In Transition: Counselors, other resources offer support for transgender people, their families, friends

Photo credit: Joshua Kim

By Molly Atchison | Opinion Editor

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in a four-part series about gender transition and the issues surrounding it. For the personal safety of some of the individuals mentioned below, last names have been omitted.

For transgender people beginning their transition, the process may seem daunting. According to Gender Spectrum , not only does one go through extreme physical changes, sometimes accompanied by pain, but a transgender individual also experiences a shift in emotions and emotional responses from those close to them.

According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, there are set “Standards of Care” that transgender individuals follow to have a safe, healthy and comfortable transition. These standards of care give transgender individuals guidelines and can also help family members and friends understand the subtleties that surround transgender culture.

One of the first things on the list of standards is that a transitioning individual must go through psychological evaluation and counseling for at least six months before being cleared to continue to the hormone treatment portion of the transition. Judy Shofner, a licensed professional counselor in Waco, has worked with several individuals going through the transition process.

“The most difficult part of the transition process is the amount of fear they may experience as they come out to family and friends,” Shofner said. “One of the most common worries my patients have is whether or not they will be accepted by those close to them, the public and even the LGBT community. They struggle to face the world head on when they feel they cannot be themselves.”

From the hormone treatments that cause constant fluctuation in mood to the pressure from the outside world, the emotional stress of transitioning is a key part in the development of transgender individuals. According to a study done at the Williams Law Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, transgender individuals have a 41 percent chance of attempting suicide at some point in their lives, which makes up 4.6 percent of the total U.S. suicide attempt rate. The study reported that people who experienced rejection by family and friends, discrimination, victimization or violence are at a higher risk of a suicide attempt.

An article from the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing reported, “Family acceptance in adolescence for a child showing symptoms of gender dysphoria is associated with young adult positive health outcomes (self-esteem, social support, and general health) and is protective for negative health outcomes (depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempts).”

This research shows a correlation between social acceptance and mental health. However, according to the Williams Law institute research, most transgender individuals will experience some sort of discrimination or marginalization despite the results of these studies.

McLennan County junior Jessica, the transgender student mentioned in the first part of this series, shared her experiences on Baylor campus.

“There haven’t been many instances of feeling not accepted. I have been stared at many times … One time I was walking to East Village and as I was passing the Foster building, a few individuals saw me and yelled out ‘Gay!’ as I walked by,” Jessica said.

While that was one of the only incidents Jessica could recall, she said any incident such as this could cause a transitioning individual emotional harm — just as it could any other cisgendered individual, or one whose sexual identity and gender match their birth sex.

Not only is the process hard on the people transitioning, it can also be difficult for people around them who are trying to understand their loved one’s transition. Shreveport sophomore Sara Beth is a member of the Baylor LGBT community who is currently dating an individual who is transitioning from female to male (FTM).

“When we first met, I didn’t know he was transitioning. I wasn’t surprised by the news … I had begun to come out to friends about a year before we met … since most of the people in my life were assuming I would be dating feminine-identified people, I had to explain to my understandably curious friends when I began talking about my boyfriend,” Sara Beth said. “The most difficult part is definitely having to see the unnecessary hardships he has to go through just because he’s trying to be himself.”

There are many resources for transgender individuals, such as going to a counselor like Shofner or calling hotlines such as The Trevor Project‘s 24/7 Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) or Trevor Chat, the Trevor Project’s online messaging service, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. These are just a few ways for those going through a transition safely voice their feelings and get advice. For family members struggling to find out how to address their child’s sexual identity, is one of many websites dedicated to explaining the intricacies of gender identity.

Students at Baylor who are struggling to formulate their own gender identity or cope with a loved one’s transition process can find free, easily accessible help at the Baylor Counseling Center. The Baylor Counseling Service has 17 certified counselors, 13 of whom are licensed doctors. They are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and have walk-in appointments available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In their Diversity Vision statement, the counseling center states that “as a center we share core values that promote and celebrate diversity. An expression of these values is evident in our respect, empathy, compassion, and acceptance of all people.”

Whether a person is going through a transition, supporting a loved one or trying to understand something they do not agree with, there are many options for emotional support at Baylor, in the Waco area and beyond.