Support Systems Can Be Important To Trans Mental Health

By Sabrina Samone

Before the internet and social media, support groups plaid a huge role in the lives of transgender people. Now many can connect online with others going through similar stories world-wide. There’s video chat, messengers, text and if you are close, a life long friendship can be formed. Yet, trans support groups are still very critical to the emotional and mental health of transgender people, no matter what stage of transition. Unlike a support group headed by a therapist, you are amongst peers without much fear of being analyzed. In fact you may not have to say a word at all and feel the benefits of socializing. Across the globe, no matter what country, nationality, religion; where there’s a large group of transgender people, there’s possibly a support group near you. The double-edged sword is that while we are fortunate with greater trans awareness to be able to reach others of shared interest, the traditional medium of support groups across the country are struggling to continue. That would be unfortunate for our community.

Looking back at how I became aware of being transgender, the support I received, the community spirit that was instilled in me at an early start: I feel very fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve had, unlike my partner who did it completely alone. That isn’t a unique story. There are many transgender people who become aware and make the necessary steps to live their authentic lives without any assistance, emotional support, no family or friends to relate too, and even some without much therapy at all. Though I haven’t seen an actual case study on the matter, and not a psychologist or sociologist myself, I have witness the long-term emotional distress, more intense dysphoria and shame associated with being trans with some that received no support through their entire transition.¹ Luckily for many today there is more acceptance than ten years ago, and more awareness. There are growing numbers of supportive parents of transgender youth, along with the beginnings of media representation that can make us feel just a little less alone. Yet, we hear of those happy stories of supportive families, communities, jobs etc., because they are still rare and unique stories to millions of trans people in medium, and small rural towns across the globe.

I have been humbled and moved by my transgender community.

 

When I look back over the years of my transition, and living my truth; the moments that were the lowest for me were when there was no connection to anyone who understood. In a millennium long, long ago, in a small rural football loving, truck driving, tobacco chewing town in South Carolina, I began to live my truth. The initial thought of such a place to come out may cause immediate anxiety. While it was not a walk in the garden by no means, it wasn’t as bad as first thought. As I said I’ve always been fortunate, most of the time, to have a community. There were those that came before me even in that small town, a few transvestites, that were by my side from the first time I began presenting myself. I had that connection, along with being apart of my local lgbt community. It was in that community that my then best gay friend showed up and introduced me to my first trans sister. I remember that day, and remember not knowing it was even possible that I could ever transition to look like the woman I knew I was. I had no clue what transgender was. All I knew at the time was RuPaul. Yet, suddenly this woman who looked like Vanessa Williams, wearing Kenneth Cole thigh high boots, daisy dukes, a midriff shirt and showing ample cleavage, came prancing in my bedroom. I immediately jumped to attention. This was the first person I had ever seen that was transforming, and developing as themselves. It felt like someone was bringing me the answers to my dreams. Thankfully, she was very supportive and wanted to help, not all girls are and that’s unfortunate. I continue to be lucky, and over time we became close friends. She took me to my first doctors appointment and as I developed pass the boundaries of acceptance for the small town of Hartsville, South Carolina, I took off to trans city USA, Atlanta GA.

It was time to blossom

                         Support This Local Trans Support Group

Atlanta allowed me to blossom in the arms of a very united and supportive local trans community. For the first time I met hundreds like me, and learned about what it means to be trans. What I mean is being trans does not always mean you’re an expert on everything trans. I had a lot of education ahead of me and I still find myself remaining open to learning about my community, and myself to this day. At this point, I was in therapy and had the support of a community of trans sisters. Yet, I was still not part of a formal trans support group, exposing me to a wider diversity of our community. I’m ashamed to admit today, that when I met the first trans guy that wanted to get to know me better, I remember being so afraid and nearly homophobic. I would hide from him in public and complain to my friends, asking why does she think I’m a lesbian. This was ignorant I now know, but I make this point because that ignorance still persists in our community amongst ourselves when we are not exposed to the diversity that could easily be overcome through a local transgender support group.

