The World Health Organisation has finally ruled it will no longer classify being transgender as a mental illness. 'Constantly being told that you are of lesser value, or not real, leaves you questioning your right to sit at the communal table', writes Ambrose Thompson.
Imagine you have just finished knitting a hat for yourself that you are very proud of, and you want to parade it off to showcase your accomplishment. You cannot wait to see what others think of your handiwork; so, you seek out your family and neighbors. With nervous excitement you point the hat out out to everyone you can find. But, something odd is going on. Every person you encounter looks at you strangely, and makes snide remarks about whether your imaginary friend has the same hat.
"When a good portion of the world around you sees you as inferior and not worth including in the social tribe, it is hard not to internalise that reflection and absorb it into your sense of self."
You are starting to feel uneasy. Why is everyone acting like you have no hat on? You begin to worry maybe the hat blew away so you look in the mirror. No, the hat is still there in plain site, yet everyone acting like it is missing. They can see it, right? After awhile the onslaught of nasty looks start making you doubt your own perceptions. And there you have it, not only the beginning of a mental health landslide, but the reality of being transgender.
Humans on the whole are social creatures. Our species lives in family groups, clans, tribes, communities, and so on for both physical and mental survival. Think about one of the greatest punishments a person can suffer in prison- solitary confinement. While some people seek out solitary lives for religious or different personal reasons, most of us need the back and forth of social interactions to live fulfilling lives that connect and root us to the earth. Central to these interactions is the sense of self we bring to the groups we are part of, but what happens when all the groups that we are included in lead to corrosive doubt?
- See also: Gender, identity, support
- See also: Using 'chosen names' reduces transgender depression
When a good portion of the world around you sees you as inferior and not worth including in the social tribe, it is hard not to internalize that reflection and absorb it into your sense of self. Eventually you wonder if maybe the majority is right even though you do not want them to be. Day in and day out whether it is through media or direct contact, being told that transgender people are of lesser value or not real adds up and takes a toll. That toll is internal questioning of self worth, validity, and a right to be at the communal table and join in conversations and exchange of ideas.
There is a reason the suicide rate among transgender people is so high. If society says there is no place for you then your only recourse is to disappear into yourself. That self though has become corroded from continuous perforation of acidic looks and comments that have eaten away at you. The self unravels into a questioning vortex that is anything but calming and safe. There is literally nowhere to run to. Society will not have you, and all the doubt has made self-hatred a rampant reality. Any validation is gone and nowhere provides respite.
Exhaustion, depression, and anxiety set in, which creates a vicious cycle of wanting to hide from society and then yourself. You get more and more tired and depressed. Worse, you do not believe anyone who says they are there if you need to talk since so many people have let you down. The world and living feels like a lose-lose situation, and suicide and other forms of self destruction loom as the only way out.
It is not that mental health issues are unique to transgender people or anyone in the LGBTQ spectrum, but that mental health issues are nearly a given. Whether one passes inconspicuously or not, there is always the very real danger that someone will find out, spread the news, or put your job and safety in jeopardy. It is as if there is always a lion just beyond the horizon that could leap at any moment. The constant worry and fear burn away physical and mental well being.
Mental Health initiatives aimed at or seeking to include transgender people must openly address this unease and unrest if the beginning of trust and seeking out is to occur. We are not claiming to be special in having mental health travails, but we are burnt out and hesitant in believing anyone cares, understands, or truly does want to help.
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