We are all familiar with the phrase “It Gets Better.” This mantra often offers a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel during personal transformation and acceptance. This saying, while powerful, may not fully capture the realities faced by many transgender and gender-diverse individuals. While the statement suggests an impending ease of struggle, it can inadvertently oversimplify the complex transition journey and the following experiences.
After transitioning, some may find that their struggles do not immediately lessen. Instead, they evolve, taking on new forms in the face of ongoing societal, structural, and systemic barriers. Unfortunately, some individuals find themselves confronting persistent challenges and adversity in their post-transition life due to elements of discrimination, street harassment, and systemic oppression, which can make the “It Gets Better” mantra seem remote, if not unreachable.
As an online therapist, I bear witness to these realities every day. My clients share their struggles, fears, and triumphs, illuminating their unique journeys. However, amidst the harsh realities, a powerful counterforce consistently shines through — the power of resilience.
Resilience and community support can offer something better than the vague assurance of “It Gets Better.” It provides tangible hope, fostered in the here and now. It speaks of not just an individual struggle but a collective one, where community care can thrive, helping people weather the storm and, crucially, challenge the conditions that create it.
My role as an online therapist is to provide a listening ear and facilitate this process of resilience-building and foster a sense of community care amongst my clients. This is my commitment, rooted in a deep understanding of the unique struggles faced by transgender and gender-diverse individuals and fueled by an unwavering belief in their inherent strength and capacity for resilience.
Unveiling the Post-Transition Reality
Transitioning marks a significant milestone in the lives of transgender and gender-diverse individuals. However, the reality that unveils post-transition is often fraught with numerous challenges and obstacles—from workplace discrimination and difficulty accessing healthcare to societal rejection and physical violence. The statistics and personal narratives shared by the community starkly illustrate these enduring struggles.
According to a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 27% of transgender individuals reported being fired, not hired, or denied promotion due to gender identity. Moreover, the KFF/Washington Post Trans Survey, conducted in 2022, revealed that one in four transgender adults reported being physically attacked due to gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. This number rose to three in ten among transgender people of colour and those who physically present as a gender different from their sex assigned at birth.
Adding to these issues are mental health struggles and difficulties faced in childhood. Most transgender adults (78%) report experiencing depression, anxiety, or other serious mental health challenges during their youth. Among them, a significant majority felt unsafe participating in youth activities, with only 44% feeling comfortable engaging in youth sports and 35% feeling safe during religious gatherings.
However, transitioning does seem to positively affect their lives, with 78% of those who present as a gender different than the one assigned at birth stating that the transition has made them more satisfied with their lives. Furthermore, most trans individuals who have disclosed their identity to at least one immediate family member say their family members are at least “somewhat supportive” of their identity.
The survey also revealed many struggles the community faced, including difficulties accessing healthcare, higher rates of suicidal thoughts, and housing discrimination. Nearly half of the trans adults surveyed said their healthcare providers knew little about how to provide care for trans individuals, and over a quarter reported that they had to relocate due to a lack of acceptance in their original locations.
These statistics and accounts depict the harsh reality of post-transition life but also underline the resilience and strength of the trans community. Among these narratives are stories of affirmation, acceptance, and strength. Personal experiences range from finding acceptance in rec league sports teams and barbershops to creating a chosen family that respects their identity.
It’s important to note that the survey results provide a snapshot of a wide range of experiences, capturing the diverse paths of transition and the unique challenges each faces within the trans community. These accounts underscore the complexity of the transition experience and the urgent need for societal change to ensure acceptance, equality, and respect for all.
Understanding Persistent Challenges
Several persistent challenges exist that contribute to the struggles faced by transgender individuals, exacerbated by societal, policy, and structural barriers. The concept of intersectionality, which refers to the overlapping and interdependent nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, intensifies these hurdles. For instance, a Black transgender woman would confront not just transphobia but also racism, thus augmenting the adversity she experiences. Legislation and policies across different states in the U.S. demonstrate varying degrees of support and discrimination. Some states limit access to transgender healthcare, while others safeguard against gender identity discrimination. Healthcare providers also wield considerable influence in these matters, and although instances of discrimination persist, many providers endorse and advocate affirming care.
