By: Daniel Marcillo
Transgender people come from all directions in life. They are parents, siblings, neighbors, and are active contributors to society. People who are struggling with their transition or are simply looking to discuss their issues with people who have gone through the same thing turn to support groups, such as ones provided by the Transgender Resource Center of Long Island (TRCLI), for help.
Even though the number of transgender people has increased to 1.4 million people in the United States, it still is only 0.6 percent of the population, according to a study done by the Williams Institute. Mila Madison, the executive director of the Transgender Resource Center of Long Island, created a group for transgender support.
“There was literally nothing for families and partners, and we both felt as if we were alone in the universe,” Madison said. “We decided we would create those resources and hoped that maybe we would find others who were just like us. It turns out there were others, and now we have a whole community of people.”
TRCLI puts together many programs for the transgender community, including support groups that are open to friends and family. The support groups provide an open forum to express their thoughts in ways they would not with other people. The transgender community is incredibly diverse and it includes many different identities such as male, female, genderqueer, and nonbinary.
One of the members of the support groups is Erica Forman, who learned of the TRCLI through a community advisory board that Northwell Health put together.
“I’ve faced my share of discrimination at my old job,” Forman said. “My employment situation is much improved these days. My fiance and I also fostered some transgender teenagers trying to help them navigate some difficult circumstances.”
New York City also has many support groups of their own. Brianne Rose, a nationally certified counselor and mental health counselor in New York City, leads her own support groups. Originally, she started with a LGBTQ+ support group, but quickly realized there was a need for a transgender specific support group.
“These groups help members recognize that they are not alone and others share their sentiment and experience,” Rose said. “In addition to this, great support groups have built in friends and peers to go to outside of group and build lasting relationships with.”
Rose was able to have a group of people who was already pushing towards their own support system, but in some cases, it is harder to start a group.
One therapist who ran into this issue is J A McKnight from Ithaca, New York. His support group was going to provide “an experiential process/therapy group for transmen and genderqueer folk on the “M” [male] end of the continuum.”
The support group never get off the ground.
“There was not enough initial interest to get the group started, and my co-facilitator and I decided to hold off,” McKnight said
Many other people throughout the transgender community run into the same issues when trying to figure out a place to share their feelings. When the idea of a support group comes up, the common thought is an empty room filled with a circle of chairs. Technology has allowed a support group to evolve into a Facebook page.
Searching “transgender support group” on Facebook leads to over 20 different groups that are communities where transgender people can meet and talk about their lives. Alice Edmonds is part of a group called “Transgender Support Circle,” which has 13,517 members, making it one of the largest online support groups. She joined the group about a year ago and became an administrator three months ago.
“The Facebook group has basically made my transition so much easier, it’s been my rock,” Edmonds said. “It’s been where if something terrible happens at work I can post and get tons of love and support. I’ve met countless people and gained tons of friends and even my trans girlfriend.”
Some of the issues transgender people can encounter are very difficult to overcome. Stacy Wolf is an administrator for the Transgender Support Circle on Facebook and found challenges when she was going through their transition.
“My biggest challenge is probably confidence,” Wolf said. “I was anxious in public as a cisgender man, but as a trans woman? It’s hell. I can’t get my nails [done] without being stared or laughed at.”
Many within the transgender community, such as Percy D’Aniello, hope for a day when transgender people are not treated any different from anyone else.
“We aren’t monsters under your children’s beds,” D’Aniello, also an administrator from the Facebook group, said. “We’re simply people trying to go on with our lives. We want to have the same rights and protections you do. We don’t want to be discriminated against. And we know that there will always be people who hate who we are, we just cannot accept that their discomfort regarding our existence be the cause for discrimination.”
“Friends and family play the bigs part of how someone transition. If they are accepted then the suicide rates are much much lower,” Rochelle Fulks, who is also part of the same support group, said.
Some households are very welcoming to this new journey in someone’s life, while other people can push their loved one away. Northport resident Jovan Rivera is the brother to a transgender woman who came out about two years ago and has supported her every step of the way.
“I know it can not be easy to go through something like this alone,” Rivera, who is only two years older, said. “We have both been there for each other at any time and I know she needed the family to be by her side.”
Support groups can take many different forms, but they all have the same purpose. They exude positivity and hopefulness for anyone who turns toward them for help. Rivera said. The transgender community simply looks for kindness and acceptance from everyone around them no matter what their story is.
“We’re all humans that want love and connection. I think if everyone viewed differences in this simplistic manner, a lot of the world’s issues and ignorance would be gone,” Madison said.