In recognition of Pride Month 2023, we turn our attention to the words of Alexander Leon, a renowned LGBTQ activist and writer in the UK. In one of his tweets, Leon encapsulated a shared reality, stating, “Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves. We grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimize humiliation & prejudice.” This accurate observation encapsulates the complex journey undertaken by many queer and trans* individuals in their quest for authenticity—a journey punctuated by self-discovery, acceptance, and the brave revelation of their true identity.
Understanding the Hidden Self
Societal and cultural frameworks shape our self-perceptions and how we present ourselves. For trans* and queer individuals, societal pressures and cultural norms frequently enforce conformity to specified expectations of gender and sexuality, subtly discouraging expressions of identity that diverge from these standards.
The fear of prejudice and discrimination intensifies these pressures. A study by Ilan H. Meyer published in Psychological Bulletin (2003) highlights the direct effect of societal stigma and prejudice on the mental health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals. It discloses that LGB individuals encounter a higher incidence of mental disorders than heterosexuals, primarily attributable to minority stress, a hostile and stressful social environment generated by stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. This adverse environment often incites these individuals to suppress aspects of their authentic selves to align with societal expectations.
Leading a life while stifling authentic parts of oneself results in a duality impacting an individual’s mental and emotional health. This dichotomy bifurcates a person’s identity into the “visible” and the “hidden.” The visible self corresponds with societal norms and expectations. In contrast, the hidden self encapsulates the truth of one’s identity, including those components related to gender and sexuality that society may not fully embrace.
This study prompts pivotal questions about the societal pressures and norms forcing individuals to suppress their true selves. For example, why does society stigmatize and discriminate against identities and expressions of gender and sexuality that diverge from conventional norms? And crucially, what can we undertake, both individually and collectively, to cultivate an environment where everyone can express their authentic selves openly and securely?
With societal pressures and potential discrimination, trans* and queer individuals are often compelled to hide portions of their identities. However, this suppression can result in profound psychological consequences, pushing individuals into a constant negotiation between their genuine experiences and societal expectations. This constant self-surveillance and self-censorship can yield psychological distress.
By recognizing and comprehending these challenges, we can strive to build a more inclusive and accepting society where no individual feels obligated to suppress their authentic self.
The Impacts of Hiding
Living authentically and expressing our true selves openly and fearlessly underpins our mental, emotional, and social well-being. Nevertheless, societal pressures and discrimination often compel many trans* and queer individuals to hide aspects of their identities. This concealment, a departure from living authentically, severely burdens these individuals, affecting their psychological, emotional, and social health.
Hiding one’s gender and sexual identity can prompt isolation and alienation. These individuals may feel estranged from a society that enforces its norms on them and disconnected from their authentic selves. Such estrangement can lead to a diminished sense of self-worth, exacerbated by societal rejection or stigmatization of their true identities.
Moreover, living with the perpetual fear and anxiety of being ‘discovered’ or rejected can be a constant stressor for those who suppress their true identities. This chronic stress may precipitate various mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.
A significant repercussion of concealment lies in its impact on one’s sense of authenticity. Authenticity, the harmony between one’s internal experiences and external behaviours, is crucial for our psychological health. When individuals are compelled to hide their identities, their actions may deviate from their innate sense of self, disrupting their self-perception. This divergence can result in long-term psychological distress as individuals grapple with the disconnect between their true selves and the identity they present to the world.
Inevitably, feelings of inauthenticity can precipitate self-stigma. As these individuals assimilate negative societal attitudes toward their identities, they may begin to view themselves through the same stigmatizing lens. This self-stigma can magnify feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness, further impairing their mental and emotional well-being.
The repercussions of concealment extend beyond the individual, echoing through their relationships and social interactions, influencing every facet of their lives. By acknowledging these costs, we can better appreciate the courage required for trans* and queer individuals to embark on their journey toward authenticity and consider how we, as a society, can provide improved support.
Parts Work and the Journey to Self-Revelation
The journey toward self-revelation is often complex and layered. For trans* and queer individuals who’ve spent significant portions of their lives concealing parts of their identities, this journey involves recognizing, understanding, and gradually revealing these hidden parts. This process of exploration and self-understanding is crucial for individuals to embrace their authentic selves fully. One therapeutic approach that can significantly aid this journey is the technique known as Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy.
IFS is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals understand the various ‘parts’ or facets of their identities. Each of these parts has its role and carries its burden, and understanding this can be an essential step toward self-acceptance. Some parts may be protectors, developing over time to help individuals cope with societal prejudice and discrimination. Other parts might carry the pain of hiding and the yearning to be acknowledged and accepted.
