Counsellor's thoughts: Trans Awareness Week
Today marks the final day of Trans Awareness Week for 2020. A week hoping to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces. Transgender people still face a massive amount of discrimination and alienation within society and this is something we must fight, we must say no to and we must stand in solidarity.
Having been fortunate to know trans people on a personal level, and having heard some of the experiences this group face, I feel sadness that our society still has such a way to go in terms of acceptance. In fact, Pink News reported in 2019 that hate crimes against transgender people rose by 81% in the UK. Something has to change, and the only way we do this is by educating, dispelling myths and teaching acceptance.
Considering the enormous journey trans people go through, perhaps it is worth considering growing up and forming your identity. Remember back to being a teenager; all the angst, frustrations and insecurities you felt. This was you breaking away from your parent/carer's identity and finding your own place in the world. This is hard for any teenager and brings with it many questions about one's identity, future and the worry as to whether people will accept who you are. But for LGBTQ+ young people, this process can often have a more complex element to it, one that is shrouded in secrecy, shame and worry. Fortunately, LGBTQ+ people are represented more in mainstream media now, but the feelings that you are not the same as 'everyone else', and the stigma that still remains, makes coming to terms that you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender non-conforming a scary process. We have come so far in the acceptance of homosexuality, but there is still so far to travel in terms of acceptance of transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Perhaps it is this ongoing battle that means there are also many people further through life who have gone decades of having to live a double life. Worries about families, careers, stability factor in to these decisions, but at the heart of it, the sadness is that person does not feel able to be their fully authentic self. Those who make the decision to tell the world can face immense pressures and stigmatisation. We need to find a way to move forward to accept people and encourage everyone to feel comfortable to be themselves.
What can someone do to support the Transgender community?
Be supportive; if someone discloses to you that they are transgender, support them in their journey the way you would anyone else. Ask what pronouns they would like you to use (e.g. he/him, she/her, they/them) and if you get it wrong, apologise and move on.
Educate yourself around trans issues; because of the way we still have to go for acceptance, transgender people are not equally represented in the media. Find information from organisations such as GLAAD and Mermaids where you can find factual information.
Challenge discrimination; this can be hard to do and there can be fear that this may have repercussions for you. However, transphobia leaves a deep, lasting wound for those on the receiving end and should not be tolerated. Play your part and challenge those who discriminate, and support transgender people who need support.
How could counselling help?
Counselling provides individuals or groups with a safe private space to discuss concerns with a trained professional. Counselling could support a transgender person in discussing feelings of confusion, loneliness, low self-esteem and many other feelings associated with the trans journey. It is important to note; please do not attend counselling which has a conversion element - this is based on the premise that you can change who you are and how you feel and is disingenuous in it's 'offer' of support. Find a counsellor that can support you and accept you for who you truly are.
Counselling could also support family members who want to become a stronger ally for their transgender family member. Counselling could help you deal with the changes happening in the family environment, discuss your worries and fears and help you gain awareness of your own prejudices and biases. This would support you in providing support to your loved one.
Adam Rothwell MBACP is a registered person-centred counsellor in private practice. He sees clients online and in person in the South Manchester, Stockport and Cheshire East areas of North West England.