5 Ways to Lovingly Support Someone With C-PTSD

I was watching Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame when I felt myself starting to panic.

Right from the start, seeing Quasimodo be the recipient of so much gaslighting – being told that the world wasn’t safe, that he would never be accepted or loved, that Frollo had only his best interest at heart – struck a jarring but familiar chord with me.

Quasimodo’s isolation in the bell tower, unable to leave or connect with the outside world, eerily mirrored the control and entrapment I’d experienced years before.

“Hey,” my partner said softly, pausing the film. “Sam, you’re safe. It’s okay. But if this is too much, I’m more than happy to watch something else.”

In the midst of an emotional flashback, my fears were disrupted by my partner’s tender assurances. I could only nod. Without another word, my partner put on Steven Universe – my go-to show, having watched every episode at least three or four times, its familiarity and charm never failing to calm me down.

And I breathed (slowly and deeply) as I was lulled back into a sense of calm, my partner sitting quietly beside me. Sometimes seemingly “little things” can stir up something in survivors that becomes difficult to process in the moment.

But if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that sometimes our greatest healing can happen when we allow ourselves to love and be loved.

When my therapist told me that he believed I was struggling with C-PTSD, countless pieces of the puzzle rapidly clicked into place for me. The flashbacks, the fear of abandonment, the hypervigilance, the distrust, the dissociation, the deep and abiding emotional pain that I could swear I was born with – with one diagnosis, all of it seemed to make so much more sense.

Complex trauma, while not officially listed in the DSM-5, is still widely recognized by clinicians and survivors alike as a form of PTSD that occurs due to prolonged exposure to trauma – particularly interpersonal trauma, in which there was abuse and/or neglect that led to a significant imbalance of power.

Many culturally competent clinicians and survivors alike extend this framework to include the oppression that marginalized folks face, which can so often be traumatic.

My understanding of C-PTSD is largely influenced by the work of Pete Walker, a psychotherapist and survivor of complex trauma, whose words and affirmations helped bolster my own recovery (his book on complex trauma in childhood is a must-read).

While I am in a much better place with my trauma history, my loved ones – especially close partners who don’t share this kind of history – sometimes struggle to know how best to support me. I’ve had time to read, engage in trauma-informed therapy, and connect with community around these issues, but my loved ones haven’t necessarily done that work.

Friends and family of folks with C-PTSD don’t always have the same level of education and understanding that survivors do. That’s why I wanted to create this quick resource – to serve as a jumping off point to how to better support trauma survivors.

If you aren’t sure how to support a loved one with complex PTSD, here are some suggestions to start with.

1. Recognize That We Don’t Always Know Our Triggers, Either

Whenever I disclose to someone that I have C-PTSD, they often try to support me by asking, “What are the triggers I should know about?” I think this is a great question to ask if a survivor is aware of what can cause a flashback, but the reality is that many of us can be triggered on a level we aren’t even aware of.

That’s why it’s good to not only ask what triggers us but to ask what you can do if we find ourselves triggered.

What does your loved one find helpful? Is there something you can say, a kind of safe touch they want from you, or something else that’s comforting?

I use this guide to manage my flashbacks, and I think it’s a good point of reference for anyone who wants to help someone work through a particular episode. Give it a read, and invite your loved one to share what’s useful to them and what isn’t – assuming that this person is ready and able to have the conversation with you.

2. Encourage Us to Express Our Grief and Anger

A lot of trauma-informed therapists will say that survivors have a difficult time grieving the trauma they endured, and sometimes have difficulty expressing anger.

One of the best things a loved one can do is hold the space, then, for survivors to experience these emotions and express them in healthy ways.

Not sure how to do it? Here are some suggestions:

  • “I noticed that this conversation is bringing up a lot of anger for you. Do you want to share why?”
  • “What happened to you is absolutely unfair and unjust, and I’m open to hearing more if you want to talk about it.”
  • “If you need to cry, that’s okay. I can stay with you or I can leave if you need privacy. Just let me know.”
  • “Your feelings about this are absolutely valid. I hope you know that you’re safe now, and you’re allowed to feel those feelings.”

The key here is to (1) validate those emotions as real and understandable, and (2) open up a space in which those emotions can be felt and expressed more deeply.

Sometimes these conversations will happen when the trauma is referenced directly. Other times, a seemingly unrelated event can trigger a flashback. In both cases, it’s important to give survivors the space to navigate their feelings without judgment.

3. Let Us Vent Without Trying to Fix Things

One of the biggest mistakes that my loved ones made was that every time I tried to process aloud what I had been through, they would interrupt with advice on how to “fix” things.

In my recovery, I’ve found that coping with C-PTSD is not so much about fixing something. For me, a big part of the work has been about breaking through the denial of what I’d been through, and learning to love and protect myself in a way that I’d never believed I could.

I didn’t need to change or “fix” my relationship with the people who’d hurt me – more than anything, I needed to work through the ways I internalized that harm so I could, in turn, address the ways I’d been hurting myself.

More than anything, I’ve needed to be able to talk about what happened and feel seen when I did, so that I could begin to process what I’d been through and treat myself with more compassion.

And while every survivor’s recovery will look different, remember that when we want advice, we’ll ask for it – but what we need more than anything is your compassion.

4. Give Us Permission to Be Imperfect

For a lot of us with complex trauma, we struggle with perfectionism. Pete Walker calls this the “inner critic,” which so many survivors grapple with in recovery.

For some of us, perfectionism was a coping mechanism run amok, in which we desperately tried to better ourselves to “earn” the love or attachment that we lacked by correcting our supposed shortcomings. (Spoiler alert: No amount of perfecting ever changed this, but we continued trying anyway)

This “inner critic” can also be the voice we internalized, like when “you’re a bad child” suddenly becomes “I’m a bad child.” The external criticisms or neglect we endured suddenly became the mantras we took on as we were further and further traumatized.

Which is to say, a lot of survivors who are dealing with complex trauma really struggle with being imperfect.

For me personally, I believed for a long time that if people truly got to know me, they wouldn’t be able to love me. So I spent a good amount of time trying to make myself “better,” with the hopes that I would someday be “good enough” for the people in my life.

I think this is why it’s powerful when our loved ones give us permission to be imperfect. Some examples:

  • “You don’t have to be perfect for me or for anyone else. I’m going to be in your corner no matter what.”
  • “It’s true that you make mistakes. But you always work hard to make things right, and that’s what matters.”
  • “In my eyes, you’re already lovable and you’re already worthy.”
  • “Trust me. If something’s wrong, I’m going to tell you, and I promise we’ll work through it.”

An important thing to remember is that you’re responsible to your loved one, but not for your loved one – so their perfectionism, self-esteem issues, and unresolved trauma aren’t yours to fix.

Instead, support your loved one as they do the work to untangle those issues for themselves. That begins with simply letting them be human – creating the kind of space where you can both show up as yourselves, without the “all or nothing” expectation that the only people worthy of love are perfect people.

