It’s all too common for someone struggling with gender identity to hide themselves away and deny the truth about the turmoil inside. That was me once — keeping myself to myself, preferring to hide in my home with my misery rather than confront the world. Only after years of isolation did I allow myself to explore my feelings and to seek out kindred spirits. It was then that I found my gender support group and began, for the first time in my life, to feel like I belonged somewhere.
The group was run by a gender therapist in Ann Arbor, and by the time I attended my first meeting the group had been going on in one form or another for nearly 20 years. Some of the women there had been attending off and on for a decade or more. The group met once a month in the therapist’s office. It was a space that could be called “cozy,” though when more than a few of us showed up “cozy” could quickly become “cramped.” None of us minded.
It was an eclectic gathering. There were women older than me and women younger than me; there were women just starting their hormone treatments and women who had been on hormones for ten years; there were women who were pre-op, women who were post-op, and even one who was non-op. One was a pharmacist; one was a government employee; one was an undertaker; one was a nurse. And there was me, the newbie, just barely out of crossdressing and still presenting as male. I felt a little out-of-place, but was quickly and warmly welcomed regardless.
I left my first group meeting feeling something I hadn’t felt in years: a sense that I wasn’t alone in the world. For better or worse, this was a place where I belonged.
Unfortunately, finding the group was almost too little, too late for me. By the time I found them I was already severely depressed, and a couple of weeks after that first meeting I attempted suicide. But even as I recovered, the group stood out in my mind as the one place in the last few months of turmoil that I hadn’t felt like a confused gender freak. Remembering how I felt among those women helped me set aside my depression and gave me something to look forward to. The thought of returning to the group literally helped save my life.
As the months passed, the group meeting became my favorite day of the month. I rearranged work, therapy, and family commitments to free up Tuesday nights. Some months I would talk a lot and hear a lot of feedback; other months I would mostly listen to others and lend advice whenever I had it to give. But always, I was there to support them as they were there to support me, be it with a bit of guidance, a shared story, or just a sympathetic ear.
I am in a very different place today because of the group. The comfort of that space allowed me to feel better, feel bolder. My first public outings presenting female came because I was encouraged by the group, and from that day forward I never attended any other way. It was also one of the only places where I was addressed by my real name. Group was a place where I could be myself.
Sadly, just recently our incredible group leader was forced to discontinue the group therapy sessions for health reasons. It has been a harsh blow to my heart, but it is not entirely bad. The women I met in that group are still a part of my life. Some of them have become acquaintances; still others, friends. We have promised to stay in touch with one another, and I have no doubt that we will keep that promise. We all know the truth: we cannot do this alone.
It is so easy to do nothing, to hide away, to suffer by yourself. But trust me: find a support group. Reach out to your local trans community, or a local LGBT center, or even the general-purpose support groups in your area. But please, reach out. If you don’t find anyone the first place you look, then look somewhere else. If you’re desperate, you can even e-mail me — I’ll be glad to listen, glad to support. Because there’s not a man or woman out there who deserves to do this alone.