In part 2 of our interview series with Brian King of HES/PRISM/NETA in Beverly, MA. We learned how HES became interested in transwomen’s health and the importance of peer support. Today we’ll be talking with Brian about how people in the LGBT community can sometimes compartmentalize their behavior, what that means, and how to help yourself.
Beck’s Café: Brian, we’ve covered a lot of ground in our conversation, and one area I wanted to ask is about how transgender people compartmentalize their behaviors, particularly risky sexual behaviors. You’ve said that you’ve seen this with other populations that HES has worked with. Can you help our readers understand this phenomenon better? Is it healthy?
HES: What we’ve observed in working with gay and bi-men is exactly that, compartmentalization. They say they have sex with men and yet do not identify as gay or bisexual. They may also been in relationships with women. I can understand not wanting to be labeled. Many times they see being identified as gay as taking on gay flamboyant stereotypes or what gets sensationalized in the popular press. But when a person completely splits into two separate identities, they often don’t want to acknowledge that the other side exists. And sometimes, it’s like what they say about Vegas. If I don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen, and therefore I don’t have to think about the risks I took last night. That was someone else.
Our experience working with transgender people is the same: Compartmentalizing risky behaviors, splitting your personality in a sense. The general rule of thumb however is that integration of a person is the healthiest way to live. Compartmentalization brings about a certain lack of internal authenticity regardless of the outward presentation to the world. That lack of internal authenticity can catch up with a person and affect them or affect their behavior. Organizations like NETA and TCNE can be a big help allowing trans-people to be who they are. Many times though, people feel they can’t integrate who they are now as the pain of staying in the closet is less than the perceived risk of coming out and integrating ones self within a helpful peer community. Those risks can be very real.
Someone might have a lot to lose by “coming out.” So providing a safe space where transgender people can be validated and respected for who they are, and find community, is a top priority [ed. – TCNE is such a safe space!]
(Tomorrow, In part 4, we’ll be talk with Brian about the connection between the need for affirmation and risky actions)