Striving to be a Wo/Man. Whatever That Means in Your Body and Under Your Skin. by Gabrielle Anderson, lmft
June is the month to explore men and male related issues. What is it like to be male? What has influenced you to be the person that you have become today? Being a therapist, this subject comes up more often than you might except.
Just last week, my Facebook and other news feeds seem to have settled down with their fixation on the Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner transformation. To some the question of being male is instinctual, loaded with all the assumptions we take for granted, but to one who is trans-gendered, the question itself becomes a process to dissect and organize.
I do not pretend to be an expert in such gender related issues, but as I write this article, I currently have a 4 year old child and a seventeen year old teen on my caseload struggling with gender identity questions. In addition, I see a preschooler with two mommies and a married bi-sexual woman.
I was born with curly hair; my daughter has red. Two of my brothers are left handed and an uncle is gay. Genetic variances are all around and everywhere; they are what set us apart and distinguish us from others. Is this how we explain the one confused about their gender identity or knowing that they were born in the wrong body? I really do not know the answer.
Two years ago I saw a little boy in play therapy struggling through a divorce. His little 2 year old brother waited for him in the waiting adorned with beads, wearing a princess costume. Week after week his toddler sibling wore something fun and feminine. I never gave it a second thought until mom called again 2 years later. Now little brother is in pre-k and is determined that he is a girl. Mom and dad have allowed “her” to grow out her hair, wear girls clothes, and use the “she “ pronoun. This little one is not choosing to dress like…in her mind she IS a girl. Just a girl with an unfortunate penis.
Another child is a senior at a prestigious private school for the gifted. I am seeing her primarily because she has Lyme disease and is struggling to cope. She talks about what it is like to be a girl but to also feel like being a girl is not right, not her. So, she wears baggy sweatshirts to conceal her breasts and cuts her hair in such a way that she looks a bit neutral. To this bright teen, she feels as if she is destined to be a boy, yet she really wants the easy road. What she really wants is to feel congruent in her own skin. To feel at home being a girl.
I am not here to pretend I understand what this feels like or why an individual feels trapped in the wrong gender identity. But one thing I know for sure. These individuals are not choosing it, but rather the path is choosing them.
What must it be like to feel incongruent every moment of every day. If there is one thing I can trust, it is my gender and the idea that I am without a doubt a woman. To me, this is a basic fact that I do not think about or wonder about, it is just an is.
To worry about which restroom to enter or what pronoun to use and to always feel like someone somewhere was not going to accept you and was probably going to hurt you is unimaginable. To walk through life with people who are vocal and do not understand you or for whatever reason could not find love and tolerance to allow your differences to be yours sounds exhausting.
The teen I mentioned above is in the hospital now, wanting to die. Wanting to end her life and stop the suffering and anguish. A week before she tried to take her life she asked me a breath-taking question.
“Gabrielle, do you think my Lyme disease could be effecting my brain and making me not want to be a girl? I can’t stand this inner fight any longer. I just want to feel right and ok.”
How can we not show love to such a person? How could I feel anything but compassion and understanding for someone who has a road so challenging and difficult, she would find it easier to end life itself?
Tolerance. Love. Understanding. Support. Sometimes the road to be a successful man or a virtuous woman is harder than we could ever imagine. Maybe, just maybe we can open our hearts and minds to allow ourselves to remember that we almost never have the full story or the entire picture of what one’s daily walk is truly about. Offering the kind of love and support any of us would need to feel congruent within ourselves would seem the only response for anyone with a compassionate heart. I can’t imagine a more loving path than to demonstrate acceptance and understanding ourselves.
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