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JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - May 2016 - Kansas City
Understanding Transgender PeopleChanges Hearts and Erases Fear
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
We all know that change is as predictable as our fear of it. The changing ideas defining relationships and gender are causing great fear, misperception, and even hatred. The definition of gender as only male and female is being challenged by some social scientists, mental health professionals, and, primarily, by the younger generations. Some would certainly prefer to be identified as male or female while others see a continuum in gender and sometimes claim identity as male, sometimes as female, or to a nonbinary gender definition of themselves.
Another puzzling concept to many is that a person’s gender identity may not be determined by their genitalia at birth. The transgendered or nonbinary gender pattern of behavior has been around historically for a long time but only recently recognized and affirmed. There is a growing acknowledgement that this is not a choice but a reality, often painful, that he or she is in the wrong body and feels uncomfortable with the gender identity assigned at birth.
A very good friend of mine who had struggled with depression and self-esteem issues for years confided several years ago that he was finally, after years of struggle, going through the transition from male to female. She saw a mental health professional and began getting estrogen treatments. She asked my partner and I to help her choose new clothes. It was an adventure as we went with him to buy clothes for her. Her transition has been a joyous and difficult journey. Her mother has accepted her though her siblings have not been so open-minded. Her work colleagues, religious group, and friends have accepted her. This took place for my friend in her late fifties. It is wonderful that she was finally able to make the change but sad that she suffered so much for so long in silence.
Today, some younger children are being accepted by their parents as they express their preferences more openly. There is a hospital in Chicago with a pediatric program for children transitioning and for their families. There is a Transgender Institute here in Kansas City as well as many mental health professionals who can assist with gender questions and issues.
Unfortunately, the fear of change is rearing its ugly head in new laws and proposed legislation around the country challenging LGBT peoples’ right to equality and protection from discrimination. These new laws ban transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity and prevents civil suits even in the case of documented discrimination.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (www.TheTaskForce.org) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (www.TransEquality.org) conducted a Transgender Discrimination Study with 6,450 diverse transgender and gender non-conforming study participants from all fifty states. The key findings are dramatic and disturbing.
Discrimination and harassment were pervasive in all areas including education, employment, family acceptance, health care and housing, including barriers to receiving updated ID documents. People of color fared worse than white participants in all categories with African American transgender respondents faring worse than all others in most areas examined.
Those surveyed were nearly four times as likely to live in extreme poverty and “a staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population with rates rising for…loss of job due to bias, were harassed/bullied in school….or were victims of physical or sexual assault.”
Very amazingly, “despite all of the harassment, mistreatment, discrimination, and violence faced by respondents, study participants also demonstrated determination, resourcefulness, and perseverance.”
As we learn more about the individual people who are experiencing these changes, perhaps we can take the words of Wayne Dyer to heart, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Then we can affirm and support those who fearlessly embrace change in the face of prejudice and discrimination.
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to