Transgenderism (Gender Identity Disorder,
Gender Dysphoria) is currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), yet there is
no known way to accurately diagnose this “disorder,” the cause is unknown, and nobody has ever been “cured.” In fact, it is not a mental disorder.
Still, many transgendered people
seek therapy. Some seek the “Gender Identity Disorder” diagnosis
because they ultimately want to transition and the diagnosis is necessary for hormone therapy and surgery. Others seek therapy because they have some mental disorder such as anxiety or depression often caused by
self-denial or society’s non-acceptance.
I knew as a child that I was transgendered,
but I was terrified to admit it to anyone. My fear led to many years of denial,
which led to severe depression. When I finally rediscovered my transgenderism,
I searched the internet for hours and read everything I could find about crossdressing and transsexualism. I started ordering books from Amazon and read each one in a single sitting.
I became obsessed and consumed every detail voraciously. At first I wanted
to prove to myself once and for all that I am not transgendered, but the more I read, the more I recognized myself in the
personal accounts of transgendered people. I finally came out to myself, and
soon after I came out to my wife, who immediately offered her support. But my
depression kept getting worse, and I felt like I was drowning. I could hardly
breathe, and I had fantasies about suicide. I desperately needed professional
Finding the right therapist turned
out to be much harder than I could have ever imagined. I found no shortage of
listings on internet sites of therapists who specialize in gender identity, but I soon discovered that many of these specialists
have their own biases and sometimes their knowledge and experience is rather limited.
The first therapist I found was reputed
on the web to be endorsed by the transgender community in St. Louis (where I lived prior to moving to Arizona). I made an appointment with her and after a few sessions, I discovered that she fully believed that transgenderism
is a mental illness and that she had the cure. She insisted that if I wear silky
shirts and some men’s jewelry, the need to crossdress will disappear. Not
knowing any better, I followed her advice but found it did not address my needs in the least.
When I wanted to talk about my sexuality, a huge concern for me at the time, she cut me off and changed the subject. Either she was embarrassed or she really didn’t know as much about this as she
After I moved to Yuma, I discovered
a therapist in San Diego. This time it took only one session for me to decide
that I was in the wrong place. She asked me right away if I wanted to have a
sex change. At the time, I really didn’t know what I wanted, and such a
question frightened me. I told her I did not have any idea what I wanted. She said, “Well, I can’t tell you what to do.” I didn’t want to be told what to do, but I did want some guidance and support so that over time I
could discover what was best for me. She also made some remarks about some of
her other transgendered patients, that many “do not look good.” I
wanted to scream.
Next, I decided to try a therapist
in Yuma, one who did not specialize in gender identity. The one I chose asked
me a ton of questions about myself, and I quickly figured out that she had no clue what transgenderism is, and she was trying
to get me to educate her. Then, she asked me over and over whether anyone had
ever sexually abused me. After I convinced her that I had never been physically
or mentally abused, she told me that I did not need therapy.
I lost hope for awhile. The depression became so bad that I was getting moody and it was negatively affecting my work. It became harder and harder to get through the day. If I couldn’t
get help, I don’t think I could have lasted much longer.
After a few months, I looked around once
again for a therapist. This time I looked for one in Phoenix. I chose Dr. Christine Grubb.
My first session with Dr. Grubb made
me feel like I was in good hands. From our conversation, it was obvious she had
extensive knowledge and experience with transgendered patients. Finally, I found
a therapist who knew more about this subject than I did. Right away, she tested
me for a variety of mental disorders and identified my depression. She referred
me to a doctor in Yuma and I received medication which brought immediate relief. She
also helped me to find Alpha-Zeta, and over time she guided me on my journey to self-discovery and acceptance. Without her, I don’t know if I would be alive today. I
still have sessions with her, though now I go about once every two months. My
moodiness is gone, and my relationship with my wife has grown much stronger. I
am also now at the top of my game professionally.
Therapists are human beings with
their own biases and faults. None are perfect, and they don’t all have
the answers. It just takes some perseverance and common sense to find one whom
you trust and can build a working relationship with.
In her book Transgender Good News, Pat Conover, a transgendered minister of the United Church of Christ, describes the qualities
of an excellent therapist:
- She kept the sessions focused on my needs and didn’t ask a lot of questions that would have amounted to charging
me for educating her about transgender issues.
- She was nonjudgmental and didn’t set forth an agenda of helping me adjust to traditional roles and images.
- She was good at helping me clarify several issues, attending to both their distinctness and their interaction.
- She didn’t try to draw me into an effort to reconstruct my personality going back to early childhood. We stayed focused on the issues I needed to deal with and brought up memories as they were relevant.
- Best of all, she did not talk about my “symptoms” in a sickness model but accompanied me, and challenged
me, as I prepared for several important decisions.
- She created safe space for release and acceptance of some long-carried feelings.
Conover, Pat. Transgender Good News.
Silver Spring, MD: New Wineskins Press, 2002.