This is an extremely personal post and was very hard for me to write. If you know me personally, it may be a difficult read. There are many arguments used against facilitating transgender children and teenagers transitioning, but my own journey of childhood and adolescence has proven to me that we need to care for these people. We need to ensure they’re looked after and provided for. We need to improve healthcare for transgender children and teenagers, and they need to be enabled to access the resources they so vitally need.
You’re born into the world, and you live a normal childhood. Your parents love you, and they show support for everything you do. You’re a normal enough boy in every way to the outside world – achieving moderately well in school, maybe having a few hobbies. You have friends, and some of those you occasionally bring over to your house to play on bikes or with toy cars. Everything is great; these are the best years of your life, after all.
Fast forward to 11 years old and it’s much the same. Yet, even though things are going so well, you’re very sad. Ever since you left primary school, you’ve been so confused about everything – concentrating is difficult, you’re struggling to make friends in your new school, and you’ve never felt more bewildered about the future. Not that you’ve ever thought much about the future, but your subconscious always pictured something that now doesn’t make sense.
Your academic performance is slipping, damn it. Those swear words you learned haven’t helped you much, but you’re finding yourself resorting to them more and more. Maybe you’re angry? Frustrated makes more sense, but you’ve no idea what you’re frustrated about. You’ll remember the metaphor of being like a Remembrall in that sense throughout your school years, and it’ll apply to the same thing throughout.
The quiet optimism when waking up as a child has now been replaced with a sighed mutter and a begrudged breakfast every day. Showering is the worst part of your day, seconded only by the state-mandated PE classes. Changing rooms are not your happy place, especially with all those boys. Your science teacher talks to you after class one day because your physics performance is slipping and you really need to do better for your Key Stage 3 exams coming up. You revise, and although you do well in test, you do badly in the rest, and the facts you’ve just learned about puberty’s nuances in biology are beginning to turn to morbid fears. Your worries are stifled by music – you sing often and you sing well. “O Holy Night” becomes your traditional go-to tune at Christmas, and you find peace with your violin.
Your voice breaks. Your eyes break into tears as you take one of the new pink Metro buses into town, and you’ve no idea why. Crying sounds like a chainsaw roaring in your head, and you can’t even sing anymore to give yourself a rest. You’re developing facial hair now. It’ll get darker and darker, just like your mood, and shaving it will become your way to cheer yourself up in the morning. Reading about a transsexual person in the Belfast Telegraph will grab your attention, and you’ll think about that a lot. Not that they’re painted in a good light, though. You worry about turning out like that. Meanwhile, you’re making friends who’ll turn out to be the best you’ve ever had, and it’s starting to look up. Your voice is starting to settle, but your shoulders are rocketing away from one another with each passing month and you can see masculine muscles forming around them. Showering is still the worst part of the day.
Your politics change, and now gay people don’t seem so bad. Those “tranny” comments from your peer group are now pretty hurtful, even though you almost agreed with them a few months prior. Your academic performance is still slowly going downhill, but your friendships are getting closer and more open. You’re really embarrassed talking about sex, and you’ll think to yourself it’d be really irresponsible to get pregnant at that age anyway. The ridiculousness of that passing thought won’t make itself obvious for a while yet, but you’re beginning to catch on to something.
So you’re gay; or so that’s the conclusion you come to. The dichotomy presented by society of gay/straight seems to place you as the former, anyway. However, the now-apparent assertion that you’re not a boy will throw a spanner in the works, and the explosive euphoria of coming out to yourself will soon fade when you realise you’re completely missing the mark. You know you’re a girl, but you don’t know that you know, if you get me. You’ll know what I mean in a while – hindsight will make all these troubled years make sense.
So you’re gay. Except you have this wonderful crush on the girl next to you in one of your classes, so it would seem logical that being gay is out of the question. But really, it makes sense in your own head. Your 14-year-old body is rebelling against most of your demands, and you realise what depression really feels like. You almost let it slip to a friend that you think you might be queer, but you change the sentence halfway through to a badly-composed joke. That’s the closest you’ll get to coming out for another year, and the farthest you’ll ever feel from security.
Your crush on your classmate is still going strong, if not even more so, and your academic performance is still on the long, slow descent. Your body gives a temporary glimpse of its potential womanhood with mild gynecomastia, but that will disappear in 6 months and you’ll feel worse off than before. Just before your 16th birthday, you almost tell your parents you think you’re a girl. Again, at the last minute, you chastise yourself and keep it in. Not even your love for cycling will cheer you up that summer. You pass your GCSEs, and although you get praise from your teachers, you know you botched them. If only you could think clearly. If only you could get this problem off your mind.
Aha! That first relationship will cement your romantic orientation in place. You like girls! You’ll find reprieve in your relationship, and although it proves “not to be” in the end, it’ll mean a lot to you. Once it’s over, though, your body issues will just spiral downwards again. You can’t ignore this crushing discomfort any longer, and you start researching online for ways to fix it – anything, just to make it stop. You’re past crying at this stage – you’re simply depressed. And very much so. The apathy you develop towards education and life will linger for several years, but it’ll get much easier with time. Even though you couldn’t care less about school, you find a love for music technology, and you’ll only realise how that kept you safe from harm in the years that followed it. Your days on the school stage setting up for events and concerts will be your best days. The days when you have to confront your own brain and your body will be your worst days.
