Last week I spoke about found families and the importance of finding acceptance of all aspects of yourself to feel whole and supported. This week I am looking more deeply into stress and the increased detrimental effects on trans people through minority stress.
This year has been pretty crap for all of us, very few humans can thrive in conditions of isolation, we are a social species and so you might be wondering why I think that there is something more to consider when thinking about trans people. My theme throughout all of these blogs is to speak to you as an individual who cares, you wouldn’t be reading this blog, giving your time to an exercise unless it was important to you and since my words are all about support and hope I trust that at least some of that optimism and value I feel for you rubs off. Because you are worthy, and your time reading this blog is important because every single one of you is someone else’s ally. If you are a colleague, changing procedures to make your workplace that bit more equitable, or you’re a friend who’s getting their words right so they can be there for you when you need them. Maybe you’re a parent, wanting to evidence the love and support and value you have for your child, or a child looking to their parent and wanting to make sure that their world stays the same shape whilst adjusting it to fit a new understanding of dad. Most importantly you may be cis or you may be trans but who you are is defined by what you do and who you relate to, not something over which you have no control, an aspect of human diversity.
And that is where minority stress, and the true power of change comes in. Being trans and being denied your authenticity, being discriminated against and being abused are additional stressors. All the way back to 1954(1) psychologists have been theorising about the adverse effect if social conditions such as prejudice and stigma on our lives. Everyone needs to be part of society to thrive.
So we build those found families, we make our safe spaces strong but that is not enough. If you have ever wondered at the spirit (I know I have) that keeps people fighting for inclusion, for acceptance, for the right to thrive then it is because even small islands cannot thrive without being connected to the whole. When the information we receive about the construction of the world is incongruent with our experience in the world then we become stressed.
Students of stress, or any readers of the interwebs are likely well aware of the three survival responses to stress? Fight, flight or freeze. Which of these responses is triggered in you when you’re stressed depends on lots of factors, from your upbringing to your genetic makeup. Your response will be to some degree situation dependent too. I remember back a the start of the pandemic all I wanted to do was to get out, get away, be alone, and yet I couldn’t be. I was forced into a state where I could only deal with my stress within the four walls of my home, with the people who were there, at that moment. Being unable to run away, to flee, heightened my response, amplified the feelings, created a cascade of hormones, I lost weight, I focused intensely on my work and in the end I came out of it. I have lots of loved ones and am incredibly lucky.
But stress from constant denial, discrimination and abuse takes a toll. We will all come out of this pandemic changed but for almost every trans person there have been additional stressors. Unnecessary side effects from living in a society that still rewards abusive behaviour. A society which in too many ways condones abuse online. A society where there has not been the forward movement towards acceptance, understanding and just plain humanity that there should have been. The political change we all hoped for has not even really begun, there is a continued commercialisation of the divisive agenda, a stoking of fires of difference, of conflict and a lack of progress towards resolution and understanding. An ongoing undercurrent of conversation which is denying trans people support when they need it most.
And stress, unadulterated stress, over time not only affects one mentally leading in the final analysis to mental and emotional breakdown and the tragedy of suicide but also to serious health issues including cardiovascular disease, increased risk of strokes and yep even exacerbating cancer, through the promotion of growth and spread.
So what is my message to you, to all you allies, to you friends and loved ones, colleagues and policy makers? It’s simple
- Look out for each other, carry on carrying the candles, lighting those bonfires of inclusion, of love and support and understanding. Keep going because each moment, each connection you make does make a difference but most importantly this month don’t shy away from talking about stress.
- If you notice that someone you love, someone you work with, seems to be struggling that bit more, then reach out your hand, provide that bit of human contact, that connection which crosses our differences and recognises our essential humanity.
- Keep on supporting Chrysalis and our counselling team, those support groups and one-to-one sessions are lifesavers, life enhancing spaces for people to finally take off those mantles of covering, of shame, of confusion and denial.
- Be out and proud as an ally, be visible in your acceptance and normalisation of gender diversity. Wear your Pride. Make our necessary mask wearing into a statement of inclusion. Get them from our shop and combine two and three! After all there’s nothing wrong with a bit of sensible economy in your work is there.
- And finally – look after yourself. We have a saying within counselling that the most important person for the counsellor to look after is themselves because unless they are strong they can’t be strong for those who need them. Take your time out. Have a bath. Have a phone call (remember those? Honestly it’s worth it. Something different to a video call, close your eyes when your speaking with the person, lose yourself in their voice). Stroke the dog or take the turtle for a walk.
Check out the Stress Management Society for lots of resource and just one final tip check out the Deep Focus playlist on Spotify, it’s changed my life – headphones on and work is happening! Sometimes it is worth reading those positive emails which turn up in your inbox, thanks Trello!
References (1) Allport GW. The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley; 1954
Useful, or perhaps just interesting reading, which formed part of my research for this blog
Rogers, C 1956, On Becoming a Person
Rogers, C 1980, A Way of Being