At this point, being out for over a year and a half, I’ve been to plenty of events for the transgender community. Running a trans group brings you into those circles, and I’ve been to the majority of the conferences & activism events in Northern Ireland since (and slightly before) coming out. The quality of events has always been pretty high, and I’ve usually come away from the events with a lot of useful information and a sense of positivity. This year’s inaugural Trans Training by the Irish Trans Students’ Alliance in March was, until last weekend, the absolute highlight of my “events year” so far. I came away from the three-day residential closed trans space with a sense of enormous wellbeing, and a genuine hope for trans activism throughout the island of Ireland. 20-odd wonderful young trans people can give you so much hope in a short amount of time.
Being involved in activism every day can feel like slow progress some days, so events like Trans Training really help to focus efforts and boost morale, especially around the more slow-burning campaigns like healthcare improvements & education rights.
A few months ago, I heard tell of a new UK-wide event funded by GIRES, which was free to attend and was paying for attendees’ travel expenses. A one-day conference sounded right up my street – nice and intense, and a UK-wide event would easily have 50 people there, right?
The National Trans Youth Network is a newly-formed collective of groups involved directly with young trans people across the UK. Stemmed from the LGBT Consortium, its inaugural event was planned to be a large national single-day conference in Manchester on November 8th, with people coming from all across the UK to attend. A generous bursary scheme was available, and once I had tickets booked, my flights were promptly paid for and everything was set. Flying out on Friday and back on Saturday sounded good to me.
Flying from Belfast to Manchester at 7 in the morning was far from fun, especially as Translink, the public transport provider in Northern Ireland, made sure the Airport Express bus was enormously late, much to the joy of other travellers. I got to Belfast International Airport with 5 minutes before the gates were closed, and despite setting off every security scanner I could get near, I was on the plane with plenty to spare.
Landing in Manchester was a joy, and I burned an entire day at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry with my friend Capri. I’ve never been as impressed by a museum before, and it’s a definite must-see if you like industrial revolution era machinery, aerospace technology or civil engineering. I met up with my friend Nick to share a very dodgy hotel room (complete with stereotypical flickering neon sign outside), and just about survived the night.
Sleep deprivation was a theme throughout the weekend, and although I got a solid night’s sleep on Friday, it was nowhere near enough to pay off my recently-acquired debt. That said, Nick and I checked out of our enormously dodgy hotel feeling quite lively and traipsed the significant distance to the Manchester University Law & Business Hub.
My first glimpse of suspected attendees was a group of people we were walking behind a hundred or so yards from the venue – brightly-coloured hair and an overheard mention of “queer” flagged our attention. Nick and I agreed these were probably our pals-to-be, and we turned out to be right.
We went inside and registered, and got our no-frills but high-utility conference pack (with the nicest pens I’ve ever got at an event), and proceeded to file into the conference hall after a bit of excited buzzing around and figuring out workshop choices.
We were in a room with over a hundred young trans people. We were in a room with over a hundred young trans people. That doesn’t happen every day – in fact, I’ve never been with even half that number before. My mind was blown, and my poor sleep-deprived emotion centres went into happy overdrive, and I might have had a little cry.
Little cries were a feature of the day – I was honestly amazed at the sheer numbers of people, at the atmosphere of the event, and of the kindness with which everyone spoke. It was wonderful and I was happy.
The conference opened with a fairly standard address, followed by an outline of the National Trans Youth Network’s plans and organisation. The housekeeping and rules were laid out, and we were dispatched to our first round of workshops. Nick & I decided to attend the GIRES healthcare workshop, something I’ve been to before but which is highly relevant to the activism I involve myself with. As usual, Bernard and Terry were very pleasant and to-the-point, and quite heavy mental health issues were discussed throughout the hour. I was a tad disappointed that the workshop wasn’t very interactive; we only had the hour, and it was mostly a one-way information stream. It was useful as GIRES workshops usually are, but it would have been nice if we had had twice the time.
Next, myself and Nick parted ways and attended different workshops, and I dandered along to the “Campaigning and gaining support of the masses” event. This was facilitated by the lovely Christine Burns, and someone I’m getting to know well, the wonderful Reubs Walsh from the NUS. Still as limited by time, this workshop proved to be much more interactive, and I got a very valuable chat with some folks from England and Wales out of it. It was fairly obvious in the room what issues were considered important by the attendees, pivoting mostly on healthcare & education, with some legal recognition ideas poking their way in also.
Lunch time. Oh, lunch time. The food for the day was provided by the talented Sidney Street Café, and it was delicious. Vegan and gluten-free options were plentiful, and the rarer non-vegan options (like the f*cking fantastic egg sandwiches) were just as good. I got as much out of the 50 allocated minutes as possible, and worked my way round lots of people trying to say hello to everyone I met. I had a particularly wonderful few chats with Action for Trans Health and the SPACE Youth Project‘s T Group. I also had a natter with two guys I’ve been following on YouTube for quite a while now, Alex Bertie and Jake Edwards. My brother is the biggest fanboy of Alex I know, and Alex very kindly wrote him a short letter in support – needless to say, Andy was extremely chuffed when I got home that evening!
My awkward small chat with dozens of people I admire was cut short, though, by the announcement of the afternoon session’s imminent start. I had elected to attend the film-making workshop, led by the talented Fox Fisher of Lucky Tooth Films. We soon got into the practical side of film production, and we shot a lovely piece which Fox has edited together into a short, shown below:
Again, we were limited in time for the workshop, and marched down to the main conference room for a production by “Queer of the Unknown”, a play about gender & non-conformity. It was one of the most powerful things I have ever sat through, and it genuinely moved me. Again, I sat and cried into my fist for a little while towards its emotional climax.
A quick tea break preceded the penultimate activity of the day – a panel discussion centred around trans healthcare with several names from NHS England. Of course, with my interest in trans healthcare, this was something I was heavily anticipating, and it certainly lived up to its expectations. The discussion involved two interestingly-contrasted testimonies – the description of trans healthcare by NHS England, and the near-total disagreement by the bulk of the trans people in attendance. Several people provided very emotive and personal accounts of their mistreatment and lack of access to useful healthcare in NHS England, and testimonials of poor treatment appeared to surprise some of the panellists, which was notable. I was very close to the front of the room, and looking back on people telling their stories showed the tears in many of their eyes.
There was an atmosphere of anger and fear in the room. Anger at the NHS’ historic and contemporary treatment of trans people, and fear of speaking out due to the danger of doing so affecting access to healthcare. It’s an atmosphere I’ve felt before, but never in a room with so many people. The tension in the air was tangible.
Again, time was our master and we had to get ready to disband and make our ways home. A quick wrap-up of the conference followed by quite a scattered closing session ended our day, and we mingled shortly in the foyer before starting to head home – many of us had very long journeys ahead of us, after all.
Walking out of the venue, I had yet another little cry, and my eyes blurred the few gifts I had been given throughout the day. I caught the train just as it left the platform, and I settled down into some reflection.
It had been a wonderful day. I thought it then, and I still think it now – it was life-changing being in such a welcoming safe environment, and with so many other young trans people. Although seeing the familiar pattern of Belfast streets lit up from the plane made me feel glad to be home after such a hectic two days, I do miss a lot of the people there. I hope we can do wonderful things together soon.
As of yet, the National Trans Youth Network doesn’t have any specific events or structure, but I’m looking forward to getting involved in a big way soon. With such big issues facing the young trans community across the UK, I’m sure we can come together in a productive way and make great things happen sooner rather than later.
Until next year.If you’d like to get more information on the event, the #transyc hashtag on Twitter is a great place to start.