9 Ways Trans People Can Deal with Transphobia

titletransphobia

Thanks to contributing writer Angle Sampson (pronouns: he/his) for this cool piece! 

The second study in Mizock and Mueser’s 2014 article, called “Employment, mental health, internalized stigma, and coping with transphobia among transgender individuals”, categorised the different ways transgender people cope with transphobia. It gave a few examples for each categorised type. Here I will expand on their types, ways to think about them, and, in addition, generate ideas for each of them.

1What is this?

This is where a person presents themselves in a way that makes people think that they adhere to gender norms. However, you do not have to believe that this is a representation of how you actually feel about yourself.

How can it help?

It encourages fewer questions to be asked about your gender, it makes your life easier, and is less confrontational. It can be used to make other people believe that you are the desired gender by conforming to norms of that gender.

What’s involved?

This can be done through exaggeration of their masculinity or femininity. The gender blending strategy can cause problems for those that have issues passing, are non-binary, or genderless. Participating in norms of your external gender identity can give some evidence that you are that gender. Non-binary and genderless people have less established gender norms because their presentation of gender challenges the binary gender system. They have less mobility to gender blend and convince people of their gender identity, but may conform to the gender binary to allow them to have days where fewer awkward questions are asked of them. It is important for them and binary trans people to also get in tune with how they feeling about their gender when they are in a safe and supportive space by experimenting and exploring types of gender expression and ideas.

2

What is this?

Building up and being nice to ourselves so we can improve our self-esteem by focusing on our strengths and what you are good at.

How can it help?

It improves self-confidence and self-perception; enables you to have a self-image that is more resilient and less effect by transphobia.

What’s involved?

Think about what you are good at to make you feel better about yourself. It is good, when thinking about and complimenting yourself, to be positive and realistic. For example, “I am a caring person” instead of “I am the most caring person in the world”. It can be hard to do this at first, but it can simply be something small. Think about what people give you complements on. What part of who you are puts a smile of your face? What skills do you have? Even if it just a particular aspect of the skill that you like.

If you are finding it hard, take a few deep breaths; as you inhale tense your shoulders and then relax your them when you breathe out, so it is in time with your slow breaths. Release some of that tension and anxiety. Remember that nothing is insignificant, that you are important and special no matter who you are. It can also be help to prepare some complements to yourself when you are in a good mood for later use.

When you have been repetitively feed negative message about who you are it can take a while for compliments to feel real. Find the grains of light and help them grow by spending time with people that treat you well, develop a skill and look at the small improvements. When you have a negative thought question it. Where is it coming from? Is it truly reflective of reality? Consider what thought you could replace it with that better reflects reality and is less harsh; like “I am improving just need to practice”, “if I get help on this bit it will improve”, “I am getting closer to my goal”. Have patience and be kind to yourself.

3

What is this?

Flip it thinking involves understanding the situation and to be able to re-frame it to make yourself feel better about it. It is not about ignoring the hurt but about going beyond the surface reaction and developing a deeper understanding.

How can it help?

You gain perceptive that may depersonalise the transphobia by giving insight into the complexities of transphobia. It may make you aware of the influencing factors in producing transphobia, like cis-normativity, religion, the medical institution, school uniforms policy, and plenty more.

What’s involved?

Ask yourself questions like “is it the first time the person has encountered a trans person?” or “What are the cultural influences that this person experiences that shapes their transphobic beliefs?” This is the way you can make it less about you and more about them to enable you to separate yourself from the transphobic comments or actions and to think about yourself in a positive self-regard.

People’s beliefs are a result of the culture they are situated in. Transphobic beliefs can come from a place of ignorance, grief, institutional enforcement, or concern that one will be harmed by society if they do not conform. The ignorance can come from having never been exposed to, or never having to think about, how their gender fits within society. When people are not exposed to transgenderism they can get their information from society’s institutions which can in some instances enforce transphobia by reinforcing the binary and rigid gender roles.

It can be believed by people that it is easier and safer to fit into the gender binary and rigid gender roles, otherwise a trans person is at risk of so many harsh realities which fuels the transphobic concern. Grief comes from the gender expectation and dreams that they had for you. Learn about where their perspective is coming from. Meet them on their level while depersonalising it, make it about them. You are not the one that needs to change. Your identity is valid and should be respected.