5. Educate Yourself About C-PTSD

Not sure where to go? A great place to start is this FAQ about complex trauma. While it’s written with survivors in mind, it’s still extremely useful for loved ones who aren’t sure what this C-PTSD stuff is all about.

I also think that this Wikipedia article on C-PTSD is one of the better online resources, along with this book that I mentioned earlier on in this piece.

Ask your loved one if there’s a particular resource that they’d like you to familiarize yourself with, or if they’re open to having a conversation about how complex trauma affects their life and relationships. If they’re interested in a conversation, make sure that you’re committed to holding the space for whatever emotions might arise, and that your approach is validating and compassionate.

Pete Walker also has a great resource on the concept of “co-counseling,” which offers a nice structure on how to have these conversations in a productive and safe way. I’d highly recommend it. You can also reach out to a therapist to facilitate this conversation between you if more guidance would be helpful.

Part of supporting a survivor is being open to learning and realizing that this learning is an ongoing process, rather than a single event. There’s no singular article or resource that will give you the expertise needed to support someone – rather, in the process of building trust between you, you’ll teach each other how to create a mutually safe and supportive space.

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When my partner paused The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it was a simple but important gesture that said to me, “Your trauma is not a burden. I’m here to support you.”

More than anything, I think survivors withhold a lot of what they’re going through for fear of being “too much” – but when invited, we can find the kind of safety necessary to open up and allow our relationships to truly grow.

If you’re looking to support a survivor, it can be as simple as noticing. As simple as validating us. As simple as saying, “I believe you.”

All I really wanted was someone to believe me. And every time someone does, I can feel a part of me learning to trust again, learning to love with abandon and without fear.

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Mental Illness Taught Me to Fear Being Alone. Here’s What I Do to Cope.

My partner is gone for the remainder of the week, leaving abruptly on the heels of a family tragedy. And at first, I’m convinced I will be fine.

I have new medications. I have a wonderful cat. I have friends, and Netflix, and books to read.

“This won’t be so hard,” I tell myself. “It might even be fun.”

But the second night alone, I’m having a full-blown panic attack. And I’m so ashamed of it that I resist reaching out for help, for fear of embarrassing myself and confirming my friends’ suspicions that I’m too crazy, or too needy, or both.

At first, I feel ridiculous, because “normal” people can be alone. “Normal” people don’t think twice about it, apparently.

But here I am, laying on the floor of my apartment, hyperventilating because my OCD has whipped me into a frenzy. I can’t stop thinking about how I might kill my cat or kill myself, even though I desperately don’t want to do either (fun fact: obsessions like these never come to fruition, and even though I logically know it’s my OCD messing with me, I can’t seem to calm down).

But when I pause and think about it, my aversion to being alone isn’t exactly surprising.

Being alone meant lacking protection, and with a history of self-harm and dissociation, being alone meant that I was vulnerable to real emotional and even physical harm. I learned to associate being alone with being in danger. And while I’ve pushed back against that line of thinking in my adult life, I’m still traumatized by everything that happened when there was no one there to intervene.

We exist in a culture that likes to tell us that if we aren’t completely self-reliant, we’re weak or defective or needy. But the truth is, people with mental illness or trauma histories have valid reasons to fear being alone.

When the most painful events in our lives began with our minds betraying us, being left to our own devices can feel like the equivalent of hanging from the edge of a very precarious cliff.

Fearing being alone, then, could be looked at as a self-protective measure — when we associate being alone with being in danger, our brains are wired to sound the alarm when we perceive that danger, even if it isn’t “rational” to the outside observer.

I have a lot of compassion for anyone who struggles to be by themselves (even for myself, though it can be hard to remember sometimes). It’s not a position that anyone wants to be in. It’s not a fear that anyone actively wants to have. And it can wind up making us feel helpless, embarrassed, and ashamed.

There are so few resources that help us figure out how to be alone and still feel safe. There’s this default assumption that we all can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and handle it, without realizing that trauma and mental health struggles can deeply complicate this.

For me, being alone is still very much a trigger, one that I’m constantly trying to figure out. But each time I confront it, I get a little bit better at dealing with it, and sometimes even enjoying having that time to myself.

I wanted to share some of what has helped me. While every person is different, I’m hoping you’ll take what’s useful to you and leave the rest. Think of this as inspiration, rather than a list of hard-and-fast rules.

Here’s how I deal with being by myself.

1. Resist the Self-Criticism and Judgment

When I feel the anxiety of being alone, my impulse is to start judging myself for it. “Everyone else seems to be fine with this,” I tell myself. “Why can’t I be?”

I start to panic about how I’ll never learn to be okay with being alone, and that if I ever lose my partners or my friends, I’ll be doomed to a life of misery and anxiety for all of eternity. (Typical borderline, I know…)

It’s a shame spiral that quickly gets out of control. It never helps me — it only makes things much worse.

As best you can, it’s important to try to resist those thoughts. Particularly as someone with complex PTSD who struggles with feelings of being powerless, I try to combat those thoughts with affirmations and self-assurances. I tell myself stuff like this:

  • It’s okay to feel afraid or triggered right now.
  • I am capable and prepared for this, even if I feel afraid.
  • I have tools and coping skills for this situation.
  • This is about trauma and not about personal weakness.
  • I have options for what I can do in this moment.
  • I can keep myself safe. I can count on me. 

Everyone’s affirmations will be different, but the general themes here are important. It’s critical to remember that (1) your fear in this moment is valid, (2) you have options for how to respond to that fear, and (3) your emotions, however charged, aren’t in control. You are.

I practice telling myself this stuff all the time. Sometimes I even write it on a sticky note if I need to. And while it may not magically make everything better, it does help me to feel less guilty about what I’m going through.

2. Create the Illusion of Company

Sometimes we really do need a human connection, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s why, when I’m struggling to be by myself, I try to create at least the illusion of that connection.

For me, this includes podcasts. One of my favorites is The Purrrcast, which is literally just a podcast of people telling stories about their cats. It has this fun feeling of sitting around in someone’s living room, geeking out about one of the best critters known to humankind (sorry, I just seriously love cats). I like to get a cup of tea, wrap myself in a blanket, and tune in.

I also think YouTube channels are great for this. YouTube tends to be a little more personal, with YouTubers talking directly to you. I like to watch Marina Watanabe’s channel for this reason (she runs the series Feminist Fridays).

I imagine myself hanging out with Marina — talking about mental health, feminism, politics, queerness, whatever — and I think that has helped me immeasurably in becoming more comfortable being alone. (I’m now ~actual friends~ with Marina, instead of just a creepy fanboy, so I can verify that she’s actually as amazing as she seems.)

If you find yourself in a difficult place, there are also therapeutic chatbots like Wysa, which can help talk you through your negative thought patterns, assist you with self-care, and teach you different cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. I like to use this when I’m in a panic and need some perspective.

Remembering that these are tools in your toolbox, available to you at any moment, can be super helpful in easing you into being on your own.

