Transition. Some people are so good at it, changing deftly from one job to another, or from one phase of life to the next. Others struggle, hating the idea of change or doing so only reluctantly. Still, others find change almost impossible, stuck in old patterns, old habits, and old anxieties.
Leaping into the unknown requires immense bravery, determination, and a willingness to leave your comfort zone. It can be a very bumpy ride. That’s why I’m so impressed and humbled when I meet people who are transitioning between genders.
The idea of transgenderism has become much more well-known, thanks in part to movies like ‘Transamerica’ and ‘All About My Mother’, series such as ‘Transparent’, and the visibility of celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Andreja Pejic. Simply put, “transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth”. (“Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression” n.d., para. 1). Gender is now understood to be a spectrum rather than binary (only two options), and gender identity and sexual orientation are distinct but interrelated constructs.
The idea of someone being born into the wrong body doesn’t seem as outlandish now as it might have been in the past, but that doesn’t mean the process is any less emotional, scary, or challenging for the individual going through it and those close to them. It’s an enormously complex and challenging issue, and not surprisingly, people in transition often seek out counselling services.
Gender diverse and transgender individuals are more likely to experience mental health conditions than the general population (Bradford, Reisner, Honnold, & Xavier, 2012; Conron, Scott, Stowell, & Landers, 2012; Lenning & Buist, 2013; McNeil, Bailey, Ellis, Morton, & Regan, 2012). These conditions commonly include stress, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and addiction (Smith, Jones, Ward, Dixon, Mitchell, Hiller, 2014). Being able to talk about the process and the inevitable emotional upheaval can undoubtedly provide emotional support, psychological scaffolding, validation, comfort, certainty, reassurance and security.
But the truth of the matter is that we’re all in transition to a greater or lesser extent. Evolution is essential to the human condition. We change our minds, jobs, homes, relationships, attitudes, and goals. And regardless of the extent of the change, it will have ripple effects.
Change is inevitable and should be a welcome part of growing – but having someone there to listen and offer support can make the process a whole lot easier. Please get in touch if you’re going through a change process and think you might need professional support.
Smith, E., Jones, T., Ward, R., Dixon, J., Mitchell, A., & Hiller, L., (2014). From Blues to Rainbows: Mental health and wellbeing of gender diverse and transgender young people in Australia. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society.
Bradford, J., Reisner, S. L., Honnold, J. A., & Xavier, J. (2012). Experiences of Transgender-Related Discrimination and Implications for Health: Results From the Virginia Transgender Health Initiative Study. Am J Public Health. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300796
Conron, K. J., Scott, G., Stowell, G. S., & Landers, S. J. (2012). Transgender health in Massachusetts: results from a household probability sample of adults. Am J Public Health, 102(1), 118-122. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300315
Lenning, E., & Buist, C. L. (2013). Social, psychological and economic challenges faced by transgender individuals and their significant others: gaining insight through personal narratives. Cult Health Sex, 15(1), 44-57. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2012.738431
McNeil, J., Bailey, L., Ellis, S., Morton, J., & Regan, M. (2012). Trans Mental Health Study 2012. https://www.scottishtrans.org/our-work/research/ Transgender People, Gender Identity and Gender Expression – What does Transgender mean? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/transgender.aspx