4

What is this?

It is not about being emotionless – it means being able to cope with the ups and downs of your emotions by looking after your wellbeing. Te Whare Tapa Wha model of wellbeing is about looking after your physical health, mental health, social health and spiritual health to improve wellbeing.

How can it help?

It improves emotional regulation by working on multiple aspects of your health or wellbeing; creating better emotional stability and stronger resilience.

What’s involved?

Emotional stability can be gained through improving wellbeing. You can look after your physical health by exercising and using breathing relaxation techniques. The breathing relaxation techniques soothe the body’s stress and anxiety response, in turn calming the mind. Soothe the body, soothe the mind.

Exercise can be crucial in maintaining mental health. It releases endorphins, which are brain chemicals that make you feel better. Doing some exercise can distract you from what is going on, give you time to grieve, and time to calm down and think.

To help your social health, be around people that lift you up and listen to what you have to say in a respectful manner. Having someone who listens to you when you share your feelings of sadness can help you get perspective on issues. They can also be there when you want to talk about the positive things like your hopes and dreams, achievements, coping strategies, and supporters. Even listening to people can sometimes help. It is nice to know that you are not alone in your struggles.

To directly impact your mental health, find ways that help you constructively process the emotions you are feeling; like writing, talking to a supportive and understanding friend, or drawing. These can centre you within your world and make you feel like you belong and have a purpose. Also consider ways to strengthen your spiritual health.

A way to strengthen your spirituality is do activities that reinforce your values and reflect on why it is important to you. Your mental and emotional health weaves into other aspects of your health. Improving one aspect will have influence over others, but sometimes certain aspect need special attention.

5

What is this?

It is about finding accepting people and spaces for trans people that try to understand our experience, where they also stand by your side to challenge transphobia. The things I look for in an accepting space is that they acknowledge my identity and respect it, listen to my experience, are empathetic, affirm my human rights, and try to understand me.

How can it help?

It strengthens your support system to enable you to access more resources and become less isolated. Through building more meaningful relationships that are willing to help you out when struggling and, in some instances, you help them too.

What’s involved?

This is done by strengthening social supports that nourish you and make you stronger. Think about what you need to feel safe and secure because it can vary from person to person. What makes you feel like you can relax around people? What makes you feel accepted, understood, and respected? What do you value in a social space? What are your social needs?

Social needs can vary – in some instances you need one-on-one support, other times you need to work towards tackling the transphobic issues either through activism or creating a sense of community. Some places that you can get social support include Facebook groups, peer support, family, spiritual affiliation, advocacy, and activism. Some people find it hard to get support from certain areas to deal with transphobia. However, these social spaces can sometimes contribute to transphobic discourse and can be transphobic. It is important to gather strength and support from other spaces and people to eventually deal with difficult spaces.

6

What is this?

Preparing a response and actions to deal with, or counter transphobia can reduce anxiety around facing transphobia.

How can it help?

It gives you a plan of action when faced with transphobia that reduces anxiety making socializing and going out of the house less scary.

What’s involved?

A response could be avoiding transphobia through selecting spaces that are trans accepting and compassionate. You do not have to disclose your identity if you do not feel comfortable, but some situations that is hard to avoid. In a situation that you cannot avoid it, you can have someone talk on your behalf or plan ideas of what you are going to say.

When you get uncomfortable in a situation it can be helpful to have a phrase or signal to get out of that situation or signals for a supportive person to rescue you. Try to keep it simple and subtle; have a back-up phrase that gets you out that situation. You could say something like “I need to check on my friend”, “I think I just saw someone I need to talk to”, or “I think someone need my help”

To confront, rather than avoid, transphobia you can prepare responses to transphobic phrases or questions. It can help to use your sense of humour. Confronting transphobia can be taxing so it is important to prepare a self-care plan. This includes things like what makes you feel better, things that help you deal with gender dysphoria, a list of supportive people, or music that makes you feel better. Think about what makes you feel better. What do you enjoy? Who is supportive and understands you? What is it you need at the moment?

7

What is this?

Have a moment to look after yourself and try to let the transphobia escape your mind. You do not have to be a social justice warrior all the time.

How can it help?

