Imagine you're living in a small, conservative community in Anytown, USA, and you're struggling with strong, persistent feelings that you're the opposite gender than the one you were assigned at birth. You're trying as hard as you can to cope with and quell the emotional discomfort you experience on a daily basis as you labor through each day, dressed in a costume in which you feel uncomfortable, in a body that, when you look in the mirror, you regard with extreme disdain, and you feel pangs of anguish when you imagine a world where you're free to be the person you feel like beneath the exterior packaging.
You have a constant, nagging feeling present that things are not right or aligned. You're a closeted transgender person.
Conversely, imagine living in that same small town and being able to wake up in the morning with the feeling that everything is as it should be. You look in the mirror and the person that you see looking back at you is congruent with how you feel inside. When you smile at your reflection, it's genuine. You put on clothes that allow you to express yourself to those around you. There's a poverty of discomfort, pain, anguish, and misalignment as you face the day. The majority has this luxury and take it for granted. This is how a transitioned, out-of-the-closet transgender person can feel, if allowed.
Who are we to govern what makes someone else feel good about themselves? What gives us the power to either allow or disallow a transgender person to do what makes them feel the way that the rest of us are allowed to feel? What if every day we were all faced with criticism, hatred, dirty looks, or obvious judgment by our family, community, and friends?
We would likely sink into depression and suffer from anxiety when we have to leave the safety of our homes. We might imagine what the world would be like without us or we'd relieve the pain of feeling ostracized by ending our life. Why? Because people feel they have the right to hurt us, bully us, dictate how we live our lives down to such intimate, personal points as our identity.
This is 'transphobia.' It is a result of social stereotyping and fear of what isn't clearly understood. Society went through this same controversy regarding homosexuality. While that issue hasn't fully been resolved, it has progressed to where there are fewer suicides, fewer hate crimes, and there are now protections that allow homosexual people to have equal rights. Why is it that it is different for someone who is transgender? The answer is: as a society, there is fear of what we don't understand. So, why don't we start trying to understand?
It's understandable that many confuse transgender people with transvestites, cross dressers, or drag queens/kings. Look up the definitions of these and you'll find that they have nothing to do with feeling discomfort with assigned gender. They're characterized by sexual arousal when dressing as the opposite gender or purely for entertainment purposes. That is not the transgender person.
It's our social responsibility to become educated. There's no excuse for living with hatred and fear. It breaks us down as individuals and as a society. We lose our cohesiveness without compassion for one another. We're all human and as long as we respect the basic rights of one another, why should someone else's gender identity matter so much that we feel the need to socially persecute them, sexually assault them, induce violent hate crimes upon them, or even murder them?
Why would anyone choose to come out as a transgender person? People often say that they believe transgender people are choosing to be that way. While it's true that they're choosing to come out and to present as their true gender, it is not true that they are choosing to feel the need to do it. There's a big difference.
Historically, in all cultures, transgender people have always existed. The cause of gender dysphoria is a more recent, socially-created phenomenon. There are Native American tribes that hold transgender people, or the "two spirited" in the highest esteem. In our broader American culture, they're degraded. We must develop a broader acceptance of the reality of the variety of gender expression that exists in our world.
Carol Montgomery Brosnac, MA, LMFT, is an adolescent and adult psychotherapist in Fresno specializing in transgender therapy