Self image and the trans identity

For many (if not most) trans people, one of the hardest parts of coming out of the closet and starting the process of living life true to their internal selves, is dealing with reactions of people around them. In some cases it’s not too bad, but many trans people face devastating rejections, and often lose people from their lives.

We often tell ourselves that we’ll just have to be patient. We’ve spent years thinking about who we are, and working up the courage to express our needs. For everyone else the revelation is often a massive bombshell and our loved ones need time to process the change and come to terms with what it means. Coming out as trans isn’t the same as coming out as gay. It’s not only a question of who we date, but we also change our names and our appearance. People have to speak with us differently, talk about us differently, and get used to often quite drastic changes in behaviour.

There is another aspect of this which I have been thinking about quite a lot lately. It is how every person’s self image is intimately entwined with their relationships with other people. A person’s view of themselves and their role in life is not a completely separate entity, created in a vacuum. It is malleable and influenced by the people that surround them. Who we are often differs a little bit (or even a lot) depending on the context. I am not entirely the same person around my family as I am around my friends, or even coworkers. This is in my opinion very relevant to the issues of trans people, and can very much shape the way a person’s transition goes.

Lets take me as an example. I have a family, and a huge extended family. All of which have known me my whole life as a woman. Even as I know deep down that I am not, the way I see myself in relation to them is now quite muddled. I am my parents’ daughter, I am a sister to my siblings, I am aunt, I am niece, I am granddaughter. This is a very deeply rooted identity which I have found hard to shake. I see myself as a man, but I also see myself as a daughter/sister/aunt/niece. Sometimes these conflicting identities have caused me to doubt my decision to transition.

I do think though, that the main reason this has caused doubts has less to do with conflicting identities, and more to do with the almost hegemonic narrative of trans people which goes something like this:

  • trans people know they are trans as children
  • trans people are extremely dysphoric and hate their bodies
  • misgendering a trans person (saying sir to a trans woman for instance) always causes great distress and even anger
  • trans people fit within and accept common gender roles for men and women and aspire to live according to them

This narrative is relatively common and many trans people feel exactly like that. But not all of them do. I don’t. This has caused me to feel doubtful and often quite depressed because I worry that people won’t take me seriously and that I will always be an outcast. I don’t want to toss my feminine side to the curb, I don’t want to “conform” to some kind of masculine standard. I don’t mind that I am someone’s daughter/sister/etc. It’s part of who I am and how my personality was shaped.

At the same time I now have many new and wonderful friends who have never known me as anything other than the gay man Þór. It’s a little strange to me, but also very nice. I shouldn’t need this kind of validation, but it’s still comforting to have it. How I see myself in relation to these people as opposed to how I see myself in relation to my family, is incredibly different. And yet I am still the same person.

This brings me back to my discussion before about how difficult it can be for people to accept that someone is trans. It may not be about hatred of trans people, or doubts about whether it is even possible to be trans. I think that in many cases what is happening is that as someone announces that they are trans and begin their journey towards living according to their true gender, this in turn may affect and even change the self image other people have in relation to this trans person.

If I am now a man rather than a woman, this affects the way my mother sees herself as a mother to me, her daughter. Same applies to everyone else in my family. And also to friends I have had since before I came out. This is a difficult process, and one which people need time to work their way through.

It is imperative that everyone, the trans individual and their loved ones, be patient and open minded to ensure that this process takes place without too much heartache. The transition is complicated and difficult, and to some even a cause for grief. But at the end of the day we are still the same people, we are still here, and we still love each other.

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