therefore we reject it. The bigger question then becomes: What can we do to make their world better? How can we ameliorate the transgressions? (Pun intended.)
Be an Ally
Well, I’m glad you asked! There are a lot of great resources out there. I suggest you educate yourself on how to become a true supporter. We can actively enhance the lives of trans people and be an ally by supporting the following National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and Slate recommended initiatives:
- Providing gender neutral bathroom facilities in all public places to keep them safe and promote laws that allow them to use the facilities of their identified gender. Remember: They are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetuate them.
- Support the informed consent model for medical treatment not the gateway model that insists on medical professionals making the final determination of eligibility (Urquart, 2016).
- Promote the ineffectiveness and actual harmful effects of conversion therapy counseling through legislative action.
- Ensure that your state and insurance company support the medical necessity of transition-related medical care.
- Promote social justice through advocacy for fair labor practices for transgender people.
- Use their identified names and pronouns!
- Refrain from asking them about their surgeries or treatments. You don’t talk to people about your genitals and they don’t want to talk to you about theirs. Geez.
- Support comprehensive anti-bullying policies.
- Advocate for gender identified justice system housing and fair treatment if incarcerated.
The above list is just a very brief summary of a few of the things we can do to help and support our trans friends and relatives. For more comprehensive information and recommendations, please visit www.transequality.org
Pure Joy Podcast
I was recently interviewed on the Pure Joy Podcast about my work with the transgender population in my therapy practice, Spaziani Therapy. Co-hosts Joy and Jennifer approached the questions from two different perspectives—Joy’s questions were thoughtful and deep, even profound, and Jennifer’s were joyful and practical. Listen to the interview on Green Ink Radio on Spaz on Health. But don’t forget to tune into our sister podcast, Pure Joy Podcast where Joy and Jennifer explore trans’ issues and a lot of other cool topics.
Please remember that when in doubt, err on the side of compassion and sensitivity. Trans folk are just that—folk. We are all in the same boat of human experience, reaching, evolving, grasping, and being. So, be kind and… show up.
National Center for Transgender Equality. Downloaded May 25, 2018 from www.transequality.org
Urquart, E. (March 11, 2016) Gatekeepers vs. informed consent: Who decides when a trans person can medically transition? Slate. Downloaded June 2, 2108 from http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2016/03/11/transgender_patients_and_informed_consent_who_decides_when_transition_treatment.html