3. Set a Time Limit

Sometimes it’s just not reasonable to expect myself to be alone. But if I avoid being alone at all costs, I’m only reinforcing that fear and sense of helplessness.

So instead, I’ve tried setting time limits, encouraging myself to spend a finite amount of time on my own instead of an indefinite amount of time. Knowing that this time alone is temporary helps me cope a lot more effectively.

For example, I give myself an hour. I set a timer, and when that timer is up, I reach out to a friend or get myself out of the apartment. This challenges me to sit with my discomfort a little longer than I want to, but also makes it more bearable by giving myself a deadline.

It’s okay if you can’t spend an infinite amount of time in isolation. Just try pushing yourself a little (read: within healthy limits that don’t jeopardize your safety), and you may find over time that you become more and more capable of coping with it for longer amounts of time.

Remember, we’re trying to teach our brains that we can survive being alone. Which means it’s more important to have small victories (building up our confidence) than it is to just “toughen up” and suffer through an entire night.

4. Learn and Limit Your Triggers

Working with a therapist can be especially helpful with this. When being alone is already a trigger, it’s really important to limit our exposure to other things that make us more stressed out.

For example, I’ve learned that because my OCD obsessions center around self-harm or harming others, I’m not going to marathon Criminal Minds when I’m by myself. Similarly, as much as I love a beautiful, sad ballad, I will not be listening to the “Life Sucks” playlist on Spotify (yes, that’s a real playlist, and yes, I’ve gotten lost in it before — big mistake).

Even if I think I can handle stressors (oh, those lonely nights that I thought I could handle reading that super depressing memoir), I now don’t engage regardless of my mood in that moment. Because it’s just not worth the risk.

Know what sets you off. And avoid it like the plague.

5. Create a Schedule — And Stick To It

If I know I’m going to be spending some time alone, I try to plan ahead. I research some movies and pick one that I’ll watch, I buy some snacks, I download a new game, get a new book at the library, schedule a Skype date with a friend if needed, whatever.

I try to make sure my time is filled up, so that I’m not moping around or letting my mind wander.

Is it weird to create a calendar for my solo activities? Probably, maybe a little bit. But if I’m sitting around not sure of how to use my time, that’s when I start to get anxious. If I’ve already got plans, I have less space to freak out and a lot more to look forward to.

I’ve said it before, but boredom really is the enemy of mental health. So get yourself a plan, and stick to it.

6. Get Help Sooner Rather Than Later

You’re not always going to be a superstar at being alone. So much of our impulsive, emotional reactions to being alone have more to do with trauma we can’t even consciously access, and dealing with that can take a lot of time.

This is why it’s important that we actually ask for help when we need it, rather than waiting for some crisis or catastrophe.

If we wait for a crisis to happen, we’re only teaching our brains that crisis is inevitable, and we perpetuate the fear. But if we get support early on that allows us to turn things around, we can start to feel more capable.

When I was having a panic attack on my floor the other week, a lot of thoughts went through my mind. I thought about drinking to dull the pain. I thought about self-harm, because I’m practically wired to think about it whenever I’m stressed out. But I realized that if I engaged in either of those behaviors, I’d only confirm the very fear that made me feel unsafe in the first place.

So I called a friend. We went and got milkshakes, talked through my OCD obsession, and I slept soundly that night.

(At times when I was deeper in crisis, I was able to get myself to a hospital. And there’s no shame in that, either, if that’s what you need.)

The point of learning to cope with being alone isn’t to teach yourself that you’ll never need anyone — it’s to remind your brain that you have options, and that you can count on yourself to make the right choice and stay safe.

Sometimes staying safe means handling things on your own with your learned coping skills. Other times, it’s knowing when you need a little extra support, and being courageous enough to ask for it.

Practicing these different skills has helped me to create a sense of safety that has been missing for a long time. You start to learn the difference between a crisis that requires an intervention, and a moment of panic that we can manage ourselves. Our brains aren’t always great at knowing which is which — but that’s something that can be learned over time, with practice and self-compassion.

It’s amazing how we’re taught to feel ashamed of needing other people. I often wondered how different it would be if we, instead, just validated that being alone can be really hard, and encouraged people to be patient with themselves as they navigate those feelings.

There’s a funny sort of irony to the fact that, if you dread being alone like I do, you’re actually in great company — because it’s more common an experience than you might think.

So take a deep breath. Because believe it or not, you’ve got this.

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What I Wish My Loved Ones Understood When I’m Suicidal

My mother hit the nail on the head when she said that I didn’t come with an instruction manual.

If I did, I’d request that it include at least one chapter on suicide – because none of us, including me, were prepared for how to deal with suicidal thoughts and actions. As it turns out, mental illness would drive me to the end of my rope on more than one occasion.

The truth is that no one prepares you for that phone call, the one when your loved one is on the other end of the line saying, “I just can’t do this anymore.”

No one prepares you for that moment when they hang up abruptly, and you have to make a quick decision that might save their life.

I’ve been the person who both got the call and made the call – suicidee and suicidal, if you will – and I know what it feels like to be both on the ledge and the one trying to talk someone down.

But if you’ve only ever been the one on the ground, you might not understand what it looks like from way up there. It’s difficult to understand and even more difficult to empathize with a person who is suicidal, having never been there before.

And while I can’t give you an instruction manual, I can tell you what it feels like to be there.

Here’s what I wish you knew:

1. Please don’t pretend to understand what it’s like if you don’t actually get it.

I know that you’re just trying to connect with me, but I can see through the nonsense from a mile away. I know when you can’t actually relate to what I’m going through. I know when you’re just pretending.

In this moment, I just want you to be here for me. I want you to hold space for me to be vulnerable, to feel pain, to be afraid. Let me know that you’re here with me. Remind me that I have options, and ask me if I want to talk through them. Give me the chance to unpack what’s been hurting me. Remind me that you’re here.

Listen and don’t judge.

If you haven’t been suicidal before or if you haven’t experienced depression like this, that’s okay. I don’t actually need you to have some kind of insider knowledge. I don’t need you to be able to relate to everything I’m saying and feeling.

I just need you to be here with me right now. I called you, of all the people I could’ve called, for a reason.

2. I don’t need you to fix this.

If I’m at rock bottom, the reality is that my situation is one that won’t be fixed in a single night. Crises like these aren’t about fixing things – it’s about being my support, helping me to hang in there when it seems like there’s nothing worth holding on for.

By all means, offer resources and coping strategies with me, and be sure to ask if that’s helpful for me. But if you enter into this conversation with the expectation that you can fix all of my problems, it’s just going to create a whole lot of stress for us both.

If there were some kind of immediate solution to my crisis, believe me, I would’ve chosen that before I ever considered suicide. The reality is, it’s going to take a lot to pull through.

Rather than promising a solution, promise me that I won’t have to go through this alone — and mean that when you say it.

3. The fact that I told you what I’m feeling is a really huge deal.

Being suicidal is one of the most vulnerable positions a human being can be in. It’s also one of the most difficult things you can endure. It took a lot of courage to talk about what I’m going through. Honor that courage.

