Where do you even start when trying to figure yourself out in terms of gender? I don’t know about you, but I blundered around in all directions. I just knew that something was off, NQR, and I wanted – needed – to discuss it with someone.
It’s tempting to say that I started by reading blogs and books and by trying to talk with my friends, but it went further back than the internet and was less conscious than a concerted search. It emerged briefly during peer counselling and submerged again for safety. Looking back at the past thirty years at least – at my adult life – is unnerving and often sad, as I now recognise those moments when I recognised the truth and promptly suppressed it.
It was such a scary topic to bring up: “Hey, do you ever feel like you’re not actually female?” I was scared of seeing that “Oh boy, we have a live one here” face. It was hard enough coming out to friends and family as lesbian, then finding that I still didn’t fit in. I was scared my friends would think me too weird and desert me. I mean, in the 1990s I participated in group therapy for social anxiety and every social situation since has felt awkward regardless, as though I were only just managing to pass as human and the slightest thing could unmask me. Imagine what might happen if I unmasked myself as a different kind of human?
I’ll tell you what – I’d feel a hell of a lot better! But I didn’t know that then.
I talked with counsellors, therapists and psychologists and made no progress. I didn’t know whether it was the way I approached it or their lack of training to help give me the language, but it was frustrating. I felt like a child who hadn’t yet learned speech and had a pain. It hurts here, here and here. Help! Can you help?
It was frustrating. It was fucking lonely.
Finally, one day I was browsing one of the town’s less mainstream shops and encountered DUDE Magazine. The relief and longing I felt while flicking through it made me feel emotional and I teared up. My memory is that a staff member approached me. This young, warm, queer person broached the subject of gender with me, saying that she’d had the feeling that we’d eventually have this conversation. Again with the relieved tears. Finally someone who knew stuff, knew people, and was happy to help. I felt enveloped in warmth, safety and hope.
They put me in touch with a trans guy, who added me to a secret Facebook group, which led me to meeting another trans guy my own age and venturing out of town to a genderqueer social group. My social terror persisted but for different reasons. This time I knew the gender stuff was OK but would we get along, 1:1? Would I be rejected for other reasons? Still, it was good. It was progress.
By this time I’d also connected with a new mental health support organisation, registered with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and come out to them. To their credit and my infinite relief and appreciation they barely blinked and simply warmly focused on practical ways to support me. Again I feel choked up remembering this. I kept thinking finally, a support organisation that knows how to support!
Support until then, for anxiety and depression-related issues, had been spotty at best. The worst of them had significantly compounded my problems. Then there were people who tried to divide me into distinct categories and send me different places for each, as though I were a car that needed washing here, windscreen replaced there, and new tyres over there. Hard to believe that this even needs to be said, but we’re humans not machines and therefore a holistic approach makes total sense.
It made no sense at all to tell me to see a (non-existent) LGBTIQA specialist in this small town because they were too busy/disinterested to undertake the necessary training themselves. It made no sense to refer me to the city when they knew travel was problematic for me. I wanted to remind these highly paid ‘professionals’ that a) they work for a publicly-funded health care service, b) approximately 10% of the population is LGBTIQA and c) yes, the way we are treated often results in a disproportionately high percentage of mental health concerns. We matter. We might not always disclose our sexuality or gender, given your astounding arrogance and ignorance, but we’re here and need proper health care. That’s your job, so get on with it.
Agh! Sometimes mental health professionals do my head in.
Unfortunately this is too often the case, if you ask trans people directly or read various reports such as ‘Female to Male (FtM) Transgender Experiences in Australia: A National Study (SpringerBriefs in Sociology)’ by Jones et al, 2015.
Thank God for support groups. Really. I give thanks to the universe and to the groups specifically, regularly. I’d still be lost in the wilderness without them. I obtained the information and moral support needed to pursue the surgery I’d wanted for almost 30 years, and reading the daily posts reminded me that I wasn’t alone in needing support. Occasionally I was even able to pipe up and offer an ear, or some information I’d gleaned earlier.
Being part of groups also led to friendships. Kind of obvious I guess, but not for me. I’m still tentative about friendships conducted mostly online, but sometimes they too have been lifesavers. Being able to chat online at crucial points has been amazing. And my only hospital visitor – a friend who defied my “no visitors please” request – was someone I’d connected with online and met in person only once before. They buzzed around my hospital room like a joyful, thoughtful bee, bringing a superfoods smoothie and brotherly love. So good.
Given my previous experiences with therapists, one of the best parts of the support groups was the sharing of names of suitably-qualified professionals. When I told a psychology student about this, they replied in a way that made us sound like deluded, dishonest drug addicts. I mean, here we are, helping each other get the properly qualified health care we need, and to the student it sounded like we were sharing names of crack dealers. Is that what surgery and hormone treatment sounds like to people who aren’t trans or gender-diverse? Crack? If so, spare me your twisted, poisonous thought bubbles. This is precisely why we need health workers to be properly informed.