Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: The Transgender Journey: Challenging, Crucial and Complicated

The coming out of Caityn Jenner, a Woman of the Year 2015, brought recognition of transgender people into the public eye. With media reminders of the transitions of Christine Jorgenson, Judge Phyllis Frye, Chaz Bono, as well as award winning shows like Transparent and the powerful film The Danish Girl, there is an increasing sense that being transgender is being acknowledged as “ part of the human condition”(lore m.dickey, PhD).

What Does Being Transgender Mean? flag

Clinically speaking, a person who is assigned female at birth but identifies and lives as a man is referred to as a transsexual man, transgender man, Female-to-Male, transman and ultimately for some, a man. A male-to-female (MFT) is a transsexual woman, transwoman, or a woman.

What Causes of Transgender?

Drawing upon studies, Dr. Eric Vilain, MD, PhD, states that evidence seems to suggest that it is possible transgender “stems from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.”

 New Clarifications

  • Trying to move away from pathologizing transmen and transwomen, the American Psychiatric Association in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) replaced “ Gender Identity Disorder” with “ Gender Dysphoria” as a diagnosis. The change reflected the perspective that being transgendered is not a disorder in itself.
  • According to Walter Bockting, PhD, treatment is considered only for transgender people who experience gender dysphoria–great distress that your body is not consistent with the gender you feel you are.
  • With this in mind, any transgender person who seeks medical intervention for transitioning usually needs a letter by a mental health professional validating the emotional need for medical intervention such as hormone therapy to diminish or enhance secondary-sex characteristics in order to receive insurance coverage. Experts have found that improved mental health is very related to the ability to make a medical transition.

 Challenges, Pain and Complications

Even as media and medicine move forward, the personal, interpersonal, psychological and social challenges of the transgender population are considerable.

  • A 2011 Survey of 6,450 transgender and gender nonconforming people found that 41 % of respondents reported they had attempted suicide, a rate 25 % higher than that of the general population.
  • Half of the transgender women and a third of the transgender men in the survey reported struggling with depression from the stigma, shame and isolation of how people treated them.
  • Given we are aware of incidents of murder and brutality inflicted upon transgender men and women, their anxiety is understandable. So too, is the anxiety of their families.

As described in an article on Caityln Jenner by Thomas McBee, Caitlyn Jenner recognizes that her situation is privileged and different. She describes a dinner meeting with transgender women as a humbling experience, “I don’t know anything about the horrors of this community.” “ I know nothing.”

Insider Glimpses

Two people who offer us insider perspective into aspects of the transgender journey that we might not emotionally feel or understand are Jane Baker, the author of Trading Places: When Our Son Became a Daughter and Journalist Tom Page McGee, the author of Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man.

 Jane Baker – Trading Places: When Our Son Became a Daughter

In an article entitled, Transgender Today, in the Monitor on Psychology, the author reports that according to the latest research, family acceptance—along with peer support and identity pride—are considered strong predictors of resilience for transgender people.

In her book Trading Places, Jane Baker lets us know that it is the very love she has for her son, Stephen that terrifies her when she hears his disclosure, “I am a woman in a man’s body. I have known this for over seven years.”

In those first tearful moments for both, Jane reports a hint of joy at the possible answer to why her sensitive and highly accomplished son never fit in and lived an isolated existence. However, even as she reports saying, “ If you’re going to do this, you have to do it right,” she owns her fear that her child was making a mistake, would be killed or stigmatized. She admits that as the first year unfolded her external support of Sarah was underscored by the feeling of being in a dark ocean of devastation.

Reflective of the title Trading Places, Jane Baker’s parental journey results in trading places on many levels.

  • She describes that in her struggle to grasp that Stephen had always been Sarah, she experiences the dissonance that Sarah carried for so long–alone.
  • As a mother, Jane invites us to see her private conflict in grieving for the loss of a son as she gains a daughter excited to be alive.
  • She notices that she initially wants to hide the truth from relatives and the world only to find good and bad reactions from others and a daughter determined to forge ahead with hope no matter what she faces.
  • Jane lets us know in detail what parents need to know–It it is a crucial journey. Dealing with pain of the unknown by facing it and embracing the experience of other parents is helpful. Supporting your child is a gift for everyone on this journey.
  • Jane shows that as a parent it is possible to move from dissonance, grief, and fear to acceptance, love and pride in your child.

Thomas Page McBee – Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man

If Jane Baker, captured the loss, grief and possibilities experienced by loved ones in the transgender journey, Thomas Page McBee captures the terror and the complications of personal transition.

In his powerful memoir of becoming a man, you are privileged to be an insider. McBee lets you in on his thoughts, his glimpses in the mirror, his emerging body, his physical terror, his hauntings of being a sexually abused little girl, his love of a woman, his escape from murder, his search for a father, his bond with a mother. Existentially, Tom McBee needs to find out: What makes a man? What is masculinity? What makes men do the unthinkable? What is forgiveness? What is the difference between passing as a man and being a man? How do you know you are loved? When do you know you are a man?

You can’t easily forget Tom’s memoir. You can’t easily forget the terror, the thinking, and the courage it reflects. You won’t forget this personal glimpse of the transgender journey and more.

Listen in on Psych Up Live to The Transgender Journey with Jane Baker of Trading Places and Dr. Antonia Caretto, psychologist specializing in Gender Variance and Dysphoria