Am I transgender?

A question I get asked all the time over email and during interviews with the press goes along the lines of the very simple ‘am I transgender? What next?’

I think that if a person is asking themselves if they are transgender in the first place then that means they are at least feeling a bit uncomfortable with their current gender role so the answer to this question is yes. The word ‘transgender’ is a bit of a catch all word to describe anybody who feels that there is a difference between how you experience your own gender and how everybody else perceives your gender to be. If gender is a wide panorama of possibilities rather than the restrictive, over simplifying male or female boxes people would have you believe, then transgender or gender variant can be used as terms to describe a heck of a lot of people.

If the answer to ‘am I transgender?’ is yes, it’s important that you know that this can mean almost anything you want, but most importantly, it doesn’t mean you have to do anything. Identifying as a transgender person doesn’t mean you will be forced to do something you don’t feel comfortable with, you don’t have to have surgery, you won’t even be forced into transitioning by some trans ninja mafia or something. Although these steps often help people who feel uncomfortable with their gender, there are no rules to being trans.

One of the things that I struggled to understand for years was that my experience of being trans didn’t fit the stereotype ‘trapped in the wrong body’ narrative, I just knew that the people I met everyday perceived me as male yet I knew that was wrong. Realising that I didn’t have to force my gender expression to fit into somebody else’s jelly mould was the one magic lesson which finally brought me some peace. Speaking to other gender variant people helped me come to this realisation, hearing their wide and varied stories about how they experienced and lived their individual gender showed me how we all must dance to the beat of our own drums if we ever want to be happy in our own skin.

If the answer to ‘am I trans? is yes then it’s also important to mention how for some, this means a long and difficult journey ahead. For the people who’s internal gender is so different to their external bodies that they will need to come out to their family and friends, transition and deal with all the challenges it brings. Transition is a period of time we talk about when somebody begins change their external gender expression, for me this meant that I changed my name and started to live my life as female. Transition is another open-ended term, for some this is a set period of time after which they will have finished and moved on to another state, but others believe that life is one big transition and the lines are a bit too blurry to say where one gender ends and the other starts.

If you think you are transgender you will need to help yourself though, I won’t sugar coat it, life is tough at times and there will be setbacks in the future. You’ll have a better chance of being happy if you reach out to other trans people, speak to people on the internet or even better, find a local support group where you can meet and chat with people who have similar experiences, working out who I’m not was far more important for me than working out who I am, if that makes sense. Speaking to a specialist gender identity doctor might be the next step, in the UK that will probably mean first asking to your GP for a referral to the NHS Gender Identity Clinic or if you can afford it, getting a private appointment with a specialist.

Gendered Intelligence have a great resource section if you would like to read more.

Please add your own links in the comments and I’ll edit them into this article over the coming days!

 

Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?

are you a boy or a girl a5 small version

Here is a link to the Kickstarter page for my book!

 

I am proud to announce that the crowd fundiing project to raise the money to print my first children’s book starts on Tuesday! Readers of this blog can get access to a limited number of discounted pre-orders, 30% off by ordering from Kickstarter.com on Tuesday 30th September!

Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more updates.

‘Are you a Boy or are you a Girl?’ is unlike any kind of children’s book you’ve seen before. With your help, we can talk gender creatively and with confidence, and assist parents and teachers the world over.

The problem with most of the books currently on sale for children is that they portray gender, something most of us know to be, in fact, quite flexible, to be fixed at birth.. And yet at least 1 in 100 people are born gender variant in some way and for some, not being open about their true gender can lead to a lifetime of pain and suffering. Psychologically speaking, children need the space, freedom and encouragement to express themselves fully, before they can grow into happy adults.

For those of us who want to have this conversation with our children the hard part can be finding the right words. How do you explore concepts like; gender binary, biological sex, psychological gender, transgender, GenderQueer, and all those others lovely complex things to a child who thinks sticking a bean in their ear is the apex of awesomeness? The truth is that our children get a very binary experience of the world and trying to show them options other than Action Man or Barbie can seem an insurmountable task. ‘Are you a Boy or are you a Girl?‘ will simply open the dialogue with your child.Where that dialogue ends up, much like our gender-free protagonist, is up to you!

I would love for this book to be in every school, nursery and library in the world so am working with a wonderful charity called Gendered Intelligence to create an educational resource pack to send to schools, to equip them with the tools they need to better educate children about gender.

