Overcoming Shame in the Transgender Community

Matthew Verdun (left) Anthony Weeks (right) Photo: Courtesy.

By Matthew Verdun

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First thing I would like to establish for this article is when we use the term transgender, it is meant to include all gender variant individuals such as gender fluid, intersex, transsexual, questioning, etc. Second, we do not proclaim to speak for the trans community.

What is shame? According to Peter Levine, psychologist specializing in trauma, shame is the feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to successfully defend yourself. Shame is an emotion that occurs when the instinct to protect survival is thwarted. For transgender people, survival is threatened by disproportionally high rates of hate crimes, assault, and bullying- trans people have one of the highest rates of suicide. Being mis-gendered induces shame and is frequently done, alone or connected to another violent act, for the purpose of inducing shame. Research shows that the shame of being misgendered by family and friends has a greater impact on transgender suicide than gender-specific discrimination & violence.

Shame can also lead to other destructive behaviors. Other problems that can result from shame are substance abuse and mental health issues. People who feel shame have a decreased sense of self-worth, depleting belief in their ability to do well in work, school, and relationships. These factors can combine to economic hardships, housing instability, violent relationships, and a host of other problems.

For any person feeling shame, here are some things that may help you on the journey to healing. Begin with mindfulness. The idea of mindfulness, and becoming more aware of shame, can be frightening but it is a first step in ridding yourself of the shame that society has put on you. Mindfulness and meditation can bring the thoughts and feelings that evoke shame into awareness. The wounds caused by shame can then be identified, mourned, and healed.

Mindfulness and meditation are quickly rising in popularity for their ability to bring into awareness the thoughts and feelings that are easily ignored but can shape your mood and sense of well-being every day. People often think of mindfulness or meditation as part of a spiritual practice, but spirituality is not a requirement for their practice. There are several self-help resources that can assist beginners with the practice (YouTube, smartphone apps, meditation centers).

Bringing feelings of shame into awareness is the first step. You also need to develop compassion and self-forgiveness. Identify ways in which you can challenge the thoughts and feelings of shame, this could be mantras or participating in activities that help others, therapy, or personal self-care activities. Compassion goes hand-in-hand with forgiveness. This is self-forgiveness. In the beginning of eliminating shame people often blame themselves for not being “good enough” but also go through a process of anger because they feel they should not have accepted society’s negative messages about them that caused the shame in the first place. Self-forgiveness is not about what you did “wrong” but about forgiving yourself for not being aware of how you were being shamed, not having the words or strength to stop others who were shaming you and forgiving yourself for feeling shame when you did not deserve it.

You deserve to live a happy, healthy, full life. We hope this information helps you move toward one of those goals. If you need additional resources you may want to look up the National Center for Transgender Equality’s resources page, available here: https://transequality.org/additional-help.

Matthew Verdun, MFT
CA BBS License Number: 85437
Anthony Weeks, M.A.