From all sides, we are getting mixed messages about what we can and cannot talk about both in public and private conversations. If we don’t talk about our feelings, we are walking the dangerous line of toxic masculinity. If we talk about our feelings too much, we are in danger of being labelled as “oversensitive” and even “snowflakes”. Some people even still wrongly believe that being transgender, gender non-conforming, and/or non-binary (TGNCNB) is a mental health disorder. This is to say nothing about what keeping everything bottled up can cause, for both ourselves and those we love. It takes vulnerability, a not-so-new concept popularized by writer and psychologist Brené Brown and showcased in the transmasculine community by none other than Aydian Dowling in his talks and podcasts, to open ourselves up and talk about the things that are in our minds. Sometimes that vulnerability can feel nearly impossible. “Why would anyone want to listen to my problems?” I often ask myself. Or, more often, my own mental health decides to scream at me, “quit being a baby, you have it so much better than so many people, you’re just being dramatic”. Here are some helpful things to try and remember when that inner voice, the one that takes all the toxicity surrounding mental health and tries to drown you in it, gets loud.
Expressing your feelings doesn’t make you any less of a man
We’ve all heard it: “man up”. One of the most iconic transmasculine movies of all time even tells us in its title that we shouldn’t cry (you know the one). But men and masculine-identifying people still have just as many feelings as anyone else. Expressing these feelings is not something to be ashamed of, even if they don’t fall into what is traditionally accepted by your society as “masculine”. Crying may be more difficult on testosterone for some (I still run through packs upon packs of tissues), but that doesn’t mean their pain and sadness aren’t real. Talking about our feelings can help us to find the root of both our sorrows and our joys, and lead us to a better understanding of the people around us. Many masculine individuals use anger, an emotion that has been deemed acceptable for masculine people to display freely, to mask when they are hurt, scared, or depressed. This can often lead to passing those feelings on to others, including those we love. I am no stranger to this myself. But the more I talk about the why, the emotions underneath my short tone or tense jaw, the better I feel not only in my understanding of myself but in my masculinity. This doesn’t only count for negative emotions. Spread your happiness as well as your sorrow. Smile instead of hiding behind a smirk. We’ve all seen those early transition photos, where we think we look more masculine with a hard expression. Hell, tell your best friends you love them. Even if they tease you for it, it’s still worth it.
Vulnerability is contagious
It’s true! When someone shares something with you that is important to them, you often feel more inclined to share something with them as well. This type of chain reaction can lead not only to a better understanding of oneself and the world around us, but can lead to real and palpable change. Once someone shares an intimate detail about their lives, we often find ways in which to relate to that person from our own lived experiences. Not only this, we tend to feel more comfortable around people who shatter the illusion that everything in their lives is or has been easy. When you are vulnerable, you create an opportunity for growth and understanding about topics or situations that may only be hypothetical in the minds of others. Think about the first time you saw an openly TGNCNB person in public after starting your own gender identity journey. Their pride in their identity required an immense level of vulnerability mentally, emotionally, and even physically. They probably had no idea they were creating a potential connection with you personally. But their vulnerability made you feel something, right? As TGNCNB people, we make decisions about our vulnerability based on our identities every day. If we put the same amount of time and energy into our emotional, mental, and psychological vulnerability, imagine the strides we could make in overcoming mental health discrimination and the positive effects we could have on our communities. Vulnerability itself is selfless, not selfish. Don’t let people who are afraid of what you have to bring to the table tell you otherwise.
Stop comparing yourself to other people
This one is much easier said than done, I know. But there is always going to be someone, somewhere, who is better or worse off than you are at any given time and at any given thing. It’s okay to feel jealous or envious every once in a while, but that will not change where you are. We also only ever get limited glimpses into other people’s lives. Too often, we only see what they want us to see. Even more often, we only see the end result and never the work and struggle it took for someone to get somewhere. Especially in the case of mental health issues, challenges and obstacles aren’t always visible. Unless someone chooses to disclose their mental health status to others, most of the time no one will know, particularly if that person is on medication or working with a therapist. Sometimes, we can see how absolutely awful of a time someone is having. Remember: just because someone has it worse, doesn’t mean that what you’re going through doesn’t absolutely suck. Your validity doesn’t depend on others, all it depends on is you. Feeling sad? That’s okay. You don’t need to explain it. Feeling anxious? You don’t need to find a logical reason for it, sometimes anxiety just happens. When we stop comparing ourselves, we stop feeling like we need to justify our emotions and instead can develop a healthy relationship with them.