Insufficient Legal Safeguards: Transgender people often navigate a legal framework that falls short of shielding them from discrimination rooted in their gender identity. Even though a recent U.S. Supreme Court verdict clarified that discrimination against transgender people in the workplace is unlawful, there is yet to be a comprehensive federal law against discrimination that includes gender identity. This implies that transgender individuals may still find themselves without legal remedies if they encounter discrimination when seeking housing or in public places like restaurants. Furthermore, legislation is being discussed—and sometimes enacted—across states to restrict transgender people from using public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity or to allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ people based on religious beliefs.
Poverty: The prevalence of poverty among the transgender community is higher than average, and it’s even more pronounced among trans people of colour. Roughly 29% of transgender adults live in poverty, rising to 39% for Black trans adults, 48% for Latinx trans adults, and 35% for Alaska Native, Asian, Native American, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander trans adults.
Bias, Harassment, and Discrimination: Although support for trans rights in the U.S. has grown from a quarter of the population about five years ago to 62% by 2019, the trans community continues to face significant prejudice rooted in longstanding beliefs associating them with mental illness, antisocial behaviour, and predatory tendencies. This bias often creates barriers for trans individuals to access essential services for survival and welfare. Only around 30% of women’s shelters are open to housing transgender women, and approximately 27% of transgender individuals have encountered career discrimination due to their gender identity. The fear of discrimination has often deterred transgender people from exercising fundamental rights like voting, with research showing that 49% of trans adults, and 55% of trans adults of colour, have abstained from voting in at least one election.
Violence Against Transgender Individuals: The rate of violence experienced by transgender individuals is distressingly high, with 54% reporting some form of intimate partner violence, 47% having suffered sexual assault in their lifetime, and nearly one in ten physically assaulted between 2014 and 2015. This violence sometimes results in fatalities, with a minimum of 27 trans and gender nonconforming individuals being violently killed in 2020, a figure that is consistent with the numbers from 2019.
Inadequate Healthcare Coverage: A study by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation found that 22% of transgender individuals and 32% of transgender people of colour lack health insurance. Around 29% of trans adults have been denied healthcare by a provider due to their gender identity, highlighting a healthcare system that struggles to meet the needs of the transgender community adequately.
Identity Documents: Having accurate identification documents is a significant issue affecting various aspects of life for trans people, including access to emergency housing or other public services. Absent proper identification, trans individuals cannot travel, apply for school, or access many essential services. Some states do not permit trans individuals to update their identity documents to match their gender identity. In contrast, others demand proof of medical transition—which could be unaffordable and not a route all trans individuals wish to take—and processing fees for new identity documents, which might render them unreachable for some in the trans community.
Broad Reach of These Difficulties
The repercussions of these hurdles are not confined to a single area but pervade aspects such as housing, education, and personal safety. Accounts from individuals reveal instances of eviction attributed to their transgender status, harassment at educational institutions, and encounters with violence fueled by bias.
Studies indicate that transgender individuals face considerable societal discrimination, increasing their risk of experiencing health issues. However, there remains limited knowledge on the impact of gender nonconformity, a visual indicator of one’s marginalized status as a transgender individual, on the frequency of discrimination encountered by trans people and its consequent effects on their health. We leverage data from the most comprehensive survey of transgender adults in the United States, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (N = 4,115), to explore the relationships between gender nonconformity, transphobic discrimination, and harmful health behaviours (i.e., attempted suicide, substance abuse, and smoking). The findings suggest that trans individuals who are gender nonconforming encounter more discrimination and are consequently more likely to engage in behaviours detrimental to health than their gender-conforming counterparts. These results underscore the significant role that gender nonconformity plays in the societal experiences and wellness of trans people.
