It is no surprise that transgender individuals experience a kind of stress that cisgender (those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) individuals do not. People who identify as transgender can and often do experience stigma, discrimination, violence, and internalized homophobia/transphobia. People who are transgender also are at higher risks for “loss pileups.” Family, friends, and romantic partners may not understand the transition and not be able to provide the needed support. There is also a danger of job loss or financial loss, especially for transgender women. Some researchers believe this discrepancy is related to the greater difficulty transgender women have passing, as opposed to transgender men, as well as greater male privilege for transgender men.
There are many ways of dealing with the challenges that come with transitioning and living as a transgender individual, some healthier than others.
How do you deal?
There are two primary coping styles that people use to deal with difficult things in life: Emotion-focused and problem-focused, also known as facilitative and avoidant, respectively.
These are fancy terms for a simple concept.
Simply put, avoidant coping is when you…(drumroll please)….avoid the problem. It occurs when you avoid dealing with the emotions and thoughts that come up when you experience discrimination or loss by:
- Minimizing the issue: “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
- Becoming emotionally detached: “Whatever. I don’t even care.”
- Over-intellectualizing: telling your friends how the socially constructed discourse of gender and the rigid constructions of gender stereotypes are contributing to an unfriendly work environment and not adding, “It really hurt that my boss passed me over for a promotion after I started the transition from male to female.”
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to dull your emotions or thoughts
- Isolating yourself from social support
Ironically, the more you try to avoid a problem, feeling, or thought, the bigger and more anxiety-provoking it becomes.
How to develop better coping skills
As you can probably guess, facilitative coping is the style we are recommending. Facilitative coping is all about adaptation. It is taking whatever we are given in life and transforming ourselves or the situation to deal with it in a positive manner.
Some ways to develop facilitative coping include:
Seeking Social and Professional Support
Seeking out social and professional support is the number one factor in decreasing anxiety and depression in transgender individuals. Discovering friends and family that are supportive of your transition, locating a local (or virtual if you live in a rural area) support group, and finding a transgender-affirmative therapist can make a massive positive impact on your experience.
As cliché as it sounds, believe in yourself! Early in the transition process, many transgender individuals experience a sense of hopelessness about the future, believing that transitioning is an impossible, daunting task. As people move further along in the transition process, these feelings begin to change as they realize they do, in fact, have the power to follow through with their transition.
Reframing is looking at your situation in a new light. For example, reframing the difficulty one experiences while transitioning as a source of personal strength and resilience.
Acting “As if”
No one feels confident all the time. However, if you walk out the door with a smile on your face, putting out the confident air that you don’t necessarily feel in the moment, your emotions will often eventually catch up with your actions.
Learning a new skill or hobby (or reviving interest in an old one)
Cognitively challenging yourself by learning a new skill, such as a language or instrument, has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to expand your social network and find a new passion. In the same way, reviving an interest in an old hobby can be immensely fulfilling.
Education and Advocacy
Many transgender individuals find great joy and meaning in doing education and advocacy work for the transgender community. Someone further along in the transition process can find a new source of meaning in helping someone new to the process talk through the initial anxiety and offer them hope for the future.
Being transgender is hard. AND it was the best decision I ever made.
All of this talk about the difficulties of being transgender can begin to sound a little bleak. It is important to note, in that studies cited, every individual expressed that they did not regret transitioning and felt like they were finally living as their true self. They also expressed that all of the hardship was worth the payoff and that the best times in their life were being honest about who they were through their gender transition.
Budge, S. L., Adelson, J. L., & Howard, K. S. (2013). Anxiety and depression in transgender individuals: The roles of transition status, loss, social support, and coping. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 81(3), 545-557. doi:10.1037/a0031774
Budge, S. L., Katz-Wise, S. L., Tebbe, E. N., Howard, K. S., Schneider, C. L., & Rodriguez, A. (2013). Transgender emotional and coping processes: Facilitative and avoidant coping throughout gender transitioning. The Counseling Psychologist, 41(4), 601-647. doi:10.1177/0011000011432753