Supporting Transgender People Through Community and Health

Supporting Transgender People Through Community and Health .jpg

By Coach Mel 

As many of you know Kimberly, Madeline, and I are all Nutritional Therapists. While we all work with a variety of people with different needs regarding nutrition, we each have our own specialities as well. One of my specialities is Nutritional Therapy for transgender people.

Recently, I went to a bookstore looking for a specific book I wanted in the LGBTQ section. I couldn’t find it and neither could a staff member. Turns out the section had been recently moved to the back corner but the location had not been updated in the computers. The book I wanted was a memoir and the author was writing about his experience as a transgender male. It was a great book. It didn’t necessarily need to be in the LGBTQ section; it could have also been up front showcased with other memoirs, but back in the corner is where it rested. It would be great reading and should actually be required reading for anyone. (Just Add Hormones, by Matt Kailey)

This got me thinking about other ways we compartmentalize different “groups” of people all the time and how this hinders our progression toward any sort of equality. Bookstores, movie genres, types of music... We are obsessed with putting ourselves in boxes and highlighting differences. Except that, curiously, I have never seen the genre “white movies” or “heterosexual novels,” thus furthering everyone's perception of what is “normal” and what is a sub-category.  

Related to my topic, these gender binary boxes start at birth. By this I mean that society presents us two options: male/masculine/men or female/feminine/woman. We start to assign boundaries and signifiers that define people as one or the other even before birth. “I’m having a baby!” generally yields the question, “Is it a boy or a girl?” When the baby is born it is put in a pink or blue blanket and every day thereafter it is socialized to be a part of its boy or girl box and gender role. The delineation of sex, male/female, is made at birth primarily by how a baby's genitalia visually appear. Through toys, clothing, books, and language we teach, sometimes unknowingly, gender - masculinity/femininity. Anything outside of conforming to one of the two makes a person “different.” Girls get cuddly toys, kitchen sets, and long-haired dolls whose diapers need changing. Boys get hard toys like trucks and cars and action figures with big muscles. I don’t need to write the difference the messaging this is sending; it should be clear.

In this way our society has constructed itself to confine both sexes; keeping them neatly in separate gender boxes. The difference is that, lately, women have been breaking out of their traditional gender roles, what is expected of them, and letting each other and men know it is okay to bleed into the more traditionally “masculine” roles - to possess “strong” characteristics. But because we women have also been taught to ask for help, to be vulnerable and emotional and to support one another, we are starting to embody “the best of both worlds,” if you will. Women are creating a movement for themselves. Men need to do the same. It isn’t just women who are oppressed, it is men, too, and honestly the oppression men have faced, in my opinion, is a more dangerous kind. Its roots are in intense masculinity which can manifest in aggression and suppression of emotion. Men could start a movement that allows them to bleed into the more feminine and tap into emotion just as women are moving to be strong. It would be at this point that we would have a group of people who are not threatened by one another taking over “our roles” but who can complement one another. We are far from this.

I am not saying all men need to start playing with barbies and women should be gifted the trucks. I am saying that the option for everyone to own their own gender expression should be available and okay and not received with ridicule, shame, or the phrase “girls/boys don’t play with _____”.

Here is where I see how it gets tricky; one needs strength and power (what men are taught) to access something they might not have (emotion and vulnerability). One needs emotion and vulnerability (what women are taught) to put themselves in a place where they reach for something they’ve been told they can’t have (strength and power).

The truth is - just like the age-old yin-yang principle - each of us possesses both masculine and feminine traits. The differences are in the balance of each in each person. Forcing males to express the same quantity of masculinity as the next man and females to express the same quantity of femininity as the next woman is just as preposterous as saying everyone should be a lawyer. Without diversity in this way our society would not function.   

Currently, you have to be one of the bravest people in the world to shatter the box you were born into. To be a man and not feel forced to subscribe, if you don’t want to, to the masculine roles we teach are right. To be a woman and not subscribe, if you don’t want to, to the feminine roles we teach are right.

As it is that we insist on keeping separate boxes, braver still are those who don’t feel aligned with the gender box they were put in at birth and decide to make a change and come up with their own gender identity so that they can feel right in their own skin. This braveness deserves all the support and resources it can get but unfortunately, hardly any exists. I became interested in this becoming my specialty because I realized that there are little to no resources that I have found for transgender people in regards to nutrition and how it can support their transition. There are so many ways in which nutritional therapy is imperative to a person depending on how their transition looks to them, and it is important to note that just as no two people’s nutritional needs are alike, no two transitions look the same and so the blanket nutritional recommendations I have found for people transitioning are not sound enough.

Everyone deserves to feel their best in their own skin! Here is how Nutritional Therapy can support you:

No matter what you choose to undergo during your transition you will want to optimize your digestion, support stress, and balance your blood sugar so that you can create healthy cells, immune function, and feel good in your own skin. This becomes increasingly more important if your transition involves hormone therapy and/or surgery.

If you are or plan to use hormones in your transition we can nutritionally support your endocrine system for optimal function. There are also important nutritional factors that play into preparing your body for the stress of surgery and how your body repairs itself thereafter.

Please reach out to me (Melissa) at coaches@pointgymandkitchen.com to schedule your free consultation if you want support and feel like Nutritional Therapy might be a good fit for you.

For everyone else reading this who wishes to be an ally to people: it can become confusing with all the different terms you might be hearing (maybe for the first time). A lot of people are afraid of “messing up” or offending someone with the wrong term (this has always been me!). As long as you’re trying and willing to learn, you’re doing great. Below are some of the terms used in this blog. All terms and definitions came from the Basic Rights Oregon Transgender Inclusion Workshop I attended recently. You can find more information or learn how to get involved here: basicrights.org

Terms Glossary:

Gender binary - The idea that gender is strictly an either/or option of male/masculine female/feminine rather than a continuum or a spectrum of gender identities and expressions

Gender - Refers to the sociological set of boundaries and signifiers that may define people as being feminine or masculine or androgynous. When you look at someone and decide she’s a girl based on her appearance, behavior, and presentation of self you’re judging her gender not her sex.

Gender role - describes the set of expectations that are ascribed to a certain gender in any given culture, relating to how people of that gender SHOULD behave, talk, etc.

Gender expression - A person’s outward gender presentation usually composed of hair style, voice, and body language.

Gender identity - A person’s deep-seated internal sense of who they are as a gendered being - specifically the gender with which they identify themselves.

Sex assigned at birth - The determination of a person’s sex based on the visual appearance of the genitals at birth. What someone is labeled at birth.

Thank you for taking the time to read all the way to the bottom of my thoughts on this important topic. Please do not hesitate to reach out in the comments or email with any questions that come up for you.