Sunday, 11 December 2011

What does a support group mean for you?

    My local trans support group is an organisation to which I am much indebted. Through it my journey from closet to the real world has been made much smoother, I have made some good friends and I have gained invaluable support as to the many possible paths through which this mess can be navigated.
    Yesterday evening saw their Christmas meeting. As always in a community hall in a suburb of Swindon though instead of sitting around drinking coffee we were eating buffet food. The impossibly glamorous trans lifestyle, eh! Our usual post-meeting trip to a very good Italian restaurant in the town centre will have to wait until next month. Some of our number put the boat out a little with the party dresses, I was little more conservative in a black top and maxi skirt.
    This group follows the model of traditional trans support groups. It's a lot more open than some, but the format is pretty simple. An exclusively MtF crowd of everyone from deeply closeted transvestites of all persuasions through to long-ago transitioned transwomen meeting once a month to talk shop, drink coffee and eat biscuits. The group would love to see some FtM attendees, but unsurprisingly they see nothing in common with the MtF TV members.
    Support groups like this one are like Marmite. You either love 'em or you hate 'em. A lot of people may attend one during their first steps from the closet before moving on as quickly as they can. They see it as merely another closet, and they've left that behind. Of course they're right, it can be a closet, if you let it. There are attendees for whom it's the only place they ever dress as female, for whom discovery in their home towns would mean violence and intimidation. But as I found out on my first outing, you leave the closet pretty quickly when you venture out into Swindon town centre on a Saturday night.
     What I get from my attendance has slowly changed. From closet through support to social gathering, to even giving support sometimes. For me it's not a place just to present as female, after all I'm quite likely to be seen there as a scruffy bloke. I know the format has its faults, but it does fill a niche, and it's a hell of a lot better than the closet.
    It has been interesting to watch from afar the support groups in other cities. Pub meets, restaurant groups, or ones like Swindon. Sometimes without an open door policy, with meetings exclusive to people identifying a particular way, or entire groups for specific subsections of our community only. I have a friend - long ago transitioned and married to a normal heterosexual bloke - who was turned away from one group because they thought her husband was an admirer. He's not, he's just a bloke. A nice bloke at that, she's a lucky girl. Or how about the group run as a private club by a well-off TV who has used it as an opportunity to create her own TV social life without leaving home. I call it the gilded closet, a place where you can go out to your heart's content in a schoolgirl outfit or whatever takes your fancy, yet never really go out. Fine if that's your thing, but when I hear of people's referrals being refused because the psych quite rightly points out they've not experienced the real world, that's not good.
    If I were to find the perfect support group, it would have these things at its core: diversity and tolerance. People from all corners of our world, seeing past the sometimes challenging exteriors both MtF and FtM, presenting as whichever gender they feel comfortable in and expressing themselves however they see fit. I value the diversity of people I have encountered along the way, and I have found very few from whom I have not learned something, even those I haven't liked.
    I am not belittling the organisers of the Swindon group when I say they haven't quite made it. Theirs is a extremely tolerant group with an open door policy, however its membership tends more to be late transitioners and remains stubbornly MtF. In providing a safe space I can see why  those who don't fit those groups might be repelled by the thought of that safe space, after all coming out is intimidating enough without being in the company of people with whom you might feel you have little in common.
    It's a shame, because it is from the things you do have in common with people with whom you otherwise share little that you can learn the most.

11 comments:

  1. Well support groups mean nothing to NOW but they once DID. The group I attended from late 1998 until just after my op. in late 2002 was the Northern Concord who met weekly in one of the clubs in Manchester's Gay Village. They were also an open group and there were both MtF and one or two FtM attendeees, tv and ts from about 20 to 70 years of age. Some who went there only ever dressed there and nowhere else, some were full time dressers so it was quite a cross-section of individuals. Having a place to go and meet people like myself in a safe environment served to help me gain confidence and to learn much of what I needed to know in the pursuit of my own desires to fully transition whilst having a great time along the way. I also had the opportunity to visit the many other clubs in the area and to mix with those of the general public who were there. The group still exists and is very popular and well known.

    Shirley Anne xxx

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  2. The net has formed my support group and has the mix which you specified.

    I have never come across a local support group and never thought to seek one out, then again I have been lucky to live amongst people who accepted the "non bloke" amongst them and have transferred that to the emerging woman.

    All groups or clubs form factions or the predominance of one faction can skew the group by repelling some then drawing in more like those left, a local once thriving art society no longer has a single serious painter but is full of happy terrible sunday painters with a gallery at their disposal!

    Your ideal support group may well have attracted me long ago and helped me on my way and saved a lot of pain...

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  3. The "Ideal" Support Group does not exist.

    Everyone is wanting something different from a support group. Some go to be a woman for a while and socialize, others whom are truly transsexuals go because they are looking for some help either in resources, or a shoulder to lean on once in a while. They come to the realization that not only are they a minority in the real world, they are also a minority there, as well. THAT is why they leave. Unfortunately, they are cast aside so that others can continue to frolic about as women that have no desire of being one in the real world. They are happy 'pretending'. And once again, the true transsexual has no where to go, no one to have their back, no resources to help with the real difficulties.

    They are nothing but a sham! A social club in disguise! In my opinion they would be better off just calling themselves a "Group". So that they would no longer mis-represent themselves to people whom are actually seeking help and support.

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  4. We have a huge local group here that is very, very active. Like most TG groups, the membership is very diverse. Clearly CD's out number the TS's and FtM's are few and far between, but we have had some. The TS's come and get what they need out of the group, transition and then most go off to live their new lives. The CD's are the mainstays who have held the group together over the years.