After three years in Atlanta I unfortunately found myself back in that small rural town, where TS still meant a tropical storm. For the first time I didn’t have support, the transvestite girlfriends I did know there had sadly passed away. I performed as a gender illusionist along with gay men who dressed for performance only, and who would ask me why would I do such a horrible thing to my body. I had changed, developed, but the town was the same. My family would try to persuade me to hide my attributes, wear men clothing again in order to keep the towns folks appeased. At first I had a hard time getting a job, and when I did, they also would ask me to “tone it down”. I had no local support. My friends back in Atlanta could not relate and were little help. I resisted, stood my ground for my truth as long as I could, but several months later pressured by jobs, family, no friends that understood or support group, I gave in. I’m a male to female transgender woman, yet I found myself binding to hide my boobs so know one else would be offended and to please my family. Gone was the hair weave, and I began to grow my own hair which at first was a tiny pony tail. My insurance didn’t cover therapy or any transitional care. I was no longer in therapy. I paid out-of-pocket to get my hormones and could only find one pharmacist willing to fill my prescriptions within a thirty mile radius of me. In the gay community, I was the token trans who was only called upon when money was needed to be raised for local AIDS organizations. The spiral of depression was gradual but devastating. In 2002 it would nearly end my life after my first and last, near succesful suicide attempt that left me unconscious for hours. I had to receive blood to live due to a near fatal loss of blood, along with one month under psychiatric observation. At 25, had I had any wisdom to form a support group, been able to attend one, or have others that understood; things may not have happened as they had.

The meaning of community

DONATE TO HELP C.A.T.S.

When you’ve survived a near fatal suicide attempt, it’s then you decide to live. I had to find a way back to myself and love me for me. With the help of therapy I decided to move for my own sanity. I ended up not far, just three hours south in Charleston SC, but what a difference three hours had made.

In 1999, Olivia (read our story with Olivia)², had created C.A.T.S, Charleston Area Transgender Support Group. Though small at the time I first attended, it would be another learning curve as a transgender woman for me. The trans community of Atlanta I had come from placed the highest value on passability, and trans hierarchy. Many I had encountered did not validate the lives of those that transitioned later in life, or who only dressed on occasions due to non-supportive marriages or family. My time back in my hometown that lead to my depression had changed my views on those that could not always express who they are. I now knew from experience how that felt myself and could relate. Those first meetings, I was often the only trans person of color, but eventually that would change when William, a trans man of color who was married to a trans woman befriended me. Through William, I was educated on trans masculinity and had my first exposure to trans/trans relationships. I met two girls with one that remains a close friend to this day, Jenna, who was the first transgender lesbian I had ever met as well. Again, the circles I had known prior did not include transgender women that didn’t like men, and at first this was a delicate topic for us. I had to come to terms with my own internal homophobia, and be educated that my transness was my gender and not my sexuality. Jenna was the first to help me understand that sexuality varies among trans people, and adds to the beauty of our diversity.

After a year of attending the support group, I had made the close friends I was going to make, and kept in touch with Mrs. Olivia over the years. I would drop in and out over time. As the next few years passed,  the directors and members of the group would change. Mrs. Olivia had left due to illness, some good changes some bad. The most productive were during the time of Amy Garboti and the current director Lee Anne LeLand. During this time the support group would grow from just a dozen older transitioning, white trans women to be more welcoming to trans people color, trans men, non-binary and parents of transgender youth. That dozen grew over time to hundreds in the community, even creating new groups for trans men, non-binary persons and for those younger than 18. This community group that educated me on diversity, has itself become a beacon of diversity for Charleston’s trans community.

