Ask a Gender Therapist: Difficult Trans-Related Conversations & Tips on How to Have Them
In this week’s edition of the Ask a Gender Therapist Video Q&A Series I address…
Difficult Trans-Related Conversations & Tips on How to Have Them
As always the transcript is below. Be sure to send me your questions through the Contact Me page on this site!
Hey! Welcome to “Ask a Gender Therapist.” This is a video series where I answer transgender questions from the point of view of a gender therapist. I am Dara Hoffman-Fox, your host, and I am a licensed professional counselor in Colorado.
This week’s question comes from Jordan in Missouri. Let’s get right into it. Jordan says:
I was dating a girl not too long ago. She told me anyone who identifies as trans is fake if they do not want to take hormones or seek sex reassignment surgery. I said that is not true, they are still trans. There are plenty of people who do not seek the surgical procedures or hormone therapy.
Jordan goes on to explain how he approached this with her. And he was left feeling very frustrated by the encounter because she still did not believe what he was saying. Then he asks:
How would you answer that question to someone who considers a trans* person fake because they choose not to seek the treatment of hormones and/or sex reassignment surgery? I know I can’t stand up for everyone, but this one is a bit mindboggling. Hope you can help!
This is definitely a transgender related question, but it also involves communication in general. So this is an answer that can be applied to probably many other situations in which you find yourself having a disagreement with somebody about a topic that means a lot to you. So let’s go ahead and break it down a little bit.
The first step you actually need to be able to take with this person is to decide if it is really worth your time and energy to have this conversation with this person. So how do you go about doing that? Well for one, it depends on how long you have known this person or how well you know this person. Have you been able to already observe for a while what their personality is like? How are they in conversations or debates with other people? Does it seem like they are going to be open to listen to you? Are they going to be willing to hear your side of things? Or are they going to be firmly set in their belief no matter what? We can even ask them flat outright, “Look, before we have this conversation, I need to know if this is a lost cause, are you stuck on your belief, are you open to having a conversation about this?”
Once you do that and you decide you are going to have this conversation with this person, just keep in mind that at any point during the conversation, you can bow out. You can start it and if there is too much resistance you are running up against, you can just not have the conversation with this person. One of the hardest things to realize is you may not be able to convince that person, but sometimes it’s best for you and your health and well-being to step back and walk away from that conversation.
But let’s say you do decide to have that conversation with this person. The first thing I suggest you do is get clear on definitions with one another. So one of the words that was used was “trans.” What you need to do is ask the other person, “Let’s make sure we are in agreement about what it means to be trans. What does it mean to you?” Then you listen to what they have to say about it. You then share if you agree, which more than likely you don’t, because that is the reason there is an argument happening.
At that point you share what your belief is about what it means to be trans. I call it a “belief,” but if you are talking about someone who is trans, meaning there is the transgender umbrella (containing) the gender binary system of male and female. Then you also have the entire gender spectrum of being gender variant, non-binary. This is a definition that medical and mental health professionals across the world are coming to agree upon, that this is the definition of trans. Even though it may be your “belief” of what it means to be trans, it’s also very much being put out there as the definition of it in many professional circles.
So let’s say you are talking to this person about what it means to be trans, and with that definition they continue to say, “I don’t think that’s what it means to be trans,” then you can say that’s another decision point in the conversation for you. You (recognize) at this point there are very significant problems in which you disagree about what it even means to be trans. You then decide whether or not to continue the conversation.
More than likely, if you are going to continue the conversation, it’s going to continue in a different direction. You’re then going to want to get into the relationship with the person. Let’s say this is a person you are dating and it is important that they hear you or you let them know how you feel about what they are saying. That’s what needs to come next.
You would share with them how their opinion about this affects you, and how it’s going to affect your relationship with that person. Jordan said the person he was dating used the word ‘fake,’ and that can be a pretty hard word to hear from somebody that you are in a relationship with. Maybe she’s not calling Jordan fake, but Jordan was saying, “Look, what if this was me. Are you saying then that I would be fake?” So it gets very personal. At that point you share how it is affecting you and you see if the person you are talking to cares or not about that.
The thing is, this is just one conversation at this point. And what can happen next is you can stop and try to find a point in which you both can agree. You can also stop and say, “Apparently we are getting a little heated up here, I think it would be best if we table this conversation for now, but I want to pick it up again in an hour, tomorrow, maybe this weekend…” But if it is something that is important to you to bring up again, you do need to let them know that you do want to talk about this again. But maybe it just needs to go ahead and be paused for right now. And you may decide you need to agree to disagree.
At that point, you then have another decision to make, which is, is this a person I want to continue having a relationship with? And that may not be an answer you have right away. It might depend on if there are going to be more conversations about this in the future and how do those conversations go. It depends on what your relationship is with this person, if it is somebody that would be easy to be able to release from your life or not.
Basically, in the end, Jordan did mention that he ended up not staying in a relationship with this person. So Jordan, you may have gone through all these steps already without even knowing it. That is really the best way to handle it if you encounter this situation. Thanks for sending in that question! That was definitely one that I have heard before so hopefully this is one that others can gain some insight into now that you have heard the answer.
That is it for this episode! Feel free to check out my blog at Conversations-with-a-gender-therapist.com. And you can email me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. And in the subject area go ahead and put “Ask a Gender Therapist question.”
One more thing before I let you go, I do want to dedicate this episode to Matt Kailey. Matt Kailey was the author of the Tranifesto blog. I actually mentioned that blog on my April 24th episode.
Sadly, Matt Kailey passed away on May 17th. I wrote a tribute on my blog to him that you can check out. Even though I am dedicating this episode to him, I know that in the future I am going to be dedicating so much of my work to him as well.
Rest in peace, Matt Kailey.
Florence JaneJune 4, 2014 at 1:07 PM
First of all, thanks for dedicating this post to Matt. His death leaves a big void in the community and here in Colorado. Matt’s efforts helped so many of us struggling to survive in a hostile world.
I just want to say that I hate the implication that this is a contest on who is most trans, or that there is only one way to be trans. We divide the community with those kinds of statements. Many of us who do identify as binary have reasons that we can’t transition. My reason is my marriage. I know what gender I am, and constantly flirt with more open expression, but the fact that I don’t take hormones or seek GRS doesn’t make me cisgender. Mentally, I’m under constant stress from living as my biological sex, but nonetheless in order to save my marriage I honor my spouses request to spare her the anguish that would destroy our marriage. I’m sure many others have perfectly valid reasons to not transition.
Thanks for being our virtual gender therapist. It is helpful to hear supportive dialogue when everything is so negative. I’ve had a therapist before, but obviously, we need to accept ourselves and can’t spend our lives in therapy. Sure is nice to hear from someone like you regularly though.
Dara Hoffman-FoxJune 4, 2014 at 10:16 PM
I love that, “virtual gender therapist.” 🙂 Thank you for sharing your insight and your story with us. And yes, the loss of Matt Kailey is huge beyond belief. It was the least I could do… 🙁