Grief and The Trans Community
What is grief?
Greif is a complex combination of human emotions during a time of loss. Grief is a universal experience that can reach a person in any area of society. While it is a natural response to loss, the experience of grief can be uniquely intertwined with the lives and individuals in the trans community.
** Our aim to be as inclusive and informed as possible to assist in spreading awareness. We acknowledge our privilege as cis-gendered humans and that we are not experts via lived experience. The trans community were consulted to write this resource. If you a part of the trans community and you have feedback for us, please email us here.
How can grief impact the transgender community differently?
Grief within the trans community can stem from multiple sources. For example:
- Grief and loss of previous self
- Grief as a result of body changes
- Rejection from family and/or friends
- Estrangement of relationships
- The healthcare system and loss of autonomy
- Grief for the trans community
It is important to remember that grief and loss are experiences of all humans, not just the trans community. We recommend that while reading this article you hold the idea, in your mind, that the experiences below can also occur in non-binary and cis-gendered humans. For example, as our bodies grow older, we may grieve the fit and able body we had in our younger life.
Grief and loss of previous self:
The grief of losing one’s former self; the person they were before embracing their authentic gender identity.
This transformation can be empowering but it is also marked by the pain of letting go of societal expectations and relationships that no longer align with their true self. The process of letting go can take many months even years, and the person transitioning may experience the full spectrum of grief in order to move through this loss.
What does this mean for their support network? It is important to allow space for this version of their grief. Even though transitioning is what your loved one wants they have lived as a certain person for a long time (especially if they are transitioning post puberty) and their grief is real.
Grief as a result of body changes:
The grief that can be experienced for one’s previous body during transition. Some transitioning humans may experience loss during a state of limbo, when their body starts to change but they have not associated or connected to their new body shape yet. They may also be grieving the loss of safety that their old body provided them.
When a transitioning person starts their journey of gender affirmation, there is often a sense of relief and euphoria as their body begins to change and align with their gender identity. Despite this, there are often feelings of grief associated with this transition. Some individuals may mourn experiences associated with their former body as well as aspects of their former body. Even though it was not the correct body, it was still their body for many years. There is a loss of familiarity within oneself.
As well as influencing how trans humans perceive themselves, the process of gender affirmation and resulting body changes can affect how others perceive them. There is a loss of safety associated with this process. People who have previously not experienced discrimination and harassment suddenly have a spotlight shone on them. The grief associated with a loss of safety and security can be very confronting and disorientating.
What does this mean for their support network? It is best practice here to remain supportive even in times where understanding is unavailable. As humans who do not identify as trans humans we are not unable to fully understand what our trans friends and family may experience in this grief, but nonetheless, we can remain supportive by listening and helping as best as we can.
Rejections from family and/or friends:
Although rejection is not necessarily loss, the grief experienced here comes as a result of rejection. Relationships change profoundly after a rejection and the individual can grieve the loss of their relationship.
Rejection can come in many forms, varying from an individual’s loved ones, family, friends and even members of the public. Rejections can be overt or discrete, and when it comes from a loved one, it can result in a deep sense of loss and grief. Rejection has a significant overlap with estrangement mentioned below, as rejection can lead to estrangement and ambiguous loss (mentioned below).
What does this mean for their support network? Rejection can impact everyone differently, if a trans person confides in you regarding a rejection, lend them a non-judgemental ear, and a shoulder to cry on, and when they are ready, ask them what they might need from you.
Estrangement of relationships:
This grief is simply the loss of a loved one, family member or friend, and this experience is not exclusive to the trans community. Anyone of us can experience estrangement and this grief in our lives.
Estrangement of family and friends is a loss of significant emotional connection. It signifies the end of a relationship that was previously supportive, loving and a source of companionship.
Estrangement experienced by trans individuals leads to a deeply emotional form of grief. While their family and friends might be physically present, they are emotionally absent. This kind of loss is known as ambiguous loss, and it is not only challenging to cope with but has a prolonged and enduring impact on mental health and overall wellbeing. Estrangement can result in trans person mourning the loss of their relationships with family and friends as well as the loss of their hope for acceptance and understanding from those they care about. The grief associated with this estrangement can result in both physical and emotional manifestations such as changes in appetite and sleep patterns as well as feelings of anger, guilt, desperation, and anxiety.
What does this mean for their support network? As this is a version of grief and experience shared between trans and non-trans humans, support your trans loved one as one human supporting another, hear their experience and concerns and offer support as you normally would.
The healthcare system and loss of autonomy:
This grief can be experienced when a trans person loses medical autonomy due to denial of appropriate healthcare and discrimination.
Within the healthcare setting, there are high rates of harassment from professionals and a shocking lack of provider knowledge in relation to trans care. When humans are denied access to gender affirming treatments, grief can be coupled with anxiety, depression, social withdrawal and suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
Even in situations where there is provider knowledge and access to services, there is still grief associated with difficult decisions, hormone treatment and surgeries. Relief and grief can be intertwined in these situations and accompanied by both physical and emotional tolls.
Finally, we have seen controversy and resulting loss of autonomy medically in the US, where any gender-affirming care has been classified as abuse in some states such as Texas. This means that not only can the trans community start not begin their gender affirming care, those who have transitioned may detransition due to lack of appropriate hormone treatment, but also, medical practitioners who seek to support the trans community may now be punished for their medical support. This governance can lead to life threatening challenges for the trans community and their health practitioners in states where such damaging laws are enforced.
What does this mean for their support network? The best thing you can do to support a trans person in this situation is to help them find gender affirming care and clinics with non-discriminating clinicians. You can call trans support phone lines to request specific advice and information for appropriate clinics and services: Rainbow Door, Switchboard Victoria and QLife are some examples.
Grief for the trans community:
The grief as a result of violence and discrimination leading to harm and the deaths of trans humans.
This senseless violence reverberates through the trans community causing collective grief as well as anger and a profound sense of injustice.
Despite the hardships and both the unique and collective experience of grief, the trans community will often come together to support each other and create safe spaces. The resilience of the trans community cannot be undermined and should be supported to shine brightly as within this overlap, there is strength. Together we rise above the grief and celebrate the beauty of authenticity of all individuals.
What does this mean for their support network? Grief and the trans community are intertwined in a complex way. The journey of mourning the lives impacted and lost to violence and discrimination can be tough. As you would with any tough situation amongst friends, be there to support their grief as best you can, and don’t forget to seek support for yourself as needed.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2023, August 23). Expert Q&A on Gender Dysphoria. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/expert-q-and-a
- National LGBTQ Task Force. (2011). National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report on Health and Health Care. Retrieved from https://cancer-network.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/National_Transgender_Discrimination_Survey_Report_on_health_and_health_care.pdf
- Prohibiting Gender-Affirming Medical Care for Youth. (2022). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/content/qt60b2x36c/qt60b2x36c.pdf
By: Ashley Dell'Oro