The crossing of genders has been a hurdle that society has stumbled to accept since the beginning of time. Early hypotheses about the so-called cause of homosexuality originated from the psychodynamic perspective that men became gay because of a dysfunctional family system in which they were emotionally enmeshed with their mothers and had a distant relationship with their father.
As a result, the thought of changing one’s sex immediately becomes a staple of criticism, despite the psychological effect it could have on the individual. Yet, Imani, a man who lives life as a woman, successfully copes with work, intimate relationships, family and peer relationships, and has developed a positive assessment of self. Imani is a resilient, creative, and resourceful individual, who has overcome societal myths that a transgender cannot function normally in society.
Thus, this essay will attempt to outline Imani’s life journey and compare it to Hutchinson’s (2008) common risk and protective factors, while revealing how she copes with personal and professional relationships according to Werner and Smith (2001) ratings of the quality of adult adaptation and what she attributes her success. Six Criteria of Coping Understanding and coping with cultural differences becomes crucial when attempting to come out about gender or sexual identity. Social constructionist perspective suggests that “sexual orientation unfolds within a context of environmental or social influences” (Morrow & Messinger, 2006, pp. 61).
Growing up poverty stricken, Imani learned to cope at an early age. The eldest of six, Imani grew up without a positive male role model and poor, while dealing with sexual desires for the same sex. “I use to pretend like I was attracted to girls because that was the normal thing, but since I was twelve, I had sexual desires for other boys” (Imani, personal communication, February 6 2009). Therefore, recognizing her gender identity at an early age, but able to cope with the stigmas of society involved Imani’s ability to reconcile competing demands from the dominant society.
In addition, feelings for the opposite sex thwarted Imani from forming peer groups at an early stage in her life. “Many gay men do not accomplish normal development tasks of adolescence, such as forming a peer group…therefore, when experiencing some of the emotionality of teenagers as adults in their twenties or older, there is dissonance between chronological age and developmental tasks they may be struggling with” (Mallon, 2008, pp. 150). Normally, this would have had an unfavorable effect, but, it had a favorable effect on Imani’s life. For example, Imani is a leader in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
She mentors young individuals that are dealing with gender identity issues. Imani has also been in a long term intimate relationship for fifteen years; which induces her happiness. “When I was growing up, being gay was taboo, but, today you can speak out about who you are and feel comfortable, so I’m taking full advantage of every opportunity and helping others who may feel isolated as well” (Imani, personal communication, February 6, 2009). Even in analyzing her relationship with her siblings, Imani is respected and accepted wholeheartedly by her entire family. This could be attributed to two major reasons.
Firstly, Imani was a defiant child, but, she also helped rear her brothers and sisters, which established a sense of respect from them early on. She also was defiant and never conformed to the norm when instructed to complete a task. For example, if her mother instructed her to go right, she would go left. Secondly, unlike people in a cohort group born in the eighties, which are more adept to come out sooner rather than later, Imani made her decision to transform at age thirty-eight. “Coming out is a critical issue in the process of identifying, some people do not go through this process early in life” (Kane-DeMaios & Bullough, 2006, pp. 10).
For this reason, when Imani revealed her decision to become a woman, she perhaps displayed a defiant attitude, not to mention that her mother was supportive of her decision, likely instilled strength, support and understanding from her siblings as well. As a result, Imani shares a strong and supportive bond with her brother and sisters. Although Imani has been resilient in gaining acceptance from peers and family, her professional success is equally astonishing. Imani’s was employed with Phillip Morris, Inc, when she decided to transform.
However, her employers were not accepting of her identity change, so, they increased her workload and refused to give her a stable schedule. To combat this deliberate injustice, she filed a grievance, several weeks later she was laid off. Werner and Smith (2001) noted that one of the main qualities of adult adaptation is work. “The individual is employed and… satisfied with work” (pp. 36). “My former job was horrible at accepting me for who I was, so I decided to make a move and find employment elsewhere; where the people would make me feel comfortable and I would enjoy what I was doing. (Imani, personal communication, February 6, 2009).
Imani is now gainfully employed as a supervisor with a prominent Medicaid service provider. Imani states, “There’s good energy at work. My colleagues respect me to the upmost and I enjoy helping clients. ” Clearly, Imani’s ability to get past the ridicule of a former employee and successfully find employment without becoming discouraged about her gender identity is another emphasis of her resiliency. However, Imani contributes her success to having the courage to live as a transgender to education.
Enrolling in VCU’s fine art program during the 70’s broadened my mindset about the world around me and myself, which has helped me become who I am today” (Imani, personal communication, February 6, 2009). Without question, academia can enhance an individual’s perception about the world around them, but, “the concept of accommodation is an important one in understanding the adaptation of transgender people” (American, 2009, ¶ 3). Consequently, with Imani having the accommodation of a close knit, supportive family and long term partner has definitely added to her success.
Therefore, it is should be pointed out that some risk and protective factors are inherent in the nature of resilient people. Risk and Protective Factors Werner and Smith (2001) noted that even in infancy there was something different about the high-risk children who never developed serious problems. They were active, affectionate, good-natured infants, alert and autonomous toddlers. One protective factor associated with Imani’s success was her development of advanced self help skills, which she acquired early in her life course.
For instance, Imani learned early to cope with gender identity issues, despite being reared during a time when homosexuality and cross dressing were deemed taboo. In addition, coping with putting her childhood on hold while helping her mother take care of her siblings, Imani developed an identity of a leader. Evidently, this created strength of mind, which more than likely had an influence on the way Imani set out to accomplish goals or agendas. People who are heterosexual in orientation do not have to ponder on how to develop a heterosexual identity.
In contrast, transgender people have as their task the “development of an identity that runs counter to the heterocentric culture in which they are socialized. ” They must “come to terms with having a sexual orientation that is socially ridiculed, and they must formulate a sense of identity as a transgender person” (Morrow & Messinger 2006, pp. 85). Although Imani’s early development of advanced self-help skills has played a pivotal role in her success during her life course, she still faced the risk factor of growing up in poverty.
Coincidentally, this did not have a negative effect on her schooling or personal accomplishments. Hutchison (2008) suggest, “… poverty alone is much less of a risk than extended poverty. Imani’s life serves as a perfect example for this suggestion. For example, Imani did not continue the family trend of living in poverty. Determined to set the pace for the rest f her siblings, she rose above the line of poverty in her early twenties. She graduated from high school and successfully obtained a college degree.
One could raise the question, if her role as the older sibling, which induced a sense of responsibility, while trying to understand her identity issues, kept her from being vulnerable to the risk of falling off track, because she was preoccupied with the task of taking care of her brother and sisters, rather than the poverty situation in front of her. Undoubtedly, it is apparent that Imani’s deprivations growing up did not lead to a trajectory of failure. Hutchison (2008) points out that positive impact of historical events can reverse disadvantages in a person’s life trajectories.
Therefore, being torn between the role of patriarch and matriarch at an early age, clearly, had a positive effect on Imani’s life. Conclusively, Imani’s life has been filled with many extenuating effects of internal oppression at an early age, which she was able to overcome at a later stage in her life cycle. The major turning point in her life was enrolling in college; which has made her a resilient, creative, and resourceful individual who possess much strength. Yet, born during a time when social reform was at its peak, Imani serves as a perfect example of resiliency, success and normalcy.