The effects on the trans community of South Carolina by this group and it’s network of groups, would be an understatement if I even attempted to try to explain. In the years I’ve been witness to their work, the group has gone from etiquette, make-up and hair classes to real issues that we face. It’s here you will get a list of health care providers, list of friendly businesses, help with name changes and legal documentation and join a network of trans people throughout the area and state. Even among those who no longer attend regularly, there remains a supportive network. They have helped many find work, therapist or simply a friend that understands. Saving countless from the tragic depths of loneliness and depression. I’ve witness people who for the first time presenting themselves, full of fear and anxiety,  become confident and beautiful. It has inspired some to get politically involved and now work in local politics, business and it was at the table of one of those C.A.T.S meetings, that the proposal of me blogging about trans issues was born. That inspiration is now leading to my dream of my own magazine for my community. They have grown, adapted and served the trans community along with other members of the Palmetto Transgender Alliance³, to serve the trans community of South Carolina. Now they need our help.

We should always pay it forward

Save a Support Group

If you follow TMPlanet, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not one to have many ‘about me’ type of blog post. I don’t speak that often of my story, or get too personal. I’m actually shy, and withdrawn despite what many think. This is not about just helping friends. I haven’t been to a meeting probably in a year. After a lot of tribulations personally over the past couple of years, and the development of my dream of this magazine; many have suggested a kickstarter or gofundme. I have shared fund me campaigns on our social media pages for anyone in our community who asked, and I was seriously considering one for TMP until I heard that this local support group that has done so much, needed some love back from the community. Now, this is bigger than TMP, or C.A.T.S or any individual trans person or entity. This is about the countless trans people who still feel alone. This is for those that heart drops to the pits of their stomach,  as they walk out that front door as themselves for the very first time. Those wanting a place where they are welcomed as their true self. This is about keeping a safe place for many in the years to come. This is about being able to meet people who knows what if feels like to be discriminated against, harassed, and also the joys of that first T or E shot.  It’s about the next Sabrina, who as a trans woman of color can come to a place of diversity and be welcomed, and where she herself can learn more about the diversity of her trans community.

This is about love. Love for my sisters and brothers of C.A.T.S and all the trans support groups on the ground that are making a difference in so many trans people’s lives. Will you please consider helping with their expenses, or share this blog post so someone who can will. Also, support your local trans support groups, or start one. Let’s make sure the next generation continues to have a place of love to come and feel safe.

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  1. Trans Mental Health: There can be isolation, hiding and secrets, which can lead to depression and anxiety.  Transgender adults are much more likely to have suicidal thoughts, with 50% of adults reporting some suicidal ideation.  There seem to be two paths that people take early on: either one tries to hide their inner feeling of being the wrong sex and “passes” for what looks like a boy or girl, or one is incapable of hiding and presents as either a tom-boyish girl or a feminine boy.  Either path is fraught with problems for one’s emotional development.  The second scenario – of presenting as gender non-conforming is known to elicit harsh responses from society.  This is true for non-transgender people as well and many gay men and women experience this early on.
  2. Dear Trans Family…Will You Still Love Me When I’m No Longer Young and Beautiful?  Is the story and support of Olivia covered by TransMusePlanet, one of the founders of the first transgender support groups that is still in existence. Charleston Area Transgender Support Group, known as C.A.T.S. still operates today with several splinter groups for transgender men, non-binary and trans youth and most still attend the main meetings which can have an average of 50 attendees.
  3. Under Palmetto Transgender Alliance, the support groups are connected for greater awareness and reach for the states transgender community through their network of support.
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Neo L. Sandja

Neo Sandja is an author, speaker, business consultant and certified life coach. He’s the founder of the first international bodybuilding competition for people of Trans experience, and featured on major media outlets like, Al Jazeera America and CNN. His business, FTM Fitness World, along with its affiliated annual conference #transfitCon, focuses on empowering the Trans community in all 5 core areas of their lives: Spirituality, Personal Growth, Fitness/Wellness Health, Finances, and Family/Relationships through the motto ‘Fitness for the Mind, Body, and Spirit.’
 