And remember: I chose you. Of all the people I could call in this moment, I trusted you. That means something.

Instead of ending my life, I called on you. You mattered enough to be the person that I picked up the phone for. You mattered enough to be the face that I looked for in my darkest hour. You mattered enough to be the voice that I wanted to hear.

Being suicidal doesn’t mean I don’t care enough about you to stay — the fact that I’m including you now means that I care very deeply about you. Please don’t forget that.

4. Take me seriously.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but you need to take everything I’m saying very seriously. I need you to operate from a place of belief — believe that I’m in pain, believe that I’m in danger, and believe that this is urgent and requires your attention.

I say this for a few reasons.

For one, suicidal people can sound detached. They can sound resigned. There isn’t always desperation or urgency in their voice. We don’t always respond emotionally in the ways you might expect. That doesn’t mean this experience is less real or sincere.

Instead, ask questions, and pay attention to these factors: Is there a plan? Are there means to carry out that plan? Is there an intended time to carry out that plan? And do they intend to take their own life?

(This guide is a pretty important resource for understanding how to respond to someone who is suicidal. I wish all my loved ones had read it before I made that call.)

The other reason that I ask that you take me seriously is because, sadly, many people assume that when someone shares that they’re suicidal, they’re only doing so for attention. But the reality is, a person in this much pain needs attention.

When the mere suggestion of someone taking their own life comes into play, there’s no question of how seriously you should take them. Take me seriously, because this is serious.

5. Telling me that there’s hope when I feel hopeless isn’t always helpful.

Do tell me about concrete alternatives, resources, and options that I have in my position. But don’t give me empty promises of how beautiful life is or other poetic ideas that you think will inspire me to keep on living.

If I could comprehend that kind of optimism right now, I probably wouldn’t be in this position.

Remember: My depression doesn’t just affect my mood — it affects my thoughts. Sometimes, I’m just not capable of seeing the big picture, or I’m in too much pain for that big picture to matter.

I don’t want to hear about how great life is. Because for me, in this moment, it’s anything but. And you reminding me of what I can’t feel and understand will only make me feel more alienated and more alone.

6. My feeling this way isn’t your fault.

Please, please, please don’t blame yourself for how I’m feeling in this moment. Could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve scenarios will only make us both feel worse. Instead, focus on the here and now, and how to get us through this.

7. My pain is valid.

You may not understand my pain, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. Don’t tell me that I don’t have a reason to be depressed or suicidal. Don’t tell me my life is too good to throw away. Don’t tell me that there are people out there with worse problems than mine.

I don’t deserve to be punished or made to feel guilty just because I’m having a difficult time in my life.

Validate my pain. Acknowledge my suffering. And know that, for me, it’s very real. Real enough to make me contemplate suicide.

8. I may not be ready for what you have to say (right now), but it could mean everything to me later on.

Talking to a suicidal person can sometimes feel like talking to a brick wall. The truth is, I’m not always ready to hear what you have to say. Your messages of support, love, and warmth may go right over my head. I’m in a dark place and I can’t always see the light from where I’m at.

But I’ll tell you what: I remember the people who talked me off the ledge years and years ago. I remember what they said to me to this day. And even though, in that moment, I couldn’t really grasp what they told me, it came back to me.

I remembered it in therapy. I remembered it the next time I was hurting. I remembered it in recovery. And those words that, at first, meant nothing to me eventually came to mean everything.

What you’re saying to me is never in vain. Because while it may not resonate at the time, it could be the affirmation that I cling to weeks, months, years down the line. Sometimes it takes a while before the message really sinks in.

Give me time. I’ll thank you later.

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Have a suicidal loved one and not sure what to do? Read this guide from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or, if you need immediate assistance, give them a call at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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A much shorter version of this piece that I wrote originally appeared at Ravishly.

My Beautiful, Borderline Mind

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about the misconceptions around borderline personality disorder.

“I reject the idea that people with BPD aren’t deserving of competent care and compassion that would allow them to thrive,” I wrote, “and if we dismiss them as being irredeemable, that support becomes more difficult to access.”

Writing that piece was painful. Recalling the ways that people misconstrue my struggles was a deeply emotional process for me.

It also brought to light the very real stigma that still exists around BPD.

I started getting emails.

“My husband has borderline, but he’s horrible,” someone writes. “How can I get him to be more self-aware like you?” (This is almost, word-for-word, a message I received.)

“My partner with BPD is crazy, she’s too much,” someone explains. “What pills are you taking? Do you think that they’ll make her normal?”

This wasn’t the first time I was being held up as some kind of psychiatric achievement. Sometimes even my clinicians viewed me this way. “Most people with borderline aren’t like you,” a clinician told me recently. When I asked what that meant, he told me, “Most of them are just… flailing around, deeply unstable.”

Flailing around. That’s what most people think. Even our clinicians believe we’re chaos embodied, helpless, disturbed.

And thus I was propped up as an ideal. I was the repentant borderline, the good borderline. The more I was perceived as distancing myself from the disorder, the more people applauded me.

This is because the borderline that the world likes the most is the “reformed” borderline — the one that will apologize for being too much, will cut themselves down to be accepted, be neurotic in “acceptable” and small doses, and most of all, disavow any and all traces of the disorder.

In other words, the self-hating borderline is the one that the world loves the most.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, then, when I tell people that I don’t really hate my borderline mind. For all the hell it’s given me — and by extension, the folks who’ve supported me in my recovery — BPD has given me a beautiful intensity that I appreciate.

The world asks me to reject my borderline mind, looking for some symbolic gesture to demonstrate that I hate myself as much as they hate people like me.

In me, they see the redemption of their “crazy” spouse, their unhinged mother, their unruly child.

Every time I apologize for my existence, they are comforted knowing that they don’t have to learn to love someone with borderline — they can wait for the day when their loved one with borderline finally hates themselves enough to be someone else, or hates themselves enough to die.

But there are parts of me that I so deeply love — parts of me that wouldn’t exist if BPD weren’t a part of me, too.

And so long as we view people with borderline in such a reductive way, we fail to appreciate what’s possible for people with BPD. We demand that they erase themselves or punish themselves, rather than coming into their own, realizing themselves fully, and perhaps even learning to love themselves.

It’s devastating to think that, as we characterize people with BPD as abusers that need to repent or as irredeemably lost, we create a culture that denies people with BPD the possibility of authentic healing and self-love.

In the process of my own healing, I’ve realized that BPD is not just a source of trauma, but in some ways, it’s been a source of unique strength.

That’s the conversation that’s missing. That’s the conversation I’m longing for, waiting for.

The love that I’m capable of feeling for others, when it’s no longer fueled by fear, is a remarkable thing. My capacity for seeing the best in others, my ability to love deeply and fully, my sense of connectedness to the folks that I care about — these are things I would never change, so long as it comes from a healthy and secure place.

While I can be reactive, my sensitivity allows me to tune in deeply to the feelings of others. My firsthand experiences of pain allow me to make intense and empathic connections to others who might be suffering. And knowing what it’s like to be left behind, the loyalty that I possess makes me a reliable and caring friend.

