transgender and mental illness: double stigma

kai wright at temenos writes:

our culture depicts people whose discomfort with gender norms goes beyond being tomboys or feminine men as mere curiosity items for trash TV (“your woman is really a man!” episodes of jerry springer). this collective ignorance leaves transgendered people without much guidance. many go through puberty and into adulthood without meeting people like themselves. the resulting high rates of depression, drug use, violence, and suicidal thoughts are unsurprising.

“one of the greatest agonies one can experience is gender dysphoria,” says transgender activist jessica xavier. “when your anatomy doesn’t match who you are inside, it’s the worst feeling in the world.”

these problems are largely related to society. this is probably not a great comparison – but i’m thinking of a relative who made a huge career change, from being a professional in the fashion industry to becoming an environmental engineer. she was unhappy (dysphoric) with her work and needed to do something that was much more in line with her desires and values. but she was not treated as a curiosity, there were people like herself, and there was support for her decision.

what would it be like if we treated gender change like that? if we offered someone who suspects they have landed in the wrong gender with support with their exploration, rather than sneers and snickers? the reality, however, is that in most situations, most people would never even have the chance to find out that someone is gender dysphoric. for the person experiencing it, it’s simply too risky to talk about.

this week, national mental health week, let’s remember that the stigma surrounding mental illness can be twice as heavy for someone who already bears another stigma. and that mental illness can have many reasons – some of them have less to do with the internal mental and emotional workings of the person, and more with the people around them. if you have to keep the most important part of your life a secret, if you constantly have to be afraid of people ridiculing you, if you feel utterly alone in your situation – that fosters mental illness just like malnutrition, poverty and lack of clean water foster physical illnesses.

i said “you”. and i mean you and me. those of us who are not transgendered, let’s just take a moment and imagine what it might be like to live in a world that treats us with ignorance and disdain.

yes, let’s take a moment.

right now.

right here.

and let’s do whatever we can, in our own small ways, to change this situation. let’s not let ignorance and stigma stand in the way of the happiness of our brothers and sisters.

ultimately, we’re in this together.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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