Sunday, October 16, 2011

Being Transgendered, the Internet, and You

Hi, I’m bringing the blog back to life today, with some words for those “just starting out” people under the transgender umbrella. Again, if this doesn’t apply to you, feel free to get together over in the corner and see how many digits of pi you can all calculate with each other by the time I’m finished.

Now, if my guess is right, you’re looking around on the internet for information and things about how you’re feeling. Maybe you’re unsure, and these feelings are new to you. Or perhaps you’ve felt like your gender is wrong for years and years. It doesn’t matter; I’ll bet you’re nervous, fearful, uncertain, or maybe all or none of the above. Only you know for sure how you feel. And if you’re not sure how you feel, it’s awfully hard to tell other people how you feel. Keep that in mind.

So what are you going to find on the internet? Hopefully, this! But other than my own, highly opinionated through my own experience, writings, you’re going to find a lot. You’ll find everything you need to know about how to do whatever you’re interested in. Do you like to crossdress? You’ll find all the best ideas on how to achieve whatever look fits however you feel at the moment, regardless of gender. Or maybe you feel that there’s no other way out than to fix what is wrong with your body through surgery. Simple enough. I’ve written a blog about that myself, with how I made it through all of that. And there are plenty more things to read about it, from any perspective you can think of. Perhaps you know you fit somewhere under that big umbrella “transgender,” but you just don’t know where yet. That’s OK, too. Everyone that’s been where you are has felt like this, hard as it is to believe. I had trouble with that myself, too. It turns out that while everyone doesn’t feel exactly the same (no one ever can feel the same as you), there are an awful lot of similarities. That just can’t be coincidental, can it?

Which brings me to support. The internet is going to give you everything you need on the whats and hows and wheres of what you want: fashion, customs, rules, surgeons, shopping, you name it, it’s there. But we all need more than that. Well, there are support websites, too. And this is where you must begin to get wary.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been following support websites, to see what they have to offer. I myself never availed myself of a support website during my own transition; we’ll get to why in a bit. I started by looking at one, and that’s remained my primary focus, but after seeing what goes on at the one, I decided I should look at some more, too. What I have found, in my opinion, is appalling.

Support, at least how I see it, is to help you reach your own decisions about what is right for you. Now before I get into what I find so ugly about them, let me be clear: that support can be found. However, it is not easy, for the reasons I am about to describe.

On the whole, support websites are populated by people looking to find help. You will find no lack of it. What you’re going to hear, though, is a lot of people telling you to do what is right for them. There will be plenty of making themselves sound right, as well. They will cite their training, who they know, how much they know, and they’ll let you know that you can be part of the crowd, too! Just do what we do, and you too can be part of the happy family!

It sounds terrific, doesn’t it? Until you think about it. What family? These are people, the vast majority of whom know nothing about you, other than what you’ve told them, and they think they know you well enough to call you family? Let’s face it, you’re words on a screen to them. They don’t know you, your situation, your fears, your family, your life. But they’ll tell you they know what’s best. You will find people that have become so enamored with this online family that, only three days after a major surgery, while still under a doctor’s care, that they are asking the people on a website if a symptom is normal. Never mind that most of the people on a support website have not had the surgical procedure they are asking about, and most never will. Never mind that they are in a hospital, where a nurse is as near as the push of a button. Never mind that they have the surgeon that performed the procedure checking them daily, if not more often. They are asking the website. And the website has answers! Not “ask your doctor,” either. They “know!” How?? They can’t. But they know what they want to be correct, and that’s what they will tell you. Is it actually right? How can you know?

Think about it. Which would you rather have? Would you like to be helped to reach your decision, based on what you know, and how you feel, and what you’re able to learn about yourself, and make what you dream a reality, and know that you did it? Or would you like a bunch of people to tell you what to do? You’ll find the latter in great supply on the internet. You’re reading someone’s advice right now. There’s more to advice than how it’s taken, though, it also matters in how it’s given. I’m not giving you this advice to make up for my own insecurities, which is what I believe you find on most of these websites. I’ve done plenty of work on myself, with the help of therapists, real live support groups, and myself. Yes, your own self has to be willing to do the heavy lifting here. And I will never, ever be “done,” whatever that means. I am still to this day figuring out myself, and what’s the best thing for me. No, why I’m writing this is that I hope that it will give you something to think about, and that you, the reader, finds some truth in it. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t; I do hope you do. I don’t know you, in all likelihood. I would just like you to perhaps see the beginning of a way to get to where you need to go.

The internet, as I’ve said, is a great resource for what and how and where. For things, and for people. Please, don’t get me wrong. There is good support to be found on the internet. You can make friends through the internet. But you make friends with in the same way you make any other friend. You get to know each other, there is give and take, you learn to trust each other. You know how it works. Is that going to happen easily, though, on a website where hundreds of messages are posted daily? Read what you’re seeing with a critical eye; think about why a person is telling you what they are saying, if you don’t know them at all? You’ll have to find the support, it won’t just come to you.

The internet can answer a lot of questions. But there’s one that it never will be able to answer. Why. Because it can’t. Why do you feel how you feel? I don’t know. I wish I could tell you, but only you can answer that. Don’t let anyone else try to tell you how you feel, either. Your feelings are your feelings. They are not anyone else’s. They are important to you; they are a big part of you! They help make you who you are. Let’s get one big question out there; if you’ve read this far, something I’ve said has made an impression. Who is the best person to decide what is right for you? You are.

Work with the people around you. I know, I really do know, how hard it is to say anything to anyone. If you’ve gotten to where you’re reading this post, you probably have to talk to someone. Those people are there for you. You have your friends, your family, and the people you work with. There is someone out there who you trust more than anyone else. They are there for you. And there are the people you don’t even know yet. Do you have a therapist? Do you need one? What about other people like you? They must be out there; you’ve seen them on TV, on the internet, you’ve read about them. They’re there. If you don’t know where to turn, check the phone listings for “First Call for Help,” or something similar, for your state. I know my own state, Minnesota, has several such numbers to call, and so do the surrounding ones. You don’t even have to tell them your name. You can block your caller ID, too, if it makes you more comfortable. But they know where the therapists are, they know about support groups, they have resources at their disposal that you don’t even know about. They are there for you.

So, what am I saying with all of this? Well, in my opinion, the best support you can find is with real people. You’ll make new friends, always a good thing, you’ll find people with things in common, and you’ll begin to learn new things about yourself. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll see where you’re headed. I think, if you do work with good, real people, and not with strangers on the internet, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ll find your way.

But only you know what’s best for you.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot agree more with the benefit of real world support and real world people. There you see who they really are instead of the image of what they convey and you project into them.

    Online support is a wild west of sorts. It is the refuge of of those who have failed socially in the real world and turn to the internet world where their small victories, small achievements can be bragged about and portrayed to the newcommens as something great. These people will advise to do things their way despite them having lost much of their family and friends. In this way these people find their self importance.

    Online trans support is also the refuge of people with major psychological issues. Borderline personality is rampant. Others with serious mental illnesses and even multiple personalities are not uncommon. You will likely never know who they are because they will rarely advertise these conditions.

    Some people will present entirely fake identities and aren't even trans. This is a vicarious alternate identity.

    Even without all of the above, those who are real, who aren't mentally ill or suffering from some major personality disorder will be early in the journey themselves. They won't be the people who have really been successful, been there and done that who can give good advice.

    So I am in total agreement, find real world support with real people.