 

Trans Activism, Cerys Matthews and me

I’ve noticed that there are two ways to approach trans activism, every time a trans story hits the headlines and generates discussion across the community there is always one section who are shouty, issuing rallying cries for direct action, boycotts and more. I’ve written passionate blogs in the same vein, hell, I’ve even taken part in protests and called for people to be fired from their jobs. I do this because it works.

The second theory of trans activism is often talked about on social media and follows the idea that all trans people are activists in a sense, these people argue that the most effective way of gaining acceptance and educating the cis masses is by just living your life with quiet dignity, getting on with it by interacting with the people they meet in their lives, winning them over one person at a time. Again, this works too as some of the most surprising acceptance stories in my personal life have come from people I meet in everyday life.

The problem I have though, is that both sides always seem to be absolutely certain that their particular brands of gaining acceptance, of activism, are completely right. Conformation and commitment bias run rife and sometimes there is friction between the two camps.

Recently someone brought my attention to an issue about a trans woman being talked about on the radio who had transitioned more than 40 years ago and is a successful musician. The presenter, Cerys Matthews used the wrong pronouns to describe this woman and when I listened back to the show she seemed confused in general about how to address her. A discussion followed about how to respond to this with one side literally braying for blood, saying that enough was enough, she should be sacked and it’s time to start fighting fire with fire. Maybe it was all those years of walking to school in the morning, blissfully listening to Catatonia but this time I couldn’t bring myself to go all out on the attack over this.

I decided to send Cerys a tweet, no shouty shouty, just a calm message and see where that took me. I didn’t really expect a reply, I just like to speak my mind at randoms on Twitter, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

To my surprise, she answered me and we swapped a few tweets and Direct Messages…

And it concluded with:

I think we can call that a success.

As usual when two opposing ideas clash, neither of these theories are one hundred percent right or wrong. I had a very strict rules and regulation based upbringing and have always delighted in the idea that there is always an exception to the rule. Hard and fast ideologies are weak to the fact that every situation is different and deserves to be judged accordingly and we as a community need to realise that in general, people just aren’t educated enough about trans people. They don’t have the vocabulary to describe transgender issues like we do, remember that we’re are all human, we make mistakes occasionally.

What makes a person is how they respond to their mistakes and kudos to Cerys Matthews for admitting it, apologising and promising to learn from it. If the shouty shouty crowd had been listened to, there is a chance that the outcome would have been completely different.

Fundraiser for Rise video with Julie Burchill

 

I’ve never really talked about it much but two years ago, when my life was first splashed across national television, I was homeless for a while and eventually found a place in a women’s’ refuge. Much like when I first arrived off the boat in the UK, I had landed in Brighton with all my worldly possessions in my car, and it was my new friend Fox who suggested that I call Rise. Little did I know it but this charity had a history of being very inclusive of trans people, they had a dedicated LGBT officer and had policies in place that made sure that gender variant people’s identities were respected. I was assigned a key worker who for the first time ever, asked me how I identify and how I wanted to be addressed. It was a complete breath of fresh air.

My whole life was in complete chaos during those first few months, I couldn’t tell anyone where I lived for fear of putting the other women in danger by exposing exactly where the refuge was, the immense pressure I felt from the TV thing, the breakup of a relationship and being homeless yet again took it’s toll on me. I met some great people and it gave me the space to think and to plan a way to put my life back together so in a roundabout way, I’m glad things worked out how they did, if it wasn’t for Rise, my life wouldn’t be what it is, my confidence wouldn’t be where it is now and I’d probably be living in a tent on the Outer Hebrides or something.

Fast forward two years and the Trans Alliance, one of the organisations I volunteer with, heard that notorious transphobe Julie Burchill would be organising a fundraiser for Rise in Brighton called End Of. The reactions from the local trans and feminist community varied from quite strong ‘burn the witch’ the responses to the more moderate and although last year I had helped organise one of the wave of direct action protests against her sickening rant in the Observer, I felt that the bigger picture needed to be taken into account on this occasion. The Trans Alliance reached out to Rise and we talked about how best to manage the situation and they asked me if I would like to say a few words on the night to highlight how the charity supports women, regardless of whether they were trans or cisgender.

Rise is a charity which can only offer such a wide range of support services because of the fundraising efforts of women like Julie Burchill. Rise doesn’t discriminate who they help so of the tens of thousands raised last night, trans women will be among those who are helped to recover from abusive relationships. Wonderfully Ironic, isn’t it?