What people with BPD need isn’t the greatest possible distance from themselves and from their disorder. What they need is security, healthy attachments, support, and genuine safety, so that they can become someone that they’re happy to be.

My borderline mind can be frightening and self-destructive. Ask anyone who was along for the ride this last year (when I was hospitalized not once but twice) and they’ll tell you as much.

But this mind also has a capacity for intense love, connection, and empathy — a potential that’s so often ignored or missed in people with BPD because of a stigma that leaves no room for us to grow.

For me personally, living with borderline has been retraining my brain to recognize when I am safe, after having lived for many years without protection in the face of complex trauma and PTSD. It’s been a process, too, to create the safety that I lacked for so long, and to trust in it when I have it.

It’s also been important to understand that safety doesn’t have to come in the form of support from others — it’s safety I can create for myself.

But that’s a realization I never would’ve come to if I’d listened to the stigma that told me that having BPD meant I was inherently bad, spiteful, or dangerous, teaching me to fear myself rather than be kind to myself.

Nothing about this process has been “flailing around,” as a clinician once said — it’s been a desperate search to regain the safety I’d been denied. And nothing about that process has been “manipulative,” either. Any misdirection to meet my needs, especially during a struggle I wasn’t prepared for and never asked for, was an act of survival, however flawed or unskillful.

My borderline mind has embedded in it a propensity for chaos that I won’t deny, but just the same, it gives me an incomparable ability to love and be loved. I have a sensitivity that keeps me deeply engaged with my world, a vulnerability that gives me immense integrity and strength, and an intensity that makes me creative and dynamic and alive.

And with the right support, I’ve been able to nurture that empathy and depth in incredible, unexpected ways.

I don’t believe that a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is a statement of finality, of futility, of hopelessness, and I resent any suggestion that it is. I think for many, it can be an opportunity — a chance to grow, and to take everything we were taught to fear, and find the strengths hiding just underneath.

I wouldn’t be who I am without BPD. And I’m tired of the world demanding that I be anybody else.

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I Thought I Was Ugly. I Didn’t Realize It Was Gender Dysphoria.

For a long time, I couldn’t place why — I just felt ugly.

And not just in the insecure way, but in the something-is-so-wrong-but-I-can’t-place-what way.

No matter what I did, or how often my friends reassured me, nothing seemed to change the fact that something didn’t feel right when I looked in the mirror. And no one seemed to see it but me.

As someone assumed to be a girl, I figured that hating how I looked was a rite of passage. I could never articulate what I didn’t like, though. It wasn’t my nose, or my lips, or my teeth.

When people asked, I helplessly explained, “I don’t know, I’m just ugly.”

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When I look at old pictures of myself, though, I start to understand. For one, it doesn’t even look like me.

It wasn’t that I was ugly, so much as I didn’t look like myself. But not even knowing what “transgender” meant, I didn’t have a point of reference to understand my feelings at the time.

It wasn’t that I was ugly by some objective measure, or even that someone had told me I was and the comment stayed with me. It was that I was dysphoric — the body I was in didn’t feel like mine, and I could only react to it with discomfort and, at times, disgust.

There’s this narrative around transness, that we all knew immediately that we were meant to transition, meant to live in a different body, that the gender we were assigned is not the gender we actually are. For many of us, however, that’s simply not our story.

For me, none of that occurred to me consciously for a long time. I just knew that I didn’t like how I looked — that I was deeply uncomfortable with myself — and at times I felt that very strongly. It took much longer to understand why.

Transitioning happened for me a little haphazardly, and maybe a little organically, too. I was drawn to short hair, and after cutting it, I felt euphoric in a way I couldn’t deny. I loved androgyny as a style, and after experimenting a little, started to find new ways to express myself. I followed my intuition, not entirely sure where it would lead me, trying not to overthink what it said about me or my gender.

And then I noticed something: The further I moved away from the gendered expectations that came with being perceived as a woman, the happier I felt.

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Ugliness is such a profound, raw, and vulnerable emotional experience for some trans people. For me, it was the driving force in my transition.

“Ugly” was the only word I had to describe my dysphoria, which meant it flew under the radar for a long time.

It didn’t raise any alarms for the people around me. It just confirmed the sexist notion that women are supposed to be insecure, and therefore my discontent was an acceptable, albeit sad experience that came with the territory of my assigned gender.

But something intuitively pushed me forward. Part of that was finally meeting other transgender and non-binary people, who gave me the language I didn’t have, and filled in the gaps of knowledge I desperately needed.

I became acquainted with the feeling of gender euphoria — the sense of affirmation and even joy that comes with being “seen” as the gender you truly identify with. For me, I had waves of euphoria as I started hearing my new name, my new pronouns, and my new reflection staring back at me, being shaped before my eyes by testosterone.

Dysphoria is a complicated experience, and I think it’s very misunderstood, even by some folks in the trans community.

It’s not like I looked down at my body and saw a vision laid before me, immediately understanding that I wasn’t a girl. It was, more often than that, the sense of lingering discomfort, confusion, and profound emotional rejection that unsettled me, often on a deeply unconscious level.

Dysphoria, for me, has always been the battle between my conscious desire to take the easiest and safest route in life — one that cis people repeatedly told me would be living as a cis woman — and my unconscious and, at times, desperate need to transform my body so that I could live authentically and comfortably.

At first, it was easy to reject my dysphoria as feeling “ugly” and nothing more, because it felt safer to consider myself a cisgender person who felt ugly, rather than stepping into my life as a transgender person, considering the many risks and struggles that came with it.

Dysphoria never provided me an answer or a clear path forward, as it sometimes does for other trans people. For me, it created a problem, and it was one that I didn’t initially know how to solve.

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But as it turns out, transition was the right thing for me, even if it took years to understand that.

The profound anxiety that I had when I looked at myself has been replaced with a kind of joy — a joy I’d never had before transition, in which I can see myself and not only do I look good, but it looks right.

My friend Jes Baker, a fat activist and incredible blogger/human, said to me before that a lot of our unhappiness with our bodies happens when we look at the mirror expecting to see someone else (paraphrasing, but you get the idea).

In some cases, coming to terms with our bodies as they are can be our greatest act of self-love. There’s abundant messaging in this world that tells us to reject our bodies, and unlearning that shit takes time. But for others, change is how we make peace with our reflection.

I think it all begins with the question, “Who am I expecting to see looking back at me?”

Every day, I think the person I was waiting for is finally coming back to me. And I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful that feels.

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Photo by elizabeth lies on Unsplash

7 Things I Wish People Hadn’t Said After My Psychiatric Hospitalization

It took four weeks for my breakdown to happen – like a slow spiral, my sanity slipped out from underneath me. But in my memory, it doesn’t feel like such a long time. It’s as if I blinked, and suddenly I was in the emergency room with an IV in my arm and a security guard watching me sleep.

