For trans and non-binary people, self-care starts with finding your environment, your home.
When it comes to self-care, finding sources online will often lead to blogs focused on cisgender people, and doesn’t provide anything for self-care techniques aimed at those within the transgender and gender non-conforming communities. Self-care is not easily accessed by communities where gender and gender identity should fit more visibly in our concepts of wellness.
Although more therapists and psychiatrists are being more inclusive to the LGBTQ community, we are still facing unequal care due to lack of training and/or being poorly informed. Providers often do not have adequate knowledge of the specialized needs of the LGBTQ community or training on our mental health issues.
A study on transgender and non-binary people finding proper mental health care services, shows that we often experience gatekeeping within our communities due to delays or refusals of treatment, intrusive questioning, non-affirming language and transphobic attitudes by providers and more, which contributes to the scarcity of reliable places for trans and non-binary people to receive adequate care.
Within most of the United States, non-binary identities are not legally recognized or protected. And often non-binary people have to vouch for themselves. Their identities are largely erased or just not acknowledged.
Wear Your Voice spoke with several non-binary people on self-care habits they have developed, that may provide more specialized methods of self-care for the community.
Zack Shay is a non-binary entrepreneur and business coach who currently resides in Ireland and has experience running support groups for transgender and non-binary people. “I completely understand the need for healthcare for trans and non-binary people and unfortunately it’s really hard to navigate because ultimately that’s something that has to happen within the healthcare industry itself.” Zack tells me, “Doctors need to be educated, they need to be more open to various gender identities.”
Although Zack believes the healthcare model could still use some work, they say there is an organization in Ireland whose model other countries should implement. “Ireland has a central transgender organization, called the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), and they have people who went out and created a pamphlet of information about gender identity, and they sent it out to mostly if not all the general practitioners in Ireland, or if a transgender person contacts them in Ireland and say, ‘I need information for my doctor,’ they’ll send the information to the doctor — they help with the education.”
Zack believes that, for trans and non-binary people, self-care starts with finding your environment, your home. “The bedrock is to have a space where you can just be accepted as yourself, I’m very fortunate that I married someone who accepts me, my partner is actually non-binary as well, so our home is a really safe haven, and that’s really good because I could just come home to a place that is accepting.”
Although Zack admits finding resources online and offline for non-binary people looking for help are scarce, they have written a few articles of their own, “I called it the ‘Trans 101‘ and it’s kind of a transgender and non-binary bill of rights. So many have read it and it still gets shared to this day.”
Le’Priya White, the Co-chair of Zami, which is the Queer and Trans People of color (QTPOC) student group at Oberlin College, had some words of their own about what they believe non-binary people can do to create healthy coping mechanisms.
“I’m still trying to figure this out myself. It’s not easy. Not everyone understands and not everyone will,” Le’Priya tells me. “However, it’s important to know that some people will try. I think the best thing to do is just to remember who you are and never compromise that for anyone. Be you. Be confident. There will be hard days, but you just have to remind yourself that you were made to face any challenge.”
Le’Priya says that healthcare professionals, therapists, et al., should have trainings on gender identity, pronouns, discrimination and the importance and impact these have on people.
“During this political climate (and of course before), finding people who understand our accessibility to healthcare has been hard, I admit I had to compromise my own identity just to receive help but even then, it’s still challenging as a person of color alone. So there’s so many layers to this issue and it’s disgusting that it has to be this way (when it doesn’t). We need more gender affirming care. Doctors should take our experiences seriously. We deserve to be treated like everyone else. We are still human no matter how we identify as. We have to find ways to shift society’s, the medical industry’s, and doctor’s perceptions of us.”
Le’Priya cites websites like Beyond the Binary, a magazine for UK non-binary people, as having helpful tips on self care. “A lot of my self-care is being involved in different groups on campus, planning events, and creating workshops that I care about and that is centered on my communities. Finding ways to give back, even in little ways, is so important.” They emphasis the importance of taking time for yourself, to relax and to shut down your mind for a bit.
”Because what I learned through college is that I can try to support everyone but I need support back. I constantly felt drain and pushed to make my work and activism matter. I needed a break and so does everyone else. Whether in school or not, try different things, painting, reading, meditating. Self-care is different for everyone. It’s individualized. I had to learn that the hard way, trying to figure out what everyone else was doing, Googling ‘self-care’ and trying to figure out what I was going wrong. The greatest thing a person needs to know is that it is okay to not know. You won’t know everything. Keep trying and keep pushing. There’s no rush. It’s a learning experience.”