It has long been suggested by gender theorists that Western societies lack a generous social space for individuals who deviate from traditional binary gender structures (Lorber 1994). Transgender people face systematic oppression and high rates of discrimination and violence in the United States (Clements et al. 1999; Factor and Rothblum 2008b; Lombardi et al. 2002). This discrimination often manifests in subtle daily interactions, including expressions of discomfort from others and physical threats and harassment (Nadal, Skolnik, and Wang 2012). Yet, there is a lack of research investigating whether gender nonconformity—as a noticeable and recognized sign of one’s stigmatized status—influences the experiences of transgender people with discrimination and health. This is surprising, considering that gender theorists have proposed that the primary social penalties faced by transgender people stem from the perception that they are not conforming to normative gender roles (West and Zimmerman 1987).
In this study, we use data from the influential 2008 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) to investigate whether gender-nonconforming transgender individuals face more discrimination and poorer health than their gender-conforming peers. Specifically, we look at three research queries. Firstly, is perceived gender nonconformity linked to increased exposure to daily incidents and significant events of transphobic discrimination? Secondly, does increase exposure to transphobic discrimination correlate with a higher likelihood of engaging in behaviours harmful to health (i.e., attempted suicide, substance abuse, and smoking)? Lastly, does self-reported transphobic discrimination mediate the relationships between gender nonconformity and these health-damaging behaviours? In simpler terms, does transphobic discrimination contribute to understanding why gender-nonconforming transgender people may suffer from more severe health issues? Collectively, our analyses emphasize the role gender nonconformity plays in the experiences of discrimination and poor health among transgender people.
Building Resilience Through Community Care
Despite the considerable obstacles encountered by the LGBTQ+ community, their resilience continues to thrive, often stemming from community care. Community care refers to the mutual support and assistance provided by individuals within a community to each other. This is a vital resource and a safe harbour for those facing adversity. LGBTQ+ centers, online groups, and various events are primary contributors to the cultivation of this supportive network. They act as pillars of hope, solace, and camaraderie for individuals navigating personal and sociopolitical challenges.
One shining example of community care in action is T4T, a caregiving community that supports transgender individuals through their journey of gender affirmation—in a conversation with Makaelah Walters from Prism, members of T4T shared their experiences working in this supportive network.
Amid bathroom bans and rising rates of trans homicide, T4T was founded in 2016 by Oliver Flowers. The organization was named after the intimate bond shared among trans individuals, reflecting the Craigslist personal ad code for “trans for trans.” Today, T4T is a flourishing community of caregivers from different parts of the U.S. who, through their shared experiences of being trans, offer support to those transitioning.
The high costs of gender-affirming services, often reaching six figures even with insurance, can pose a significant financial burden to individuals seeking these services. T4T mitigates these expenses by pairing clients with local caregivers at a fraction of the cost. Members of T4 T’s travelling caregiving team—Justin Coffman, Sanjay Pulver, and Grayson Willow—balance their lives with odd jobs, DoorDash shifts, and college classes to help others through their healing journey.
In their conversation, the caregivers from T4T discuss their experiences and understanding of caregiving. They define it as providing space for individuals to express and process their emotions, establishing deep connections, understanding their clients’ experiences, and anticipating their needs to support their healing process. The importance of such caregiving extends beyond ensuring the survival of trans individuals—it helps them thrive. It’s vital for accessing gender-affirming surgeries, as many surgeons require a caregiver for approval.
The caregivers also stressed the importance of community care for trans adults, especially those experiencing the process of gender affirmation later in life. They emphasized that there isn’t a “right” way to be trans and that age should not be a barrier to individuals seeking affirming care.
However, several barriers still exist for trans adults accessing care. Misconceptions about the transgender experience, the need for psychiatric evaluations before accessing hormones, the scarcity of providers and skilled surgeons, and the financial burden associated with gender-affirming surgeries are some of the significant hurdles.
Despite these challenges, the caregivers from T4T draw their resilience from their ability to live authentically and provide the support they wished they had received. They believe in spreading the support they have now, breaking negative cycles, and helping others experience happiness and comfort in their bodies. Through their efforts, they foster a resilient community, reflecting the power of trans people supporting each other.