When I was deciding what to say for my time on stage in front of hundreds and hundreds of people I was very aware that I was walking a tightrope, on one hand I had to be respectful of the real needs of Rise as a charity, and on the other, I couldn’t miss up an opportunity to call out a transphobe on her bullshit. I was super nervous waiting to go on stage, which wasn’t helped when Burchill and my eyes met over a crowded corridor, she must have known that I helped organise those protests, I mean who doesn’t Google themselves from time to time, right?

In the end, I kept my protest low key, focussed on the positive that had came from my interactions with Rise but still made the point I had come to make. The most surprising thing that came fro the evening though, was bumping into a woman I had met while in refuge, her story was more harrowing than anyone can imagine and it made my week to see her happy, strong and getting on with her life. positivity rocks.

If Julie Burchill happens to read this, let me say this to you; we obviously have some things in common, the Sex Pistols and a desire to combat domestic violence for a start, is it time to drop the transphobic rhetoric? Let’s talk and see if we can find some more common ground.

The Beaumont Society

Scottish Sun

 

Ok, I’ll talk about my opinion on the recent opinion piece in the Scottish Sun about people with non binary identities. Janett, please understand that I’m not having a go at you personally, none of us are perfect and a mistake has been made and you have apologised and are listening to the constructive criticism. From what I understand you and the Beaumont Society have been campaigning for trans rights and acceptance for more years than I’ve been alive so I respect and thank you for that immensely.

My issue with the Beaumont Society is that in recent years these faux-pas have happened with some regularity, correct me if I’m wrong but there was the Paddy Power thing, the issue with the trans guy who gave birth and now this. Each of these times it would seem apparent to me that while the intent was good the result was that it caused people upset, three times opportunities have been missed and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, it should have been clear that when something is outside of an organisations knowledge base, outside help should be sought. There is no shame in that as we are all in this together and have broadly the same goals.

For what it’s worth I self identify as non binary, I’m female but value the male traits that make me who I am and when I talk about ‘trans’ issues I mean to include all facets of gender variance, from cross dressing to acute gender dysphoria and this is where I believe the Beaumont Society could give more thought. The gender landscape is changing fast with young people growing up in a world where expressing their gender in a non binary way is becoming widely accepted and I think every trans organisation should shape their policies in such a way to be totally inclusive of any and all gender variant expressions.

What is important is how we all move forward, everybody needs to work together as nothing is achieved by infighting and placing blame.

Why ‘transsexual’ should be a word of the past.

 

 

I’ve been talking with a few people recently about the labels and definitions we all feel like we’re pushed in to and there is one thing all of these boxes have in common. Transsexual, transgender, cisgender, gender queer, transvestite and all the other identities which people feel define them fall somewhere on the spectrum between 100 percent male and 100 percent female. An identity can be fluid, fluctuating or fixed but from what I can see these labels just serve to divide people into smaller and smaller boxes.

Gender variant is a phrase not used enough in my opinion, the majority of people in this world have never had to think twice about their gender but the fact of the matter is that most cis identified people are not binary in their gender expressions. Men who society would call ‘in touch with their feminine side’ still fall on the male side of the spectrum but display gender variant behaviour, the hundreds of thousands of transvestites and crossdressers who identify as their birth gender fall under this definition too, the same goes for women who some people would call ‘tomboys’ and a multitude of other behaviours which go against the traditional stereotypes.

When we as a community talk about trans rights and acceptance I can’t help but feel that we are missing a trick here, using words like transgender and transsexual creates an ‘us and them’ mentality, it excludes the millions of people who are by definition gender variant. When I explain to the people I meet about gender being a spectrum instead of the male versus female binary system, it’s like a light bulb has been switched on in their heads, they get it, they finally understand why I say that I never felt like I was a woman trapped inside a man’s body or any of the other misconceptions they have about why a person transitions.

I truly believe that the whole of society is on the cusp of a gender identity revolution that will be on the scale of the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, more and more young people are freeing themselves from the binary handcuffs of the traditional ideas of what it means to be a man and a woman. One of the reasons which held me back from attempting to transition for so long was that I just didn’t feel that I fit into what was expected of me to be transsexual, up until a few years ago I just thought that the word queer was just another gay insult and as I have learned more about the complexities of gender theory, my own identity has evolved.

