The “T” in LGBT
Back in the stone age, I wrote my final paper for my master’s program on Bisexuality and Social Stigma. I referred to Gary Zinik’s concept of the “double stigma” of bisexuality, in which bisexuals experience prejudice from both lesbians/gays and heterosexuals.
We humans are threatened by ambiguity, but in my belief, there are as many sexual orientations and gender identities as there are people on the planet –and to make things even more confusing, they may change over time!
Perhaps a less panic-inducing way to view this concept is that there are continuums for these categories, just as Alfred Kinsey proposed a spectrum of complete homo- to complete heterosexuality in the 1950s.
Similarly, we all have a different combination of male and female hormones, and mixture of qualities that society deems “masculine” or “feminine.” I think that, like bisexuals, trans folk suffer from a double stigma. How we long for clarity in this messy world!
Some trans folk view themselves as having been born in the wrong body (others reject the binary notion that you’re either “male” or “female,” or feel uncomfortable only with certain parts of their body). They may wish to express their gender identity through cross-dressing, hormone therapy, or sexual reassignment surgery. And other people don’t make it easy for them.
You probably know how much openly lesbian and gay youth suffer from rejection, leading at times to social isolation, family disownment, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicide.
These consequences are magnified for “T” youth who are out, and include the added risks of prostitution and drug dealing to address not only the problems above, but also the costs of gender alteration. Mental health professionals are less knowledgeable about and comfortable with transgender people.
What can you do to help? Be honest with yourself about your prejudices—they’re normal in a sexist and homo-, bi-, and transphobic society. It’s not necessarily the prejudice that’s the problem—it’s the denial of it, which leads to discriminatory behavior.
If you see people who appear to be transgender, don’t assume that they’re broken—T people can be just as healthy, if not more so, than anyone else—after all, look what they’ve survived! But it doesn’t hurt to reach out and be friendly to anyone. Learn about and offer resources: check out the Virginia Transgender Resource and Referral List here. (I’d like to thank Ted Heck, who compiles this list, for his feedback on this article.)
And see and suggest these films:
- Normal. A heart-rending, true story of a man and wife who struggle to accept his true female identity in a small, narrow-minded town, and
- Ma Vie en Rose. A heart-warming tale of a transgender “boy” who identifies as a girl, and who comes to find acceptance in a small, French town.
Finally, ask yourself this question with an open mind, “Where do I fit in the gender spectrum?”
Jonathan Lebolt, PhD (“Doctor Jon”) is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and group psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues. He lives with his partner of 14 plus years, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, and their princely pooch, Cocoa. Robin and Jonathan are proud grandfathers of a beautiful one-year-old girl, Juna. Feel free to contact Doctor Jon at his website.
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