    I am a member and active, as a coordinator, in the group's DRAB-Gabs, which are a way to welcome newbies. These are monthly lunches with all dressed in male attire. We do have an FtM who attends once in a while who can just blend in since society has no taboos on a crossdressing female.

    I've never been to one of our group's public events, dressed, as you have you, and so far just have no desire to do so. I have attended several events drab and no one thinks less of me for doing so.

    Although there are several groups in our region, this one is by far the most diverse and the largest. What I have gotten out of my association with the group are many life-long friendships and a better understanding of the TG spectrum. Unlike LeAnnes's experience, most of the transsexuals I know have been indebted to this organization, the members of which have provided support and have held their hands through the trying times of a transition. They leave simply because they no longer require the services of a support group and, frankly, find that they don't identify with most of the membership (crossdressers) after transition.

    I will agree with LeAnne in that I do believe that groups such as ours are really just social groups but they do provide support in the form of friendship and understanding.

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  5. The local support group that I attend is held in a LGBT centre and is a Trans Women's group so no FtoM people. The best thing is that everyone can talk freely about trans issues and share knowledge. The worst thing is that there are surprisingly few of us (about 15 at the most).

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  6. Here, there is a drop-in support group run by the local health authority. The first time I went was very early in my awakening. I didn't like the group, but it was useful for two reasons. One is the the facilitator directed me to the facility next door for both counselling and assessment. The other was that I saw someone, whom I later met, who seemed like a normal person, amongst the rest who were either parodies or basket cases. That was significant and quite encouraging.

    I dropped in only a few more times, several months later. It never felt very supportive, but I did learn about the best therapist in town via group word of mouth.

    I also went to some dinners with a group that was mostly but not entirely CDs. What that mainly did was make it clear to me that I was not a CD. They were nice people, but we really had too little in common. They did, however, sometimes have helpful information, and for that I'm grateful.

    Most of my support was online, and as it happened I didn't really need a lot. Once I realized I had to change sex, I moved toward the goal, not without bumps but fairly smoothly. Until just a few weeks ago, I facilitated an online support group that seemed to be helpful to a lot of people. That was very satisfying for me.

    I still have people with whom I can talk about trans issues if I wish, but I rarely wish to. Once you get where you need to go (if you need to go), then any support group tends to be just your close friends, whoever they might be. Unless you're one of those people who doesn't let go of the problem even after it's supposed to be solved.

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  7. Morning all,

    Everyone has their own route through this, as always. There's nothing tht says you have to use a support group. I too have found incredible support online.

    The Swindon group has another aspect that has been of great help to us, it has provided invaluable support to my wife. I think without it it's possible she might no longer be my wife.

    Interesting, I don't recognise the groups described which I'm guessing must be a North American situation.

    Here, geography means that all sorts of other groups, clubs and events are much more accessible. So there is no "them and us", because anyone who might become the "them" simply goes to their own groups. Swindon has one or two attendees who are into all sorts of entertaining scenes, but you'd never see them expressing them there because they do that kind of stuff elsewhere. It's very much a group at which everyone is there to dress in 'normal' female clothing and in many cases go out as such, whether they identify as TS or TV.

    A supportive friend is a supportive friend as far as I am concerned, and it matters not to me if they sometimes go to the Gilded Closet as a schoolgirl, a bride, or a French Maid. In fact it all adds to the rich diversity of life.

    It's silly really. We all almost certainly know people in our everyday lives who get up to all sorts of fun and games. But we don't know it because they haven't told us, we see their everyday personae. That bloke at the office, you have no clue that he's a rubberist!

    But if we encounter someone who is open about it in our space, that they like maiding, or being an LG, we become uncomfortable about it? To me that makes little sense. Or about as much sense as the muggles who are uncomfortable with us. Sure I might pass on going out with the more outrageous of our sisterhood, but exclude them from my friendship because they're 'different'? Makes as much sense as not talking to Ford owners because the Wreck isn't a Ford!

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  8. I attended a support group perhaps once a month at the beginning of my transition. Probably went a total of 5 or 6 times. To me, it was a safe place to be myself at a time when I wasn't confident enough to appear in public that way. But, my confidence quickly grew and my need for a safe space dissipated. I had no desire to go because going to me was tantamount to "hiding," which I'd done enough of for the first 30-odd years of my life. I found a few friends going through what I was, and talking to them was all the support I needed.

    As far as the idea of a "support group," my concept of a support group is a place where people who share a burdensome trait offer help and relate experiences to one another. I do not believe that I have much to offer a crossdresser in the way of advice, nor do I believe that a crossdresser has much advice for me when it comes to transitioning.

    Social clubs including CD and TS people? Sure. Support groups? Not so much.

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  9. I'm helping set up a support group in Bristol, because there doesn't seem to be anything that caters for the wider demographic of trans identities. Hopefully we'll be able to find more things to unite than to divide us. Like the song says, start your own revolution, cut out the middle man.....

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  10. It's interesting to consider the distinction between support group and social club, I'd never really thought about it.

    I suspect I might find one purely on the side of support to be a bit tedious too, fortunately the one I attend has both elements.

    Very delicately put Dru. :)

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  11. In Croydon we have a (currently) small group, that is very sociable as we meet in a pub that is probablly just as well. We are a few cross dressers, some transsexual MtF I have ye to go to meeting where there has not been at least one new peron to meet. On offer is a safe place to dress, a sympathetic ear/shoulder a joke and a glass of wine. We woudl welcome more people from right across the trans spectrum.

    Im afraid I have used this group to wear some of my more inappropriate outfits, afterall it is the one situation I go into where I need make no attempt to pass, just to feel good and look gorgeous

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