Taking Pride in Trans Recovery

By The Fix staff 08/20/19

If someone has internalized transphobia, the closer they get to living their authentic self and being ok, sometimes the scarier it becomes, because it’s almost a reality.

Transgender woman standing with transgender flag, Trans Pride
Inspire Recovery aims to cater to the unique needs of transgender people going through addiction recovery. ID 74214041 © Llewellyn Chin | Dreamstime.com

Before police raided the Stonewall Inn in 1969, the establishment was a gathering place for the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community, including drag queens and trans women of color. Yet, soon after the raid and subsequent riots, these very people were pushed out of the pride movement, which tended to focus largely on gay white men. 

“The original pride parade started after the stonewall riots which was initiated by transgender folks such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, but pretty soon after that the trans community became invisible and was not included in the gay pride movement,” says Donna Weinberger, founder and CEO of Inspire Recovery, a treatment center in West Palm Beach, Florida that serves LQBTQ+ folks.

The frequent focus on middle- and upper-class gay men as the face of the LGBTQ pride movement has led to the continued marginalization of other members of the community, especially trans people. This happens in society at large, and also at self-proclaimed LGBTQ-friendly treatment centers, which may market themselves to the community but be unable to address the needs of trans people with substance use disorder

“A lot of centers don’t understand the trans experience,” says Jaki Neering, a clinician at Inspire Recovery. 

While Inspire Recovery serves all members of the LQBTQ+ community, it is especially adept at serving the needs of trans clients. This starts with radical acceptance: taking people as they are, and allowing them the time and space to drop the persona that they have adopted in order to survive, and explore who their genuine selves are. 

“Somewhere along their journey of life, a persona has been created,” Neering explains. In order for treatment to be effective, the person needs to be comfortable connecting with their genuine self, and doing therapy in that mindset, not bringing any personas into their recovery. 

For many members of the trans community, this can mean taking time to go through developmental processes that were interrupted during adolescence, when they began repressing their true selves to survive. 

“There’s this interruption that’s happening,” Neering says. “The authentic self isn’t getting to develop; the persona is creating a false identity, so the authentic self never gets that opportunity.”

When people go through the coming out process, they sometimes don’t even know the terminology to describe who they are.

“They don’t know their authentic identity, because they never got to know themselves,” Neering says. 

Inspire Recovery allows people the space to reconnect or connect and define who they really are, when they are comfortable dropping the labels and assignments that society has given them.

“They go through the process of getting to know themselves, feel feelings and interact with others,” she says. 

In addition, some people need to work through their own internalized feelings of transphobia in order to come to terms with who they are.

Only after these steps are accomplished can people move toward addressing specific issues that are symptomatic of their developmental interruptions and trauma, like substance abuse. 

“Part of the treatment experience is getting sober, but if that person can’t address the core issues of why they’re using, sobriety will not last,” Neering says. 

Because trans people are working through so many issues in addition to their substance use, their stay at Inspire Recovery is usually much longer than a typical rehab stay. Six months would be on the short end, and some people stay for up to two years, Weinberger says. 

In part, that’s because the more people move toward their authentic selves, the more they can be at risk for self-sabotaging through relapse. 

“If someone has internalized transphobia, the closer they get to living their authentic self and being ok, sometimes the scarier it becomes, because it’s almost a reality,” Weinberger says. 

One way that Inspire Recovery supports this is by making sure that trans clients don’t stick out. They are not ostracized in treatment, but are welcomed as full-fledged members of the community by providers and patients alike. 

“It’s a normalized experience,” Neering says. “At our center, you’re one amongst many. There’s not a difference, separation. You’re among so many people having the same experience, and there’s great benefit in that.”

Inspire Recovery provides treatment for substance use disorder and mental illness for LGBTQIA+ individuals in West Palm Beach, Florida. Learn more on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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