Transgender is a hot topic these days, but how can counselling help if you feel you feel confused about your gender and have never really acknowledged or addressed it properly. Perhaps you have always felt the opposite gender inside and are seeking a full transition to the opposite gender or perhaps you have been cross-dressing in secret since you were young. In this post we discuss some aspects of gender confusion and transgender issues in counselling.
Firstly, what is meant by transgender? There is no clear universal definition of transgender but basically it can refer to anything that is outside the traditional definition of male and female. Transgender covers anything from full transition (male-to female, MTF, or female to male, FTM) to someone who, at times, feels some identity with the opposite gender, for example an occasional cross-dresser who needs to express a feminine side of his personality.
One of the aims of counselling is to enable people to access and express more of their personality and thus lead more fulfilled lives. Everyone keeps some part of themselves hidden away but for some people this can be a significant and meaningful part and keeping it hidden results in a stunted life expression.
Carl Jung’s theories incorporate the idea of the ‘contrasexual’ element that each of us has. For men there is an inner feminine, called the anima, and for women it is the animus. The anima/animus is an inherent part of our psyche and one aim of Jungian therapy is to access that part and learn how to incorporate it into everyday life. For some people this element is strongly felt and can emerge as a need to ‘be’, in some way, the opposite gender. For girls this can often be the ‘tomboy’, for boys it can be labelled as being ‘sissy’. Society is more accepting of tomboys than of sissies but in both cases parental or societal criticism can lead to an inhibition of these aspects of the personality.
Counselling for people with transgender thoughts or feelings, or confusion over their gender, is very helpful in providing a confidential and non-judgemental space to explore these issues. What does gender identity mean? How does it need to be expressed and how can this be done safely? What is the likely impact on others in one’s life – family, friends, colleagues, etc.? Who should you tell, and when? What should you do about it? For many people these issues may have remained hidden for the whole of their life and to be able to speak about it with someone is an immense relief in itself. There is no stock answer – everyone is different – and it is the work of the counselling process to understand it for one person and help that person to integrate it into their life.