Guest Post: Internalized Transphobia and What It Means to You

Often when trans people look for advice on dealing with internalized transphobia, we find a definition and are told to find a therapist.  Not finding this helpful for most trans people, I would like to offer an alternative.  Rather than focus on the definition of transphobia, I would like to concentrate on the individual beliefs, or myths, that comprise transphobia, particularly for gay FTMs.  Myths shape our thought processes because they are usually firmly held,  taught to us at a young age and are repeatedly reinforced by the culture we live in.   While you may have come to terms with being trans and have started transitioning, you may still have these myths in place that serve to diminish your self-esteem and self-worth.

The following is a cognitive-based approach that I learned in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and has proven useful for me in combating inner myths that mirrored transphobic cultural ideas.  Myths are not universal.  Some of the myths that resonate with me will resonate strongly with you, some will not at all.  Disregard the ones that don’t apply to you and address the ones that strike a chord, as these myths are the probably the root of your self-hate.  My list of myths about being an effeminate gay trans man is very personal, as these are the ideas that shaped how I saw and judged myself during the first few years of transition.   I’m sure that you can think of myths that didn’t occur to me or don’t apply to me, so I encourage you to do this in addition to the following exercise.

The next step involves rewriting your personal myths so that you can start to pick them apart and eventually make your personal belief system more positive.  When you rewrite a myth, it can be anything from subtle change of one word to a complete reorganization of the idea.  A rewrite should challenge the original myth and be personal.  I cannot rewrite myths for you, although I will provide examples of rewrites that resonate with me.   Why?  This is about you and how you see yourself.  Only you can change this and hopefully you can start here.

Myth #1
My lack of a penis means I’m not really a man.

My rewrites:
My lack of a penis means that I’m not a typical man.
My lack of a penis has no bearing on my manhood.
My lack of a penis is not my fault.

Myth #2:
I’m only pretending to be a boy.

My rewrites:
I’m not pretending to be anything.
I’m being true to myself.

Myth #3
I’m not a real FTM transsexual because I’m too feminine.

My rewrites:
FTM transsexuals come in many varieties and I happen to come in the fey, gay and fabulous variety.
My inner sense of being male has no relation to my feminine gender expression.

Myth #4
My attraction to men means I’m not a real FTM.

My rewrites:
My attraction to men has nothing to do my gender.
FTMs can be attracted to anyone.

I encourage you to start with these three and see if you can come up with rewrites that resonate with you.  Below you will find more myths that I compiled in a list for you to start tackling.  Remember these are personal myths, so there there are no right or wrong ways to rewrite a myth.

•    I’m not a real gay man because I was born female.
•    I’m just really confused and other people probably know better.
•    I must not be a real FTM because I used to wear dresses.
•    I like to have sex with my front hole so I must not be a real FTM.
•    I’m a freak and don’t deserved to be loved.
•    If I could just try harder I would be happier with my assigned sex.
•    I must be defective.
•    I’m too pretty to be an FTM.
•    I’m a fag hag, not a fag.
•    When people call me “she” it means they know the real truth.
•    Being trans is a choice and my decision to take hormones and have surgery means I’m weak.
•    I’m reinforcing the gender binary by transitioning.
•    Transitioning is radical and must be done only as a last resort.
•    No one will want to date me.
•    I’m betraying women by transitioning.
•    I’m disgusting.
•    I’m buying into the patriarchy by transitioning.
•    I’m short and nobody likes short men.
•    I have to butch up in order to be a proper FTM.
•    I’ll never truly know what it’s like to be a man.
•    I’m FTM so I must like girls.
•    I’m not a real FTM transsexual if I don’t get bottom surgery.
•    My personality will change on hormones and I will become a different person.
•    All of my problems stem from my transsexuality.
•    I will never be happy.
•    I will always be considered a freak.
•    I’m never mistaken for a boy, so I must not be a real transsexual.
•    To be a successful FTM transsexual, I must pass at all times.

Now the rest is up to you.  Rewrite as many or as few as you need to.

Please note: I am not a psychologist, a therapist or a mental health counselor.  My only qualifications include 10 years of therapy, 6 years of transition, an obsession with psychology and a sincere desire to help my fellow trans sisters and brothers come to terms with their genders.  If this is not helpful, please let me know.  If it is very helpful, please let me know.  I am open to all suggestions, comments and concerns, as this is the first time I have attempted this.