His book, ‘Right Mind, Wrong Body’, was written for people who are looking for more happiness, peace, and fulfillment in their journey. Based on the lessons he himself learned through his transition.
 
 

 

 

 

He is also the chair of the FTM foundation, which he created to help Trans-identified people with their transitional needs. Partial proceeds of the book ‘Right Mind Wrong Body’, is going directly into the surgery fun.
 
Neo considers himself, a spiritual warrior and a transformational trainer. He defines being a spiritual warrior, as someone who knows themselves and conquers their deepest fears, and limitations. Transformational trainer’s, are trainers who change people’s lives from the inside out, by giving them the tools to create permanent change for success.
As a speaker he is very passionate about business, financial and emotional intelligence, as well asspirituality and communication.

He migrated to the U.S., from the Republic of Congo in 2004, and began his transition in 2011. His life’s mission he states, “Transform people’s lives through his writing, speaking engagements, personal life coaching, and mentoring, but most importantly through his personal day to day interactions.”

 Neo Sandja is an example of the masculine leadership that is leading our community into the future. He, along with countless men, have become more visible over the past few years,  in a weary movement that needed rejuvenation. Yet, he is among those talented Trans men of color whose work often is over shadowed, and goes unnoticed by the majority within our community. Let’s stand united, with our brothers, regardless of race, religion or nationality. We share at least one thing, and it is the greatest thing that bonds us all; the desire to live an authentic life against all odds. TMP salutes our brother Neo Sandja for the work he has done and continue to do, that enhances the lives of all Trans people.

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19 Attorneys General Seek Military Transgender Protections

By TMPlanet

(AP) ¹ The top legal officers in 18 states and the District of Columbia have asked Congress to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination against transgender service members.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin sent the letter dated Thursday in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement, via Twitter a day earlier, that he would ban transgender people in the military.

The letter asks the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees to reaffirm in legislation that transgender people may not be banned from serving in the military. It urges lawmakers to include transgender protections in the National Defense Authorization Act. Eighteen other attorneys general, who like Chin are all Democrats, also signed the document. The president’s position would put in place a policy that “violates fundamental constitutional and American values,” the attorneys general said.

“The new ban harms our states’ transgender residents and marginalizes an entire group of people based solely on gender identity,” the letter said.

On Thursday, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. policy on transgender individuals serving in uniform hasn’t and won’t change until Defense Secretary Jim Mattis receives the president’s policy direction and Mattis determines how to implement it.

The Pentagon hasn’t released data on the number of transgender people currently serving, but a Rand Corp. study has estimated between 1,320 and 6,630, out of 1.3 million active-duty troops.

Attorneys general from the following joined Hawaii in signing the letter: California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

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  1. © Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.
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Two Teens Admit to Targeting Trans Activist in a Recent Attack in Texas

A second suspect in an attack on a transgender woman last week admitted to Austin police that he targeted the victim because of her gender identity, according to court papers filed Monday.

Rayshad Deloach, 17, and his brother, Raymond, have both been accused of carjacking and mugging Stephanie Martinez¹, an Austin transgender activist.

“Rayshad admitted that he attacked Martinez because she was transgender,” police officers wrote in his arrest affidavit.

In his statement to the police, Rayshad Deloach confirmed the details of the Thursday afternoon attack that Martinez relayed to the police, including punching her several times in the face and picking up a log as if to use it to bash her head.

Just a day after the attack, Martinez testified before state lawmakers at the Capitol as they debated the so-called bathroom bills², laws that would restrict local governments and school districts from implementing transgender-friendly bathroom policies.

The measure is one of the most contentious being debated during the Legislature’s special session.

“This bill is not about safety, this bill is not about bathrooms,” Martinez told a committee of state senators, which backed the legislation after hours of testimony that went largely against the measure. “This bill is about limiting my ability to navigate public life.”

