By Val Bralt
In the spring of 1949, a doctor examined a newborn baby and proclaimed “it’s a boy”. That simple statement defined the games and toys I ought to play with, the friends I ought to have, the way I ought to talk, dress, walk, the jobs I ought to have and who I ought to marry.
Growing up I learned all I knew about masculinity from my dad, teachers and church. On TV, in books and in movies they were cowboys, soldiers and cops. They were rugged, stoic, brave and unfeeling. My behavior was based on my internalized concept of a “real man.”
I tried hard to meet that concept but it was phony. I was just impersonating a man. Very few of those manly qualities were natural to me. Instead I always thought “What would a “real man” do in this situation? I would do what I ought to do, not what was in my heart.
I suffer from gender dysphoria. It is defined as a strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one’s assigned sex resulting in significant distress or impairment. It is manifest in feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, tremors and churning stomach.
Outwardly, I had a man’s beard, mustache, short hair, flat chest & big belly and I suppressed those feelings that society deemed feminine. Internally, I was quite a mess. I had great anxiety, depression, a constant feeling of dread, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.
My case is late onset, not beginning until I was in my late 50s. Prior to that I was too busy with family, career and activities to think about it. When life slowed down I had time to ‘connect the dots’ and eventually realized that I was something other than a man. I would go on to discover that my self image, my gender is that of a woman who happened to be born with male sex organs. My gender is not congruent with my sex. I would go on to transition from masculine to feminine.
My transition brought new thoughts and many conflicts as I struggled with internalized transphobia and self-loathing.
Many talks with my therapist Elana Gottfried, my close friend and trans woman Michelle Fox-Phillips, and the pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow helped me to understand that this is who I am. It’s how my brain is wired. I cannot change it. The way that I am is unusual though not uncommon. It is perfectly okay – I am okay – I’m not sick – I’m transgender.
I believe that in some ways the transgender experience is similar to the homosexual experience. They are police to parolees, wealthy to welfare, in the closet to in the community, school kids to senior citizens.
Many trans women had or have hyper-masculine jobs and hobbies. They get married, have children and live a manly life to prove to others and themselves that “I’m a manly-man, not a woman.” This self delusion helps in suppression of true feelings.
All have suffered greatly from gender dysphoria, some are still suffering. The lifelong exposure to society’s negative attitudes toward people who are gender non-conforming develops similar attitudes within those gender non-conforming people. They internalize those attitudes and struggle with feelings that they are sick, abominable, perverted, delusional, sinful, dirty and weak. The internal conflict between their sense of gender and their internalized self-loathing is unrelenting. They may additionally suffer from social ostracism and micro aggression, to assault and death. They try to deny their gender identity and become ‘normal’ but fail time after time, reinforcing their feelings of weakness and worthlessness.
Alcohol or drugs are a common way to cope and may lead to addiction and additional social problems. The national rate of attempted suicide is about 3 percent. For those who are transgender it is forty-two percent, fourteen times the national average. The rate among adolescents without family support is higher.
Common difficulties for those who accept their gender identity and transition include: Marital discord which often leads to separation or divorce. Losing their home due to a landlord’s legal right to evict them. Homelessness, which is bad enough for adults, is tragic for adolescents who lack the skills to survive on their own. Lost jobs and ruined careers. These too are legal consequence of employers who object to employing transgender people. The jobless adults and even adolescents may turn to survival sex.
THOSE WHO CLAIM IT IS A CHOICE, LIFESTYLE, OR REVERSABLE ARE SADLY UNINFORMED
Counseling and transition are the only effective cures for gender dysphoria.
Those who successfully transition then go on to recover from their losses and rebuild their life in their true gender. They are much happier than they were before they began transition, and claim it is something they should have done long before.