Fostering Empathy

For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to really understand what it is that makes the general population so freaked out by trans people.  I say trans here, but what I mean is anyone who does not identify as cisgender.  When people learn that someone is transgender and they are planning to transition, what is it that makes people have all of those negative “ick” and “oh gross” feelings inside them that are sometimes verbalized into very hurtful and transphobic comments?  That is the question I’ve been trying to answer lately so I can understand where their feelings come from.

What I’ve realized is that, while we who question our birth gender and have felt gender dysphoria or dysmorphia to some degree, cisgender people have never experienced gender dysphoria.  I think when they think of someone changing genders it gives them gender dysphoria.  Why wouldn’t it?  They are putting themselves in our shoes for a moment and it’s really, really uncomfortable for them.  They get an immediate “ICK, TAKE IT OFF OF ME!!” reaction inside themselves.  They were born as, for example, a female and are very comfortable and happy being a female.  For them to suddenly think about becoming a man is not something they can relate to and not something they can even imagine or want.  Some people I know, who have a bit of a sick side to them, might say something about having a penis being fun for a day.  Or a guy might think that it would be fun to have breasts (for sexual reasons).  Some men do, in fact, have breasts and enjoy them.  But these are rare men and they still don’t want to be women.

So I think that when someone gets really disgusted by the idea of someone transitioning to what they see as their true gender it would be helpful if we could somehow say to that person, “Hey, what you just experienced for a few seconds there?  That’s what we live with every day for YEARS.  That’s called gender dysphoria and it does not feel pleasant at all, does it?  Imagine feeling like that all the time.”  Transitioning, whether fully or partially, is the answer to alleviating that uncomfortable feeling for many of us.  I still don’t know if they’ll “get it” or “see it” but maybe some will.

I think this also explains why, even before I identified as transgender, I was not freaked out by the notion of people transitioning.  I had a little trouble understanding why any man would want to become a woman because of my own dysphoria with being gendered female but I just figured that it was up to them to decide what was best for them personally, even though I wouldn’t choose it.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t internalize shame from the negative reactions of others.  I did.  When you hear people make transphobic comments it definitely gets filed away in your brain and your body as something you want to avoid experiencing first hand.

Understanding requires a certain amount of empathy, I think.  I’ve often tried to paint a picture for others of how it would feel to be stripped of their birth gender and placed suddenly in the opposite gender.  I don’t think this has been a very effective tool in which to grow empathy.  So I’ve been searching for a better tool.  Maybe this new idea that their initial, gut reaction is actually a taste of what we experience daily and for many years will help some to empathize with why we risk our lives, relationships and livelihood in order to feel whole and complete.  Here’s hoping anyway.

I’m OUT!

batmanandrobin66-300x238Holy heart attack, Batman, I came out today to my family and two of my closest/oldest friends! I am unusually calm about it for some reason. I wrote a good letter and sent it off into the inter-webular universe to reach its intended recipients. The only response I got back so far is from my sister-in-law who addressed me by my new name and just simply told me that family is family no matter what. Awesome! I’ll take that. I am nervous, but there’s a calm inside me that tells me no matter what happens it will be ok. I have faith that I’m doing this for the right reasons and that the timing is right for me. It’s been making me crazy to keep all this inside all the time. I’ve been feeling like I might explode at any moment and my temper has been unusually quick lately. Obviously I was about to boil over so I had to let it out. There’s still a lot of people to tell and I’m not out at work yet, but that will come. I’m working my way through a list starting with the people this impacts the most. Work will be next. It’ll also impact ME the most on a daily basis. But, I’m pretty sure it’ll go ok. I have the privilege of being “the boss” so I’m really telling my employees. They could quit over this, but I’d be surprised if they did. And there’s only five of them, so it’s not like I’m coming out in a big corporate office full of people.

Anyway, I am proud of myself for finally taking the plunge and telling my truth so that I can start openly claiming my right to be seen as my true self. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they all respond at least as politely as my sister-in-law. I would like to thank all of you who read this blog for all of your on-going support over the past several months. You help me in so many ways and I really appreciate reading all of your stories of strength, courage, fears and triumphs.