The Acceptance Meter: How well are trans persons accepted?

In preparation for a workshop I will be giving in January, I took a survey of transgender persons to quantify how well they have been accepted. The results were sobering, but not entirely surprising.

The reality seems to be that we humans adapt much easier to strangers than to those with whom we have a history. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. Even Jesus experienced this when He tried to minister among his own family and neighbors.

In a recent survey that I took I asked trans persons to rate how well they had been accepted/affirmed by three groups: family, old friends and acquaintances, and new friends and acquaintances. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 was outright rejection and 10 was unconditional acceptance, the results were, well, disappointing. 

Families scored 5.7 (the ratings were spread across the spectrum), Old Friends/Acquaintances were rated at 4.9 and new F/A rated the highest, at 8. This helps explain why so many trans persons have found it easier to relocate and start life in a new place, where their history as the other gender does not get in the way.

What is not obvious from these averages is how many respondents were outright rejected by families and old friends, while almost zero outright rejections among new friends.   

Knowing this does not make it less painful and it also helps explain why a deep sense of loneliness is so pervasive among trans persons I have come to know. No matter what, we are all wired for emotional attachment, especially with our families. How tragic that it is those we are closest to who have the hardest time accepting and affirming, it seems counter intuitive, doesn't it?

This was a small survey with only 22 respondents; ten responded via a Facebook Survey and the rest were persons I emailed. In many ways, I expected results like these based on my gut feelings from the many conversations I have had and stories I have heard from other transgender persons. I did not ask any more than for them to rate how these three groups have either rejected or accepted them after they came out as transgender. I could have asked more questions, such as whether they were pre or post-op, their age, profession, whether they lived in a small or large city/town. etc., but i did not for expediency as well as privacy concerns. Nor did I ask for comments. All I wanted to do was to somehow quantify my own suspicions, if possible I'm planning a more comprehensive version of this because my sense is that younger transgender persons are finding more acceptance from their families and friends today. The survey also needs to reflect what the marital status of the person was when they came out and or transitioned. It does get more complicated when one is married and has children.

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  1. "How tragic that it is those we are closest to who have the hardest time accepting and affirming..."

    So true.

    It's absolutely heart-breaking.

    Thanks for getting the info and stories out there.

  2. It is very true Lisa, though I must say that family/old friends have been more accepting as times passed. For instance, my uncles and cousins, who completely rejected the idea of my transition at first, became less rejecting with time, and they accept me now, but always with some "distance", as does my own sister. My mom and dad (R.I.P.) took about a year to fully accept me, but they are closer than ever nowadays (Well, my mom anyway...). As for old friends, I have a good relationship with most of them, but the closest ones have taken a little "distance" too, and only one of them has completely rejected me. The fact I was never married nor had children might have helped somehow, and starting my transition at 33 (not too young, but not too old either..) could also have helped. The real pain was to get a job (3 years in the hunt from 2005/2008)....

  3. I'd like to be part of a bigger survey if you have one. I'd also like some more information, such as whether new friends know you are trans* (The new friends I've made all do and all accept me, so it's not a matter of them not knowing my history) and whether families have been consistently rejecting over time (my experience, and the experience of many trans* people I know is that families take time to transition along with us and many eventually become completely accepting.)

    1. Jack, good points! I hope to make time for this. One reality is that many trans persons will need assurance of anonymity before they answer some of these questions—they may not want even me to know who they are when sending the completed survey. I became aware of this when I saw how much of a person's profile I could see of the respondents who did the FB survey. I'll need to check into other ways of doing on-line surveys where answers cannot be traced back to anyone. I would feel a whole lot better doing it that way.

  4. For me I think its more tolerance than acceptance.. I hear the quiet talk and its ok. At least the people around me aren't threatening my life. But I can't wait till I can move back to Cali where I know life will be better and acceptance by my friends there is a must.

  5. I am not surprised by this. I do think, though, that the survey needs to be expanded, on a much wider scale.

  6. On the other hand, the good news is that even if your current friends and family are just so-so in acceptance, there's a very good chance you'll make a new set of friends who are totally awesome. And in the end, you're in a better position than when you started!

    This matches my experience. My family has mostly tried, but it's hard for them and always a source of tension, and probably always will be. A few of my old friends have become closer, many are accepting but more distant, and a few seem to have vanished. But my new friends are more awesome than ever before. Relationships make more sense from both sides now that I'm in the right gender role, and I've got a real best friend for the first time as an adult! So much better.

    Plus I'm not terrified at all of my friends abandoning me. The ones that were going to do that already did.


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