I can remember when I first came into consciousness about my gender identity and reached the realization that I might be transgender. Unlike some of my trans siblings, I didn’t feel comfort, or relief, or ecstasy – I felt enormous self-loathing and a sense that I was a failure.
Why is this?
I believe that societal attitudes about transgender people and the media messages we are bombarded with was part of the self-hatred that I felt initially.
As trans people, we are often inundated with toxic ideas about trans identity, and as a result, we often internalize much of the transphobia we encounter, whether we realize it or not.
This is why a radical practice of self-love and care can be so important for us as trans people.
Without combating the dominant narrative of shame and otherness that trans people experience, we jeopardize our mental health and stability.
It is radical, in the face of oppression, to choose to practice self-love – especially when mainstream media depicts us almost exclusively as self-hating and walking tragedies.
So why not make the choice?
To start, here are six ways we can begin to cultivate self-love and challenge toxic media messages about our community and our selves.
1. Remember: Self-Love Is a Journey, Not a Destination
As trans folks, we often feel the pressure to arrive at an end point in our transition – that after we’ve done all the expected medical or social interventions, we’ll become the people we are destined to be and love ourselves fully and completely as a result.
While our transitions are important and often life-saving, our self-esteem cannot be contingent on how far along we are in our transitions or how we decide to transition.
This thinking is often detrimental because it tells us that we cannot love ourselves now, and that self-love is something that comes from outside of us rather than within.
Self-love is not an end point or a destination that we arrive at after some kind of magical epiphany or surgical intervention. It’s not a switch that gets flipped on, a product to be assembled, or a finish line that we cross.
Instead, it’s better to think of self-love as an ongoing process, a skill that we learn or a muscle that we strengthen over time.
Like eating or breathing, I like to think of self-love as something I do each day to sustain myself.
The expectation that you will achieve some kind of ultimate state of self-love is an unfair one, and one that causes unnecessary pressure. Instead, think of it as a practice, whether it’s spiritual or secular, that you can incorporate into your daily life.
2. Put Self-Care at the Top of Your To-Do List – Not the Bottom
Sometimes we have a tendency to think of self-care as something we only do when we’ve reached a difficult place. When we reach a breaking point or are overburdened, only then do we turn to our coping strategies and begin the work of healing.
But what if, instead of waiting for a crisis, we made a regular commitment to self-care?
The burden of oppression and transphobia can be a constant, whether it comes from the media, our society, or even our own families.
In order to keep our heads above water, I think that it’s important to make self-care a top priority, regardless of where we are in our lives or how we’re feeling on a particular day.
Constant wear and tear requires consistent upkeep, right? Ideally, we don’t wait to fix a leak until we’re ten feet under water.
So what does this kind of upkeep look like?
It means regularly engaging in self-soothing and nurturing activities. This can mean a long soak in the bathtub, unwinding with a favorite book, or a solo dance party. Maybe it means you need a romantic date with you, your favorite chocolate, and Netflix.
Whatever you decide, make a habit of giving yourself some love, even (and especially!) on the days that you might not think you need it. It helps to keep a list of ways you can give yourself a little boost and to keep that list on-hand.
Love isn’t just a state of mind, you know; you’ve also got to show it.
3. Honor the Courage It Takes to Be Who You Are
Being who you are in a world that would rather you remain unheard and unseen takes incredible amounts of strength. It’s important to be reminded of your courage and to honor it.
Transgender people face the very real and imposing threats of violence, harassment, targeting, and profiling. And even in so-called safe spaces, we often face invalidation of our identities, accusations of not being “enough,” and exclusion from those spaces or groups.
When we’re bombarded by negative stereotypes and hostility from others, we can easily forget the work we do every day to keep going.
It may not always feel like it, but your bravery in the face of these struggles deserves unconditional respect and appreciation.
So take a moment to reflect on all the ways – big or small – that you have been brave. Don’t let those moments go unacknowledged or unnoticed. You might surprise yourself.
