Is It Internalized Transphobia?

Mila Madison

For many of us, when we begin to go down the road of accepting the fact that we may be transgender, we go through a back and forth period of shame, self-doubt, elation, and wonder. The thought of finally being able to live as who we are is amazing. To be free of a life existing in the wrong gender and live the life we were meant to? How exhilarating that must be? But there is also a flip side, immense fear. How can I do this? Everyone will turn their back on me. I will be an outcast. What will happen with my job? These are only some of the many questions that enter our minds. Then comes the shame. How can I do this to my family? I don’t want to hurt anyone and so on.

A common proposition we hear when we are questioning our gender is some sort of variation on the phrase, “If you could just press a button and automatically be any gender, what would it be?” If you could press that button, without having to deal with all the shame, pain, discrimination, loss, judgment, and bigotry, would you press it? For me it was a resounding yes, but the reality of it was that I couldn’t just press a button. To be my true self, I would have to face all these things I was afraid of, but how does one do that?


I began to realize that my fears were the result of internalized transphobia. When I first heard the term, I was confused by it. I was an accepting person. I thought I respected everyone for whom they were. The notion that I could possibly be capable of any type of bigotry towards someone else really bothered me. To hear that I may have these feelings towards myself was even more confusing. So I did some extensive research and began to deal with it with it in my therapy sessions. I came to the realization that I never really understood what it meant. I thought it meant that deep down I possessed some form of internal hatred for transgender people, but in reality it meant I was directing all the stigma and bigotry of society inwards. I was taking all the years of hate and ignorance that I observed and redirected it with hatred towards myself.

That’s right. Being raised in a society where transgender people were seen as the butt of the joke. Living in a world where gender roles were enforced. Being ridiculed for doing anything that contradicted the gender I was assigned at birth. A lifetime of seeing people like myself dumped on by society and even killed for no reason other than just being who they were. It created such a fear within myself that it took me a lifetime just to accept the notion that this might be me. I was afraid to be whom I was, so afraid that I wouldn’t even allow myself to think about it. It wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t outrun it that I finally tried to face it. Once I did, I was confronted with all the fears I had. I felt immense shame for whom I realized I was. I didn’t know how I would tell anyone. I worried about who would turn their back on me. I was afraid of losing my wife, my kids, and my job.

"And that my friends, is internalized transphobia."

And that my friends, is internalized transphobia. It keeps us from being able to be who we are. It makes us afraid and ashamed to live a true existence. It causes severe depression, and it makes us withdraw from society. We end up oppressing and abusing ourselves because of it.

So how do we deal with internalized transphobia? The first step is to acknowledge it. The majority of the human race experiences the stigma that causes it. That in itself is not just relegated to transgender people. Even cisgender people when faced with the prospect of being transgender or gender non-conforming internalize the thought in some way. It is why so many people outwardly lash out about it. Even though they may not be transgender, they defensively lash out against it because the mere thought of being so makes them feel ashamed and afraid. By lashing out, it makes them feel as if they fit in and it protects them from the stigma. For transgender people, we direct it inwards and the effects of it can be detrimental to our very existence.

We have to acknowledge internalized transphobia in order to overcome it. No matter how far along we are in our transition, it has a way of creeping up on us. When you feel the fear, the self-doubt, and shame, don’t let the ignorance of the world define who you are. Keep fighting. We are not born with hate and judgment. We are taught these things as a society. Once we make this acknowledgement, we are able to recognize it when it happens to us. This is a battle within ourselves that we must win. If we cannot accept ourselves, if we can’t overcome the stigma within our own existence and accept our own identities, then how can we expect the rest of the word to accept us?


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