The trans identity has been written about extensively from a political perspective. Many columns in the Blade, and other outlets, speak of gender ID laws, barriers in trans healthcare, pronouns, trans representation in state legislatures and eventually Congress, and the legality of offering trans children hormone blockers, among other treatments.
While speaking of politics can be good, it’s equally important to understand trans lives from the perspective of someone with a social work degree — or, in other words, from an emotional and therapeutic perspective.
Trans people, simply put, face many emotional barriers in life that others usually don’t have to encounter. Let me list several here. I don’t have an MSW, but will try my best to articulate these problems in detail.
First and foremost, trans people face lots of change: change in personality, change in appearance, change in passing versus not passing. Whether we like it or not, change invariably means that we have to act differently in the environments that surround us, and when we change as people, we also have to change our behavior and relationships with others. I like to tell friends this saying: “Change is inherently uncomfortable, and change is painful. Moving from one place in life to another means there is lots of growth, but also room for lots of loneliness when you have reached a new personal destination.”
As someone who changed from being a cis female to a man who fully passes as one — and never gets mistaken as trans — this transformation invariably affected my relationships with others. Suddenly, I was expected to make friends with other cis men, some straight, and forming these new relationships took lots of work and necessitated more personal growth. While change can be good, it is also hard, and few others know what it feels like to have to shuffle friendships.
The second emotional barrier trans people face is one that is almost instantly recognizable: our love lives. To be very frank, trans men often go from being an object of sexual desire, as cis females, to being men who repulse many people away. Others view our bodies as disgusting and something to avoid. Many lesbians like to avoid trans men and think that sleeping with us is some form of betrayal to their own community. If trans men are interested in men, we face the problem of wanting to sleep with people who statistically assault us more, and can be violent and degrading to our bodies. Trans people also sleep with people who want to keep our dalliances secret, which shames us into thinking that our bodies are not something to be proud of, but rather monstrous things that can only exist underneath the sheets, and not outside of bedroom doors.
The third emotional hurdle trans people face is that of passing: some of us pass extremely well, but others don’t. There is conflict within the trans community between those who pass and those who don’t. Some in the community view passing as another sign of betrayal to those of our own kin: trans men who pass fully as men are often excluded from queer events or groups. Cis people might think that it’s a choice for us to pass well, when in reality passing is often a result of genetics, as people with thicker jaw lines and more muscle can naturally adopt the other gender better. Passing is a source of envy and jealousy, and ignites fault lines within our community, when in reality, we need less rupture in our community in order to survive as one whole group.
The fourth emotional obstacle trans people face is job security, and managing emotions in the workplace. As a transman who passes well and is never mistaken for gender nonconforming, I can say firsthand that it is easy to never have to talk about being trans at a job. In fact, it usually serves us well to not talk about our transness in career settings, as gender variance is something that cruelly detracts from our career prospects, and rarely adds to career growth. Unfortunately, most workplaces are laden with colleagues — usually male, and usually older — who are transphobic to some extent. Navigating these difficult relationships requires a lot of emotional labor that can otherwise be put into finishing memos, leading meetings, and scaling the corporate ladder. But instead, we’re left to fight old crusty men in cubicles.
There are many more emotional hurdles we face, which can be described in other columns. As stated, it is critical to understand trans lives through an emotional lens, comprehending the difficult feelings we face with friendships, romantic relationships, and other facets of daily existence.
Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.