Navigating Life’s Challenges
Life’s challenges, particularly those faced by transgender and gender-diverse individuals, can be vast and varied. These can range from societal prejudices and legal discrimination to internal struggles of identity and self-acceptance. However, an increasing pool of resources is available to aid in navigating these challenges.
Legal advice specific to the issues transgender and gender-diverse individuals face is becoming more widely accessible. Lawyers and legal advisors specializing in civil rights and LGBTQ+ issues offer help in changing one’s legal gender, fighting against discrimination in employment, healthcare, and housing, and understanding newly emerging policies and legislation.
In addition to legal advice, counselling and support services tailored specifically for transgender and gender-diverse individuals are crucial. These could include services such as gender therapy, which assists in exploring and affirming one’s gender identity, or general counselling that addresses everyday mental health struggles like anxiety, depression, or trauma. As an online therapist, I also offer these support services, adapted to individual needs and personal situations.
There is a growing acknowledgment of the potential mental health implications of the challenges faced by transgender and gender-diverse individuals. An increasing number of organizations, online platforms, and even traditional mental health clinics now offer resources specifically catered to this population.
Realistic Hope and Its Significance
The emotional landscape for transgender and gender-diverse individuals is undeniably complex, interspersed with feelings of struggle, fear, courage, and triumph. Validating these emotions is a vital step toward mental well-being.
Fostering a sense of realistic hope is an essential aspect of this journey. Realistic hope is not about disregarding the challenges or unthinkingly promising a perfect future. Instead, it’s about instilling a belief in the possibility of a better future, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
Stories of resilience and optimism from the community serve to inspire and guide. They remind us that while the road may be fraught with challenges, it is indeed navigable, and many have successfully traversed similar paths.
Recent positive changes and developments, such as increased legal protections, more comprehensive healthcare, societal acceptance, and media representation, fuel this hope. These strides signal a shift toward a more inclusive and accepting society, providing tangible evidence of progress.
It’s crucial to distinguish between the “It gets better” narrative and offering real hope. The former insists that things will undoubtedly improve, painting an overly simplified picture of the future. However, the latter recognizes the current reality with its complexities and validates the pain, fear, and challenges while encouraging optimism and strength. It assures that there will be hurdles, but with perseverance, support, and hope, one can navigate them toward a better future. It doesn’t promise it will get easy, but it assures it is possible.
The Importance of Allyship
Allyship is standing in solidarity with and advocating for groups or individuals different from oneself. It is a powerful way to foster understanding, inclusivity, and equality. For transgender and gender-diverse individuals, allies play an instrumental role in supporting their journey and advocating for their rights.
Allies can make significant contributions by taking concrete actions. One such action is advocating for transgender rights, which can involve voicing support for legal protections, participating in protests, or lobbying policymakers. By advocating in these ways, allies help elevate the visibility of issues faced by transgender and gender-diverse individuals, thereby pushing for necessary societal changes.
Education is another vital aspect of allyship. Allies can educate themselves about the nuances of gender identity, the challenges faced by transgender and gender-diverse individuals, and the appropriate ways to offer support. Additionally, allies can work towards educating others in their communities, schools, or workplaces. This helps foster understanding and empathy, combat misinformation, and challenge stereotypes.
Providing emotional support to transgender and gender-diverse individuals is essential to being an ally. This can involve simply being there to listen, offering words of affirmation and acceptance, or stepping in to defend against transphobic comments or actions. Allies can play a significant role in affirming one’s identity and offering a supportive environment.
Beyond the actions of individuals, institutions, policymakers, and society as a whole also have a vital role in promoting allyship. Institutions can work towards implementing inclusive policies, such as providing gender-neutral restrooms, offering healthcare coverage for gender-affirming treatments, and adopting non-discriminatory hiring practices.
Policymakers, conversely, can work towards legislating laws that protect the rights of transgender and gender-diverse individuals and ensure their access to necessary services. This could involve passing laws against discrimination, ensuring access to gender-affirming healthcare or implementing policies that recognize and respect an individual’s self-identified gender.