From there, I was committed, and driven an hour and a half by ambulance to a hospital in some city I’d never heard of before.

It took seven days before I was deemed fit to return to the “real world” – a world I was not prepared for, a world that I did not assimilate back into so easily.

Everything was the same as when I left it – yet none of it felt familiar. My bed felt too soft, like it could swallow me whole; my apartment felt like I was visiting someone else’s place; and my friends felt distant, like I hadn’t seen them in years. I could never seem to relax, waking up five, six times a night and greeting the morning exhausted, as if I hadn’t slept.

For a long time after, there was almost constant anxiety when I was with the people that I loved. Spending time with friends was unnerving; knowing that they’d seen me at rock bottom made me feel exposed, like there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to go.

I couldn’t be myself or let my guard down. I used to feel at ease socially, but for a while, I felt safer when I was alone.

There are reminders of my pain, even now. Every so often, there are flashbacks of the breakdown that sent me to the ER. The voices, the suicide note, the delusions, the alcohol, the intervention, the doctor’s disappointment (“I’d hoped this wouldn’t be necessary”), and the IV stuck in my arm – a blurry haze of shame and despair and fear.

To say that being hospitalized changed things for me doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface – I spent half a year after as a visitor to my own life.

Going back home after my psychiatric hospitalization was one of the most alienating experiences I’ve ever had, and like many people who have been hospitalized, finding the support I needed to feel secure during that transition was difficult.

There’s a lot to be desired when it comes to supporting folks who were recently hospitalized, especially when that hospitalization, like mine, is traumatic for them. And that support begins with how we talk about the experience.

To start, here are seven things that were said to me after my hospitalization that didn’t feel so supportive – and why you really shouldn’t say them.

1. (Nothing)

A lot of people didn’t know what to say, so they didn’t say anything at all. To be honest, I didn’t know how to ask for their support, so I didn’t say anything, either.

In our own ways, we were both just scared. We didn’t know how to process or where to begin. We didn’t know how to be vulnerable around each other. There was no cultural script for how to have these conversations. And for many people, I think they were afraid that if they said the wrong thing, I might fracture and break.

And yet, even though I understood this, I think the silence is still what hurt me the most.

Everyone is different in how they deal with emotional pain. Some people will explicitly ask their loved ones not to ask or talk about the experience. That’s a very valid reaction to trauma. But for others, saying nothing can suggest that you don’t care, that you’re pretending it didn’t happen, or that their hospitalization has scared you off – any of which can be very painful.

I think it’s important to ask your loved one what they need, so you can act accordingly.

If you want to say something but you don’t know how to approach it, here are some suggestions that might be helpful:

“How can I help support you?”

“Would it help if you talked and I just listened?”

“It sounds like you’re going through a lot, let me know if you need a friend.”

“Do you want me to bring some food over?”

“Can I send you a care package in the mail?”

It’s also true that after supporting someone through a mental health crisis, you may need to take some time apart. I was just as appreciative of the friends who stepped back, but still took the time to say, “I need some space to take care of my own mental health, but I want you to know that I’m proud of you for committing to your recovery.”

Your response doesn’t need to be perfect. All we need is some indication that you care.

2. ‘I’m Glad You’re Better Now’

One of the most common things people said to me when I left the hospital was telling me how relieved they were that I was “better.” Never mind that I’d never said things were better; never mind that I’d never said that I was recovered.

I could tell that the people in my life were relieved to see me, and glad that I seemed steadier than before. So they expressed it the only way they knew how – with gratitude.

I completely understand the impulse. Because I was glad to see them, too.

But it still doesn’t feel good to have everyone around you assume that you’re okay, especially after something that might have been traumatic. I found myself swallowing my grief, feeling like there wasn’t any space to not be okay – and when post-hospital life became more and more difficult, I didn’t feel like I could talk about it.

Many people assume that being out of the hospital means that we’re cured. But in reality, hospitalizations are often just the beginning of our healing, and much of the work we do to regain mental wellness happens outside of the hospital.

Recovery is not simple or linear, and mine certainly wasn’t. It took so much emotional strength to cope with the nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and not to mention, the intensive therapy program that I attended three days a week when I returned home.

I don’t think anyone knew the burden I was shouldering, and just how brave I was to face it all.

So the idea that I should be “back to normal” – without understanding how hard I was working to stay afloat – only made me feel more distanced from my loved ones. I felt like there was an unspoken expectation that I would be stable and untroubled from here on out, which was impossible with all that I was still dealing with.

I felt like I had no permission to express what I was actually feeling – because there was now an assumption about how I should be feeling.

Everyone deserves the chance to recover on their own terms; try not to assume that someone is “back to normal” if they haven’t told you so.

3. ‘This Could’ve Been Avoided If You Had Just…’

It’s understandable that our loved ones, who presumably care very much about us, find themselves wishing that the hospitalization hadn’t happened, or feeling scared about what we went through.

It’s also understandable if there’s anger about the hospitalization, because sometimes it’s traumatic for more than just the folks who end up hospitalized.

So trust me when I say that I get it – fear, anger, and sadness were just a small slice of the spectrum of emotions my loved ones were feeling, too.

In the bigger picture, we are a part of a culture that so often blames victims for their own suffering – that tragedy or violence could be prevented if we had only made different choices. We blame rape survivors for having drunk too much, we blame poor folks for not spending wisely, we blame victims of police brutality for not “following orders.”

This kind of attitude is ingrained in our everyday lives.

With all of the emotions that you might be feeling, and the cultural script of blaming the victim, you may find yourself wanting to tell someone how their hospitalization and subsequent trauma is their fault, a result of poor choices that they made.

And I know that that assertion might feel very true, very real, and very justified.

But the truth is that it’s too late. What’s happened is done. When people pointed out that it was my choices that led to my hospitalization, they resurrected the pain, the memories, and the self-blame that had already been tormenting me.

My wounds were still fresh – and prodding at them only made things worse.

It made me feel like I deserved to go through the traumatic experience – like I should be punished for having a mental illness.

I had already spent every night in the hospital, thinking about what I should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve done. I already knew what choices were the wrong choices, because I’d replayed them in my mind a hundred thousand times. And I was not in the emotional state, when I left the hospital, to hash it out all over again.

No matter what the circumstances are, it’s triggering to blame someone for their own trauma, effectively forcing them to relive it.

It’s important to remember that mental health is far more complex than just individual choices. There are so many factors – psychological, biochemical, and even political – that can steer someone’s mental health in one direction or another.

Maybe there’s a conversation in the future which can involve prevention strategies and reconciliation. But for now, a person recovering after a hospital stay has one priority and one priority only: themselves.

4. ‘Please Don’t Tell Anyone’

A number of people discouraged me from writing about my hospitalization. Friends told me to reconsider how openly I’d posted on social media about it. Family members told me not to tell other family members. The underlying message, while not explicit, was that I should be ashamed of what happened to me, and that I should keep it a secret.

I chose to write about it on the internet instead. Because frankly, as a queer person and as a mentally ill person, I’ve spent most of my life in the closet and I’m not about to go back in.

