From Transphobia to Self-Esteem

By Lisa P.

Is it any wonder that TG people get depressed?  After all, many members of this community may be like me, absorbing transphobia from a young age.  TV, movies, books, gratuitous comments – they all have consistently portrayed TG people as predators, “weirdos,” “kooks” or simply marginalized human beings.  I still remember being haunted by the movie “Dressed to Kill” when I saw it.  In that movie, a transgender person is not fully human.  How many people pressing for a bathroom bill in their state have had that film in mind?  Probably more than a few.

The idea of using gender presentation as a weapon against women is beyond my comprehension.  Yet there was someone on the big screen, looking like me, doing just that.  With that type of portrayal so typical, is it any wonder that I had transphobia and that it caused me to push back by deeply repressing my femininity?

It has taken me nearly five decades of adult living to truly begin to sort through my feelings in a positive way.   During that time, I have also wanted (and still want) to honor my wedding vows and put my wife’s needs before my own.  When I have expressed my feminine side, therefore, I often felt through the years felt that I was cheating on her.  The “other woman” was me!  Since my lovely best friend and I have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement, she became complicit in a charade.  One trope that seems to fit this situation by analogy is the wealthy French aristocrat in the nineteenth century who had a mistress on the side – the wife was perfectly fine with the arrangement, as long as she was not forced to confront the reality of the mistress in public.  The psychological “trick” to dealing with that infidelity was for both parties to pretend that it wasn’t infidelity at all:  he because his wife indirectly assented, and she because what wasn’t visible didn’t really exist.  To bring the parallel back to my own experience, perhaps a marriage like mine falls into the same trap – I don’t have to feel guilty because she knows I am TG and she still loves me and wants to be married to me, and she doesn’t feel bad about keeping me in the closet because by keeping my feminine side out of sight, she can pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Living in a closet is not easy, however, as anyone who is TG will tell you.  No matter how hard you try, you still feel like you are lying to someone much of the time:  lying to yourself, to your spouse, to your co-workers, to your friends, to your neighbors, to your counsellor, or even on surveys (Editorial Question: how many of us have hovered over a little box on a form wondering what to fill in – the real answer or the one that the person gathering the information expects to see on the form?)

To which gender do you most identify?

  • Female
  • Male
  • Transgender Female
  • Transgender Male
  • Gender Non-conforming
  • Not listed:___________

Anyone who has read thus far probably has experienced some of what I am talking about.  But, all I am really doing is talking about a problem that stares us in the mirror every day.  What do we do about it?  In my case, I deal with dysphoria by being Lisa just as often as reasonably possible.  I am like the parched woman who, when she gets access to water, drinks 3 gallons straight away.  A person is bound to get bloated that way, and I have felt bloated more times than I can count.  I underdress, partly dress, and fully dress in a way that satisfies my need to feel whole, and I tell the world “here I am” by interacting with people constantly as Lisa.  I do a hundred other little things in private and in public that women tend to do and men avoid.  All of these things help me feel less dysphoric.

But, I have to admit that I still obsess about my brain-body gender disconnect.  Lately, I have asked myself the hardest question of all: “you know you are a woman, and you will continue to feel that way, so why do you need to have anyone else affirm you as a woman?”  More specifically, I have been asking myself:  why can’t you just affirm your inner goddess every single day by saying hello to her and telling her she is OK and that it is perfectly wonderful for her to be creative, see the world in rainbows, sense the pain in others, nurture the needs of her community, and listen and respond and create networks with other women — all without the need to be dressed and act in the way that society names “female?”

One answer to those questions came to me when I was in the locker room at the gym in the middle of April.  I felt like I had to act in a certain way to fit in with the guys who were there.  It reminded me that every time I am in a male locker room I feel like an alien.  I don’t feel that way when I am changing with women, even though I have to be more careful in doing so.  I am not shy about my body, so my issues aren’t related to body shaming with males.  The situation simply reminded me of how much psychic energy it takes for me to conform to society’s expectations of me as a person who was assigned male at birth.  I also remembered two friends of mine who had come out as gay: one in his twenties and the other in his forties.  In each case, I heard other people say these two individuals had become “affected” and that they suddenly started “acting gay.”  I don’t think these comments were intended to be pejorative – they were observations about behavior. 

