Is Transgender Counseling Right For Me?
A transgender person is an individual whose biological sex at birth misaligns with their core sense of gender identity. Often this awareness of gender discrepancy occurs at a very young age, and transgender children may be socialized to conceal or feel shame concerning their true gender identity. By contrast, a gender-nonconforming, genderqueer, androgynous, or gender-fluid individual may identify as neither male nor female or as both, or as a shade of difference that exists between the binary.
Not all transgender individuals will make the decision to transition medically; and transgenderism should not be confounded with sexual identity. For example, a transgender person may be attracted to either men or women—or both sexes—independent of their gender identification.
In the realm of counseling, transgender individuals experience issues that are both the same and distinctly different from their cisgender lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual counterparts. Here are a few issues that may be confronted more commonly by transgender therapy seekers:
Nine Counseling & Therapy Issues That are Unique to Transgender Populations
- Coming Out as Transgender: resolving gender confusion & gender dysphoria (the medical term describing the personal distress that can accompany a discrepancy between your assigned sex and gender identification); coming out to yourself (foremost), and to family, friends, romantic partners, or your children; evaluating whether or not to reveal your transgender identity in the workplace; coming out as transgender in later life
- Social & Familial Rejection: how to cope with transphobia in social circles or the family unit; recovering from childhood abuse or emotional trauma (many transgender individuals report being punished by their parents for displaying masculine or feminine behavior inconsistent with their assigned sex at birth); reorganizing your life after familial rejection—when your parents refuse to support you financially or force you to leave their home; or if you are a parent, and your children have severed communication ties
- Prejudice & Discrimination: only 18 U.S. states extend employment discrimination protection to transgender employees under law—making the choice to reveal your transgender status a risky proposition during interviews and everyday work life. “Out” transgender individuals, unlike lesbians, gays, and bisexuals, are also barred from service in the United States military. Learn how to survive in an openly hostile work environment, and steel yourself against discrimination by housing and adoption agencies or educational and political systems
- Poverty & HIV: as a result of workplace and educational discrimination, a disproportionate number of transgender individuals are unemployed, living in extreme poverty, homeless, or employed by the sex industry. In comparison to other members of the LGBTQ+ community, rates of HIV transmission and incarceration are particularly elevated among the transgender population. Learn how to shatter the poverty cycle, advocate for equal access to education, support your transgender community members, and educate yourself about HIV transmission, prevention, and treatment
- Violence: name-calling, cyberbullying, & harassment. Transgender youth are more likely to confront bullying at school, online, or from strangers than their cisgender counterparts; of the LGBTQ+ community, transgender women are the most targeted group for hate-motivated assaults—or even homicide. Learn how to safeguard yourself against bullying, respond to escalating antagonism carefully and effectively, and navigate encounters with legal or administrative organizations (such as the school system or police) who may respond dismissively to your safety needs
- Transitioning: arriving at the conclusion to transition (whether by means of altering your dress, vocal training, facial hair removal, hormone therapy, top surgery, sex reassignment surgery, etc.); breaking the news of your transition to your friends and family; or electing not to transition and facing judgment from transitioned members of the transgender community; learning how to manage the roller-coaster of emotions as your body acclimates to hormone replacement therapy
- Access to qualified medical care: coping with frustrations when battling the healthcare system (many insurance companies, for example, do not cover transition surgery or hormone replacement therapy, instead classifying these procedures as “elective” or “cosmetic”); getting connected to transgender-competent healthcare providers and quality preventative care services; bouncing back from discriminatory a healthcare experience, such as when a physician refuses you service or asks you inappropriate questions about being transgender
- Supporting a child who identifies as transgender: my little boy enjoys wearing dresses and my little girl insists that she’s a boy—how do I know if my child is transgender or if their opposite gender exploration is just a phase?; my child is transgender: how can I protect him or her at school or in the community? keep my head held high when others disapprove or call me a bad parent? should I allow my child to undergo hormone replacement therapy or to take puberty blockers?
- Mental Health: because of the extraordinary, everyday stressors that are encountered by gender minorities, transgender individuals are at higher risk for developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, or suicidal ideation. Receive transgender-competent treatment for mental health concerns and get access to innovative alternative therapies, such as psychotherapeutic yoga, mindfulness, meditation, etc.
How Can Transgender-Competent Therapy & Counseling Services Help Me?
Working with a counselor who is skilled in responding to transgender issues with empathy and insight can help you to evaluate your therapeutic interest—even if your concern does not explicitly relate to your membership in the transgender community. A qualified therapist who is competent in transgender issues can help you obtain awareness of the cultural and societal stressors that may be influencing your thought patterns or factoring into your situation. Moreover, your counselor may be able to help you achieve clarity regarding your gender identification confusion, assist you in identifying best practices for supporting a transgender child, or connect you with resources to begin exploring the process of medical transition.
Whether you seek individual counseling to discuss an issue outlined above, couples counseling to enrich your romantic relationship, or family counseling to converse about transgender issues as a family unit, your counselor should regard your situation free from the lens of personal bias and empower you to feel at ease. At Lifeologie, we believe in acknowledging the many features that create the “whole” you: LGBTQ+–and beyond!