I’m not knocking the people who identify as totally male or female, it’s their right to be true to themselves and I understand the merit of medical based definitions but I can see in ten years or so words like transsexual and transgender being viewed as old fashioned and exclusionary, while the conversation about gender variant people evolving and whilst it is yet another label, it’s one whose meaning is wider and helps society to understand that the fight for acceptance and equality isn’t one of a tiny minority but something that is relevant and means something to millions of people.

 

newspectrum

F*ck your gender binary

The last few days I’ve read some disgusting views, some written by cis people, some by trans women about that ‘transsexual murderer sleeping with women in prison’ story. (I’m not linking to the Daily Fail, find it yourself.) The ‘popular’ opinion is that she can’t be transgender because she likes to have sex with women, like, actually puts her penis in a vagina! Oh my fucking god, what horror, a trans person who uses their genitals to feel pleasure! If these idiots are to be believed, she can’t be a ‘true’ transsexual if she wants to have a sex life that doesn’t involve pretending that her arsehole is a pussy and ignoring her primary sexual organ!

Bullshit. Two points here, first of all, who the fuck is anyone to enforce their own idea of a gender binary on someone else? What right has one trans woman got to say who is a ‘true’ transsexual and who isn’t? It pisses me the fuck off when people moan that society won’t accept trans people for who they are when they themselves won’t accept other trans people without placing arbitrary rules upon them, saying they have to feel this, do that and say whatever before they are allowed to define their identity by some bullshit label? Since when does having a penis or a vagina make a person a man or a woman? I thought society was starting to move away from these antiquated definitions?

Second point, what right does anyone have to interfere with a strangers sex life? Perhaps the lady in prison has chosen to make do with what she has, make the most of a shitty situation regarding her genitals? Perhaps she wants gender conformation surgery in the future but for the moment, she’s working with what she’s got? What if she has a phobia of having a major operation or a medical condition which means she can’t have surgery?

She is an adult, the people she allegedly slept with are adults, I’m 100% sure that cis lesbians and gays have sex whilst in prison, why the fuck does it matter to you who she does or does not sleep with and how she does it? I could tell you things about my sex life that would make your grandmother spin in her grave and sing Waltzing Matilda but I don’t, it’s my private business what I do with my body, and the same applies for any other human on this planet.

Perhaps, just maybe, what you’ve read in the shit face transphobic Daily Fucking Mail is all a lie and you’ve fallen for their thinly veiled hate speech, stirring up the right wing ‘trans people are scum’ witch hunt crowds? It’s her business who she sleeps with and how she does it, stop judging people for having a sex life.

 

*I originally wrote this a few weeks ago on BookFace but am republishing it here because I’m just testing site functionality*

 

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You’re a filthy tranny!

A young woman who’s gender identity is different to the one that was assigned to her at birth, describes herself to her friends as “a tranny” and is in bed late at night with her husband of five years, they have just finished having sex and are indulging in some pillow talk.

 

“You’re a filthy tranny!” He says softly, “that was amazing! I love you so much”

 

Contrast that with another young woman who’s gender identity is different to the one that she was assigned at birth but describes herself to her friends as “a woman with trans history” is alone and walking home from work late at night, she is very self conscious about her looks and doesn’t think she passes very well. A group of drunk men stumble out of a pub in front of her so she lowers her head and quickens her step, hoping they won’t look at her too closely.

 

“You’re a filthy tranny!” A man shouts.

 

I’ve always loved language, I can speak and understand some of the English, French and Spanish languages and it’s always been fascinating to me how very subtle changes in the way a word is spelt, the grammar used and the setting the word is used in can change it’s meaning entirely.

 

If someone wants a label with which to describe themselves, who am I to tell them that they’re wrong? Who am I to tell them that their choice of identity is not my idea of what is ‘the done thing?’ This kind of identity policing is exactly what the cis world is guilty of and a trans person would quite rightly call it out so why does it happen so often in the trans world?

 

The way that humans use words and language evolves over time, it happens organically and banning certain words never achieves anything, it just makes something taboo and  likely to be used more often than not as a slur.

 

Replace the trans women in my earlier story with cis women (Female at birth) and replace “tranny” with “bitch.” The story is the same and the meanings behind what is said are the same, why should the use of the word tranny be any different from bitch? Some women choose never to use either word and some choose to use both, why the judgement? Both can be used to mean both positive and negative things and everyone has a right to use their words however they wish.

