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Dear Christine, Reasonable in Rochester Part II

| November 27, 2017

By Christine Cantrell, PhD, LP
www.christinecantrell.com
christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Dear Christine, I wonder if you have any good articles or references about transgender or more specifically, non-binary people that describes the uses of pronouns.  We have a situation in our Indivisible group that people have taken offense and some are not understanding about pronouns.  Sincere leaders are trying to mend fences and have withstood some kind-of mean attacks and their apologies weren’t accepted.  We can’t get anything done if we can’t talk to each other.  What would you suggest? Signed, Reasonable in Rochester, MI
Dear Reasonable,
This is a complicated topic, so I will answer in three parts.
Part 1 is on Gender Identity
Part 2 is on Transgender Issues.
Part  3 will explore Pronoun Issues

Part 2
By age 3 or 4, most children comprehend gender and identify themselves as a specific gender.  Sometimes a small female looking child might wish for a penis, not understanding what surgery would entail, but by age 13 or 14, children are mature enough to make decisions about their lives. This is gender dysphoria. One treatment decision might be to block hormones in puberty to give these children a few years more to decide what to do.  It is far easier to block estrogen and take testosterone at 16 or 17 than to develop as a woman only to later have to undergo surgeries.

As the social climate has become more accepting of gays and lesbians who disrupt traditional gender stereotypes, children today grow up experiencing more non-conforming modes of being “normal” than prior generations.  Moms and dads work.  Single people as well as gays and lesbians can reproduce and have families, with IVF, hormones and sperm donations or surrogate mothers.  Intersex or indeterminate sex children usually know they are the “opposite” sex from what their physical body seems  identify themselves as they experience themselves.  They haven’t been socialized to conform to what doctors, parents and societies tell them their genitals are.  Transgender celebrities have paved the way for parents to have conversations with their tots and not shut down a boy who insists that he is a girl.

Some transgender persons go through a process of figuring out who they are.  Some start out straight and male.  Some go through a process of experimenting with sexuality before taking hormones, and so, come out as gay.  Some then realize that’s not fully who they are.  Something is missing. Perhaps they cross dress.  That’s a funny term, as I, as a woman, am socially permitted to wear pants anytime I want.  Men rarely are encouraged to wear a skirt, other than in Scotland, perhaps! Finally, those exploring their gender may start hormones and as the physical body changes to reflect who and what the person has always felt inside, there is peace.

Taking hormones begins all the physical changes, there are emotional and sexual orientation can change as well.  A straight man who is trans starts on estrogen.  Overtime, this person realizes that as a woman, her sexual orientation is to men, making her “straight.”   Or a trans woman in a lesbian marriage gets on testosterone and now realizes she is straight!  And so on!  It can be confusing for the trans person, as it is a second puberty and we all remember how difficult that time was in our lives!  And it can be challenging for family and the spouse of the trans person.  Some lesbians didn’t agree to having a partner who becomes a man.  Some straight women don’t want a same sex spouse either!  Some people are able to love the individual they married, not their sex, per se, and manage to keep the marriage together.  Some get divorced.  There is no right or wrong way for all this to unfold.  It is a process for everyone connected to the trans person.  Including you, if someone you work with is trans, or someone in a social group you belong to realizes they are trans.

A tomboy girl grew up discovering she was lesbian as a teen. That wasn’t welcome at home, but it seemed to be truer than trying to be a “normal” girl and this period lasted 10 years and family, church and school were not supportive.  Eventually, this woman heard about “gender fluid” and decided to try that on.  S/he radiated masculine energy, but hadn’t really heard about transgender, so  she became he, and tried a masculine name.  This person changed from male to female as the mood struck.  As transgender issues became front and center in the culture, s/he realized that he needed to transition into a man.  What followed was a sense of being “at home” and “relief” and a feeling of “being complete inside” once the transition began.  Amazingly, family embraced the name and pronoun changes immediately, recognizing his masculinity and not wanting another decade of division.   He picked his name and his mom picked his new middle name.

A boy was a happy child until puberty struck and his body changed into a man’s body.   He became depressed and withdrawn.  His mom took him to a psychologist, but he didn’t know why he was depressed and refused to participate.  Eventually, he graduated, got a job, he married and lived a “normal” man’s life, but found he really enjoyed cross dressing.  He hid it from his wife, only dressing at home on the weekends.  Guilt ensued and he purged the wigs, high heeled shoes, jewelry, make up and dresses.  And the urge returned.  This cycle of buying and dressing in secret and purging went on for years.  Eventually, the strain of hiding became suicidal urges.  No more cycles, no more hiding.  His choice:  suicide or transition.  The family was in shock, rejecting him.  His wife divorced him.  He dressed casually for work, trying to make his lengthening hair look messy like a guy.  Hormones began to soften muscles into curves and speech lessons helped raise his voice to sound like the woman he was becoming.  She transitioned with the help of surgery and  she happily exists in the world as the woman she wants to be, without any reminders of who she was one before.

And mom came around and helped her new daughter recover from the sexual reassignment surgery, helping the rest of the family finally embrace this new member.  This trans woman is vivacious, fashionable, open, talkative and fun, all the things the man had not been since the depression began with puberty.  She picked her name and her mom picked her middle name.

Who am I, as a psychologist, as a human being, to tell someone who he or she or xe is?  I am trained to listen closely to my clients, reflecting back what I hear to make sure I got what was intended.  I shine a light on the path that seems to be ahead, helping that person see some of the stumbling roots and stones that might trip them up, giving them encouragement to get to know his/her/xyr unique truth using all their senses and cognition and experience to help them identify individual uniqueness and beauty.  I never thought about being anything other than a female.  As a woman, I tried hard to be everything society, family, church and school expected me to be, so I became an ordained minister and I was engaged to a man.  And then, I had to confront my truth.  I am not straight and I cannot conform to religion.  I left the ministry and my ordination and came out as a lesbian.  I am happily married to my wife of 20 years.  I have no idea what it would be like to be in a body that feels so wrong.  I have a very hard time imagining what it would be like to hate my body and wish it would look like a man’s body.  But there are enough people who do a variety of things that I don’t understand that I know that their experience is valid, even if foreign to me.  It doesn’t make them “less than” but instead means that there is diversity!

Diversity can be confusing and scary, but it also is a strength.  I am humbled that there are so many different ways of being and I am grateful that my clients allow me to share in their experience and life as they become who they truly are.  When each of us encounters the ever-expanding ways of being that people live as their truth, it can be uncomfortable and challenging.  It can be foreign and seem ridiculous, or maybe sick and perverted.  But, remember, anyone else’s life is just a different experience from you have been exposed to before.  Try to keep an open mind and suspend judgment.

Try to imagine what it would be like if your body didn’t fit with who you feel you are inside.  And then
breathe deeply…. And give that person a moment of grace, even if you can’t relate.  Each of us is a unique being.  Create space in your life for diversity and see if you can tolerate someone being so different that they make you uncomfortable.  Then go home, exhale.  It’s not your path, but perhaps you can give them the space and tolerance to express who they are, even if you don’t get it.
Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
Psychologist

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067
248-591-2888

Click here to email Christine.

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