Following North Carolina’s lead, Texas Republicans in January unveiled the so-called “bathroom bill” to regulate bathroom use and keep transgender Texans from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 6, one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities, would have required transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex.” The measure would also pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

The ripple effects of such hate inspired legislation, has made the lives of many trans people in the state less safe³. When a politician tells his constituents, that the lives of trans people are debatable, and legally ok to be ridiculed, attacks like these happen. Rayshad, and Raymond Deloach should be charged with a hate crime, but they are not the only ones. The state Republicans, pushing these hate bills, are also responsible for this, and every attack, on every trans person in the state of Texas.

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  1. Stephanie Martinez, is an activist with the Transgender Education Network of Texas. She was able to attend the senate hearing on anti-transgender legislation Friday and speak out against SB3 ad SB99. She listens to he Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas, the ACLU of Texas, the Texas Freedom Network and the Transgender Education Network of Texas gather in the outdoor rotunda of the Texas Capitol extension Friday afternoon to propose anti-transgender legislation bills SB 3 and SB99 at the Texas Capitol July 21, 2017.
  2. Senate Bill 3, a so-called “bathroom bill,” would regulate public school facilities, open-enrollment charter school facilities, and local government restrooms to be “used only by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.” It will now advance to the full Senate for consideration.
  3. “A Matter of Life and Death” brings to light the stories of the at least 21 trans people who have been murdered since the beginning of this year, and it estimates there have been at least 74 murders of transgender people since 2013.
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The Curious Case of the Philadelphia Pride Flag

by Micah J. Fleck

In June, the city of Philadelphia raised a new LGBT pride flag featuring two new colors (black and brown) in order to recognize and highlight a particular subgroup in the broader LGBT community: gay and trans people of color. The initiative behind this addition, More Color More Pride, is led by black queer activist Amber Hikes for the purposes of drawing attention to what she sees as a type of in-group bigotry within the LGBT community against its black and trans members. The new colors, which frankly look pretty damn cool up against the traditional rainbow, are being reported as having caused a divide in the LGBT world. But I think in an ironic way the additions merely put a spotlight on a rift that was already there.

The divide in question is being seen between the white and black LGBT members, as well as between those who are cis and trans. Now while this is certainly not true across the board (broad brushes make sloppy paintings), it’s common enough for me to have come across it firsthand despite being a mere ally who doesn’t live every second of my life in the gay or trans stratosphere. I’ve even had a few conversations with people who are cis, white, and gay, and who seem to be deeply irritated by the change. Before weighing in on which arguments I actually find reasonable and which I do not, let’s establish first a quick history and purpose behind the flag as well as how ubiquitous the color additions actually are.

First of all, the flag itself in its original form. It was designed by gay activist and artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, and originally did have two more colors than its final rendition. Though they were removed simply because the particular shades were more expensive to obtain in cloth at the time. What the world ultimately saw was a flag that featured the following colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. And each color represented something abstract and elemental, yet experiential (i.e. an emotion, like joy, or a natural interaction, like sunlight). In this way, the flag ensured to encompass the human experience broadly enough that it would be as inclusive as possible. It is a flag for all—including those who are gay. Because underneath the surface we all share these elemental and positive desires.

This is the intended symbol of the flag—inclusivity and humanity, no matter who you are. It’s a positive message, and had it been universally upheld for its values within the LGBT community, I seriously doubt there would even be an issue in the first place. But the reality is that many gay communities and events have been known to segregate themselves based on race, gender, class, or citizenship across the country—from Phoenix to Virginia to Philadelphia, and beyond. And this has been a thing for some time, dating back at least the 80s when lesbian majorities would keep blacks and men out of their gay bars, which were often the only places of refuge at the time, even if they too were part of the gay community. There’s also the ongoing problem of mainstream pride movements such as the Human Rights Campaign being accused of things like excluding conservatives or not investing any real money into trans-specific causes.

