Members of the Leeds LGBTQ community talked to Features Editor Brigitte Phillips about living with their identities, and their misunderstandings and misrepresentations that come with it.
I’m very much still the same person just with a different presentation, name and way of thinking, really (plus a much snazzier wardrobe and cuter sideburns).
My mental health worker claims she understands exactly what I’m going through, and that it must have been terrible growing up, tormented, always feeling like I’d been “born in the wrong body.” Well, actually, I wouldn’t know what that feels like. I didn’t really ever feel like that at all. When I was first exploring my own gender identity, only a couple of years ago, I felt bad and confused. I assumed I couldn’t have possibly been transgender, simply because I hadn’t always felt like I’d been “born in the wrong body.” There are indeed transgender people who do very much feel that way. There are also transgender people that actually feel very happy with the bodies they have been born with though, and don’t want to begin any form of medical transition, even though how they feel and identify may not align with the gender they were assigned at birth. I’m not sure where I fall on that ‘scale’. I was never super happy with myself, but I couldn’t put my finger on why – I just felt different. I felt awkward. I really wanted to wear masculine clothing and I wanted to cut my hair short as this made me feel most comfortable – but I thought that was just because I was a bit butch and probably a lesbian. I’d always wanted to play male roles in plays, and had always felt more comfortable pretending to be the man in all the childhood play scenarios – but that’s just pretend, right? I’d very much pushed the idea of identifying as transgender out of my mind because I felt like I didn’t fit the narrative I’ve heard so often, and I felt guilty. Sometimes I still don’t feel like I’m “trans* enough”, mainly because I don’t want to completely ‘grieve’ for the loss of the identity I once had – I’m very much still the same person just with a different presentation, name and way of thinking, really (plus a much snazzier wardrobe and cuter sideburns). I treasure plenty of the memories and things I had before beginning my transition, even if parts are still uncomfortable. Sometimes I worry that to be ‘believed’ as a transman, particularly by others within the LGBT community itself, I should be really manly and completely abandon my pre-transition self in case people don’t take me seriously; like I need to keep the act up 24/7. Day to day, that’s not my only worry, though. I stand in front of the toilets. My choice lies before me. I often really don’t feel like I ‘pass’ as a man fully, yet – I’m pre-hormones and surgery, and I don’t always ‘bind’ my chest. So do I use the women’s or the men’s? Thankfully at LUU we’re blessed with a few gender neutral loos which make this easier, but at work or out in public I’ve had to perfect the art of holding it. At the doctor’s, the receptionist refers to me as ‘she’ to her colleague. She looks at my notes and reads ‘Mr.’ She blushes. My trans* friend tells me about how wonderful it is they’re finally getting hormones because they can afford to go privately. I’m happy for them and I know how long they’ve had to wait, but my heart sinks, because that’s no option for me right now. It shouldn’t have to be an option for anyone (the waiting list for the Leeds NHS Gender Clinic is about 2 years and it’s pretty much the same throughout the country). At work, one of my colleagues admitted he sometimes doesn’t mention me in conversation or involve me in discussions because he’s worried he’ll get my pronouns wrong and misgender me. I wasn’t upset when he said this, I was relieved. Finally, someone being honest with me and not beating around the gender bush. We talked it through and we were both far more comfortable about it all afterwards. We had a brilliant discussion about our experiences – he’s an older gay guy and I’m a young bisexual queer-identifying transguy – and our different perspectives on our community as a whole have taught us both a great deal. I often worry the T in the LGBT acronym is just tagged on at the end, and that it doesn’t always mean something. Last year a sponsored Facebook post flashed up on my feed advertising Leeds Pride as an event to “showcase equality in sexual orientation” with no mention of gender identity, and I personally felt forgotten and silenced. I guess that’s what we have to aim for next – giving trans* people that voice. Education. Trying to chip away at the stereotypes, starting to dismantle them. Making it clear that ALL experiences of transgender people are valid no matter what their backgrounds and feelings might be. Better representation of trans* people everywhere – especially in the media and within the LGBT community itself. This is something we need to work on together.
Photographs: Sam Broadley and Ruby Lott-Lavigna