Kian has been living as a gay transman for most of his 20s.  Nerdy, quirky and fey, he often spends his time thinking and writing about gay and trans politics.  He loves to learn and cook and looks for hairy men who do the same.

22 thoughts on “Guest Post: Internalized Transphobia and What It Means to You

  1. Oh cool, Kian 🙂
    Now, this is what I call a thorough answer to a question. Gives me lots of food for thought.

    I can relate to these:

    Myth #3
    I’m not a real FTM transsexual because I’m too feminine.

    These I had in the past, but I somehow got rid of them:

    Myth #4
    My attraction to men means I’m not a real FTM.
    • I’m betraying women by transitioning.
    • I have to butch up in order to be a proper FTM.
    • I’m FTM so I must like girls.

    I think my biggest myths were/are:

    ~ gender is only a construct and everybody is androgynous anyway, so transsexuality is absurd
    or: nowadays, people can do and be whatever they want, so transitioning is unneccessary

    ~ i.e. there must be something wrong with me for wanting this

    ~ transsexuality/transitioning is somehow unnatural, mutilating, going to far etc

    You are right that these myths have something to do with the society we live in. They are so hard to overcome because they tie in with our general view of the world. F.e. the myth that transitioning is unnatural for me has to do with growing up during the 1980s in a “green” environment that put an emphasis on all things natural. There was a general abhorrence of plastic surgery that I still think is sensible. So how do I hold onto my green beliefs without buying into the transphobic aspects? (I sound like a catholic *g*)

    It’s nice to put this all down and see the problem clearly- I didn’t realize that by now I have so *few* transphobic myths in my head *lol* though the remains are hard to deal with, the little critters.

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      • The androgynous thing wasn’t that difficult- after 20 years or so 😉 at a certain point I realized that this wasn’t about gender, but about identification and body. I’m not interested in playing with cars per se, what I’m interested in is to be part of the boy group and be regarded as one of them, whatever they do. I’m also not interested in doing “male things” but rather in having a male body- these are things that no degree of freedom or even androgyny will give me.

        These are the biggies:
        ~ i.e. there must be something wrong with me for wanting this

        ~ transsexuality/transitioning is somehow unnatural, mutilating, going to far etc

        I have a real hard time getting over these. Need to think about it some more.

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  2. Oh, I forgot one, an important one for gay ftm I think:

    ~ If I’m feminine and into boys it would be completely stupid to transition because I can have all the guys that gay men want.
    This ties in with: Gay men are like women in men’s bodies. When gay men are really women, then a woman who feels like a gay men can’t exist.

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    • That’s a really good one.

      My rewrite:
      Effeminate gay men are not women or pretending to be women, therefore my inner sense of being an effeminate gay trans man is valid.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • Why aren’t effeminate gay men women inside?
        Because their behaviour doesn’t make them women, it’s their identification. As long as they identify as men, they are not women inside. Even if they identify partially with/as women, or as gender fluent or the like, that still wouldn’t mean that gay effeminate ftm are women. It only means that they are gender transgressive to a degree. Ftm can be as gender transgressive as anyone else.

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  4. This very nearly made me cry. I wish I had seen this years ago while I sill believed most of that. I had to find my way around those myths completely on my own, and it took years. I’m sure if I had seen this it would have helped loads, so thanks for this.

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  5. Thank you for this, seriously. Although I’m not a gay trans man (I’m not exclusively attracted to any gender), I thought that this rewriting exercise was pretty helpful. I know that I’ve had times where I’ve felt as though I was ‘less real’ because I was being misread or I had a bunch of body hang-ups that made me feel less-than. I’ve added this to my bookmark list.

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  7. Thank you for writing this! I clearly have a number of myths that need to be busted like yesterday.

    Here’s a myth that I’m struggling with (I haven’t begun my physical transition yet):

    :: I didn’t strongly identify as a boy growing up, therefore my identification as a gay (trans)man– now that I’m an adult– is not valid.

    I don’t really know how to re-write this yet… but I’m going to work on it!

    Great post Kian

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  8. Yeah, currently riding the very near crying boat. Im just coming out and learning how to be comfortable, how to recognize that I am uncomfortable, and the like; and some of my biggest issues have been, well pretty much every one of those myths. And I never ever ever thought of it as something that was a myth, I mean, I knew it was bullshit, but putting that word on it is really taking the power out of those ideas. As simple and inadequate as the phrase sounds to me, I can think of no other: Thank You.

