As a therapist and active member in my local western slope community, I've had many conversations privately with close friends and clients about placing values on certain expectations and lived experiences within the transgender community at large. I've also come across these topics in social media forums. Some of these questions include the following but are not limited too:
-What does it mean to be transgender?
-Can you be transgender and not transition/affirm medically?
-Is passing/living a private life or not passing regarded greater than the other?
-Is the visibility of non-binary folks as important as those who identify within a transgender binary?
-If you don't experience dysphoria are you really trans? and
-If you de-transition you are setting a bad example for the rest of the transgender community.
If you are having any visceral reactions to any of the above questions or statements you're not alone. Many online often flock to participate in these conversational topics, offering different opinions about the 'right or wrong' way to look at the situation. Being a cis ally myself, direct participation in these conversations is often discouraged, as I do not hold lived experience. Instead it is more important that I offer a listening ear. Knowing when to listen versus speak is not only a request made within the transgender community, but by POC (people of color) communities, and other able and non-abled communities as well.
One of the commonalities that seem to exist across many if not all minority communities is in-group competition and fighting. Like any dysfunctional family, we love one another, but we might not always get along or agree on the same topics. For instance, what it means to be a member of your community varies vastly on the other members you are speaking too, their regional culture, how they were raised, and personal ideals they have embodied on their own. Unlike POC communities who have often faced forms of oppression and discrimination in physical community spaces where neighbors and family are accessible, the transgender community has historically been isolated in facing these situations alone.
With the development of social media, now more than ever all minorities communities are finding fellow brothers, sisters, and niblings all over the world! The transgender community is no longer isolated, however what it means to be apart of this community depends on the person or group you are speaking to.Unfortunately for some transgender and non-binary folks who seek support online, they are met with harsh criticism and judgment from others in their own community. Some are informed that they are not 'trans enough' or do not belong for a myriad of other reasons. This in turn can reinforce negative self hatred and create further division. Although there isn't one end all be all solution, there are ways to strengthen the transgender and other online minority communities.
First, identify black and white opinion patterns. If you have found yourself in an online transgender and/or non-binary support forum that is engaging in all or nothing speak (e.g. you must experience 'x' to be apart of this community) consider the benefits and drawbacks of engaging directly with that person or group, or reaching out to moderators or administrators. Engaging directly with others online has its pros and cons, and could put you in a situation in which you are expending emotional labor to educate or offer differing view points. It is up to you to decide if or when to speak up by weighing your personal consequences. Reaching out to moderators can help shed light on issues others might be struggling with as well, but are too afraid to speak up on.
If your opinions or challenges are not welcomed by group members or moderators consider leaving that group and finding another. Healthy support groups allow a variety of opinions and should not dictate what it means for you to be transgender or non-binary. Healthy groups should also have a firm set of guidelines, rules, or boundaries about what is tolerated, warned against, encouraged, or grounds for removal from their group. Active moderator participation is typically (not always the rule) a healthy sign that those in charge are consistently paying attention to complaints and the overall atmosphere of conversations occuring within their groups.
Lastly, remember that there is no one way to be transgender or non-binary. If your expression or identity make someone else uncomfortable typically that's an indicator that it's about them and not you. There will always be those who will try and tell you 'this is how it's done.' Just as there is no one way to be a feminine or masculine, there is not one way to be transgender or non-binary. As we are beginning to see more every day on social media platforms, identity and expression takes on many shapes, sizes, and looks. Offer positive reinforcement to others when you notice they are putting themselves out there in healthy ways, or challenging stereotypes within the group. The outside world itself can already feel very cold and dismissive, so instead of perpetuating negative or unhealthy opinions, fill it with the love and positivity you yourself would want. As the saying goes, do unto others as you would want done unto you!
Devin (she/her) is a mental health, gender/trans-affirming therapist in Grand Junction, CO. For additional information about Devin and her team's services please contact us via our contact page above, or at our office phone: 970-644-2392