It can be helpful to take a moment for yourself to disappear into a space that soothes you and recharges you for the next battle. It is important to think about activities that help you forget about the world around you and make you feel better.

What’s involved?

You could use creative outlets like art, photography, dancing, or writing. It could be an exercise such as exploring nature by gardening or going for walk. You could watch a funny movie with a few friends. Try a variety of activities until you find activities that work for you. The important part is that it gets you thinking in the moment and disengage with the transphobic thoughts, feeling, ideas, people, and actions.

Doing the activities that I have mentioned in a mindful or meditative manner can help achieve a headspace where in the moment thinking and disengagement from transphobia occurs. Mindfulness is a type of mediation where you focus on the sensation of experience and let your thoughts pass by. When doing an activity, focus on what it invokes in your senses; your touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. If you get a thought that is taking you out of the moment that is okay, let it float past and fade away. It helps to imagine the thought as a cloud or leaf floating across the sky or down a river until it is out of your mind and bring your thoughts back to your sensations.

What is this?

Doing activities that allow you to address the issues that you face in personal and societal ways. Actions that prompt and push for change in culture that supports transphobic attitudes, policies, and actions.

How can it help?

Gives you the agency over transphobia and makes you feel like something is being done about transphobia. Gives you hope that the situation will change.

What’s involved?

These activities could include being an advocate for trans people, supporting other trans people, participating in, and helping organising, pride events, getting involved in the “No Pride in Prisons” movement, performing a political stage performance like comedy or poetry, documenting and sharing your experience, voting for people who support trans rights, or becoming a leader and decision maker.

Focus on the issues that matter to you and that you are passionate about. Give a voice and space for the injustices you want to be heard. Create a world you want to live in. It does not have to be a big gesture. Small ones can make a change. You can work with comrades to make a bigger impact. Working with comrades can also include supporting, checking on, and cheering them on.

Another good way to be empowered is to do something meaningful that you enjoy. This could be volunteering for a cause you care about, such as producing a meaningful piece of media. Meaningful media is a piece of media that has some form of importance that goes beyond its physical value. Doing meaningful activities can give you a purpose and it gives you the feeling that you matter because you can help someone. Giving to people can make you feel better about yourself because it reminds you that you matter to someone.

Remember you are stronger than you think and never alone. Being an activist is hard but worthwhile in the end. You need to look after yourself most importantly, this includes during the times you are politically active. It is okay to take a break from being politically active if you need it. Alternatively, you could cut back and prioritise the issues you want to change.

9What is this?

Getting spirited involves connecting with, learning about, and discovering what your beliefs and values are. Eventually working out what matters to you.

How can it help?

This coping strategy enables you to get a better sense of what matters to you and what you are willing to stick up for. It gives you a sense of why what matters to you is important, so you can better defend it. Develops definition of your values to give you a code to live by, rather than adopting other peoples’ values that do not sit well with you.

What’s involved?

It is not okay that in some instances religion is used to hurt trans people; but that is not reflective of all religious spaces. Transness is not contradictory to religion or spirituality. One can be trans and religious or spiritual – they are not exclusionary of one another. Religion is more than just rejection received at the hands of some, it is about finding a community that you fit into, accepts you, and allows you to explore your spirituality. If a religious space makes you uncomfortable you do not have to stay.

Find a spiritual space that nourishes you, accepts you, produces meaning, connects you to people, allows space for contemplation, mediation and mindfulness, and goes beyond the mundane. A space that allows you to explore questions like how should animals and humans be treated? What is the purpose of your existence? What are the values you hold dear? Do the activities get you engaged in your values like enabling people to get their human rights met. This Includes having food to eat, shelter, freedom from discrimination.

Other ways to explore your values are to read philosophy, spiritual and religious texts to find what resonates with you, or have discussions with people about your values. Consider who you look up to for spiritual guidance. Ask question of them and get them to explain their reasoning? If they are unable to respond, hold questions about what they are saying in your mind and try and find an answer in the media about them. Consider why they hold the belief and values that they do? Does it resonate with you? Be reflective of how other people’s beliefs and values trigger thoughts of your own belief and values.

References

Mizock, L. & Mueser, K.T. (2014). Employment, Mental Health, Internalized Stigma, and Coping With

Transphobia Among Transgender Individuals. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(2), 146 –158