Tyler N. Tolson
Afraid to ask?: Having a transgender therapist
It has been a while since posting on the blog — Hello again, everyone! Despite my best intentions, my online presence has been inactive during the pandemic, because on one hand I was exhausted and overwhelmed, and on the other I was unsure of how to make this post.
I have debated coming out online as transgender for a few reasons.
1) Operating in a Central-Eastern European country is not comparable to other places, and the Czech Republic has a lot of work to do around transgender rights and acceptance. Most people I have met in this country have never met a transgender person, and this kind of post could be informative and helpful.
2) I know I don't "owe" an explanation. I am who I am, nothing important that pertains to my clients is changing, so making a post like this could seem unnecessary.
3) Session time is for clients, not for me. If someone wanted to ask questions, I would not feel comfortable discussing these things at length on their dime.
4) I care a lot about effective communication, and it can seem like avoidance on my end to not disclose anything about these permanent physical changes despite my concerns in #3.
5) It may be a good opportunity to share my experience that others can relate to as well as answer some preemptive questions so that I can spare people the discomfort of asking for themselves.
Outcome: I settled on wanting to foster understanding. I want to share this especially with those who have never known someone who is transgender, but I think it could benefit anyone.
What has not been recognized publicly that I already knew about myself for years now was that I was transgender in a way I described as non-binary without exploring the term much further (nonbinary: a gender identity that is neither male or female). I kept this private for reasons that I imagined were practical and fair: I didn’t want to alienate myself from others, I didn’t want to ask for special treatment, I didn’t want to have to explain myself. I believed I had accepted myself and that was enough. I don’t think that this is an unhealthy way of functioning at all if it is authentic, however I was not being authentic with myself. I avoided it because I knew all too well what it would mean for me to acknowledge that I was a guy and wanted to physically be closer to that of a male. It would change a lot around me, it would make people uncomfortable, it would be a risk. I could lose my family and friends, possibly clients or potential clients. There would be a lot of questions, there would be attention I did not want.
I began to realize that this time alone during the pandemic had made me more uncomfortable in my denial, my closeted safety. My feelings were unable to be tailored to be a diplomatic offering that suited everyone. I realized I had actually been hurting. This made me realize “closeted” is a term apart from being simply hiding who you are, but also that if you refuse to see the closet as a prison rather than a safety net then you make a home for yourself in a space that has no room for the real you. How could I encourage my clients to live authentically and choose their own growth and personal happiness when I clearly wasn’t?
I decided to take matters into my own hands, and earlier this year I began steps to medically transition. I am happier and much more in touch with how I feel more than I imagined possible. Nothing could replace the relief I’ve experienced, and I want to cover some bases that I anticipate some clients or potential clients would want to know.
Will this affect my therapy?
If you’ve grown to know me, you will notice I am the same person with the same knowledge, views, and understandings of the world as I did before. I am changing the outside of me to reflect the inside of me, and it will likely improve your experience because I will feel more in touch with myself. This is not a political statement or decision— It is who I am. Being transgender doesn’t make me more or less sensitive, resilient, brave, or capable. I wouldn’t (and can’t) influence clients to be anyone they aren’t already, and I do not believe in forcing my views onto anyone (nor do is it ethical). This time and space is for you, and I value everyone’s experiences and beliefs for what they are.
I don’t feel as safe around men / I feel less comfortable with men/masculinity.
This is an understandable problem, and since I work with trauma, I have no intention of undermining that. I cannot control how you receive me and I value however you need to establish what feels safest to you. However, I can offer the opportunity for you to challenge your predetermined beliefs by witnessing that I uphold doing whatever I can to do no harm, to practice with integrity and respect. Not all masculinity is toxic, and being a man does not deprive me of compassion.
I am uncomfortable with having a transgender counselor.
This is a tough one to address, but I can say this: Transgender people are not much different from anyone else, and we don’t all share the same values and beliefs. My experiences are slightly different than cisgender (the gender that aligns with assigned sex) experiences with what I’ve had to go through and how I’ve been treated. It may give some comfort for some trans clients to know that I have a kind of lived experience that is closer to theirs. However, I believed I was cis for a lot of my life, and my experience as a woman is not suddenly gone. Other trans people may have nothing in common with my experience, and that is fully understandable and normal too.
Do I need to do anything differently as a client? What if I make a mistake?
Everyone makes mistakes. I will not be angry or hurt by in-good-faith mistakes. Our session time is for you. In short, there’s nothing you are supposed to do for me apart from be yourself. I expect the same amount of respect you would give to any other therapist. My job isn’t to coach you into interacting or expressing yourself perfectly— It’s to eliminate pressure and help you heal and reach your goals.
What if I would like to know more about trans experience in general?
I recommend the following as potential sources to begin your journey:
You and Your Gender Identity (workbook) - Dana Hoffman-Fox LPC
Trans Bodies, Trans Selves - Edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth
Trans Like Me: A Journey for All of Us - C. N. Lester
This post does not represent all transgender people or therapists who are transgender. This is written for the purpose of clarity and courtesy to those who seek out or currently use my services. This post is not medical advice.