Kryss Shane is an LGBT expert, public speaker, and published writer, Kryss is not new to helping the LGBT community, she has worked with LGBT for 22+ years, and points out that “degrees and licenses came at different times throughout [her] career.”
Kryss wants non-binary people to become clear about their own boundaries, and make intentional decisions about who earns the privilege of being in their life, which can help to prevent toxic people from creating chaos or self-worth concerns. “This may not be easy,” she says. “As it may result in some relatives and some long-time friends having their impact minimized or some may need to be removed completely, but this focus on only allowing affirming people can result in a healthier daily life for a non-binary person.”
Regarding access to health care for non-binary people, Kryss says it’s important that non-binary people have continued support and for all people is crucial to having access to health care, “when wanting to work with a medical or mental health professional, it is important to research the provider and to ask pointed questions about how much experience the professional has working with non-binary patients.” Kryss says that those in professional roles must be mindful of the groups of people they do not know much about (including non-binary people and other marginalized groups). “They must use this self-awareness to make intentional choices to become educated and prepared to treat all patients, in order to support the health needs of everyone they work with.”
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Kryss’ final advice for non-binary people is to know that cisgender people’s lack of understanding of their identities does not mean they are unwanted. “While many cisgender people may not know much about the non-binary experience, this does not mean that you are not wanted, that you do not matter, or that you will not be loved for who you are. While it is never a minority person’s requirement to educate the world, I encourage being mindful of the ignorance of loved ones who may require some time to research and learn after you come out to them. If you become someone who begins to feel emotionally or physically unsafe, reaching out to suicide helplines or to safe temporary housing is vital. You ARE wanted, you DO matter, and the world is better because you are in it.”
After my conversation with Kryss, I decided to interview everyday non-binary people about their own self-care tips, here’s what they said:
Johnnie Law, 29, They/Them
I try to monitor my mental state. The effects are less severe if I can catch myself when I start to spiral. I use an app called Moodpath to help. Keeping an eye on how I’m feeling helps me be more proactive than reactive.
My self-care practices when I’m feeling invalidated or worthless are:
- Reflect on the situation. Unpack my feelings and try to understand why I’m feeling the way that I am. Sometimes I stay off social media until I’m done.
- Take pictures of myself. I’ll admit I feel as if I look a mess the first several snaps [on snapchat], but it gets better. I keep going until I see the beauty in myself again.Sometimes I post my favorite shots for compliments from others.
- Get creative. Making something from start to finish takes my mind away during the process. And in the end, I’m left with something beautiful.
- Connect with other Non-binary people. Nothing grounds me more than finding and chatting with other people like me. The love and support I receive when I’m down is unmatched in other spaces.
One simple tip, that’s not so simple, that you can take from me is: Learn yourself. Know what makes you tick and what brings you back. Knowing your buttons can help you recognize situations where you could get hurt mentally and try to avoid them. Knowing yourself and seeing you for who you truly are is powerful. Especially in a sense that no one can then convince you of who you should be once you know who you are.
Finally, allowing myself to feel unpleasant things before trying to mask them with optimism. It’s okay to be sad. It’s normal. And it does not make me a weak person for crying.
Sam Rose, 21, They/Them/Theirs
I know myself better than anyone else does, and I know that not everyone is going to see me. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. I tell myself, people are responsible for their own feelings, just as I am for my own. I refuse to take on their problems. People can believe what they want, in their limited world view, while I know and own my truth. It’s funny, as I’m writing this I just saw a comic that said “if someone brings you a gift and you don’t take it, who does it belong to?” The one who offered it. It’s the same with insults, if you refuse to accept them, they belong to the person who offered them.
There’s no way I have to look to be validated in my gender except looking like me! I allow myself to express my gender in any way that I want to, and validate myself that no matter what I have on or how I look, I’m non-binary as fuck!
If I am no longer feeling good about myself, for instance if I’m debating someone about trans issues and I am no longer wanting to participate, I stop. Say to yourself and out loud “I’m done, this is enough.” I actively decide to not participate in conversations that will or might cause me harm. I refuse to participate or provide emotional and intellectual labor, it’s about taking care of myself and my needs.
I ask myself, what do you need?” What do I need right now? Love? Touch? Food? Sleep? Validation? A shower? To cry or let out emotions? I try to figure out what I need, and then I give it to myself. That can be hard when you’ve spent most of your life disconnected from your body. By connecting with and listening to my body more, I’ve learned so many times this year, that most things I need I can give to myself and access from within. We are powerful as HELL.