Society can work towards positive change by challenging and overturning discriminatory practices, whether they’re rooted in cultural norms, societal structures, or individual biases. This involves an ongoing commitment to introspection, education, and change.
Allyship, in all its forms, is pivotal in the journey toward a more inclusive and equitable society. By solidarity with transgender and gender-diverse individuals, we can help build a world where everyone is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Pride Month: A Call for Solidarity and Action
Pride Month is more than just a celebration of diversity; it’s a profound symbol of the strides and struggles endured by the LGBTQ+ community. In the context of the ongoing trials and triumphs of transgender and gender-diverse individuals, the significance of Pride Month is multifaceted. It’s a potent call for solidarity, action, and an unwavering commitment to equality and justice.
One of the principal themes of Pride Month is solidarity. The month-long observance allows us to come together and express solidarity with LGBTQ+ individuals around the world. It’s a chance to stand shoulder to shoulder, to show support, and to demonstrate that no one is alone in their journey. Solidarity affirms the shared struggles and is a testament to our collective strength in adversity.
But solidarity alone is not enough; Pride Month also calls for action. It’s a rallying cry for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to contribute towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society. This can take many forms, from attending protests or parades to advocating for legislative changes to standing up against discrimination in our everyday lives. It’s a time to voice support and demonstrate it through tangible actions.
Pride Month also provides a platform to celebrate diversity and honour resilience. It allows us to highlight and applaud the varied experiences, identities, and stories of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s an opportunity to recognize the resilience of individuals who have faced hardship and prejudice yet continue to live authentically and courageously. These celebrations serve to validate experiences, affirm identities, and inspire hope.
Furthermore, I would encourage all readers to participate in Pride Month activities actively. These include attending local parades and events, engaging with virtual workshops or webinars, or learning about LGBTQ+ history and experiences. Participation in these activities shows support and fosters a greater understanding of the LGBTQ+ community and their fight for rights and recognition.
In addition, numerous resources and events are available to deepen our understanding of the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. These include educational websites, documentaries, books, seminars, and panel discussions. By learning, we equip ourselves with the knowledge needed to challenge prejudices, combat misinformation, and advocate for change effectively.
In conclusion, Pride Month is a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggles and victories of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a time for celebration and reflection, for standing in solidarity and taking action. Whether you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, there are countless ways to engage with and contribute to this meaningful observance.
The journey faced by transgender and gender-diverse individuals is indeed steeped in trials, but it’s essential to remember that these trials are not insurmountable. Through the power of resilience, the profound love found in community care, and the fortifying sense of realistic hope, seemingly impenetrable barriers can indeed be scaled and overcome. As a therapist dedicated to this cause, I stand ready to offer empathetic support that is sensitive, respectful, and affirming of your unique journey.
To all those navigating this path, I urge you to continue your journey with unwavering courage and authenticity. Embrace the full spectrum of your emotions and experiences, recognizing them as integral facets of your identity and growth. Your experiences are valid and critical in shaping the discourse and understanding of gender diversity. Your emotions are not trivial – they are acknowledged, respected, and seen. Your resilience is not just admirable – it’s a beacon that inspires others and leads toward a more inclusive future.
Each of us holds within ourselves the incredible capacity to transcend barriers, transform adversity into strength, and turn hope into reality. This is a collective journey, and together, we can work toward a world where the phrase “It Gets Better” is more than just a hopeful sentiment—it’s a lived, tangible reality.
As we move forward, let us remember that every step taken contributes to the overall progress, no matter how small. Every voice raised in advocacy, every hand extended in support, and every heart open to understanding makes a difference. The journey may be challenging, but the destination—a world of acceptance, understanding, and equality—is worth every stride. Remember, you are not alone; we are in this together, and we can create a world where everyone is celebrated for who they are.
Disclaimer: As a registered clinical counsellor and registered psychotherapist (qualifying), I'm sharing insights on my blog for informational purposes, not professional advice or treatment. My writing aims to inspire you to consult your own healthcare or mental health provider. Remember, your decisions based on the blog content are solely your responsibility. Please explore other resources if this understanding doesn't align with your expectations. Thank you.