Coming out is often an anxiety provoking time for all regardless of age. In the world of technology and easy access to information today, those in the Millennial generation (born between 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born between 1997-2014) are finding an easier time taking that step for themselves. Those in Generation X (born between 1965-1984) and Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) however have often struggled emotionally and socially to find a sense of comfort with their own identity and the coming out process. So here's what I've learned as a therapist from the generational differences when coming out as transgender:
Before the internet it was almost impossible to find information about why you felt different about your gender
Yes Generation Z out there reading this, a time before the internet existed! And it was difficult for many who identified as transgender and had no words to describe their internal feelings. Many Gen X'ers and Baby Boomers I've seen over the past several years have talked with me about their struggles identifying reasons to why the desired to wear dresses, play with trucks, or even to adopt a more traditionally masculine or feminine role. Without access to others in the world who might have felt similarly or definitions to describe feelings, often it was isolating and lonely. Following the arrival of the internet, many of my Gen X'ers and Baby Boomer clients reported finding solace in new found terminology, support groups, and others who identified the same way.
Coping with gender identity was often unsupported
Many of my older clients (as I fall into the Millennial age bracket myself) across the board have reported a lack of support from family or friends growing up regarding their desires to express themselves. For instance, if you identified as a trans female (Male to female-MTF) and were discovered wearing your mother or sister's makeup or clothing, often reprimands and punishments were dolled out by family as a response. Gendered clothing, hobbies, activities, careers, and responsibilities were also more of a predominate way of life for those in Gen X and Baby Boomer generations. This in turn created a challenge for anyone identifying as transgender to step outside of the social 'norm' of the times and express themselves in the way they wanted. Due to these reasons, many of my trans clients in these generations have reported coping with this lack of expression in maladaptive ways including substance use, adopting very rigid masculine or feminine roles, and/or suffering from mental health issues such as major depression or anxiety.
Despite the advances today in information and knowledge, many still feel unsafe coming out
Even though we've taken great strides in expanding information about the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender issues, many Gen X'ers and Baby Boomers still find it hard deciding whether to come out or not. This is by far the biggest hurdle I see when clients of these generations step into my office. It's often a huge deal for many to simply reach out to me by phone or email to schedule their first appointment, and from there to decide if coming out socially, hormonally, or surgically is a good option for them. Despite advances and changes with the times, the fear instilled by the past and a lack of support from peers and family still exists for many. Challenging that fear and re-establishing new mental constructs about emotional and physically safety can also take time. Being able to connect these clients to current support networks and groups in tandem with individual counseling is often paramount in this therapeutic process.
So what's the key to gender happiness? Finding a sense of self and comfort after weathering the storm of the past!
It takes a lot of hard work to break down what you think you know about yourself, or what you've constructed about your life. It's also difficult to step outside of your comfort zone and embrace something you've been told is wrong or immoral your entire life. But if you can do that, you can reach a point where you are living life as your authentic self. This is my ultimate goal for all of my trans clients of any generation! Helping people address their fears and anxieties in a safe space is crucial in gender therapy, as well as supporting clients in a direction that feels safe and comfortable for them to move and express themselves in. I challenge many to find ways to embraces who they are internally and externally, even if only on a once a week or once a month basis. Connecting to local support groups has also been a great help, as many individuals in the local transgender and gender non-conforming support community on the western slope happen to fall into the Gen Xer and Baby Boomer generations. Being apart of a network that understands your unique struggles can be healing.
Everyone's journey in gender identity discovery will inevitably look different, and not everyone is ready or wants to take steps to be 'out.' For some simply acknowledging that they are transgender is enough for them, while others are actively seeking to embrace a transition. Whatever that looks like for you, challenge yourself to take that next step on the path towards happiness and life fulfillment!
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