Thursday, February 28, 2013

Counseling and the Crossdresser

paula_at_doctor

Paula Gaikowski penned another guest post for Femulate and this time, it is something a little different for this blog: it is about counseling.

Crossdressing is about expressing who you are deep inside; it should be a positive and enjoyable experience.

Many girls I speak with have no interest in counseling or therapy and in fact, I am surprised to find some downright hostile to the idea. I can say that seeing a therapist has helped me immensely. Counseling for me wasn’t about crossdressing, but was about the pain and torment it was causing me. Mind you, it took therapy for me to realize this.

Finding the right person is the key. You don’t have to stay with the first therapist you meet with. Do your homework. Therapists with transgender experience are more common these days. Call and ask questions; make sure they are familiar with the transgender community and their issues. Ask a friend --- that’s how I found my therapist.

Another roadblock for me was admitting I was going to a counselor. I didn’t want to tell my wife that I was going because of transgender issues. So I told her it was for anxiety. As a side note, after seeing a therapist for four years, I have no problem talking to my wife about my transgender issues. The appointments are covered under my medical insurance for treatment of depression and anxiety.

So what happens when you go to “the shrink?” I’d like to take the mystery out of a visit to the psychologist.

My doctor has a small office in a professional building that is located on the campus of the Boston University Medical Center. There’s a comfortable chair to sit in and the room is nicely decorated.

The first day I went to see him, I just spilled forth my story; 50 years of struggle and it all came out. The doctor asked questions to clarify subjects and ideas.

As our sessions progressed, we discussed more current events, feelings, and issues in my life as they related to being transgender. Nothing was too personal, my thoughts and fears, even sex and sexuality. The atmosphere was relaxed, open, and confidential.

Over the years we have developed a rapport and we have even had discussions that offered insights, conclusions, and solutions. The sessions last 50 minutes and go quickly. I often look at the clock hoping there’s more time left. I look forward to the appointments and leave feeling positive and upbeat.

In 2009, I was emerging from the darkness of yet another crossdressing purge. But as any transgender person knows purging doesn’t work. My need for feminine expression had returned with a vengeance. I had once again accumulated a wardrobe and on this particular day I had the opportunity to do a complete makeover. A feeling of relief and satisfaction came over me as I dressed in front of the mirror. There she was, alive, she existed, that part of me so long hidden; I smiled and felt a slight joy inside.

Then I heard a rumble, the sound of a truck coming up the driveway. Fear rose from the pit of my stomach, my God, oh no, it’s the UPS delivery man!

In an absolute panic I tore off the clothes, wig, and make-up. Desperate to eliminate any evidence of my perceived transgression, I was soon in sweatpants and without makeup in two minutes flat. By then the UPS man had dropped off the package and was on his way down the driveway.

I had reacted as if I was doing something horribly wrong, like a thief in the night, or a murderer frantic to escape. Society had conditioned me to see this as a problem; something that was very wrong. When in fact, all I was doing was wearing clothes!

I sat there stunned and then felt my two proverbial enemies enter the room, Shame and Guilt, like two thugs in a gangster movie they worked me over. Shame used all of his weapons; instead of punches he threw words like pervert, weak, inadequate, sissy, sinner, less of a man, disgusting, and repulsive. When he was done, Guilt took over and instead of bruises and broken bones, there was self-loathing, depression, fear, anxiety, deceit, and low self-esteem. And so the lifelong cycle began again and it eventually would have destroyed me both mentally and physically.

I knew I had to do something; I had to take steps to solve my problem. If I did nothing, then nothing would change. I found the name of a psychologist who had experience with transgendered people. I remember the day I called very well. I went to a seldom used section of my office building. I attempted to dial several times and kept losing my nerve, (remember fear?)

Finally, I let the call go through expecting an answering machine or a receptionist to answer, but to my surprise, the doctor answered the phone. I stepped to the metaphorical edge and jumped.

“Hello. I ‘m tr-tr-tr-tr-ansgendered and want help.”

Non-judgmental and reassuring, he put me at ease and we talked. For the first time in my life I was open and honest with a person about these feelings. We made an appointment and I instantly felt better.

I had tried to solve my problem myself for 50 years. I tried reading all the books and websites, wrote countless emails to peers and posted on all the forums.

Finding an objective and informed person you can discuss, share and solve your issues with was a key ingredient in my journey. I’ve grown a lot over the last four years. I no longer see my crossdressing as a problem to be solved. I am not doing anything wrong. I’ve cast off society’s condemnation of being transgender and realized that I am a good person and that part of my personality and character involves being transgender. Attributes I see missing in many men, such as nurturing, kindness, compassion, and cooperation are parts of my personality that I believe come from my feminine side.

Last week I went to my appointment dressed in a navy blue Austin Reed skirt suit. I dressed at home and drove into the city. Getting there early, I went to the café at the medical center, enjoyed breakfast, and then freshened up in the ladies room before my appointment.

As I walked the campus, I was just another woman in the crowd. I could not have even dreamed of doing something like that four years ago. But please listen closely, I want to stress that my ability to get to this comfort level of presenting female had little to do with me buying the correct clothes, shoes, makeup or wig. But it had everything to do with my attitude. Yes girl, attitude!

The first step was recognizing that I am transgender and giving myself permission to be transgender; some call this self-acceptance. Next was standing up for myself and realizing that I have rights and that I am not doing anything wrong and don’t need anyone’s consent to crossdress, shop for women’s clothes, or present publically as a woman. The final step was liberating my feminine side to grow, to take pleasure in it, revel in it and be proud of it.