And the greater reality is that despite the more all-encompassing title of “pride” it now bears, this movement was originally just known as “gay pride,” which has caused confusion even among some of the modern gay activists I spoke to on this topic regarding how welcome trans people really are in it. “It’s gender, not orientation,” one woman in the movement explained to me; “Maybe they don’t belong in this movement and should have their own.” Apparently ‘separate but equal’ is back in fashion, at least for some in the gay community who can’t seem to wrap their heads around non-heteronormative genders being just as in need of pride representation as non-heteronormative sexual preferences.

Now of course there is indeed a trans rights movement all of its own—it even has its own flag of badass colors! But the point is that the pride movement at large has grown into something bigger and more encompassing than what it was when it began. And that’s absolutely okay. The entire point of pride parades, etc. is to show that one does not need to feel ashamed or marginalized for being oneself. To celebrate one’s humanity and social worth, regardless of what prejudices or discriminations are unfairly hoisted upon one’s very existence. Do trans members of society not qualify for that? Are they seriously not welcome in the pride movement simply because their plight is due to social clashes with their gender rather than who they are naturally sexually attracted to? Aren’t both of these things equally worthy of delineating a self-identity?

And what of the racism in particular that is seen in the LGBT community? It seems to permeate into the subconscious of so many LGBT people to the point where it causes exclusionary friendship and dating habits, according to some reports. And even if that itself isn’t as blatant or intentional as it could be, it comes back around to the principle that failing to provide welcome to others in the same rights crisis is akin to denying them refuge. Why in the world would human beings do this to each other?

Which brings us to the final piece of evidence in favor of the inclusion of the additional stripes to the Philadelphia flag: the murders of trans women of color that occur every year in the double digits and beyond. This has been called an epidemic by trans advocates, and whether or not one wants to go that far with the rhetoric, it’s hard to see it as anything other than targeting  of a specific demographic when one takes into account the very small percentage of trans individuals alive today in the U.S.: 0.3% of the total population. Now take that number and slice it even thinner by focusing not just on trans females, but trans females who are black. Why in the world are so many of them dying per year if their murders are just random occurrence and not specifically because of who and what they are? Why does the LGBT community, even in patches, seem disinterested in helping raise awareness about this group, and as a result take steps toward humanizing them? Protecting them?

This, the compilation of all the previous points, is the strongest case I have found for why the added colors were deemed necessary by the activists led by Amber Hikes. There is evidence that the LGBT community isn’t as inclusive as the flag supposedly represents, and for the specific demographics being ostracized, perhaps a visual cue or reminder that they matter too is needed—especially in Philadelphia, where we’ve already established this sort of exclusion goes on. From the perspective of someone in the position of Hikes, Philadelphia in particular needed a wake up call. It is, after all, just a local flag in Philadelphia; it’s not yet been accepted as the official worldwide flag. Who knows if it will, but even the fact that the flag was changed in an unofficial way in a single city has already caused an uproar with many gay activists. Considering the evidence put forth… Why?

The arguments against the additional colors vary, but the most reasonable one to my eye is the one that aims to preserve the legacy of what the flag was originally about. As it stands right now, the new flag’s colors do not seem to have an elemental meaning to them; they simply are the colors, and nothing more. Which makes the flag about race, now, and this is something Gilbert Baker was clearly trying to transcend. However, perhaps that transcending was, like many ideal things, a bit premature. After all, the LGBT community is still struggling with racism and transphobia, and the response from within to these additions do seem to confirm that a subconscious desire to exclude exists. What I can understand is the initial pushback to the idea at the conceptual stage, and for conceptual reasons; what I have a harder time wrapping my head around is the outright anger and division that has been occurring since the change was already made. What good does it do to literally say “you can’t add your colors to our flag… Because you’re welcome?” It becomes a contradictory rhetoric that seems more concerned with undoing an inclusive visual than taking genuinely inclusive action. And the latter is all the added colors were ever really after.

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