Again, you almost come out. It’s becoming like a nervous tick now, and indeed you’re developing a nervous temperament, which people are definitely noticing, but being polite about. Your friends are great, though, and their company really keeps your mental health in some form of check. Your last few months at your school are sad and emotional, as you prepare to say goodbye to the people you’ve grown to love and depend on. You cry a little on the way home, which is a welcome return of your emotions, and you spend all summer preparing for university while coming to terms with the fact that you’re now expected to go into the world and make new friends and connections. The first year of university is fun and exciting, and your amazing new friends make you smile and feel secure again. You desperately need to move out of your parents’ house though, because although you love your family, the inability to experiment with identity while sharing a room is stifling and making you feel trapped. Forming professional relationships with people proves exciting and rewarding, and you begin to meet a plethora of new people. Things are looking up, and you can afford to forget about this gender thing for a while.
Or so you thought. Just as before, every day you ignore it, the following day it comes back slightly more strongly. In the back of your head you know what the problem is, as you have for years, but the remedies are not quite clear yet. In your second year of university you’ll suffer the worst mental health you’ll encounter, and you’ll get very close to what’s euphemistically called risk behaviours. Through a string of luck and coincidence you manage to avoid self harm, but it’s something you’ll later acknowledge was a very real possibility at the time. Your current girlfriend is lovely and your relationship is blossoming, but you’re finding it so very difficult to communicate with this block in your head. You come out to a few people close to you as bisexual. It was true, but you knew it was mostly testing the waters for what you now knew you needed to tell them. Most are fine with it. Some are not. You’re terribly afraid, and in your own head are terribly alone.
It’s December 2012. As you lie awake at 4am on Christmas Eve, staring at the ceiling of your student house bedroom, you have a moment of epiphany. For some reason, everything comes together. You know who you are, which is nothing new, but now you know how to make things better. You nervously proclaim to the lampshade: “I’m tra…nsgender.” You shake uncontrollably from the glee and adrenalin. You’ve come out to yourself and you know that you need to transition. You have your best Christmas ever.
The next few months will be consumed with research. You need to be careful to hide all the articles on trans people from everyone else, though, because you need to come out at your own pace. You learn about transition, about the things you always kind-of-knew. Hormones, surgery, social transition. You’re excited. April rolls along, and your instinct tells you that it’s time. It’s now 8 years since you first knew in the back of your head that you were a girl, and now the prospect of telling another soul is almost making you violently ill.
Sitting in your student house at 2am, your housemate comes down the stairs to return a cup to the kitchen. They ask about how you’re doing, and after a few minutes of beating round the bush, you come out to them. It goes very well. As does coming out to your other housemates and close friends. Your family accept you and you lose a small number of people, which, although very sad, is much less than what you were expecting. Posting your coming out message to Facebook goes outstandingly well. Your life starts anew, and you can live without repression or shame. The following year will be the best of your life to date, and it’ll only get better from there.
You no longer wake up with a sigh. You wake up with a smile, knowing that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. It’s still hard, and there are many, many new challenges ahead of you, but your life going forward will make the years until that point look like mere survival. You’re a girl. You always knew you were, but now it’s not only you that knows.
What you’ve just read is a very, very condensed version of my journey so far. It omits plenty of things both accidentally and deliberately, for various reasons. What I’m trying to communicate with all this is that transgender children and teenagers need support. They often don’t know how to bring their gender up, especially if they realise it at the beginning of puberty or slightly after. Contrary to popular belief, trans children don’t always find out when they’re 3-5 years old.
We need support from our families, friends and communities. And we need to know that being transgender is OK and not all that uncommon, either. Sex and relationships education in schools needs to cover LGB&T issues, including gender identity and the reality of trans young people. We need accessible and comprehensive medical facilities for both physical transition (hormone blockers & cross-sex hormones for under 16s) and mental health, to help support young people transitioning while still at school. Trans kids can’t afford to wait until they’re adults to begin transitioning – the physical and mental harm that puberty inflicts leaves long-lasting scars, and early interventions help outcomes in the vast majority of cases. If young people are taught about LGB&T people, LGB&T young people will be able to come out earlier and have happier childhoods and teenage years as a result. Trans youth who have access to medical and social care have a much better time than those that don’t. The political and scaremongering issues around providing trans people under 18 with medical care are largely based in fear and the common taboo around trans issues in general – giving young trans people hormones only helps them. Sure, it needs monitoring and relative safety precautions, but so does all medical treatment.
Accommodating and providing for trans kids is life-saving. Allowing them to use their gender’s facilities welcomes them in society and helps them feel secure. So often disenfranchised and disadvantaged, transgender kids need, and deserve to be told they’re first class citizens in our communities. Going through your childhood thinking that you’re disordered and “the only one like this” affects you badly, and it’s important that people know they’re OK and healthy, and will be accepted. This stupid and childish scaremongering of trans kids’ medical and social needs (“trans kids make people uncomfortable” or “boys will dress up as girls to peek in bathrooms”) is irresponsible and dangerous, and for the sakes of the young people affected, we cannot afford to let it continue.
Stop it at once. Fucking stop it. Northern Ireland schools, accommodate your trans students. Let them wear the uniform and use the facilities they should be using, and don’t single them out in the process. Teach all your students about LGB&T people, because a significant chunk of them are LGB&T, no matter how much you protest otherwise. Parents of trans kids, there is support out there for you and your children, and there are plenty of people in similar shoes.
And young trans people, there is a community for you. There is support and love and passionate people who will welcome you with open arms. You matter, your identity is valid and you will be so happy one day. There are lots of people like you, and they want to help you with any problems you may have. You deserve to flourish and live, and there are countless people out there that want to help you do so. You’re not alone.