If you come out as transgender and decide to transition, you are essentially forced to get some kind of “professional” approval through each step of your journey in order to exist. We have to jump through a million different hoops just to prove that we know who we are. Many of us had to go through months of therapy before we could get a letter that would allow us to even see a doctor who could prescribe hormones. Want bottom surgery? That is two letters, and yes, you must have lived in your true gender for at least a year. The standards of care, the established guidelines for treating transgender people, made with the best of intentions I am sure. It is a built in waiting period designed to make sure we make the right decision for our own lives. If we are lucky to even reach this point, we then have to find a way to get healthcare that covers us, or even harder, to pay for it all on our own.
The keys to the doors that lead to each staircase we have to climb to get to be ourselves are usually held by a cisgender person who really has no idea what it is like to be transgender. That is the hypocrisy of the institution that was created to properly treat us. It is also the reason that many people resort to DIY treatments rather than see a professional, but there are many dangers to taking that route and going it alone. In so many cases we often have to educate those who are treating us, yet they are the ones who have the power to decide whether or not to allow us to continue with our transitions. The truth is that we all experience some form of gatekeeping in our lives, whether it is from doctors or our families. It is something we all have to struggle with.
“THE REALITY IS THAT WE NEED THE THERAPY TO DEAL WITH LIVING IN A SOCIETY THAT DOESN’T ACCEPT US.”
Now I am not knocking therapy here. For so many of us it is essential to our care, and there are some great therapists out there. What I am calling out is the notion of why the therapy is needed. There is the impression that gender therapy is there to help us make sure that we are actually transgender and that we are of sound enough mind to endure the process of transition. The reality is that we need the therapy to deal with living in a society that doesn’t accept us. It is the root of the pain and torment we go through. Many of us need the therapy to deal with all the bigotry we receive and the loss of all those who turn away from us.
Think about it for a moment. We have to go through the process of accepting ourselves because many of us were told who we are is wrong for most of our lives. From the moment we first ask ourselves the ultimate question of “Am I trans?” we begin to worry about acceptance. How do I tell my parents? How will they react? Will my partner leave me? Will I lose my job? These are just some of the questions many of us wrestle with. I wonder if the answer to “Am I trans?” was truly “So what if you are?” would we really need therapy? If being transgender were no different than having red hair, would therapy still be needed? Probably not. The actual truth is that being transgender is no different. Some people are born with red hair, some are born with other traits, and yes, some people are born transgender. The only difference is that for the most part, society accepts or at least tolerates many of the distinguishing qualities that differentiate us, but when it comes to being transgender they usually don’t.
An eye opening moment happened for me after starting a peer support group for the transgender community in my area. We were a group that started with about 5 people and eventually had grown to 30 who attend regularly with many more coming from time to time. We were all of different ages. Almost all of us were in therapy while each of us was at a different point in our transitions. What had started with the hope of just bringing some people together ended up turning into so much more. Over time our group became a family. We were able to fill the holes that were left in our lives by the family members and friends who had turned their backs on us. I watched as people began to bond and be there for each other. I saw relationships build and people spending time together outside of our little group. People who seemed so scared and quiet when we had started eventually began to open up and flourish. In just a few months, many of us were progressing at a rate of success that years of therapy couldn’t achieve.
"THE PROCESS WE HAVE TO ENDURE JUST TO BE WHO WE ARE IS DAUNTING."
In most places you can get a gun by showing a license and passing a background check. You can drive a car if you can pass a road test. If your transgender, just to be yourself, you have to go through years of therapy and getting letters. It is an institution that has become very lucrative for all the providers who are involved. The process we have to endure just to be who we are is daunting. We have to face a society that doesn’t accept us while we navigate a medical system of gatekeepers where we have to prove that we are who we say we are. It is designed to make us need the therapy.
What I learned is that having a sense of family that supports you is much more important than therapy, or perhaps it is the ultimate kind of therapy. Though gender therapy is a helpful tool, it is not the end all be all. We need support systems. We need community. The answer is in finding each other, supporting each other, and creating our own safe spaces. Start a peer group. Bring people together. Create those spaces if they don’t exist where you live. Make new families to replace those we have lost. It is when I see this kind of support I often see people thrive. All it takes is the will to start.