Facing the stigma of being transgender
The meaning of the word stigma
''If something has a stigma attached to it, people consider it unacceptable or a disgrace. e.g the stigma of mental illness.'' - Collins.
The other day I attended a workshop for transgender women. It was held at the Gender Identity Clinic in Hammersmith and as normal they asked some very interesting questions. I find that some of their questions take a few days to rumble and take hold.
The question that has taken my mind is how the stigma has manifested within me. Now, the feeling in me was one of indignation. It rippled through me as a fierce fire flowing through my veins and my barriers, resistance and defences shot up. I am an outgoing person and felt that I was travelling this path really well. But the question was, "How did the stigma affect me"?
This left me with an overall feeling of frustration that I couldn't answer but slowly the lights came on. First of all if I try and ring the clinic, the phone just goes to answer phone with no return call. Now rational thinking says OK they are very busy, on the surface that's life. As I grew up nobody wanted to listen to me, I was a boy and was told to "man up". If I ring my local hospital they answer or I can email. Even my busy local doctors answer their phone, so let's leave that one.
Now, I travel up to Hammersmith and clear my diary especially for this course. It costs £2.20 per hour to park outside the clinic (I still don't know if the course is running as my query still hasn't been replied to). The course starts at 11:00 and finishes at 16:00, allowing an hour for arriving early and the workshop over running, that's 6 hours parking total £13.20 (the parking machine only takes coins!). Then I walk up the street to the Gender Clinic door, press the buzzer and wait for somebody to answer (bear in mind it says clinic, not secure unit). So they let me in up the stairs and this not so secure unit has yet another door to buzz and wait. So what message are they giving me?
When I go to my local hospital I'm allowed to walk in with everybody else. After my motorbike accident even the police said "Oh, I don't have a box for transgender", but he was upfront about it.
Lets look at the facts: in M&S the sales assistant told me "when you are ready for a bra fitting, just come dressed a bit more girly so I can take you in the communal changing rooms". My inner voice was saying approach with caution, this needs careful negation. It was far from the truth and was in fact a very pleasant experience as I was given the information in a very polite way. The ladies in "taking shape" clothes shop take me into the changing rooms and present me with lots of clothes that they think will suit me. Again, expectations are saying to me run, don't put yourself in this situation, go online and buy, (in my reflection I am starting to wonder if the people with a darker skin type felt like this in the 1950s and 1960s). Even in the local hospital I get asked about my journey of transition.
So I am now starting to think my internalised stigma has quite a hold on me and I reflect back to the brave face I put on at the BACP private practice meeting in Southampton. Did I blend and mirror? I think its safe to say no I didn't. I was entering a room full of supposedly non-judgemental people. On the surface that should've been a breeze but my inner belief system was saying just leave.
The theme of their workshop was networking and marketing for private practice. I was told coldly by one lady speaker "no need to give me your card I will find you online". Now I am very proud of my private practice, it's taken a lot of hard work to get it this far. With her coldness I think how did Nelson Mandela cope. On one side my feelings were saying just walk away, they are not interested in me or the service that I offer people. My other side said sit with feeling uncomfortable, I have paid the same £90 as they have for the course. So yes I have felt the stigma of having what is called a supposed mental health issue. To me this is normal, why all the fuss?
I believe they used to lock people up for being GAY (good as you). So where does my stigma come from? How free do I feel walking down the street? How welcome am I made to feel in the coffee shop? Yes, the stigma does affect me. Do I choose to openly reflect on it? No, I brush it under the carpet, deny it even affects me and get on with my life the best I can.
Now it has been brought to my attention that a stigma is attached to being the way I was born and it affects the way I live my life. I will happily stand up and say I am transgender and proud. If you have read this and attend any workshop I am at, please come across and tell me how it makes you feel seeing me, talking to me and getting to know me.
If you are struggling with any of the issues that I have experienced, counselling offers a private and confidential space to discuss your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental setting.
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