16. A brain of many parts.
A question I’ve been asked more than once since having transitioned earlier on this year is whether or not the process has given me any relief from my mental health issues – whether the transition has enabled me to feel freer, more open with my life in a way that’s allowed my depression and anxiety to be ameliorated even in part. This is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer, but I think in tonight’s reflection I might well try. Difficult though the question is to answer, it’s an entirely fair one: the fact that even under the law, QUILTBAG people in our society still don’t enjoy the kinds of freedom afforded to the privileged, the cishet upper-class male white Anglo-Saxon Christian (the recent and puke-inducingly-named Budgie Nine being classic examples), factors heavily into the appalling statistics for the state of their mental health. The stigma from society, both real and perceived, contributes to the oppression of QUILTBAG people and the deterioration of their psychological well-being. (Most of the stats I’m about to cite come from this link, in case you’re wondering.) In Australia, the rates of depression and anxiety in straight people are about one in seventeen and one in seven, respectively. In lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, these rates increase approximately to one in five for depression, and one in three for anxiety. Thirty-six percent of trans Australians currently suffer from depression. One in eight lesbian, gay or bi people have attempted suicide in their lives. Australian statistics on transgender suicidality aren’t available, but comparable surveys in the US indicate that two in five trans people have attempted suicide at least once in their life. Two in five. Sobering indeed; if the same rate applies to transgender Australians, it comprises a 14-fold increase in risk on a background rate of around 3%. All this is largely the result of stigmatisation that’s present everywhere and still seeps even from much of society that thinks itself progressive; for this reason, it does make sense that friends and others would ask whether being out of the closet – being able to be open and actively performative about my gender, rather than keeping it firmly under wraps and detesting myself anew every time the shame touched me – would assist my mental health. And there are certainly ways in which it has done so. I’m more likely to be frank and honest with people now than I was before; it’s something I still am learning how to do effectively, but I’d like to think I’ve gained certain aspects of confidence that I lacked previously. I’m less likely to tolerate people’s bullshit, more likely to call them out on it. (I’m just waiting for the day someone calls me a transphobic slur overtly and to my face. To hark back to that Pixar film Inside Out for a moment, the little fire-headed Lewis Black inside my mind has a seriously fucking itchy trigger finger and is just waiting to go verbally R. Lee Ermey on some arrogant bigot, with all the energy pent up from having to tolerate reading articles about institutional anti-QUILTBAG perspectives while not being able to reach into the Internet and smack Cory Bernardi and Miranda Devine and Lyle Shelton and Tony Abbott right upside their stupid fat heads.) And on a more genteel side but also related to that previous point, my ability to express my feelings to those closest to me has also improved beyond what I’d expected. I’ve always craved physical contact, and consider it one of the most direct and unmistakable signs of genuine affection of all sorts, but for decades I’ve felt immensely awkward about initiating it and paranoid about overstepping the bounds of social convention, most especially the social conventions that limit those who identify as male. Not so much any more, and that brings me a more reliable sensation of closeness to those I care about. Verbally, too, I’m less worried about being effusive with praise or compliment or affection. Telling someone how much I care, or that I love them, is easier now after opening myself up, and that’s been inexpressibly wonderful. And I think that’s a nice note on which to leave tonight’s reflection, so I’ll save the rest of that thought for tomorrow; there are a couple of tangents (hopefully interesting also to the rest of you) that I’d like to explore while I continue to talk about the relationship between my transition and my mental illness.