Transplaining: My transgender friend has dysphoria. How can I help him with his fear of not passing?
Welcome to Transplaining, Mic correspondent Serena Daniari’s weekly advice column on gender identity. No topic — from dating to sex to the process of transitioning itself — is off-limits. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and subscribe to Transplaining to receive weekly email alerts here.
One of my greatest friends is a transgender man who has been out for just over two years. At times, they struggle a great deal with their dysphoria, combined with very severe depression and PTSD. My question is: How can you help a friend with dysphoria or a fear of not passing?
You’ve already taken a very significant step in the right direction by asking about the best way to be a supportive ally to your trans friend. It can be very painful to see a loved one struggling with any mental health issue. Trans people often face disproportionate levels of depression and anxiety compared with the general population. There are many mental health resources out there to help facilitate these anxieties and questions, and it is imperative that these issues are talked through with a licensed professional.
I reached out to trans psychotherapist Laura Jacobs, who urges you to help provide a safe and welcoming environment for your friend. “Make clear that you accept that there might be days in which the dysphoria will be too overwhelming,” they said. “Remind him to breathe and that he has control over leaving home, or not. And if he can’t go out … delivery is perfectly fine.”
I have grappled with the issue of passing — the ability for trans people to be perceived as cisgender — for far too long. I want to unpack why the term is so problematic. The desire for trans people to pass is born from the transphobic assertion that cisgender people are the bar in which transgender people should aspire to meet. Trans people often feel the pressure to pass, for safety reasons, but also because we have been repeatedly and systematically told it is a problem to be visibly trans. This is a false narrative that trans people must work hard to dismantle. Although it is not an easy fight, the future of the trans movement means focusing on challenging the status quo of what a woman or man should look like.
I want your friend to know that while being trans can be incredibly challenging, it becomes exponentially easier when we establish support systems for ourselves. Your friend’s process of overcoming their mental health obstacles will take great deal of time, patience and guidance from a gender therapist. But I am confident they will become less preoccupied with adhering to rigid cisnormative beauty standards as they progress further in their transition. After all, for a trans person to continually compare themselves with cisgender people is a losing battle. We are not cis; we are trans, and that is more than OK.