This is the second and concluding part of a two-part article. The first part was published last month (November 2022). Some names have been changed to protect people’s identities.
Gauri, a transfeminine individual, said that she was the most uncomfortable when she was undergoing hormone therapy for one year before vaginoplasty. She was aware of the external changes taking place in her body, but she felt tremendous pain in still inhabiting the ‘male’ body. Every time she had to go out, she used to look at herself critically in the mirror, assessing her changes.
Eventually, Gauri underwent vaginoplasty and felt much better. She is now planning for breast augmentation.
Scholar Jay Prosser, in his book Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality, talks about the ‘intermediate non-zone’ during gender transition that threatens to dislocate the familiar ties to identity markers that gives a person a sense of security. He says that transition provokes anxiety and discomfort both for the person going through transition and the person(s) observing it. Transition challenges the feasibility of identity, but at the same time it is important for the continuity of identity.
The experiences of trans individuals undergoing transition depict the strong interconnection between the mind and the body, where both are interdependent and work together for bringing about individual well-being.
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Nilima, a queer woman who came to me for therapy, said she felt stuck. After the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted, she was not able to get a job. She used to work in a business process outsourcing (BPO) unit, a job she lost during the lockdown. She felt demotivated and frustrated, and could not figure out why this was happening.
Our therapy sessions revealed that Nilima had been extremely ill and had undergone a surgery just after the second lockdown of 2021. The process had been traumatic. Nilima was living with her partner and was dependent on her. She felt helpless and stifled. She was always anxious about her physical health. Though after the surgery she had had adequate time to heal, the emotional experience of the physical stress was overwhelming.
Matters had come to such a head that whenever she faced an interview board for a job, she unconsciously jeopardised the interview. She had lost her sense of confidence, but was unable to confront this reality.
Gradually, with regular therapy, Nilima became aware of what had happened to her body and mind. As she accepted her feelings, she felt relieved. She said that she would try to be aware about her feelings and continue self-work.
In all the therapy sessions with her, I used a queer affirmative approach to therapy. This meant using inclusive, non-offensive and affirmative language in relation to her queerness, and practising self-reflection. This helped in building a good rapport and developing trust through the creation of a respectful co-working environment.
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We represent ourselves through our body. Our emotions and cognition are reflected and represented through the body we inhabit. Our body undergoes different experiences of love, rejection, contentment, pride, shame, guilt, care, irritation, frustration, anger, sorrow, dejection, happiness, regrets and so on. Thus, our body is the substrate of our existence. After any kind of physical trauma, the process of well-being can start only from accepting and owning our body.
Nilanjan, a narrative practitioner and the father of a trans masculine child, describes the human body like a lump of clay waiting for the potter within to give it shape. The body can be pressed into myriad shapes, just like the many layers of identities within each one of us. Society’s heteronormative and patriarchal norms constantly try to press out of our body one of the two available moulds of typical male and typical female because these are the only frames of reference. But the human spirit rebels. After all, the body we have is our only tangible medium of expression, and we find a way to go beyond the moulds sanctioned by society and change our body in a way that is meaningful to us.
There does not have to be a perfect body. The body we have (and modify, if we want to) is our very own, perfect for us, with all its imperfections and expressions of pain, pleasure and more. The acceptance of this body is the key to healing and well-being. Therein also lies the interdependence between mind and body.
About the main graphic: The graphic is a symbolic amalgamation of the key issues discussed in the article, the issues being represented by two flags. The flag upfront was created for the global mental health movement by The Pete Foundation, Louisville, USA. Read more about the flag here. In the background is the rainbow flag, a popular symbol of the queer rights movements, providing the border to the mental health movement flag. Overall, the graphic is an attempt to represent queer affirmative therapy or queer affirmative counselling practices. Images for both flags sourced from Wikimedia Commons