How the fear of coming out as transgender and accepting our identity may just be internalized transphobia. - The Weekly Rant with Mila Madison.

For many of us, when we begin to go down the road of accepting the fact that we may be transgender, we go through a back and forth period of shame, self-doubt, elation, and wonder. The thought of finally being able to live as who we are is amazing. To be free of a life existing in the wrong gender and live the life we were meant to? How exhilarating that must be? But there is also a flip side, immense fear. How can I do this? Everyone will turn their back on me. I will be an outcast. What will happen with my job? These are only some of the many questions that enter our minds. Then comes the shame. How can I do this to my family? I don’t want to hurt anyone and so on.

A common proposition we hear when we are questioning our gender is some sort of variation on the phrase, “If you could just press a button and automatically be any gender, what would it be?” If you could press that button, without having to deal with all the shame, pain, discrimination, loss, judgment, and bigotry, would you press it? For me it was a resounding yes, but the reality of it was that I couldn’t just press a button. To be my true self, I would have to face all these things I was afraid of, but how does one do that?

“I began to realize that my fears were the result of internalized transphobia.”

I began to realize that my fears were the result of internalized transphobia. When I first heard the term, I was confused by it. I was an accepting person. I thought I respected everyone for whom they were. The notion that I could possibly be capable of any type of bigotry towards someone else really bothered me. To hear that I may have these feelings towards myself was even more confusing. So I did some extensive research and began to deal with it with it in my therapy sessions. I came to the realization that I never really understood what it meant. I thought it meant that deep down I possessed some form of internal hatred for transgender people, but in reality it meant I was directing all the stigma and bigotry of society inwards. I was taking all the years of hate and ignorance that I observed and redirected it with hatred towards myself.

How the fear of coming out as transgender and accepting our identity may just be internalized transphobia. - The Weekly Rant with Mila Madison.

That’s right. Being raised in a society where transgender people were seen as the butt of the joke. Living in a world where gender roles were enforced. Being ridiculed for doing anything that contradicted the gender I was assigned at birth. A lifetime of seeing people like myself dumped on by society and even killed for no reason other than just being who they were. It created such a fear within myself that it took me a lifetime just to accept the notion that this might be me. I was afraid to be whom I was, so afraid that I wouldn’t even allow myself to think about it. It wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t outrun it that I finally tried to face it. Once I did, I was confronted with all the fears I had. I felt immense shame for whom I realized I was. I didn’t know how I would tell anyone. I worried about who would turn their back on me. I was afraid of losing my wife, my kids, and my job.

“And that my friends, is internalized transphobia.”

And that my friends, is internalized transphobia. It keeps us from being able to be who we are. It makes us afraid and ashamed to live a true existence. It causes severe depression, and it makes us withdraw from society. We end up oppressing and abusing ourselves because of it.

So how do we deal with internalized transphobia? The first step is to acknowledge it. The majority of the human race experiences the stigma that causes it. That in itself is not just relegated to transgender people. Even cisgender people when faced with the prospect of being transgender or gender non-conforming internalize the thought in some way. It is why so many people outwardly lash out about it. Even though they may not be transgender, they defensively lash out against it because the mere thought of being so makes them feel ashamed and afraid. By lashing out, it makes them feel as if they fit in and it protects them from the stigma. For transgender people, we direct it inwards and the effects of it can be detrimental to our very existence.

We have to acknowledge internalized transphobia in order to overcome it. No matter how far along we are in our transition, it has a way of creeping up on us. When you feel the fear, the self-doubt, and shame, don’t let the ignorance of the world define who you are. Keep fighting. We are not born with hate and judgment. We are taught these things as a society. Once we make this acknowledgement, we are able to recognize it when it happens to us. This is a battle within ourselves that we must win. If we cannot accept ourselves, if we can’t overcome the stigma within our own existence and accept our own identities, then how can we expect the rest of the word to accept us?

  • Emma Sweet

    Wow, it’s so nice to read this as I am going through my own inner transphobia as we speak. Sure, if I could push a button or wave a wand I’d go for female. Since that can’t happen in the real world I’ve felt an immense pressure to be as female as I can be when presenting in public to not stand out. But regardless of my height (5’9″) and weight (160#) I know I do, and my voice screams “male!”

    Last Saturday I went out to dinner with a cis woman friend to a Mexican restaurant with me dressed in leggings, tunic top, light makeup, some jewelry, and breast forms. My hair which is gray is getting longer down my neck but not long “enough.” Only a couple of second glances my way from restaurant patrons, and a compliment on my earrings from a woman, which was nice. But it’s still hard.

    My therapist suggested that I record what I’d like to do, and actions I’d like to take, to be my authentic self. So that’s what I’m doing. But it’s still hard.

    What drives me is that at 61 I am more fearful of waking up on my deathbed along with basket of regrets that I allowed my fears to prevent me from exploring and becoming my true self because at that point it will be far too late.

    But it’s still hard and scary. It really is. I suppose the button I’d like to be able to push is the one that would calm all these fears.

    These days I’ve taken to walking around the neighborhood and town in skinny jeans, a feminine-colored/design t-shirt, and sometimes, women’s athletic pumps. Not made up further than that, just kind of androgynous. I guess most people don’t even notice me although I don’t want to look like I’m hunted so I don’t pay much attention. I just walk peacefully without a rush, my head high with good posture. Some women walking by smile at me as if they know we’re not sisters but there is a camaraderie there. I offer my smiles and good-days to all. I greatly appreciate even those momentary interactions.

  • Lee Anne

    In 1965 a psychiatrist tried to shame me into conforming to my assigned gender. All that did was to drive me deep into the closet and to despise myself. Alcohol and drugs dulled the pain but could not erase the turmoil inside my body. I had one failed relationship after another as each new woman was the one who would make me a man. But as with my self medication the result was ruin and chaos. Coming out was wonderful. I was finally free! Until the self doubt reared its ugly head. It was just as hard for me to learn to love myself as it was to live in the closet, perhaps harder. But I did it. Is my life easier? Yes and no. For the first time in 65 years I am a whole and happy person and that makes all the hassles worth it. Let others stare. Their looks pale in comparison to the scorn with which I used to view myself.

    • Emma Sweet

      Well said, Lee Anne! Thank you.

  • Great article & I can really relate! I’ve known since, well forever, but only actually came out when I turned 45 (I don’t think I could have gone to my grave full of what ifs & never acted) It’s been SO hard, scary, & at times just plain hateful. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. Oh & yes, I would definitely have pressed that button!

  • Erika Elizabeth Ervin

    Need to hear more like this.

  • Debra Freeman

    Mila I hate to be a Debbie downer to you but what you describe is nothing more than simple fear, something that all people have to learn to overcome if we wish to advance in life. It has nothing to do with some kind of transphobia. Trying to blame it on that is nothing more than a cop out and trying to play the victim. We are not a victim we are US and that is something to be proud of.

  • Emily

    What a wonderful article. The fear, the loathing and self-hatred, believing that you are flawed, mentally ill, throw in a good dose of religious condemnation and is it any wonder so many of us stayed in the closet and/or tried different ways to “cure” or medicate ourselves over the years. It wasn’t until I came out that I was able to recognise and fully understand how much I had internalised this in my own life. I am so glad to be free. Now I can hear the ranting and raving of the ignorant and the hate-filled without making it a part of me. I am at a place in my life where I can speak out for our community in hopes of raising awareness and educating others.