4. Seek Out and Build Community
For me, finding other trans people who understand what I’m going through has been invaluable in creating a healthier sense of self.
Community is essential in finding the validation, support, and resources that transgender folks need to thrive. We can learn so much from other trans folks in our communities.
These communities are great to find in-person, and there are many community centers with support groups that are specific to various trans identities.
However, they are not accessible for everyone. There are also excellent online communities that can be just as helpful.
Regardless of the route you take, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Part of practicing self-love is giving ourselves the support we need to live healthy, happy lives.
5. Create a Counter-Narrative
Sometimes we hear transphobic or toxic messages repeated so often that we begin to internalize that voice. Eventually, we lose the distinction between society’s voice and our own.
Negative self-talk can be extremely detrimental to our mental health, and I believe it stems from societal and cultural messages that we are given very early on.
Defying this negative talk is an important part of cultivating self-love. It starts with recognizing the negativity when we hear it, identifying the source, and creating a counter-narrative to challenge it.
For example, a major part of my struggle was the shame associated with being trans. At times, the voice in my head would criticize, telling me that I was disgusting or unlovable as a trans person.
Over time, I learned to intervene – to realize that the shame was something that I learned, not something that I truly believed myself. I had to find my own voice again — and use that voice to challenge my internalized transphobia.
I turned the one-sided argument in my head into a conversation. I created a dialogue. Instead of letting toxic attitudes and stereotypes permeate through my mind unchecked, I practiced countering those thoughts.
Unpacking negative self-talk is hard work, but it makes a huge difference.
Sometimes we can do this on our own. Other times, we need perspective from others, whether it’s a friend, a support group, or a trans-competent therapist. For myself, it was a combination of all of these things, and it was well worth the time I put in.
Negative self-talk can be a real obstacle in loving ourselves, but it’s not an insurmountable one.
6. Diversify Your Media and Amplify Trans Voices
Simply coping with toxic media messages may help cultivate self-love, but it’s also important to directly combat these messages by addressing them in society at large.
I believe that it’s important to seek out and support media that is written, produced, and/or created by people in the trans community.
This means buying our books, reading our blogs, watching our films, sharing our articles, and donating to trans organizations whenever possible.
It means boosting the signal and helping us reach as broad an audience as possible.
It also means challenging major media platforms, conferences, and panels when they fail to include trans people, especially in conversations about our community. We should never stop demanding visibility and representation.
If you’re feeling bold, using your own voice as a writer, artist, speaker, teacher, or simply as a leader in your community can also make an impact.
The best way to stand up against toxic media messages is to reshape the landscape of media itself.
For a long time, I was immersed in negative messages and transphobia from society, letting it go unchecked. I absorbed the negativity like a sponge. The result was that I spent too long disgusted with who I was instead of embracing it.
I also believed that I couldn’t love myself unless I reached a specific milestone in my transition. But after each and every milestone, I found that I wasn’t any closer to loving myself than I was before.
No doubt, trans people have very specific needs that can greatly impact our happiness and health, and our transitions can be life-saving.
However, we should never underestimate the importance of regular, consistent self-affirmation and love, no matter where we are in our transitions.
Self-love should be a part of our transition, at every single step. It’s something that we not only foster during times of crisis, but something that we practice on a regular basis.
In fact, it’s a necessity. Our community needs this kind of radical self-love to directly combat the oppression we face each and every day.
Loving yourself as a trans person is not necessarily an easy feat, but it’s a journey that’s worth taking, and a radical and empowering act.
Sam Dylan Finch a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He is queer writer, activist, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. A passionate feminist and social justice advocate, Sam explores topics such as transgender identity, mental health and illness, radical self-love, and queer feminism. In addition to his work at Everyday Feminism, he is also the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his hella queer and very awesome blog. You can learn more about him here and read his articles here. Follow him on Twitter @samdylanfinch.
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