‘You've a right to exist’ – A brief exploration of gender issues

This article is written for transgender and gender-diverse individuals however, it may also be helpful for anyone who wants to explore their feelings around another’s gender identity as well as their own. In this article, I am referring to gender as a social construct.


Gender discussions in the media

One that often places norms and expectations in society on people fitting into the binary of male and female. Currently, there is a lot of discussion in the media around the transgender and non-binary community and some very heated discussions around rights. This can make people feel threatened in all camps and fears of eradicating one person’s rights to make room for another.

First of all, your rights are important. You have a right to exist, a right to be authentic and a right to express yourself and be heard. However, there are times when you may feel these rights are being questioned, challenged or ignored. This can come from people you know such as family, friends, partners or from wider society such as strangers and the media. This might result in feelings of anger, fear and sadness to name just a few. These feelings are all valid and may need to be explored to help you manage your connection with your authentic self.

The impact of gender expectations

Society puts a lot of weight on gender. Even if you identify as cisgender you will have experienced the pressures of gendered expectations. Stereotypical classics such as ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘pink is for girls’ or ‘women are emotional’ are rife and reinforced by those around us. Like any expectation, failure to comply can leave us feeling shamed and guilty.

Just look at men's mental health statistics and you can see the impact of gendered expectations. Some men feel they must find ways to mask or vent their feelings that fit with gendered expectations and when they can no longer do this it causes distress. Similarly, women are expected to respond emotionally in line with gendered norms and when they do not this often comes with heavy judgement also.

Gender norms place expectations on us and there is often a pressure to conform. A pressure to look and act the part people around you and wider society expect of you. What I have found is people tend to fear difference as it links to the unknown and the unknown is terrifying to many. One counter to this fear is to assign labels and norms to things so we can know what to expect and place things in our world. When these norms and expectations are challenged in some way then you soon get the anger and fear from others and unfortunately, often people from the ‘different’ group feel the brunt of this on top of their own feelings.

Issues gender-diverse individuals face

Let’s briefly explore some of the issues you as a transgender or gender-diverse individual may face. I acknowledge this is merely scratching the surface.

You may sit with a sense of fear and anxiety around safety and confrontation. Many transgender and non-binary individuals hold anxiety around feeling safe out and about. Perhaps you worry about going into town to do some shopping in case someone makes comments to you or harms you in some way.

Unfortunately, people will misgender you, sometimes accidentally and sometimes intentionally. Being misgendered and having to decide if you want to affirm yourself and correct the other person can mean opening yourself up to potential questions, confrontation or ridicule. Alternatively, choosing not to and then being left with the potential of beating yourself up for not correcting them or the feelings of shame. Not to mention the feelings of embarrassment of having attention drawn to you or feeling you’ve failed to pass.

An example that always comes to mind is the bathroom visit. The anxiety of entering a public toilet and being challenged or abused. Public toilets can be secluded and may add to fear for safety or may be busy which heightens fear of embarrassment. Alternatively, you can opt to use a disabled toilet which may come with the anxiety of being challenged for not being disabled or you may just not want to which is very valid.

The fear of being confronted or challenged can often be fuelled by things like the social media comment sections on gender-related posts. Faceless people spreading hate can feel very powerful. Like, it’s everywhere. Like most discrimination, it is fueled by the media. For example, you rarely read a newspaper article describing someone as a neurotypical cisgender white male who is able-bodied, Christian and heterosexual. Yet if that person has some difference you are likely to read that. These microaggressions feed both the hate from others and the feelings of difference for those who don’t meet societies ‘norm’.

Another emotion that often rises up is the anger of being unheard or insulted. What do you do with this anger? Whether it goes outwards or inwards it can feel huge and may lead to feeling powerless and burnt out.

Friends, family and acceptance

I’ve spoken a lot about wider society but often those that are close to you who don’t accept you can cause much hurt. They are from your inner circle and there is hope and trust for unconditional love, and yet there may be terms and conditions to this. This is particularly apparent when people feel those around them are very open and accepting only to find that this doesn’t apply to them.

When working with clients I’ve noticed that not being fully accepted by those around them who openly seem to support the LGBTQ+ community and yet question or ignore their child, friend or partner who identifies as trans or gender diverse causes feelings of confusion, pain and frustration. This, in turn, can be internalised as a ‘me’ problem rather than a ‘you’ problem. Put another way, “You accept them but not me therefore I am wrong” or the other person is putting on a socially acceptable front to seem accepting to avoid difficult conversations leaving the trans or gender-expansive person feeling deceived and potentially unsafe.  Alternatively, those around you may not hide their anger, sadness or fear around your identity. Leaving you feeling hurt, frustrated and maybe even scared. You may be outright rejected which is devastating.

The fact is, wherever you sit in the gender spectrum, you may wish to talk about the impact of your gender identity and how you feel you fit in to the world or maybe don’t fit in. I leave you with the thought that you deserve to be accepted. Acceptance is affirming and we all search for acceptance from others and ultimately within ourselves.

Therapy can be a great space to do this along with exploring and processing your feelings, thoughts and behaviours from the past and present to connect with your authentic self and cope with the world around you. Remember you are not alone and you deserve to exist.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Kidderminster DY10 & Stourbridge DY9
Written by Ella Mills, BSc (Hons), MSc, AdvDip, UKCP acred, MBACP
Kidderminster DY10 & Stourbridge DY9

They/She/He. I am a UKCP accredited Integrative Psychotherapist working online and in person in DY10 area. I work relationally with individuals to help them become their authentic selves and a big part of this is being authentic myself.

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