For a long time, I have been challenged when I expressed my identity as a transman. Unfortunate as this is, I’m sure many people can relate to hearing things like:
Are you sure? Maybe you’re a lesbian?
Well, you’ll grow out of that phase.
But you’re biologically female, so you’re not really a guy.
Have you had “the surgery?”
What’s your REAL name?
All of these questions are rude, invasive, and inappropriate on a number of levels—and yet for most of my adolescence they were all pretty typical reactions I got to speaking about my transness. It’s bad enough being questioned on the validity of your gender identity and dismissed, but like many other trans folx, that is not the only adversity in response to my identity that I face.
I am someone who struggles with severe and persistent mental illness—meaning that a lot of my behaviors, thought processes, and reactions can seem bizarre to people who don’t know me well or aren’t aware of my diagnoses. However, despite my symptoms seeming strange to others, I have lived with them for a long time and know how to function around the obstacles they create, and I’m able to live my life most often as comfortably as those who don’t experience them.
Unfortunately, in the same way people ask about and then deny my transness, my mental illness means I get my capability for decision making and autonomy as a person questioned even more often. And occasionally, people will attempt to use my mental illness to discredit my gender identity—which is entirely absurd, because there is no correlation between my gender identity and the symptoms I experience.
I have no qualms about identifying as male—it’s comfortable, it’s true to myself, and it’s how I’ve felt for as long as I can remember. Which is, notably, far longer than any of my current mental illness symptoms have been on my or anyone else’s radar.
Despite pointing out this conflict to people, it’s as though they don’t even bother to listen, and I’m left with the same irritated feeling I get when I’m misgendered even without the added ableism thrown in.
Symptoms of mental illness do not necessarily have anything to do with gender identity. A lot of transphobic rhetoric seems to center around the false belief that trans people are mentally ill because their identities don’t align with their presentation. The reality of the matter shows us that this perspective is skewed; trans people are more disproportionately affected by mental illness, however this is because of the social stigma and transphobia they face from cis people for being trans.
There is a relationship between the trans community and mental illness, but transphobic rhetoric posits that mental illness leads to “becoming” trans, when actually it would be more accurate to turn that around. Coming out as trans often leads people to face more adversity, more bigotry and discrimination than remaining closeted (or in their shells)—and when pressure is piled on from every aspect of someone’s life simply because of their identity (denied employment, denied housing, denied healthcare, etc.), it isn’t hard to see how that community is particularly susceptible to mental illness.
So, to set the record straight: “transgender” as a descriptor has the same use as “cisgender,” and someone’s gender identity does not make them mentally ill by default. However, the transgender community as a whole does have a higher prevalence of mental illness due to social stigma and systemic oppression.
It’s a tough existence being discredited on the basis of one facet of your identity or another, and mentally ill trans people are a particularly vulnerable population due to these identities (and others, such as race and socioeconomic status also play into discrimination faced by the trans community) overlapping.
I don’t often see trans positive pages that include this part of the conversation. I feel often as someone who is both trans and mentally ill that despite being offered resources (help lines, therapy numbers, crisis prevention, etc.), there is little recognition that it is okay to be mentally ill and trans. We face an enormous amount of adversity even outside struggles specific to our gender identities, and yet I rarely see it spoken on.
Mental health is important for everyone, particularly trans folx. Talking about it should not be something so stigmatized when our community is so affected by it. A lot of trans people have significant trauma they’ve experienced that can manifest as mental illness—and while this is unfortunate, it does not make your identity any less valid.