There is no such thing as “oversensitive”
I know you’re probably thinking of a million arguments, but hear me out. Saying someone is “oversensitive” is automatically invalidating not just their feelings, but their experiences. When someone says you are being “oversensitive”, they are really saying that they can’t understand where you are coming from in a given situation or about a given topic. Often, they are also attempting to shut down lines of communication. Though we should always continue developing an understanding of ourselves and why we react certain ways to certain situations, internalizing the label of “oversensitivity” can lead to silencing ourselves for the comfort of others. If someone says you are being “oversensitive”, think about the way the interaction between you and them played out. You may have reacted in a way they perceived as being too strong, or you may have lost your temper after confronting the same problem for what feels like the thousandth time that day. In any case, your “sensitivity” is not to blame. This doesn’t give you the right to go around correcting and demanding that everyone conform to your way of thinking, just realize that even if you aren’t being understood you are still valid in your emotions surrounding a given topic or idea. Use the concept of “oversensitivity” as a starting block for conversations surrounding difficult topics, if you feel safe in doing so.
Mental illness does not make you less of a person
Let me say that again: mental illness does not make you any less of a person. It does not make you weak. In fact, very often it means you have lived through things that other people without mental illness could never even begin to imagine. Your thoughts, dreams, aspirations, desires, and feelings aren’t any less important or valid because you have a mental health diagnosis or are struggling to find language that fits your mental health experience. There is often a lot of stigma attached to mental health diagnoses and variations, including that someone with a certain diagnosis or set of symptoms may be untrustworthy, unintelligent, unprofessional, or any number of other negatively connoted things. It’s important to remember that these are patently untrue and are generalizations made in order to attempt to understand something very complex in a very simplistic way. Those of us with mental health issues (myself included) bring into question many people’s understandings of how things “must” be done. We bring innovation and new ways of looking at the world, and often are responsible for amazing works of art, scientific discoveries, and feats of compassion. We cause the status quo to be questioned. This makes us powerful, not inferior. Having a mental health diagnosis also does not make you any less valid as a TGNCNB person. You have trauma? Me too. You have body issues? Same, bro. You have anxiety? I feel that. None of these things makes your identity less valid, no matter what some willfully ignorant people may say. You are you because it’s who you are, not because of your life experiences or mental health diagnoses or issues.
Need to keep “talking about it”? Don’t worry, Part 2 is coming next week (May 23, 2019)! Until then……if you or someone you know is in need of assistance, these places may be able to help:
(The following information provided by The National Center for Transgender Equality)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
24/7 hotline, staffed by trained individuals, for those in suicidal crisis or emotional distress
Crisis hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255); 888-628-9454 (en español)
Crisis Text Line
Free, 24/7 support for people in crisis
Text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor
The Trevor Project
Crisis intervention and mental health services for those ages 13-24
Crisis hotline: 866-488-7386 (for those ages 13-24)
National Sexual Assault Hotline
24/7 hotline, staffed by trained individuals, for those experiencing sexual assault or violence
https://www.rainn.org/ or https://www.rainn.org/es (en español)
Crisis hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
24/7 confidential crisis line for those experiencing domestic violence
Communities Against Hate
National coalition documenting hate incidents
Report an incident at: http://communitiesagainsthate.org/report
Report and get help at: 1-844-9-NO-HATE
US Hotline: 877-565-8860
Canada Hotline: 877-330-6366
SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline
Peer support and local resources for older adults
LGBT National Hotline
Peer support and local resources for all ages