The Center for American Progress reports that between 20-30% of transgender people struggle with addiction compared to an estimated 9% of the general population. This statistic is significant for those of us who are transgender, and for those of us who support transgender people in our lives. As family members and care providers, even if we have good intentions in caring for queer or transgender people in recovery, we may need to intentionally adjust our actions, in order to have a positive impact.
What can I do as a provider?
When a transgender person shares an intimate part of their identity with you, honor and affirm their identity by using their correct name, pronouns, honorifics, and gendered or non-gendered terms when referring to them. If you ask someone their gender identity or pronouns, do so in a way that is not interrogative or invasive, but rooted in trust and relationship. Make it a normal practice to share your own gender pronouns, and to ask others’, so that transgender folks are not as singled out, or put into vulnerable situations.
If you are given the opportunity to learn more about the identities that your client holds, listen to their self-definition and believe what they share with you. Know that LGBTQIAP+ identities are valid and real, and that people who hold these identities deserve to be trusted in their self-knowledge. Remember that each individual is the expert on their own identity, and challenging or disrespecting a client about a marginalized identity contributes to their lack of safety.
As care providers, our first commitment is to do no harm. Keep this in mind for transgender clients when making room pairings and restroom designations in residential treatment. Consider using inclusive language in your policies and procedures, and in your new client paperwork. Making these changes may require us to deconstruct our own social conditioning about gender norms and stereotypes, in order to best respond to transgender clients’ assessment of their safety. We may also find ourselves in a position to educate, when confronted with discomfort that may arise for cisgender staff or clients.
What can I do as a friend or family member?
Your love and support matters! The 2012 Trans PULSE Project study shows that transgender people with a parent who is supportive of their identity experiences a decrease in attempted suicide rates from 57% to 4%. With a supportive parent, these subjects’ sense of self-esteem increases from 13% to 64%, and their overall life satisfaction increases from 33% to 72%.
Caring for our queer and trans family members in recovery means ensuring that our respect and love for them continues, unaffected by their transition or identities. We can lift some of their burden by explicitly supporting them in the choices they may make to transition or “come out” socially, legally, and/or medically.
As family and loved ones of transgender people in recovery, it is important for us to educate ourselves about what our loved one may be experiencing. It is equally important that we work to maintain clear and healthy boundaries, and that we prioritize our own self-care.
You may consider joining an Al-Anon or ACA group, and utilizing resources from organizations like PFLAG or Trans Youth Education & Support of Colorado (TYES). You may also consider picking up recommended reading like the WPATH Standards of Care, PFLAG’s Trans support publications, and publications by other addiction treatment providers.
For the transgender or queer person seeking recovery, I am here to reassure you that there is community who understands you. Whether you connect with other LGBTQIAP+ folks virtually, through social gatherings, or while receiving therapeutic care, recovering in relationship with others who love and support you is possible.
If you know the pain of isolation, you deserve to discover that freedom is available to you. Connection with people who have walked a similar path as you, and sharing honestly with others, can be your ticket to a life unbound by addiction, and rich in resources that affirm and sustain the health of your truest self.
There will be times when we, as queer or transgender people in recovery, feel very alone. Whether this is a result of an addiction, our environment, or the weight of simply being who we are in a world that often creates no space for us – know that there are people waiting to undertake this work and journey alongside you.
There are many tips online for how you can take small steps throughout your day to regulate and find relief (like 8 Mental Health Tips for Queer & Trans POC, and 5 Awesome, Immediate Self-Care Resources For When You Feel Like Actual Garbage).
You can also get connected to Queer Asterisk Therapeutic Services, a non-profit organization in Colorado run by queer and trans professional therapists and educators who provide queer-informed counseling services, community programming, and educational trainings to promote the inner wellness and social connectivity of queer and trans people. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and sign up for our monthly newsletter, to learn more!
Luca Pax (they/their/them), who is nonbinary transgender, holds a BA in Education and Peace Studies from Naropa University, and works as Director of Community Relations for Queer Asterisk Therapeutic Services.
Edited by RP Whitmore-Bard, Communications Specialist.
Queer Asterisk Therapeutic Services advocates for the importance of excellent individual and community-based mental health treatment for queer and trans folks. Our therapists and educators partner with healthcare providers to ensure that queer and trans clients receive the most inclusive, highest quality of care possible.
We have offices in Denver, Boulder, and Longmont, Colorado.
Reference our Etiquette Guide & Glossary of Terms to support your education.