The reality is, it’s up to the person who was hospitalized to disclose or not disclose. It’s up to them to decide what they feel comfortable sharing and what they don’t. And it’s up to them to tell this story on their terms – because what happened belongs to them, and not to anyone else.

It’s true that there’s a very real stigma around psychiatric hospitalizations. And when my loved ones asked me not to share, I know they only wanted to protect me.

But frankly, I never asked to be protected – and their attempts at shielding me only revealed their discomfort with my hospitalization, not mine.

There are always potential consequences when talking about mental health struggles. But it’s up to the person who was hospitalized to weigh those risks, and decide what makes sense for them.

Instead of telling people how to navigate their disclosure, it’s more important to support people in whatever choices they make – because it’s about their safety, their comfort, and their needs… not yours.

5. ‘What Was It Like?’

I think that the people who have asked me this wanted to be supportive and give me a space to process the experience, but they failed to acknowledge that I might not be ready to share.

(For the record, this goes for “what got you hospitalized?” and “did you hurt yourself?” inquiries, too. Ugh.)

Many people felt entitled to details about what happened to me in the hospital – entitled because they were family, or because we were close, or because they were curious. They seemed to suggest that what happened wasn’t mine, to process on my own time. That, instead, it belonged to everyone else but me.

And as people pushed and pried for details, I felt violated – I felt like they were exploiting my suffering because they had a morbid curiosity about being institutionalized, not about my healing or well-being.

It started to feel dehumanizing.

The reality is that many of us leaving psychiatric facilities may not feel safe sharing, aren’t in a place to relive what happened, or just don’t want to talk about it. And that should be respected – we should never be putting anyone on the spot, as if their hospitalization is just an entertaining story instead of a very personal experience.

6. ‘When Are You Going Back to Work/School?’

Being asked when I was going back to work was by far the most stressful question I was asked.

I promise, every single one of us wants to go back when we’re ready, so this is a question you don’t even need to ask. And if we need to go back sooner, it’s a decision that’s ours to make.

What many people don’t understand is that hospitalization is often the beginning, not the end, of recovery.

It will take its own course, on its own time – there’s no absolute formula for knowing when a person will start to return to their baseline mood and functioning.

If you want to support someone’s recovery, it’s far more important to be patient and understanding than to push someone to do something they may not be ready for.

And it’s critical to understand that going back to school or work when we’re still trying to recover may make things worse, not better.

I’ve known people to end up right back in the hospital because they returned to a toxic work situation or stressful semester at school before they were truly equipped to handle it.

The question shouldn’t be “when are you going back?” The right question is, “How are you feeling? How can I be supportive?”

Because if you’re really that interested in their return to work or school, you should be focused on how you can support them in getting better – valuing their humanity and wellness first and foremost, instead of their productivity. Pressuring them won’t get them back to “normal life” any faster.

7. ‘Try Not to Dwell on It Too Much’

A lot of well-intentioned people told me that instead of ruminating about what happened, I should “try not to dwell on it,” stay busy, go out, and keep it off my mind. But it felt like such a careless thing to say – that if I ignored what happened, it would just disappear.

I knew that their mindset was something like, “I can see that you’re in pain when you think about this, so maybe you should find a way not to think about it.” Logically, I can see why it would feel like this is sensible advice.

But the reality is that for many of us, we couldn’t ignore it even if we tried. Sometimes we’re dwelling on it even if we desperately don’t want to be. And being told not to think about it sounds a lot like saying, “Why can’t you just move on?” or “Why are you making such a big deal out of this?”

I developed some post-traumatic stress after my hospitalization – and the sheer tension that my body carried at every moment made my trauma not just an emotional experience, but a physical one, too. This wasn’t just a train of thought I needed to redirect. It was anguish and fear that I held in every cell of my body.

I wish people would’ve just asked, “How can I be helpful right now?” rather than instructing me on how best to deal with post-hospital life, especially when that advice didn’t resonate with me.

It’s better to never assume that you know what’s best for someone – especially if you haven’t experienced hospitalization firsthand.

Truthfully, as much as we don’t want to dwell on it, so many of us who were hospitalized are not “over it.” But it’s okay not to be over it – and letting people know that can be a powerful way to support them, affirming their right to take this recovery at their own pace.

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Most days that I was in the hospital, I had spaghetti and veggie meatballs with green beans for dinner. It was one of the more edible of the few vegetarian options, I was told, and with experience I quickly realized they were right.

Every so often, it comes back to me. I can be with a friend or sitting at home and suddenly taste it. Unexpectedly, its texture and smell and stale flavors will overtake me without warning.

It takes me back to the meals I stared down, remembering the way the nurses would inquire about how much I ate and write it down, clipboard in hand, like I was a specimen under observation. I’ll recall the faces of the other patients, waking me up with a jolt when they threw their bodies against the doors in the middle of the night, screaming LET ME OUT, desperate to escape.

And if I close my eyes, I’m being escorted to a room, I’m throwing punches, I’m being handed a cup of pills that I can’t name, I’m disappearing involuntarily into a wave of dreamless sleep.

So how do you explain that the panic all over your face came from phantom spaghetti?

How do you explain you can’t see an ambulance without flashing back to your body in restraints? That you have nightmares about the night you spent alone in the emergency room, in a drug-induced haze, bombarded with questions you can’t answer by people in white coats, tormented by voices only you can hear?

How do you tell someone that most days you still don’t feel real? That you feel robbed of something that you can’t define? That something – your identity, your safety, your connection to the world – was taken away and you’re afraid you’ll never get it back?

How do you explain to someone that realizing you weren’t invincible made you lose any trust in yourself you ever had?

That every moment inside your mind is like walking through a cluttered room where everything is breakable?

That you’re still breakable?

I’m not over this. But sometimes, the things that people have said about my psychiatric hospitalization made me feel like I was supposed to be.

It felt like there wasn’t any room for my pain when I emerged on the other side. It felt like I wasn’t allowed to be shaken, to be lost, to be shattered. I don’t think they realized the impact their words had on me – in fact, I think most people had the best of intentions when they said what they did – but I walked away feeling like I had to carry this burden alone.

That’s why I wrote this. Because if our loved ones really do care, they can and should do better.

There’s something to be said for holding the space for someone’s struggles, giving us permission to feel whatever it is we’re feeling. In a world that wants us to be silent about what happened to us, acknowledging that we’re hurting and bearing witness to it is an incredible gift.

I wish I had a triumphant conclusion for this article – about how, against all odds and with the loving support of my community, I have healed.

In some ways, I have. But there are days when I still hurt, still remember.

But each time someone reaches out to me – saying something caring, something sensitive, something thoughtful – it feels like there’s a stitch that wasn’t there before, helping to hold me together.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

8 Things Transgender People Do Not Owe You

Nothing ruins a fabulous day for me more than entitlement.

I’m talking about the expectations placed on me as a transgender person that are never placed on my cisgender counterparts.

