Thursday, June 16, 2016 marks the beginning of Trans Pride festivities in Los Angeles and this year marks 25 years of working with Transgender people — a source of personal pride for me.
BY CASEY WEITZMAN, MA, LMFT
It was back in 1991 that I started my career as a psychotherapist helping transgender people. It was all new to me. I wasn’t sure I was qualified to do this work, however, I was motivated to learn and consult with others that could teach me all I needed to know. I became part of a supervision group that worked with transgender/gender non-conforming folks, so I stayed up-to-date with relevant news, referrals and conferences. It took patience, a lot of reading, a good group of therapists that had already worked with transgender people and an organization called WPATH. I had no idea I would continue this work 25 years into the future.
Oprah always talks about what she knows for sure at the end of her magazine or a talk. During my experience working in this field, this is what I have come to know for sure:
Transition is difficult. Self-discovery is a process and no one — including a doctor, a therapist, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a rabbi or a priest — knows what’s best for you. It’s not always easy to move forward and transition is not for everyone.
No one can predict the outcome of your journey. When a client decides to come out, no one can predict the outcome. Many clients believe that telling their parents will be the hardest. Others feel that telling their spouse or partner will be the most challenging. Of course, all of it can be difficult but I’ve been surprised over the years at just how well people have dealt with the news that someone close to them is transgender. Parents who they believed would never accept them came to embrace them. Many partners and spouses were too uncomfortable to stay, but some did. Coming out at the workplace always poses a dilemma. Fellow employees, supervisors and staff react in different, unpredictable ways.
Most of the time, the client is surprised by who embraces them and who, at first, feels uncomfortable. I assure my clients that it takes time and to not personalize people’s reaction in the beginning. In time, many people come around and want to understand and support you. There will be some that will never get it. In these cases, it is so important to work on building up your self-worth and self-esteem so you are prepared to handle rejection and not get defensive.
I continually worked with clients to understand that as transwomen, you are going to be treated differently. For one thing, men are going to check you out. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are judging you but it does mean they may be are curious about who they see. It’s important to learn not to be rattled by this. Doing so may arouse suspicion and more than curiosity.
Female-to-male people can have an easier transition, but they, too, must be careful — especially in the workplace. Transmen have shared with me that being raised female has allowed a comfort level being with women — it feels normal. They continue to be themselves but are frequently misunderstood by the women that use to understand them completely before transition. In these cases, women interpret interpersonal communication as sexual tension or innuendo. When this occurs in the workplace, they have been accused of sexual harassment which can be grounds for termination at the workplace as well as having to go to court.
If you want to have an easier time transitioning from MtF, you need to work on your voice! You can have the best doctors, therapists, plastic surgeons and style your clothing, make-up and hair perfectly, but if you don’t work on your voice everyday — so that someone would easily identify you as female on the phone — you are going to have a problem with people believing you are female. Don’t get me wrong, changing your voice to a female range is hard. It takes time and money but it is worth it over anything else. Take my word on this! It is more important than any surgery because having that confidence gets you out in the world without people giving you a double take. Transmen typically have an easier time because taking testosterone deepens their voice, causes facial and body hair growth and contributes to an overall, more male appearance.
Therapy isn’t for everyone. While I support the idea of “informed consent” to a degree, I no longer provide form letters for people seeking hormones or gender reassignment surgery. I am, first and foremost, a mental health provider, not simply a vehicle for those looking for a quick fix. It would be somewhat antithetical to the oath I have taken to serve my clients if I acted in this capacity.
I want to help those that come to do the work, move through the process with more support, more confidence, less confusion, reduced anxiety and depression — and a clearer sense of who they are. Over the years, there have been a few that have come to get their letters and leave. But, for the vast majority of my clients, we work together throughout the entire transition. For each person, this means something different.
I have said to clients over the years that you have to be selfish to transition because it’s not always popular. Ridding oneself of gender dysphoria occurs when:
- a person has self-confidence in how they identify themselves;
- a person is grounded in their convictions;
- a person is aware that not everyone is going to be onboard and that some relationships (including marriages) will not last.
If my clients can accomplish these things, then I know we have been successful.
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Being transgender can be violent and even life-threatening. We can never forget that this happens on a daily basis. It will take time and education to get to a place of acceptance or, at least, of living with more tolerance. But, I’m encouraged that this is happening.
Until the world understands that being transgender should be embraced and celebrated, I will continue doing everything in my power to join forces with others to make this a reality.
Casey Weitzman is the President of Gender Wellness of Los Angeles and have been a licensed marriage and family therapist for almost 25 years, counseling children and adults who are exploring gender identity and/or sexual orientation issues.