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). The 2020 documentary My Name is Violeta, based on the young daughter of an actress reveals the joys and difficulties of transgender children. In her book, Housewife: Home-Remaking in a Transgender Marriage, Kristin Collier shares the powerful journey of a husband who reveals he must transition to being a woman.
What Does Transgender Mean?
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.”
- 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.
- a Study published by theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics reports alarming levels of attempted suicide among transgender youth. The highest rates are among transgender boys and non-binary youth.
Importantly Groups like the Human Rights Commission has taken steps to help transgender teens by providing the Welcoming Schools program which provides specific guidance to parents, teachers and the wider community for preventing anti-LGBTQ bullying and aggression in schools.
Understanding and Helping Parents and Children
In her books, Gender Born, Gender Made ( 2011) and The Gender Creative Child (2016), Dr. Diane Ehrensaft offers a Gender Affirmative Modal in which she maintains that children will reveal their authentic gender self if we listen to what they are telling us in their behavior and words. In a Podcast on Psych Up Live, she offers support and guidelines to parents. She underscores that it is often not the gender confusion as much as the gender rejection that leaves children unsupported, unhappy and less confident.
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?
The Transgender Journey is one that families fear, support or reject.
It is one that is complicated, often hidden, but compelling in the goal of being authentic.
It is a journey to be able to say – “This is Me.”
Listen in to Dr. Diane Ehrensaft discusses “The Gender Creative Child: What Parents and Professionals Need to Know.”