A reader writes: “I grew up in a small town where people don’t even want to admit that anyone can be GLB much less T or Q. This is not the best place to be at all different. Most of the community is country, redneck, rigidly religious, and not open to understanding anything outside of their own personal norms.
“I have just recently come out as trans to my friends and family. They weren’t hateful, acted as though they would be supportive, but they really don’t understand. I don’t expect them to just suddenly understand it, but every time I direct them towards literature or websites, they seem uninterested. One of my biggest problems is that when I apply for jobs around here, I absolutely cannot use my preferred name. For one it’s not legal yet, and for two I’m positive that if I tell anyone I want to work for that I’m trans, I will not be hired.
“Right now all I want is therapy. I have to say though, I’m terrified of trying to find some around here. I’m almost certain that in this community, I’m going to only find therapists who at best are going to try to “cure” me. I would give almost anything just to have one trans friend nearby who I could talk to. I would also love to go to a GLBT support group, but the ones I find online are hours away. I can’t seem to get a job, so I don’t have money to even pay for therapy if I could find a good therapist, much less drive hours and hours to visit a support group.
“I just feel so cut off and lost sometimes. Almost all of my best gay friends from my hometown have moved on. I’m not up for moving. As frustrating as it can be, this is my home. I love my small little town. I just wish that there was something I could do to help others like me have an easier time finding help, support, love, and acceptance, but I don’t even know where to start. Do you have any suggestions?”
Before the advent of the Internet, there were so many more people in situations like yours, and they had no way to connect or get information at all. The Internet has been a wonderful boon for trans people. Nevertheless, online interactions are no substitute for face-to-face friendships, and there are still people who are isolated and alone, in spite of technology.
I had to edit your letter for space, but as you said in your original letter, you are probably not the only trans person in your town – it’s just that others, like you, are afraid to come out. Your question at the end is how you can help others like yourself, but I’m going to make some suggestions for you as well. They might be feasible and they might not, so take what you need and leave the rest. I’m also hoping that readers will respond with their own thoughts, and that we might hear from some who came out in small towns.
> I don’t know how old you are, but I’m guessing late teens or early twenties. I don’t know if your family has any money. But if you could identify one person close to you – mom, dad, aunt, uncle, sibling – who might be the most open-minded, willing to learn about this and explore it in depth, and willing to help you out, you might be able to get some support that way, including gas money to travel to a therapist or support group in a larger town.
I know a guy who traveled from another state to Denver every month for a therapy appointment. It took about eight hours to get here. He timed it around the men’s support group here. He came, saw his therapist, came to the support group, spent the night in a cheap hotel, and drove back the next day. It’s not the best arrangement, but he was able to transition this way and meet other guys. If you could identify a nearby large town, you can find a therapist and possibly a support group through online contacts. “Interviewing” therapists online protects your privacy and allows you to find one with knowledge about trans issues.
> Don’t be so quick to rule out all the therapists in your town and in nearby towns. County mental health centers are often located in one town and serve all the surrounding areas. My dad used to run a county mental health center in northern Iowa that served several rural counties, and my dad was a flaming liberal, as were many of the people who worked for him. That doesn’t mean they knew how to treat trans issues, but it means that they might have been open to working with trans people.
Again, there may be a way that you can call or e-mail anonymously, to a mental health center or to individual therapists, and determine if any of them treat trans people, have any knowledge of this, or are willing to learn (it’s really hell to have to educate your therapist, but sometimes it’s necessary). The good thing about county mental health centers as opposed to private therapists is that they usually have a sliding fee scale and they will take indigent clients.
> You say that you won’t leave your town. That’s your choice, and obviously you have a right to live anywhere you want. You appear to be making this choice with your eyes wide open – you know the downsides of this choice. So in making this choice, you have to live with those downsides until things change. Will you be the one to change them? We’ll talk about that in a minute.
In the meantime, by making this choice, you are also probably choosing to work as a female, under your given name (especially since your name has not been legally changed), until you can get the money together to do what you want with regard to transition. If you decide to move out of this town, you still need the money to do so. At this point, you probably have no option other than to get a job as a female (your employer will need your legal name, anyway), and work to save the money to either leave town, transition, or both.
If you prove to be a valuable employee, you decide you like your job, and you want to stay in town, you can then approach your employer about transitioning on the job. It might or might not go well, and you could end up losing your job, but hopefully by then, you will have some money saved that will allow you to pursue other options.
> You say you want to help other people in your situation. Coming up with a plan to do this might also help you, because it would put you in touch with other trans people nearby who are in the closet, and depending on how much you want to rock the boat, it could lead to changes in your town that would allow trans people to get support, jobs, and so on. But the huge caveat is that you could put yourself at very high risk, so think it through and proceed with caution.
You could set up a website, a blog, or a Facebook page naming your town or your county, and asking for trans people nearby to contact you. You can do this anonymously with a website or blog. Check Facebook regulations carefully, because I’m not sure how strictly your privacy could be protected there. Once you have some contacts, arrange a meeting space. Don’t announce the meeting address or times online, and be sure to screen the people who have contacted you as much as possible. You might want to have them answer some questions that would help you determine their legitimacy.
Try to make the meeting space as public as possible without endangering anyone – maybe it’s a restaurant during off hours or a room you can reserve at the library. You don’t know these people who have contacted you. Once you know them, you can find a more private meeting space, but it’s not a great idea to meet a bunch of strangers in a remote location, particularly in a small, rigid town. If you do have a county mental health center, approach them. They might be open to hosting a support group in one of their meeting rooms.
Another option is to put up fliers in the grocery store, library, and public spaces, but again, it’s best not to supply details, such as the location and times of the meeting. Providing a phone number or anonymous e-mail contact is much better.
And yet another choice is to come out very publicly. Contact the newspaper and have them interview you so that other trans people in the closet know who you are. Apply for a grant and try to get money to open a small space for support groups and information, and then run it yourself. Eventually, people will come and you will have some volunteers.
All this can be extremely risky, and once you’ve done it, you can’t go back. You could lose your family and friends and any possibility of a job, and your physical safety could be in jeopardy. You have to think intelligently about what you are doing and weigh all the risks. Only when the benefits outweigh the risks, and only when you are prepared for all possible consequences, should you proceed.
Honestly, I understand the loyalty to your town, and you have every right to be there and to live out your life as you see fit. The problem is that others might not feel the same way. You might want to consider leaving for a time, if you can get the money together to do so, then get the therapy you need, decide whether or not you want to transition, then come back to your town in a stronger, more secure position and make your home there – either out or not. If you can get grants or loans and are at all interested, go to school and get some type of counseling degree – then come back and be the therapist that you wish had been there for you.
It’s a big world out there and it’s filled with options. Don’t rule any of them out.
Readers, as always, it’s your turn!
(Ask Matt questions are a little backed up, but I will get to all of them, so look for another this Thursday. Thanks for reading and writing in, and a big shout out to all the readers who contribute their knowledge, insights, experiences, and wisdom in the comments section!)