As I left the doctor’s office that day, I went to the reception area to have my parking ticket validated and I waited in the hallway for an elevator. When the door finally opened, there to greet me was a UPS delivery woman. I smiled to myself at the coincidence and irony of the event. I hesitated for a second only because the elevator seemed crowded with packages.

She smiled in a friendly manner and said “I got you covered, girl, c’mon in. Ground floor?”

“Ground floor please,” I muttered.

Perky and bubbly, she chimed back, “No problem, ground floor coming up.”

Then she surprised me, “I love your shoes --- they’re so cute.”

Then she added quickly, “I miss dressing up for work!”

I answered unconsciously, “Thank you and I know what you mean. I didn’t always get the opportunity to dress up either and I do appreciate it.”

I remember thinking to myself, “Honey you have no idea how much I appreciate it!”

We chatted a bit more about fashion and then parted ways. I made my way out onto the bustling street and over to the crosswalk to wait for the light to change.

A few minutes later, I heard a familiar rumble… it was a UPS truck I smiled as my new woman friend roared by. This time instead of fear and panic rising up from the pit of my stomach, I felt joy.

13 comments:

  1. Can I offer my two cents...
    One of the things I think you should ask your prospective therapist is how will he code it to the insurance company. There is a book that lists all the diagnostic codes that are used to bill the insurance company, as many of you know the book is the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and it gives the therapist some latitude in how he reports it to them.
    I would suggest that you see if he will bill it as 300.02 Generalized anxiety disorder instead of either 302.85 Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents or Adults or 302.3 Transvestic Fetishism.

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  2. Are you sure that is a boy in the bunny picture?

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  3. Guilt and shame were my constant companions until I hit 45 and started to actively work against them because I just couldn't stand it anymore. Kudos for the well written and right on narrative Paula!

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  4. I agree with everything that Paula has written, with one exception. I don't think you necessarily have to find a therapist with transgender experience. A good therapist will work to empower the patient, to make them more whole, and to help them accept who they are. I have had a couple of wonderful therapists who knew almost nothing about transgenderism, but they were enormous help to me in accepting myself as a crossdresser. A therapist who said he would help cure "that crossdressing thing" never had a visit from me again. Choose your therapist carefully and find one who seems to click with you; not necessarily someone who will always hold your hand but someone who will kick you in the backside occasionally, too.
    Carolyn Hyde

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    1. Carolyn -

      Choosing a therapist is a hit or miss proposition. But you give good advice.

      M

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  5. Put me on the list of Negatives when it comes to counseling! And for a very specific reason! My son, while in middle school was discontent with what they were teaching him, (it just didn't match his thinking). And as a result his only expression was to have out bursts, instead of listening to his anxiety, the deemed it necessary that he see a councilor. At one point I was asked to go (my son's wife and I were divorced at this time, I think divorce is one of the worst things that can happen to a child!)During the session with this "professional" he brought up that I was a cross dresser, and that didn't I think this was the cause of my sons anger!? My son (who is not always verbal) jumped down the counselors throat, and I quote "Don't you dare blame my day for an inept school curriculum!" No I have no use for councilors! If I can't figure it out, I have no reason to consider it an issue.

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    1. Joan -

      School councilors are hit and miss. But they are rarely the types who could run a private practice. Most private practicioners keep up with the literature, as they have no tenure - they have to earn a living from people who have serious doubts about the mental healthcare process.

      When I grew up, I had my relationship with a good councilor - but I think she was the exception and not the rule. And yet, no one who treated me (yes, I did see a real shrink at the local psychiatric hospital as well) really could help - the DSM available 50 years ago did not recognize that behavioral problems could be caused by living in a fucked up family unit. This is the case with DSM-IV today.

      My current therapist has helped a lot. But he knows how to break many rules, and still keep with the spirit of proper treatment. How many people know their craft well enough to know what rules can be broken and when they should be broken? So consider your reaction to a councilor to be that to a specific practicioner - you might be surprized what could have been done had your son met up with a good one....

      M

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    2. I can understand why, I would be angry too Joan

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  6. I've been very fortunate in my choice of therapist. Although she's not a specialist, she's been enormously supportive of my dressing-and has actively encouraged the development of my femme side. Only last week I had my second session dressed as Gwen-and my therapist was as happy to be with me-Gwen--as I was to be out. I was in crisis when I began, and I would've fallen apart if not for her help.
    I agree that one has to be careful in choosing a therapist; two of my family members had a disastrous and destructive relationship with a terrible therapist(whom I would characterize as almost sadistic)-and which ultimately had heartbreaking consequences.

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  7. Being a true transgender person the therapy was not an option but required you can't apply for sexual reassignment surgery until you meet the requirements set forth in the DSM,and get a letter sometimes from more than one therapist,the demands made to become anatomically correct are very tough to meet,like you have no idea what you are doing they think they should somehow lord over your decision making process,I have known since childhood I was a girl why they think they can know me better than myself after years of living like this is beyond me.
    As for you crossdressers I'm glad to know that they can somehow help you in your struggle to be free, it's truly a much different battle for girls like me though.

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  8. I'm very happy for Paula! She got the best of what life offers.

    Only after I got caught being a "girl" for myself (I was 14!) did I receive therapy. It was court ordered but changed nothing in me, I found it to be mere words. Therapy, for me, was (and is) a waste of time and effort, I can not change my spots!

    I self-taught myself (I also know I've made plenty of mistakes along my path!) that I do not suffer from a Mental Disorder, IMO, too bad that book even exists!

    Good for you, Paula! And kudos to you, Stana, for posting!

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  9. You be able to write in Polish?

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