As a gender therapist on the western slope, and one of only a few openly friendly LGBTQ+ mental health providers, I've come in contact with many individuals who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming in my time and practice in Grand Junction. I have been humbled watching many pass through my doors from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and transitional status. Although it is my job to assist those clients in taking their next steps in their transitional journey (whether it be medical or mental health related), I've found that many have also provided me with helpful life tools to navigate the good, the bad, the confusing, and the transition of life. So here's a list of the 5 life lessons I've learned from my transgender clients.
1. Courage comes in many forms
Although times for LGBTQ+ individuals to be out and proud is historically at it's all time best we still have a long way to go, especially for transgender individuals. As I've watched many come through my office I've gained a better understanding of the courage it takes to come out and be out as trans. For some it means losing friendships, family, homes, or employment. For others it's a joyus time for family and friends to reconnect, learn, and focus on better support and understanding. I've also learned from many of my clients that coming out as trans is no easy task emotionally or mentally, and takes a strong willed person to walk that path. A path that many of my cis gendered clients will likely never have to experience. Therefore, I have learned to embrace the boldness in who I am, without feeling ashamed of what the world might see. What's important is what you see and who you are, not what others want you to be.
2. Patience is a virtue
Medical and social transitioning can be a long and stressful process. For those who have socially transitioned or choose to only socially transition it can take time for others in your inner circle to get on board with the new program. Going from a male to a female (MTF), or female to male (FTM) might have taken you years to fully grasp and understand. For family and friends just now hearing about your gender identity, it will also take them time and effort to correctly address you by proper names and pronouns. Of the numerous trans clients I've had, I've watched many display great forms of patience with those in their lives who are actively working towards accepting their new identity. Although I can only speak to the clients I've encountered thus far that have expressed patience, I know it can be challenging for others with less accepting support networks. Medical transitioning can also be arduous on trans individuals when including all of the changes that happen over time in physical appearance. Watching and listening to my clients has taught me that personal growth can be a slow process for you and those around you. Instead of focusing on the desire to attain instant gratification, exert patience and watch as over time your garden blooms.
3. True friends and family weather the storm
We've all had encounters with negativity or dark times in our lives. When this happens it feels only natural to turn to those who support and lift us up. When these dark times happen for trans individuals the expected support system might not always be there. As I addressed above, coming out and simply being out can be a time of acceptance and greater understanding for friends and family, or a time of isolation for the transgender person. I have listened to clients in session discuss difficult situations occurring in their lives, and how they've watched true family and friends rise to the challenge with them. While others they thought were there for them fall by the way side. It can feel discouraging listening to someone talk about parents who were always supportive and caring before an identity reveal, and suddenly distance themselves from that same person afterwards. However, I've also learned that true family/family of choice and friends are the ones that lead to genuine life fulfillment. To many it may feel easy to simply fill up the friends list online and in person with people who don't truly matter. By recognizing the people that are there for you through thick and thin, (or emergency phone calls at 2am) you are investing in the ones that truly matter to you, and you to them.
4. Don't be afraid to be you!
Although this saying is not beholden to the trans or LGBTQ+ community, I watch with admiration as many of my transgender clients come into my office already aware of who they are or who they are becoming. Sometimes I can read a sense of comfortable about them being who they are in their own skin. How many others can say they're comfortable right now in their own skin or know who they are? Now this of course is not true for everyone I see, and each person's journey to finding comfort within themselves varies whether transgender or cis gendered. However, my heart fills with joy and pride when someone is able to come into my office dressed the way they want or dressed in a way that they feel suits their gender expression. I've also witnessed transformations with some who come in initially afraid to express themselves through clothing, hair styles, jewelry or makeup, and later on through counseling take that leap to finally wear or present the way they've been feeling all along. To people who feel confident and comfortable being themselves I call this bravery in embracing you! This display of personal acceptance has reminded me to be aware that I am not here to please the rest of the world; I am here to be me and no one else's version of me and that it ok!
Even though I feel I still have much more to learn as a mental health counselor and a gender therapist, I enjoy the lessons I learn each and every day from the people that step into my office. You've all taught me so much already about what it's like to be in your shoes, how to better treat others going through similar situations, and overall how to continue working towards becoming an ever growing better person!
The opinions listed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of other counselors.
Devin Pinkston is a local mental health counselor and Gender Therapist in Grand Junction Colorado. Call to schedule a free consultation today at 970-644-2392.