Take, for example, the number of times that cis folks have asked me, “Are you getting rid of…” Then, gesturing to my chest, they add, “those?” without batting an eye.

I’m not sure on what planet that’s an acceptable question to ask anyone, but it bothers me – endlessly – that so many people feel entitled to that information, so much so that they don’t consider my comfort level or privacy when they ask.

From time to time, I run into folks who – whether they’re “curious” about my existence or aren’t sure how to talk to me about trans issues – mistakenly believe that I exist as their real-life Caitlyn Jenner, a science experiment, a case study, or a source of entertainment.

And that entitlement can surface in a whole slew of different ways.

It can be seemingly “innocent” questions about our bodies, as if we owe you private or intimate details about our transitions. It can be tokenizing us, sensationalizing our being transgender and not actually valuing or recognizing our personhood.

It can even be requests to change our appearance to make cisgender people more comfortable.

Ultimately, entitlement comes from the idea that transgender people exist for the entertainment, comfort, or curiosity of cisgender people.

And whether it’s intended or not, even the best allies can perpetuate this kind of attitude in their day-to-day interactions with trans folks.

So how can we break down entitlement and make the world a safer place for trans folks?

Well, to start, here are eight things trans people don’t owe you – and why these everyday examples of entitlement are so problematic.

1. Details About Their Body or Any Plans They Have for It

Whoa, whoa, whoa. My body? My business. Don’t ask me about what my plans are unless I’ve brought them up myself.

I can’t recall a single time back when I identified as cisgender that someone asked me, “Please describe in intimate detail what your genitals look like and what you hope they’ll look like in the future.”

Why are transgender people somehow fair game for invasive questions like these?

Just because I’m trans doesn’t mean I owe the world a detailed blueprint of what my medical transition is going to look like – assuming I even opt for a medical transition. That’s a personal question between me, my doctors, and those that I choose to share it with.

Trans folks are far more than their bodies and their transitions, and unnecessarily focusing on our bodies tells me that you see us as objects instead of people.

Not to mention, this overshadows the very real issues that are affecting our everyday lives.

2. Their Birth Name or Any Details About Who They Were Prior to Transitioning

Translation: Please tell me about a time in your life that you had no intention of sharing – and give me private details about it, too!

Again, sensitive information that could be triggering or painful is not something a trans person owes you by virtue of being trans. Your curiosity does not trump their right to privacy, ever.

Questions like these bother me because the moment someone learns that I’m transgender, they treat my past like a scandalous secret that is somehow more interesting or valuable than the person that I’ve fought to become today.

I will share my past with you if I want to and when I’m ready.

Please focus on who I am in the present – I promise, the person I am now is much more interesting.

3. A Friendship or Relationship So That You Can Prove That You’re Open-Minded

I’m not going to be a pawn in some kind of social justice credibility game. So stop introducing me as your “transgender friend” and pulling a Vanna White when we meet someone new.

Real talk: You are not a better person, a better ally, or a better activist because you know or fuck a trans person.

This is not proof of how radical you are or evidence of how open-minded you are.

And if you ever get called out for transphobia and pull the “I can’t be transphobic, my best friend/my partner is trans” card, I will drop you so fast that you won’t know what hit you.

I’m not your token, and I’m definitely not your shield from criticism.

4. A Gender Studies 101 Education

I get that you want to learn more about trans people.

Gender identity, gender expression – gender is a vast and complex topic, and it’s fascinating, too! You might have a lot of questions, and who better to ask than someone you trust?

But think about it. Chances are, you are not the only friend that I have. I have hundreds of friends who are just as fascinated and have just as many questions as you.

The reality: Trans people are constantly bombarded with questions and expected to educate others by virtue of being trans.

And it gets tiresome to have to explain our lives and even our trauma repeatedly just so that cisgender people can “get an education.”

So before you demand the resources and energy of a trans person for your own personal benefit, why not seek out existing resources online? I personally have written many other articles on trans issues.

This tells trans people that you not only want to learn, but that you respect their time.

5. A Sensational and Tragic Account of Their Life Story

My life is not an Oprah Winfrey special.

If you’re asking questions about my past because you want to hear a sad story, that tells me that you view me as entertainment before you view me as a person.

Check yourself.

6. An Apology When Asking for Respect

“Your pronouns are so confusing. Can’t you just respect that I’m trying?”

“I get that this isn’t the name that you’re using, but don’t you see how hard this is for me?”

“Your grandparents don’t need this drama right now. Can’t you come out later?”

Transgender people should never be made to feel like their identity is an inconvenience or burden. They should never be guilted into apologizing for who they are or making their needs known.

Trans people do not owe you an apology for being honest about their identity. Trans people do not owe you an apology because their transness is unfamiliar and “difficult” to you. Trans people do not owe you an apology just for existing.

Being who we are in a world that still does not accept us is difficult enough (not to mention the incredible rates of violence and discrimination).

If you don’t have something supportive to say, please process your feelings on your own time.

7. Justification for Why or When They Are (Or Aren’t) Transitioning

Transition is about my comfort – not yours.

So asking me to explain why I’m making certain choices about my body, as if I have to defend them to you; asking me why I can’t wait for hormones or surgery until it’s a more convenient time for you; or pushing me to make decisions that will make you feel more at ease instead of supporting me are not okay.

These are gestures that tell me that you prioritize your happiness and comfort over mine.

Trans people should not have to transition in a way that makes everyone around them happy.

Their transitions (or lack thereof) should be guided by their own needs, their own desires, and what makes them feel best – not by cisgender people in their lives who just happen to have an inappropriate opinion on something so personal.

Trans people do not owe anyone a justification for their choices when it comes to their bodies and their (a)gender(s).

The truth of the matter is that while this may affect you, trans people are the ones who are most impacted by transitioning. And at the end of the day, they have to live with the choices that they make.

Those choices might impact you, but they aren’t about you.

8. Anything

Transgender people, just like anyone else, get to set boundaries in their lives, and those boundaries should be respected. The truth is, transgender people don’t owe you anything.

The problem with entitlement and the many ways that it surfaces is that it erases the humanity of trans people. It treats us like an object, a prop, a source of entertainment, or something to impose demands upon before we are ever fully recognized as autonomous human beings.

When you dehumanize trans people in this way, whether subtle or overt, you give the rest of the world permission to disrespect or even hurt us because we are seen as exploitable – something that people can use for their own purposes instead of actual human beings.

If you feel that you are owed something from a trans person – their body, their time, their decisions – it’s time to reflect. Toxic expectations do not exist in a vacuum. They feed into a culture that denies transgender people their agency and views them as inherently less-than.

This might seem overwhelming. You might be thinking, “Wow, can I interact with a trans person at all without seeming entitled? Am I doomed no matter what I do?”

What it boils down to is this: We want to be seen as whole people, just like anyone else.

So deep breaths. I promise we’re not fragile. Just treat us with respect, be open to learning from mistakes, and apologize when you make them. And, you know, don’t ask about our genitals. You really need to stop doing that.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.