This approach views the mind as composed of these distinct, interacting parts, each with its characteristics and perceptions. In the context of trans* and queer individuals, some may have felt the need to hide due to fear of judgment, rejection, or harm. These parts might have developed survival strategies, such as concealment and adaptation to societal norms, which, while protective in the past, may become burdensome over time.
Through IFS therapy, individuals are guided to explore their inner world, developing relationships with each part. They’re encouraged to approach these parts with curiosity, compassion, and open-mindedness. This helps understand each part’s role, including those that carry the burden of fear, shame, or the need to hide. Acknowledging these parts and their roles can be an incredibly empowering and validating experience.
In this journey of self-revelation, individuals can start to unburden these parts, acknowledging the pain of hiding and the longing for authenticity. They can begin to reassure these parts, gradually reducing their fear and need to hide. As they do so, individuals can start to express themselves more authentically, integrating these parts into their overall self-concept.
IFS can support individuals on their path toward self-revelation and authenticity by fostering understanding, acceptance, and compassion toward all parts. It’s a powerful reminder that all parts are welcome, and every facet of our identities deserves recognition and acceptance. IFS founder Richard Schwartz said, “All parts are welcome.” This philosophy can be instrumental in supporting trans* and queer individuals as they unpick the threads of their identities, moving from a place of hiding to one of authenticity and self-acceptance.
Stories of Discovery and Acceptance
Personal narratives powerfully illustrate the journey from self-concealment to self-revelation. These tales reveal struggles, victories, and profound moments of self-discovery that individuals within the trans* and queer communities may encounter on their path to authenticity. Each journey is unique, yet they all share a common goal – the quest for self-acceptance and the courage to live authentically.
Consider the story of one individual, assigned female at birth, who always felt out of sync with her birth gender. Complying with societal expectations, she played a version of herself congruent with her physical appearance for many years. The inner struggle was constant, exacerbating feelings of isolation and anxiety. When she discovered the term “transgender” as a teenager, it was as if she finally had a name for her experiences. Despite a path fraught with challenges such as transphobia and exclusion, she has emerged as an outspoken advocate for trans* rights, drawing on her experiences to educate and inspire others on similar journeys.
Then there is the journey of a young man who knew early on that he was gay. Fearful of discrimination, he concealed his sexual orientation throughout high school and early college. The cost of living a double life manifested in episodes of depression and a profound sense of loneliness. A turning point came when he disclosed his truth to a close friend. His friend’s supportive and understanding response sparked many coming-out experiences that gradually extended to other friends, family, and eventually his larger social circle. Today, he is a counsellor for LGBTQ+ youth, guiding them through their unique journeys to self-discovery and acceptance.
Another poignant story involves a non-binary individual from a conservative community where binary gender norms were rigidly enforced. They often felt trapped between societal expectations and their sense of identity. The process of self-discovery allowed them to understand their non-binary identity gradually. Coming out was a significant challenge, met with confusion and hostility by some but acceptance and support from others. They now advocate for greater understanding and acceptance of non-binary identities.
These narratives are a testament to the resilience and courage of individuals within the trans* and queer communities. The path to self-acceptance is often littered with obstacles, from societal prejudice and internalized stigma to personal fears and doubts. However, these challenges are counterbalanced by profound moments of victory – acceptance, support, and self-acknowledgement. While deeply personal, the journey from self-concealment to self-revelation resonates with a universal human desire – to live authentically and be accepted for who we are.
Role of Society and Allies
While the journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance is a profoundly personal one, the societal environment can significantly influence the path. The acceptance, or lack thereof, from family, friends, and the broader community, can make the difference between a journey marked by struggle and fear and one filled with empowerment and affirmation. Allies – those who advocate and support trans* and queer individuals – play a pivotal role in shaping this societal landscape.
Allies can come from anywhere: family members, friends, colleagues, educators, or even acquaintances. Their support can range from offering a safe space for dialogue and understanding, standing up against discrimination and transphobia, or advocating for inclusive policies in workplaces and schools. Allies can challenge heteronormative narratives and promote inclusivity, thus creating a ripple effect in their communities.
Here are some strategies allies and society at large can adopt to foster acceptance and inclusivity:
1. Educate Yourself and Others: Understanding the experiences and challenges trans* and queer individuals face is a crucial first step. Learn about different identities, terminologies, and issues affecting these communities. Use your knowledge to educate others, dispel misconceptions, and challenge discriminatory views.
2. Practice Active Listening: Be willing to listen and learn from the experiences of trans* and queer individuals without judgment. Everyone’s journey is unique, and respecting and acknowledging these individual narratives is crucial.
3. Speak Up: When you witness discrimination, bias, or harmful stereotypes, use your voice to challenge and correct them. By speaking up, you are advocating for those who cannot.
