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Ep#6 Trusting Your Loved Ones to Transition With You with Nik Stancil

In this episode of You Did That!, I welcome Nik Stancil, an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor with Prospect Therapy in Long Beach. Through Adulting101: Life Consulting, Nik provides consulting services for queer and trans individuals seeking to increase productivity, define and reach new goals, and generally improve their quality of life.

Main Topics Discussed:

  • Coming out as the only openly queer and trans person in their family and peer group
  • Navigating the mental and emotional work when coming out and transitioning
  • Setting expectations for the path forward with your friends and family after coming out
  • The parallels between being Queer/Trans and autistic/having ADHD
  • Stepping out of your bubble if you feel unwelcome and seeking out safe spaces

What are you celebrating about yourself today?

Nik: I am the first openly queer and trans person in my family, and in my bubble. This has bled over into every part of my life, including my work. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if I didn’t embrace this part of me. I find a lot of pride and identity in my work; so, the ability to translate the empowerment of Queerness that I celebrate into my work is what keeps me motivated. It’s such a profound privilege to be a therapist. If you’re not learning from your clients in some way, you’re not listening.

Tell me about the moment you decided to embrace your identity.

Nik: There were two: the internal and external moments. Internally, the first time somebody referred to me using he/they pronouns, I burst into tears. That made me realize that this is real and it’s not going anywhere. Externally, it was my top surgery. That was when the people around me realized that they had to adjust to this path I chose for my life. It was during that time when they told me that they finally began to see me as I really am.

Were you ever pressured to transition in stages as opposed to all at once, internally and externally?

Nik: Yes and no. I understand the idea of taking one step at a time. At the same time, I also wanted to be done with this emotional labor I was going through. But, you can’t rush it, particularly those building blocks of how you see yourself. In a way, I appreciate the amount of time that needs to pass during the physical part so that I can emotionally process everything that’s happening. I’m also glad the process is hard, because it’s made me a better person.

What were some of the challenges you faced both within yourself and from the people and systems around you?

Nik: Looking back, I’m still surprised about how hard it was to convince myself to go through with it. Sometimes, I don’t know how I was able to do it. I’m so grateful that I did; but, I wish, for my clients’ and other people’s sake, that I was able to really narrate step-by-step how I made it all happen. The conversation you have with yourself is the most important one. Gender is super-confusing. Coming out to my family was also challenging, but a little easier than you’d think because I’d already spent years processing my thoughts and emotions beforehand. There’s never a moment where it clicks. My moment was 18 months long.

What made those challenges a little easier for you?

Nik: You are one of them. Having a boss that’s not going to fire me or question me. Telling Sara that I wanted to use they/them pronouns, I’m non-binary, and that I’m going on this gender journey, and hearing a simple “cool” from her was amazing. I also had friends that told me that they didn’t care what gender I am, and that made the biggest difference. I didn’t know that this was an option; so, having people that could have that conversation with me helped so much.

What is your favorite thing that you learned about yourself as you went through this process?

Nik: I’m cool. I can trust myself. Before I came out, I had no framework for trusting myself. Now I know that if I feel something, I can say something. That realization has changed my life.

Are there any parallels between your coming out and figuring out how to navigate life with autism and ADHD?

Nik: Yes. It’s very similar. I don’t know how people can specialize in Queer/Trans people and people with autism or ADHD separately. Usually, there is a lot of overlap. It’s all still about growing up in a world that doesn’t perceive you as normal. That process of learning to understand yourself and make space to learn that your brain works differently adds to it. You feel shame all your life by people who tell you that you’re “not trying hard enough” to be “your” gender or to act the way you “ought” to act. Those expectations are not ours. They are handed to us. In my work, my approach is to identify that shit, then take it out because it doesn’t belong.

What surprised you the most during this process?

Nik: Shoutout to my dad, who was transphobic while I was growing up. He was conservative and very religious and thought he was going to disown me. I came out to him last. He was surprised and quiet for a while before saying, “I don’t know how to use your pronouns, and I’m so terrified of getting them wrong, because I don’t want to hurt you.” I know that that’s not how it goes for a lot of people; but, this is what surprises me: that there are people who want to understand you, even if you think they’d be the least likely to want to understand you. It makes me feel incredibly hopeful and incredibly loved. Even making the effort means actively loving.

Is there any advice you never got that would have been helpful for you at the time?

Nik: Yes: Trust yourself. But that’s something that can never be communicated through advice. It can only be communicated through experience. Also, get out of your bubble and find other people who share your experience. Once you find that safe space, stick to it.

What would your younger self say if they saw you now?

Nik: High school me would be so content and excited for the future. 22-year-old me would be terrified, but relieved, because they wouldn’t need to hurt forever. They can choose a different path.

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