The Inheritance of Social Shame

October 23, 2018


As a queer woman, I hold a special place in my heart for LGBTQ folx. But today, I want to hold space for the T in the alphabet soup. Y’all don’t have enough allies holding true genuine space for you that stems from a place of love and acceptance rather than a place of study and skepticism. I also want to preface this by acknowledging that as a cis white woman, I am writing this from a place of privilege. I believe there are times when the privileged need to be quiet and listen to the marginalized. I also believe there are times when the privileged need to speak up and make space for the marginalized to stand on our backs.


To my transgender readers and clients: I see the shame you carry. I have a one year old female child. It has not gone unnoticed by me that every single person who comes in contact with her has feminized her from day one. From pink everything, to baby dolls, to shirts with logos about “sugar and spice” and “sweet little girl”, to my neighbor who told me my baby is “petite, just like a little girl should be” — I’ve seen, heard, and cringed at it all.


Watching the world interact with my child has shown me where your shame as a trans person began. As an American, I’ve seen the US government try to erase you and refuse you protections. Then there is the media which is flooded with sitcoms and advertisements featuring perfectly happy cis/heteronormative families. Trans people are so underrepresented in any form of media that when I see a trans character on TV, I react with two thoughts: Representation! How wonderful! and then, Please don’t be transphobic.


Society has taught us there is only one right way to be, and that is fitting into their mold. And if you don’t, then you’d better do “being transgender” right and prove to the world this is who you are. And you’d better transition all the way and “have the surgery”. (Society thinks in binaries, so if you’re going to diverge from the norm, society still wants you on that binary. Society hasn’t gotten a grip on gender non conforming (GNC) folx yet.)


Shame can impact a multitude of areas in your life when you’re trans. You may feel shameful about the way your family sees you or being an “embarrassment” to them. You may feel shameful about your body when it comes to relationships and intimacy — fearing another rejection from a partner who looks at you as though something is wrong with you. Presenting yourself to the world whether in school or at work could be a huge struggle. How are you supposed to pass bio/chem for your major when you’re too busy wondering how the rest of your class is perceiving you, and worse, if you will be safe later when you’re walking through the parking garage to your car? 


There is a reason anxiety, depression, and suicide rates are so high among transgender folx. All you want to do is be yourself, but no matter how you do it, society says you’re doing it wrong. If you express you were born in the wrong body at age five, society says you can’t be trans; you’re too young to know. If you come out in your twenties, society says you can’t be trans; you would have known it sooner. Your double edged sword of shame is that society rejects your identity and your truth again and again.


When you’re queer, inheriting social shame can be almost impossible to escape. But there are some things you can do to help lighten that burden. (To be clear, I am not referring to being transgender as a burden. The burden is the shame society has placed upon trans folx that have been consciously or unconsciously internalized.)


1. Acknowledge internalized shame

It’s easy to avoid feelings of shame. People generally don’t like bringing up memories of rejection from family when it has to do with something as vital as your identity as a human being. But this is when the old advice about not keeping things bottled up is helpful. Write it in a journal if you’re not ready to speak the words out loud to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. Your emotions crave acknowledgement and release.


2. Talk to others

Your emotions also crave support and validation! Talk to people who accept you for who you are. And talk to others who are also trans or GNC. Sometimes the best way to feel seen is by sharing experiences with people who are going through similar things. If this isn’t possible for you to do in person, there are plenty of online communities you can become involved in. (Though if you can meet others in person, that would be the preferred method!)


3. Confide in a trans competent therapist

It breaks my heart every time a new trans client comes into my office and tells me I am their sixth, seventh, even eighth counselor because they haven’t been able to find one who is not only affirming, but also competent in working with trans and GNC individuals. If you are attending therapy to unpack and analyze the shame you carry, the last thing you should be doing is wasting time educating your therapist about terminology when they ought to be educating themselves! When you are choosing a therapist, scope out their website and social media. Do they use affirming language and claim to be competent? Your therapist’s office should be a safe space for you where you feel validated — not where you feel like an object of study.


My greatest hope is that reading this helped you feel seen. Remember, it is not you who is wrong. It is society’s views that need to change. And society’s perceptions do not determine your worth as a human being.

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