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November 21, 2014

An Open Letter to a Transgendered Youth.

Tomislav Zebic/Pixoto

Dear Me,

I know you’re having a rough time.

It’s not easy being trans at a time when few believe trans people exist.

I know of your sadness in being told not to get too close to the other boys, your shame in the incessant reminders to act more like a girl.

I remember your pain in the other boys growing taller around you, dwarfing your five foot frame, when they sprouted muscles and stopped giving you the time of day.

I know as a trans person you think you should bury your feelings, stay quiet and try not to bother anyone with your unnatural thoughts.

With no glaring injustices, or substantial abuse, this is a confusing kind of pain.

As the school administration frowns upon bullying, the ghost of discrimination haunts you elusively. You bear no battle scars as visible proof. Yet, I recall bigotry’s sharp scrape against your insides, its cold-cocking heartbeat, its strangled sips of shallow breath.

A few stories arose worth retelling—those kids who yelled “faggot,” or those football players who tried to run you over as you crossed the street. But it didn’t seem to matter much. Mostly, life at school hummed along quietly, all too mundane.

When you heard “no homo” for the thousandth time, what was there to say?

Yet those scenes stacked up steadily, and you were left with shaky ground upon which to stand.

There was that sideways gaze as you held a girl’s hand—no big deal, just push it down. Another whisper, another stare. No big deal, all over again.

Until a creeping suspicion whispered in your ear,

“This is all happening because of who I am.”

It may be no big deal, but your confidence learned to tremble, shaking your basic sense of safety in the world.

I want to call out these confusing phenomena to you, once and for all, as microaggressions. Microaggressions enact commonplace indignities, targeting any member of a marginalized group. Often they are so subtle the perpetrator remains unaware.

That classmate chuckling at a transgendered person on TV? Microaggression.

Your best friend offering you $10 to come to school dressed like a girl? Microaggression.

Misusing pronouns; family forgetting to say the right name; dodging the locker room; friends asking, “have you always been like that?” Microaggressions.

The list rattles on infinitely. These jarring moments are easy enough to shrug off in the moment, to bury somewhere deep down. But the cumulative effect of attending school in this environment is humiliating and all too real.

Your school did not condone violence or open hostility, this is true. Most schools never do.

But over 90 percent of LGBT students hear homophobic slurs like faggot, dyke and queer at school.[1] 45 percent of LGBT students have considered suicide, compared with 8 percent of their straight, cisgendered peers.[2] Gender non-conformity correlates with poor relationships with parents, peer rejection and harassment. It elevates the risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidality.[3]

Chronically truant and too afraid to come to school, many of your gender non-conforming peers suffer from drop-outs, failures and a marred sense of their own self-worth.

You got out, but it could have been better. More could have been done. Your teachers could have considered the complexities of privilege and oppression, or their own experiences of gender. Your kindergarten teacher could have asked the class,

“Why is it that Prince Charming easily takes care of himself and others, but Cinderella seems to need so much help?”  Or, “How come all of Cinderella’s sisters have long hair and want to marry a man?”

Although as a teacher now myself, I know sometimes there’s just enough time in the lesson plan for zero bleeding head wounds and everyone sitting in chairs.

I wish my teachers had accessed books like “Supporting Transgender and Transexual Students in K-12 Schools,” with its research-based strategies, anecdotes and authors who are trans.

But reading takes time, dedication and patience with the slow rate of change. You need an immediate strategy, when walking to school in the morning feels like tunneling through mineshafts of worthlessness and shame.

Do not give up.

There is hope in mindfulness and meditation.

Sitting meditation has been found to increase one’s resilience, helping to overcome the factors that pose risk for post-traumatic stress.

And, you can do it just by counting your breath.

Mindfulness, based in awareness and attention, functions as an antidote to PTSD, which manifests as avoiding and denying unpleasant thoughts. Running away from your feelings will only heighten the intensity of the pain, and meditating teaches how to lean into difficult emotions rather than away.

It will disarm the control your feelings have over you, and give them space to resolve on their own.

You can practice meditation by focusing on your body and emotions right now, right here.

As you will quickly discover, your thoughts and feelings are always changing. What seems unbearable in the moment will inevitably pass.

Meditation comes with a mind frame of acceptance and non-judgment. Researchers call it “the regulation of attention and a curious, accepting orientation towards experience.”[4]

This acceptance comes in three steps: observing your mind, letting go of the desire for change and separating the empirical present from your internal, invisible thoughts. If you practice, your feelings and trauma responses will become more workable, less overwhelming, and ultimately easier to bear.

At the heart of regenerative trauma lies the effort to control one’s experience.

Letting go of the desire to control is the most important step.

As you meditate, experiencing internal and external events without judgment, your feelings and thoughts will become more flexible and resilient. Once you can see your emotional response when you are hurt, you can turn towards it as a passing phase and feel it more fully until it fades. If you practice persistently, this attitude will ward off the chronic avoidance that exacerbates symptoms and impairs your brain.

Meditation will not remove the suffering from your life.

High school will always be the pits. It will not take you to a place where there is no more suffering; nor should it. It will, however, provide you with a way to stop and face your difficulties instead of running away.

It will offer a tactic for facing the pain of being different, and you can sit down and use it wherever you are. If you stick with it, meditation will replace the relentless inner chaos with knowing this: it’s okay to be who you are.

You do not need complicated techniques. Change will happen naturally if you learn to pay attention.

Meditation teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck writes,

“On the razor edge of our experience in this present moment is the only place where we can find peace.”

The present may feel painful, overwhelming or numb, but ultimately, reality is the securest place to be. Stay here for a change.

Safe is not always so far away.

Love,

Me

 

References:

[1] Robinson, J., & Espelage, D. (October 01, 2011). Inequities in Educational and Psychological Outcomes Between LGBTQ and Straight Students in Middle and High School. Educational Researcher, 40, 7, 315-330.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Thompson, R., Arnkoff, D., & Glass, C. (January 01, 2011). Conceptualizing Mindfulness and Acceptance as Components of Psychological Resilience to Trauma. Trauma, Violence & Abuse: a Review Journal, 12, 4, 220-235.

 

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Author: Jey Ehrenhalt

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Tomislav Zebic/Pixoto

 

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Jey Ehrenhalt