Understanding the emotion of shame in transgender individuals – some insight from Kafka

Abstract

Both clinical literature and biographical accounts suggest that many transgender individuals experience shame or have experienced shame at some point in their life for reasons related to their gender identity. In clinical psychology, at least until the 1960s, shame has not received much attention; focus was on guilt and shame was regarded mainly as a ‘by-product’ of guilt. From the 1960s shame has been identified as an emotion not necessarily related to guilt and with unique features, and has been studied in connection with a number of situations, such as domestic abuse, trauma, illness, and sexual orientation. However shame has been studied less in connection with gender variance. Shame has however intrigued philosophers, writers and artists for a very long time. Yet, the importance of the contribution of various disciplines to the understanding of the experience of shame in vulnerable individuals has been overlooked. This paper attempts to explore the meaning of shame for transgender individuals, by making reference not only to clinical studies, but also to artworks and literary novels. Franz Kafka, named “the poet of shame” is particularly salient to the analysis of shame, and some of his works will enable us to shed light on the complexities of the experience of shame in transgender individuals which may defy clinical observation.

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