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  9. Thank you so much for this. Here’s what I wanted so share:

    Myth: I’m a freak and don’t deserve to be loved

    Re-write: There are others like me, therefore I am neither alone nor a freak.
    Love is not about deserving.

    and…

    Myth: I must not be a real FTM because I used to wear dresses.

    Re-write: I know cisguys who wear dresses. I know MTFs who used to wear trousers. Dresses are a long tube of fabric and not a gender diagnostic. This history is not a qualitative assessment of how I feel.

    and…

    Myth: I must be defective.

    Re-write: Different from what is usually assumed to be true does not indicate defection.

    Again, thank you so much for this. I needed this today. Also yesterday, but possibly not tomorrow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Lucian said: “Dresses are a long tube of fabric and not a gender diagnostic”

    Best one liner I’ve heard in a long time. Thank you so much for that!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Thanks everyone for the positive feedback. It means quite a lot to me that this was helpful to other folks. 😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. GREAT post. Here are the ones I relate to:

    • I’m only pretending to be a boy.
    • I’m not a real FTM because I’m too feminine.
    • My attraction to men means I’m not a real FTM.
    • I’m not a real gay man because I was born female.
    • I’m just really confused and other people probably know better.
    • I must not be a real FTM because I used to wear dresses.
    • When people call me “she” it means they know the real truth.
    • I’m disgusting.
    • I have to butch up in order to be a proper FTM.
    • I’ll never truly know what it’s like to be a man.
    • I’m never mistaken for a boy, so I must not be a real transsexual.
    • To be a successful FTM transsexual, I must pass at all times.

    Just naming them as myths is very helpful. Feels great!
    Here’s some of my own!

    – I don’t try hard enough to pass, therefore getting called “she” is my own fault.
    – It’s my job as an FTM to make other people read me as male.
    – I enjoy my female body too much to be a real FTM/real guy
    – I don’t hang with “the boys” therefor I am not a real FTM/ real guy
    – I’m not a real FTM because I was a very happy femme girl in high school!
    – I never tried to be butch woman, so therefor how do I know I’m really a guy? (not a masculine woman?)

    thanks for the post
    <3

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    • -I enjoy my female body too much to be FTM.

      ^ this

      I like *looking* at my breasts, because they are very nice looking, but they are not *mine* and I have a lot of pain and dissociation around having them (I hate the term dysphoria, it’s overused and I don’t really know what it means because for some people it means different things. For me it means I have to do some weird mind tricks to forget they are there). It’s like I’m a drag queen who got free implants at puberty.

      Rewrite: some trans women are comfortable with their clits, so even if my chest looks like a maxim cover, it doesn’t make me any less of a person. Maybe one day I will even be comfortable having them touched, with or without surgery. That doesn’t make me less of a man either.

      Also,
      – I am unsure if I want to take hormones and get top surgery, so I must not be trans.
      Rewrite: lots of trans people transition at different stages in their lives and it is very normal to have mixed feelings. Being unsure doesn’t make me less deserving to label my body or my gender as I see fit. Some of the “regretters” have been people who were SO sure that they transitioned before they were ready. Transition is not one-size-fits all and there is no “one true way” to be transgender or transsexual. Plus, so what if I am not FTM. I am a man, and sometimes a little womanly. I still deserve respect and love and medical transition if and when I am ready for it, regardless of if I identify as FTM or not. Until now I will just focus on living day to day and staying healthy and working on my internalized transphobia so that when I am ready, I can do what I want and not what I feel I have to do in order to be seen as my true self.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. – I’m never mistaken for a boy, so I must not be a real transsexual.
    I have trouble passing, but that doesn’t make me less of a man.

    – To be a successful FTM transsexual, I must pass at all times.
    There is no such thing as a “successful” FTM.

    – I must not be a real FTM because I used to wear dresses.
    I used to cross dress a lot, and still occasionally do, but that doesn’t make me less of a man.

    – I’m a fag hag, not a fag.
    I’m a fag with a vag and that has no bearing on the legitimacy of my gender or sexual orientation.

    – I’m reinforcing the gender binary by transitioning.
    My transition is for the sake of my mental well-being and there’s nothing wrong with having a binary gender identity.

    – I’m not a real FTM if I don’t have bottom surgery.
    Vaginas are great fun and my choice to keep mine the way it is doesn’t invalidate my gender identity.

    – I enjoy my female body too much to be FTM.
    Enjoying my body and allowing my partner to enjoy it doesn’t make me any less of a man, nor does it make my relationship with my partner any less gay. It’s just a slightly different kind of gay.

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