Updated October 5, 2011 – Clarified the next-to-last paragraph to match what I really meant to say.
In my continuing quest to make sure I’m not about to make a huge, life-altering mistake, last week I sought a second opinion from a different gender counselor from the one I normally see. I had a session with this person early in the year when I was evaluating counselors and decided to go with someone different based on chemistry.
After I caught her up on the past few months and explained where I was now, she seemed concerned on a number of fronts. Top of mind for her was that I seemed to be shopping for counselors and it took a bit of explaining that I really was just looking for another viewpoint on my experience instead of finding someone that would tell me what I wanted to hear.
After addressing her fears in that area, I laid out some of my biggest fears about my motivational desires regarding transition. The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be anything pathological at the root based on my history and behavior patterns.
That out of the way, we talked about my transition and she was surprised that there are things that I haven’t done yet that are more “typical”. Things like select a name and have people address me by it with matching pronouns, waiting so long to have more electrolysis
done and go to the Ingersoll Gender Center
group meetings more often.
Based on all that, and my appearing in her office looking for a second opinion, she said that my transition is definitely unconventional. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just different.
For those of you following along at home, that means that I’m probably not the best role model for a typical gender transition. 😉
I explained to her that I’ve been very focused up to this point on the harder work of self-discovery and understanding instead of the mechanics of transition, and related my seed to tree vs. seed to ecosystem point from my last post, Becoming
. She really liked that analogy and it seemed to totally reframe our conversation for her, as she turned from seeming almost wary to more friendly and encouraged me to come back and see her if I needed any help around the existential issues of identity.
I had two takeaways after meeting with her, one direct and the other indirect.
The direct takeaway is that my non-pergender
experience and desires towards transition are very likely intrinsic instead of driven by displacement or paraphilia. That aligns with other feedback I’ve received and makes the path forward that much clearer for me.
The indirect takeaway is that gender counselors on the whole seem to have a blind spot around emotional issues that are not directly related to gender issues and that this is a potential area in which they are not appropriately serving the community.
By my count, I’ve seen five gender therapists and none of them pointed me towards the areas that I needed to address outside of my non-pergenderism. Maybe I’ve had really back luck in selecting gender counselors, but I’ve had about 50% of a greater number of general counselors I’ve worked with direct me into examining areas that I needed work in.
In fact, I’ve gained more ground in my own understanding of my non-pergenderism with my current general counselor than with the specialists I’ve seen, simply because other issues had been blocking me from effectively approaching the non-pergender issues in my life.
I’ve never had a gender counselor tell me I should see someone else for the other issues in my life.
I now believe that gender counselors systematically overweight non-pergender and underweight non-gender-related influences in the mental health complexions of those in their care. Furthermore, I believe we will have better outcomes and transitions if we use gender counselors only for helping us address the mechanics and issues arising solely from transition.
To expect them to help us with depression, anxiety, or the myriad other potential emotional ills is expecting too much.
Gender counselors are specialists deeply trained in their areas of practice and they are naturally going to incompletely or ill-address issues outside of their specialty. Expecting a gender counselor to help you with social anxiety is like expecting a brain surgeon to do a liver transplant. Sure, they could do it, but would you want them to?
My own advice, (and you certainly shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet after all!) is that if you have more going on in your life beyond gender stuff and the capacity to do so, see a general and a gender therapist. If you can only afford one, go with a general one and use local support groups and/or online support networks to help you with the nuts and bolts of the gender stuff unless you want specific gender guidance from a professional.
What do you think? What has been your experience? What would you recommend?