Gender Dysphoria ‘s Impact on Relationships
Celebrities like Laverne Cox, Laura Jane Grace and Bruce Jenner are giving transgender issues am unprecedented level of visibility. But although the public is more informed about LGBT issues than ever, individuals going through transition still face a number of challenges when coming to grips with their gender dysphoria. For example, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 still classifies gender identity disorder as an illness, which many transgender advocates take issue with because they claim it has a stigmatizing effect. So, given the contentious nature of the disorder, how can those closest to transgender individuals cope with the transition?
Coming to terms with one’s transgender identity is a lengthy and difficult process, and not just for the person going through transition. Romantic partners of transgender people commonly experience feelings of confusion and betrayal related to the nature of the change. Because many transgender people can go decades of their lives before coming to terms with their condition, it can feel as though a hugely important piece of information has been concealed with malicious intent. Questions can also be raised regarding a transgender person’s sexual orientation, with some partners wondering if their relationship was established as a way for a transgender person to pass as a “normal” member of society. Parents and partners of a transgender person can also feel as though they have failed in some way and somehow contributed to the gender dysphoria. It’s important to understand that these feelings are natural and should be discussed openly if the relationship is to endure.
Understanding the Issue
In addition to the depression and anxiety transgender people often have to deal with as part of their condition, there is also significant social stigma associated with being transgender. Despite huge advances in LGBT causes in the last few decades, those who do not easily fit into society’s ridged gender binary often face discrimination in the workplace, enjoying fewer legal protections than their cisgendered counterparts. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at one point in their lives. As such, it is imperative friends, families and romantic partners of transgender people to understand that someone coping with gender dysphoria is dealing with just as much pain and confusion as their loved ones and are in great need of love, support and understanding.
Help for Friends and Family of Transgender People
Family and friends of transgender people play an important part in helping their loved ones cope with gender dysphoria. That’s why it’s important to be armed with as much information as possible. Even people with the best of intentions can cause harm by using outmoded language, such as using the word “transgendered” or misusing gender pronouns. It’s also essential to proceed carefully and respectfully, especially in regards to questions about sexual reassignment surgery. Consulting with a mental health professional to help process painful emotion and get a better understanding of gender dysphoria is advisable. To avoid any painful missteps and to ease the transition for all involved, here are some organizations that can offer aid to the friends and families of transgender people, including those at the state and regional level.
- Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
- Transgender Child
- Trans Etiquette for Non-Trans People
- The Human Rights Campaign’s Resources for People with Transgender Family Members Page
- The Kinsey Institute’s Resources For Transgender People And Their Friends and Families
- Heartland Trans Wellness Group’s Significant Others, Family, Friends, and Allies Resources page