Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Thought Piece

This is a kind of long essay from my friend Sharon.  It's well-written and worth reading.  She asks some interesting questions which I think will encourage different responses, depending on where you are in the t-spectrum.  It's on a subject close to Sharon, and I think instrumental to who she is ~ fitting to insert into the middle of my "who I am" series.

Transgender Support Groups: A History
By Sharon Rose

Once upon a time, there was a support group in the suburbs outside our nation’s capitol.  It   The group met in hotel rooms at first, and later moved to a church.  It advertised in a newspaper.  But it had rules to protect the identities of its members, and so it carefully screened new members with an interview before revealing the secret meeting location.  It was the early 1980s, and many of the members worked at the Pentagon, in the defense industry, or in various branches of the U.S. Government.  The meeting place was a safe place for those who were just beginning to discover their transgender identity and also for those who did not want to go to more public spaces.
The author, Sharon Rose
was a place for transgender people to socialize in private, to learn about themselves and others, and to discover that they were not alone.

            For over 30 years it continued to function. It held monthly meetings.  It put out a newsletter.  The group brought in guest speakers to help with various aspects of maintaining an alternate gender presentation (clothing, wigs, makeup, nail care, etc.), or members presented programs of their own. Each December they had a holiday gala at a local hotel with dinner and live entertainment. And a few members performed outreach, speaking with students at local universities or with religious institutions about what it means to be transgender. A small cadre of members performed key tasks and served on the board of directors.

            Members of the group traveled far and wide to attend meetings. Close friendships were formed.  But times began to change.  The growth of the Internet and the rise of social media meant that much information was now readily available by computer.  And Trans people could make connections online, and knew there were others out there like them.  And society was changing too.  The rising social acceptance of gays and lesbians gave transgender people hope that they too could be accepted.  More and more transgender people were going out in public.  Those who were comfortable doing so no longer needed to meet in private.  The group shrank in size as members left the group to join other groups or go out in public on their own.

            Other groups have been formed on and other social networking sites, and Trans people are connected on Facebook and other platforms as never before. They hold events in bars and restaurants, and those who are comfortable go anywhere they want to.  The possibilities to socialize are limitless.
            The questions I have are twofold. First, are traditional support groups a thing of the past?  Do Trans people need a structured organization with a one-size-fits all approach to provide information and provide a safe space for those starting on their Trans journey?  Or can they find most of the information they need online, and simply contact one of the newer social groups when they are ready to go out in public?  I suspect there may be some people who need help getting from point A to point B.  What are your thoughts?

            Second, what about providing outreach?  There is still much that Trans people can do to educate the general public. Do we still need it, and how can we do it?

            Like any small group, a Trans organization can only prosper if a core group of people are willing to work to get things done, and if others come forward to replace them when they leave or need a break.  But I believe that those of us who have come before need to pay it forward and help those who are just beginning to explore their trans identity.

            Ultimately, the organization is just a framework.  We can all connect on an individual level to help someone else, no matter how the group is organized.

            Dear readers, I want to thank Meg once again for allowing me to write a guest post on her blog.  I invite you to share your experiences with support groups in the comments section below.


  1. Sharon Rose,
    You make several excellent points. If ever there were a group of people who understand that "one size fits all" is a concept that will not apply across the spectrum it is us who occupy various corners of the gender community.
    Over the past twenty five years I have only been able to attend about 5-6 support group meetings. I have never had the time or the ability to be a regular participant BUT it was comforting and affirming to know that there was available support for people situated at various points on the gender spectrum. The groups are good and I admire and thank those who participate and hold them together.

    You are correct that in today's world it is easier for T folks. There are civilian places we can go and the presence of a T person out and about does not result in the community picking up their torches and pitchforks.

    You mentioned the 'Trans journey'. Some are always evolving their own understanding of their inate trans feelings. Others have reached a comfort spot for themselves whether it be transition or occasional cross dressing or anywhere inbetween. Currently we seem to be seeing strides being taken by society on its "Trans journey" as more and more people become aware of the T world. It is a slow process and one that tends to move both on the individual level, where it really matters and on the societal level.

    I hope that support groups survive. They do good work and are populated by good folks.

    My two cents.

  2. To answer the question,

    "When do we need support groups?",

    we first must ask:

    "Are we generally accepted by the public?"
    "Are there issues that can't be resolved by individuals acting on their own?"
    "Are people gaining anything by associating with a group?" (Do they learn useful things? Do they vent problems? Do they bond with others in a community?)

    In the case of being TG, we are not universally accepted by the public, there are goals which require group action to be achieved, and TG people gain from groups by learning skills they wouldn't have learned alone.

    So, yes, TG Groups are still needed. Just not as much as they used to be, because of recent successes.


  3. Pat and Marian,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments.


  4. I have been searching for some of the same questions myself. 1st There is no longer a need to buy at specialty shops for your clothes. We are welcome everywhere much more. The internet had change so much we must address it as a driving force. Everything is there and c/d t/g are able to discover many things. My disagreement with that is it’s missing the key ingredient. There is limited compassion and caring. A hurting c/d or t/g can’t find people they can talk to and understand the depression, anger, and pain they feel. I’ve found it’s only by a one to one of compassion, talking, crying, hugging that you’re able truly change bad lifestyles. I truly feel that a one-size fit all is a failure. I’ve spent many hours with a girl hugging and crying, so I can show a pathway to acceptance! Outreach must contain a way for new girls to talk, sign in, ask for help. A Web based chat line or way communicate works well. Facebook could be used with the understanding that each question could be answered via the private messenger. I offer this because my drive, or compassion, is toward those that can’t live on… I wish to stop them from suicide. Getting girls to COME OUT, and join others, is important, but all of us question “what am I doing” and those girl need assurance that it’s ok!

  5. (Gurr it ate my post - trying again) - My other half was active in the group in the 90's but since moving back we are much more likely to go to a board game meetup or an elder care support group as that is just where our life is at now.

  6. It is important for everybody to have a support structure, for those of us not occupying either end of the gender spectrum that has to mean a specific Trans group. While the structure may be social, sporting, or religious it is the shared experience, and sympathetic (literally) attitude that these groups can provide, and through the the relationships that are built that can be vital to us finding self acceptance.

    Personally it was through attending such a support group that I found the self confidence to truly star to explore my own gender identity. I am not at all sure that if I had been restricted to my own experience and what I could find on line that I would have got where I am today. Indeed I am no even sure that I would still be around today!


My day is brighter when I hear from my friends!