4. Promote Inclusive Spaces: Whether at work, in schools, or within your home, ensure the environment is safe and inclusive for all identities. This could mean advocating for inclusive policies, supporting organizations that cater to the needs of trans* and queer individuals, or creating a space for open dialogue and acceptance.
5. Respect Identity and Pronouns: Always respect an individual’s self-identified gender and pronouns. This small act of recognition can significantly impact a person’s sense of validation and acceptance.
6. Support Trans and Queer Causes:* Lend your support to initiatives and organizations that work towards the rights and welfare of trans* and queer individuals. This can be through donations, volunteer work, or simply by spreading the word about their initiatives.
In conclusion, allies play a critical role in supporting and advocating for the rights and acceptance of trans* and queer individuals. They can significantly influence societal attitudes, leading to acceptance, understanding, and inclusion. After all, it takes a collective effort to change societal norms and create a world where everyone can live authentically without fear or prejudice.
Resources and Support
Finding the right resources and support can be crucial during your journey to self-discovery and authenticity. From mental health services to educational materials, various resources are available for trans* and queer individuals in Canada. Below is a non-exhaustive list of resources you may find helpful:
1. Crisis and Mental Health Services:
- Trans Lifeline: A crisis hotline by and for the transgender community. Canada (877) 330-6366. Trans Lifeline Website
- The Trevor Project: Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. The Trevor Project Website
- Kids Help Phone: Offers professional counselling, information and referrals and volunteer-led, text-based support to young people. Canada-wide 1-800-668-6868. Kids Help Phone Website
2. Support Groups and Counseling Services:
- PFLAG Canada: A national charitable organization founded by parents who wished to help themselves and their family members understand and accept their LGBTQ2S children. PFLAG Canada Website
- Queer Events – Canada: A comprehensive resource for events, services, and groups throughout Canada. Queer Events Website
3. Books and Media Resources:
- Gender: Your Guide by Lee Airton, Ph.D.: A comprehensive and approachable resource about gender, which breaks down complex language, theories, and research on gender diversity and identities.
- Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg: A novel that explores themes of gender identity and the complexities of navigating society as a gender non-conforming individual.
- “Disclosure” (Netflix Documentary): This documentary takes an in-depth look at Hollywood’s depiction of transgender people and the impact of their stories on transgender lives and American culture.
- “Queer: A Graphic History” by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele: This book brings Queer Theory into graphic novel format, making it more accessible and engaging.
4. Legal and Advocacy Resources:
- The 519: A Toronto-based organization dedicated to advocacy for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ communities. The 519 Website
- Egale Canada: A national organization promoting LGBTQ+ human rights through research, education, and community engagement. Egale Canada Website
Remember that you are not alone, whether at the start of your journey or further along. There are resources and communities available to help you navigate your path. It’s okay to reach out and ask for support when you need it. You deserve to be seen, heard and accepted for who you are.
As we journey through the narrative of life, the paramount importance of authenticity and self-acceptance cannot be overstated. For trans* and queer individuals, this journey often involves self-discovery, self-revelation, and self-acceptance against societal pressures, cultural norms, and fear of prejudice and discrimination.
Living in the shadow of a persona that does not reflect one’s true identity imposes a heavy toll on mental and emotional well-being. The cost of concealment, marked by feelings of inauthenticity, self-stigma, and reduced well-being, illustrates the profound need for a journey toward self-revelation. To navigate this journey, therapeutic techniques like IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapy can be instrumental, providing individuals with the tools to explore, understand, and embrace all facets of their identity, even those that have long been hidden.
The personal stories shared in this piece underscore the unique struggles and victories experienced by individuals on their path to authenticity. While each journey is unique, the common thread of resilience, courage, and self-love weaves them into a broader narrative of self-discovery and acceptance.
Of equal importance is the role of society and allies in this journey. The path towards acceptance is a shared responsibility for those navigating their identities and everyone. Allies play a critical role in fostering acceptance and inclusivity within our communities, and their support can make all the difference in someone’s journey.
Resources and support are available, from crisis and mental health services to support groups, counselling services, books, and media resources. These resources can provide comfort, guidance, and companionship during the challenging journey to authenticity.
As we celebrate Pride Month, it’s essential to remember the core message of Pride – acceptance and love in all its forms. It is a call to action, not just for the LGBTQ+ community but for society. We must strive to create a society where everyone is encouraged and empowered to be authentic, diversity is celebrated, and love is love in all its vibrant colours.
Remember that authenticity is not an endpoint but a continuous journey. And on this journey, let us walk with Pride, compassion, and respect for all, recognizing that our uniqueness contributes to the human tapestry’s beautiful diversity. Here’s to a world that is as diverse, colourful, and accepting as the rainbow that symbolizes Pride. Happy Pride Month!
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.