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Arki Kirwin-Muller, 35, She/Her/They
A big part of self-care for me is a combination of having a good support network of friends and (understanding) relatives, as well as professional therapy. Both are very useful for keeping yourself in a more stable and cohesive frame of mind, as well as providing good vibes and better times. It only takes a little to give you enough strength to get yourself the rest of the way!
I try to remember that this is a core part of who I am, of my identity at its very basic. And we all have the right as living, thinking people to be whatever we feel we truly are, whether that’s cisgender, transgender, non-binary, queer, homosexual or any combination of these traits — we’re all valid.
Much like ‘dark humor’, I feel that my rejection of societal attacks on my beliefs and identity are more a rejection of them than strictly a way to toughen myself. I refuse to let myself be pushed down or overwhelmed because the bigots of this world, the transphobes, the homophobes, the far political right… all of them, I refuse to allow them the satisfaction of scaring me from who and what I am.
It’s important to look for any possible silver linings that you can, to not lose faith in yourself and, for me especially, knowing that over time things do improve and even if setbacks happen, if you keep hope alive and keep pushing, marching and fighting, we can, and will — get everything we deserve.
I would implore other non-binary people to not to look up to me, but instead, to look up to themselves, to their full capabilities, their resilience, their perseverance. In your own world, you are the most important thing. Cherish you!
Aisha Simone, 20, They/Them/Theirs
My mental health tends to be a delicate balancing act between feeling okay and getting things done. In terms of my identity, it really helps me to have friends that understand my identity and use my correct pronouns especially since I’ve moved back south and got a lot shyer about my identity. I get so used to misgendering myself sometimes they’ll get it right when I get it wrong and it’s kind of hilarious.
My absolute favorite self care tactic is bathing. I love to fill up the bath with hot water and pour in essential oils and Epsom salts. I play music and dance around in my underwear — sometimes I do face or hair masks. A lot of times I masturbate because it’s the only time I feel sexual but genderless. Often my sexual partners perception of my gender bleeds into how I feel and behave but when I masturbate I usually don’t feel body dysphoria. I like to seduce myself too, so it’s not just to achieve orgasm but to feel sensual and good about myself and my identity.
I like to pray because I have this concept that my ancestors have a much looser concept of gender and sexuality (which may or may not have been true lol but it comforts me). I read Psalms sometimes but I tend to remove gender and monotheism (like they/them instead of He/Him & Gods instead of God).
If you’re ever feeling unloved or unwanted or misunderstood know that we don’t need external validation from people outside of our community! We have ourselves and we have SO much power.
Hannah Fons, 43, She/They
I was assigned female at birth, but present very masculine/androgynous, thanks to my height, 15 years on testosterone, and chest surgery about a decade ago. I usually pass as male – despite wearing makeup almost daily – but I really don’t care one way or the other about pronouns. Honestly, more and more I go with She/They, if only to make the point that ‘She’ (as well as ‘He’) can look any number of ways.
I’ve always been fortunate to enjoy robust mental and emotional health, but when the weight of Otherness feels especially heavy, I look at how much it costs the cishet people who cling so hard to narrow, rigid performances of gender and sexuality: boys and men robbed of their right to express the full range of their emotions and creativity…girls and women taught that their worth depends on how successfully they’re able to embody someone else’s idea of beauty…and I count my blessings that I’m not playing that game – I’m not even playing in the same stadium.
My identity requires no validation. I’m here – people like me have always been here, and we’ll keep right on being here, despite any efforts to erase us or shut us up. The notion that my worth as a human on this planet is in any question because I don’t happen to fit into one of two little boxes is laughable.
As long as you keep looking outward for validation, approval, or ‘safety,’ you’re always going to be at the mercy of a world that isn’t built for you, and people who don’t have your best interests in mind – because they lack the imagination to put themselves in your shoes, or because they’re so threatened by your freedom that they have to resort to hatefulness and bigotry to preserve their own limited worldview. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of yourself, and you are absolutely not obligated to justify your existence, regardless of who’s asking. Your body is yours – to altar, cloth, and do with what you please. Don’t hope for respect – expect it. Failing that, demand it. Failing that, exact it. Generate your own self-care by digging deep to truly know yourself – in both strength and vulnerability. Achieve that, and the center will always hold, no matter what the world throws at you.
Remember: we’re ancient, we’re gifted, and we’re powerful. That’s why our haters are so vicious – they’re scared to death of us. Own that shit.
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