 

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Why Parents Shouldn’t Be Scared Of Gender Variant Children

My earliest memory isn’t of something related to my gender, it’s of a hospital. Well technically it’s of a television in a hospital. I was eighteen months old, I had caught a nasty dose of food poisoning and been admitted to hospital and I remember as clear as day being in a cot in a room and being annoyed at my dad because I was watching a cartoon and he turned the TV off. I mentioned this memory to my mum once and she was surprised that I didn’t remember the other room the nurses put me in, apparently the hospital was very busy and we had been put in a bay that that had been converted from a communal shower room.

 

Guess who managed to somehow turn on the showers…

 

Now my second memory is about gender, and what it meant to me. I went to a Biblical themed fancy dress party when I was four or five and I was dressed as Moses, every picture of Biblical characters I’d ever seen showed men wearing smock-type clothes, very similar to a dress. So for my costume I was put in one of my big sisters dresses which had some patches of fabric sewn onto the chest to make it more manly and was given a walking stick. I was in the process of learning what was different about boys and girls and at the time the only difference I could see was clothes and hair, girls couldn’t have short hair and boys couldn’t wear dresses. Bum deal for me is what I learnt.

 

When you read or hear about ‘transsexual children,’ chances are, it’s nothing to do with a child being transsexual at all. Like me, everybody goes through a learning process when they’re discovering who they are and where they fit in the world. A part of that is discovering gender and what it means, toys, clothes, jobs, even cars seem to have been assigned a gender role. As far as I remember all of my childhood friends at some point, usually as part of a fancy dress type activity, wore clothes that were usually of the opposite gender, virtually every child does it. And I’m the only one (that I know of) that has turned out as a transsexual adult.

 

Gender is a wide and varied spectrum and not everybody fits into either 100% male or 100% female, some people don’t identify as any gender at all, right in the middle of the other genders. Wherever you sit on that spectrum, there’s nothing to be ashamed of and you’re entitled to be yourself without having to worry about other peoples reactions. If I have a child and they want to experiment with gender stereotypes then I will encourage them. It’s healthy and only adds to a young persons mental well being in the long run to know who they are and what kind of person they want to become.

 

It’s only natural for a parent to worry about their kids, i mean, I’d hate to have a child of mine to have to go through the mental anguish and pain of transition so it’s important to stress that only a tiny percentage of humans are transsexual, the likelihood is that your child is just starting to discover and understand better the world around them. Encourage it and embrace it, give them the space to develop emotionally and talk about their feelings, medical intervention is impossible until puberty and as they grow their gender identity may well evolve too.

 

I’m still a inquisitive person who gets into some sort of trouble now and again, I prefer baths to showers and I’m not as fond of watching cartoons as I once was but I am a trans woman. What happens in childhood doesn’t necessarily shape the person you become and I wish could have had a safe and supportive environment where I felt comfortable to explore my identity at a young age.

 

 

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Make the Russian Olympics the Gayest Ever!

Unless your head has been buried in the sand for the last few months you will be aware of the recent rise in attacks on the LGBT community in Russia and the laws that ban “homosexual propaganda.” (Whatever the crap that is.) In about six months time, on the Soviet Black Sea coast there will also be the small matter of the winter Olympics, the largest winter sports festival on the planet will be happening in a country that is endorsing and encouraging the oppression, rape, torture and murder of our fellow human beings.

 

There is not much more I can say about how wrong this is that hasn’t already been said, people now need to figure out how to react to this. It’s already been pointed out that simply not turning up is unlikely to work, proven by the fact that the 1980 summer Olympics in Moscow was boycotted by 65 countries led by America, but history has all but forgotten that. Google “political protest at the Olympics” and there is little mention of boycotts, number one result is this image though.

 

 

Which brings me to the point of this post, my idea, for what it’s worth is this: Make this winter Olympics the gayest ever, wether you’re spectating or taking part wear rainbow colours, rainbow unicorns covered in glitter if you can. Ask athletes to do whatever they are willing, rainbow flags, socks, gloves and scarves, anything that will show their support of LGBT rights. How amazing would it be to see people standing up for those being oppressed? The smallest gestures are sometimes the ones that achieve the most and I hope that  the conscience of the worlds will be pricked by these small actions.

 

The Olympics have always been a great inspiration for children and adults and we cannot turn a blind eye to the way people are being treated, this winter is an opportunity to stand up and be counted. Together we can show the future Olympic generations that everybody deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are, race, religion, sexuality and gender aside, we are all human and we are all in this together.

 

 

 

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