For a time, I assumed these friends acted in a new way to fit in with the gay community.  As I reflect on the change to their mannerisms now, however, an obvious and better reason for the change comes to mind:  these guys changed their mannerisms because they finally started acting how they felt inside.  Other people (including me) observed these changes and attributed them to an expression of sexual orientation, but what was really happening is that these two people had come out of the closet and could be themselves; they were done with pretending.

You can bet that I will continue to reflect on what this means to me, because being true to oneself has real value for every human being.  I suspect the gender queer side of the house has been saying for some time that most of us are too “gendered” for our own good.  I will also admit that I may be challenging certain established norms within the TG community by asking these questions, especially as many visitors to Kandi’s Land come to this website to have crossdressing or related gender non-conforming activities affirmed, explained or taught.  So, I know I could face rejection and/or strong disagreement from my own friends within this community.

Still, I think for me it is worthwhile to press beyond my gender, if I can.  Perhaps at some point I will finally reach my highest point of self-esteem and personal equilibrium when I no longer need to “dress as a woman” to feel more like the woman that I am.  I know it would help if everyone around me would not expect me to behave in a way that reflected their expectations of me.  But, I don’t think they are changing anytime soon, and I am already pretty old so it isn’t going to happen in my lifetime.

I should add that if I could simply look in the mirror and always see Lisa staring back at me, even if only “half” of me is there and regardless of the testosterone-induced face exhibited there, it not only would mean I had overcome my transphobia and developed a healthy self-esteem — it would also mean I could buy a lot less makeup!

Finally I will leave you with this thought:

A wise Queen learns little tricks to keep the King from dominating her.

6 thoughts on “From Transphobia to Self-Esteem”

  1. For me Lisa I’ve got that love hate side to me when it comes to my gender identity.
    While in many ways I have accepted this side of me it’s very frustrating having two sides to oneself.
    Being me has brought many cost for me through my divorce and for a time away from my grandchildren
    If I could I would leave all of this behind me, maybe I should I’m just afraid I will just be back again
    Nobody understands girls like us and it’s only blogs like this that helps me cope
    Bless you Lisa, and of course Kandi who opens this place for us

    1. Rachael, I feel your pain. There are definitely costs in being who we are. But, I also find great joy, and I keep working in ways to be better version of me precisely because I am TG. Kandi is a good example with her giving back to the community. Lisa

  2. Lisa,
    Thank you for this very thought provoking article. Things like this help me a great deal.
    When I look in the mirror, whether I am wearing makeup or with a bit of face stubble, I just see me.
    I really enjoy being me wearing pantyhose, a dress, heels, makeup, long hair and jewelry.
    I really enjoy being me when I wear shorts and a golf shirt and hitting a ball around the course with the guys.
    I know it is a “cop out” saying I am just “me” and not put a label on it. I don’t feel more feminine while being Jocelyn any more than I feel more masculine while not calling myself Jocelyn.
    As Popeye said: “I yam what I yam”.
    Jocelyn

  3. Jocelyn, I think we all are evolving, not in exactly the same ways, but always trying to understand where we come from and why we are the way we are. As my Contributor page says, I do feel completely well adjusted. This is the only area of my life I really need to understand better. The good news is that I Love my whole self, and I hope you do too! Lisa

  4. Lisa: Thanks for writing this. There are many things going through my head now as to how this pertains to me and even if it really does. That’s why I find it thought provoking. I identify with some of the self-esteem issues but have found that dressing is my escape from the judgement and expectations of others. Since very few people know me as Frannie, the pressure of being me is not there when I dress. I hope that makes some sense. There is a certain amount of freedom I find when I am out. There is probably more to this but thanks for making me think.

  5. Frankie, that makes sense. Being Frannie means being free to be you. No boundaries, no chains! Lisa

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