A few days ago, as I logged into WordPress, I spotted a post by Rosa Zambonini in the “Recommended Posts” section, about her transgender daughter, Charlie. In her post (and her blog) it’s clear that Rosa’s support for Charlie is amazing. However, there was a point she made that really stood out to me. Something that very few people actually acknowledge or even realise when it comes to the transgender community: practice.
Yes, you just know if something’s wrong. I’ve known since I was about 4 years old that my brain was female and my body was male. Although I’m currently struggling with a few issues, deep down I know what the situation is. More recently, my issues are more practical or logistical ones, as opposed to self-doubting ones. The thing is, no matter what age people realise they are gender dysphoric or transgender, they are playing catch up to those born with bodies that correctly matched their gender. As Rosa pointed out, Charlie is young and, fortunately, still has plenty of time to learn things that her sister already knows or can do. Those who transition later on in life have more catching up to do, despite them knowing who they are from a very early age. Sure, they’ve experimented with makeup and stuff like that over the years, but it’s not every day. It’s usually done in secret or restricted to when they can. Often, conflicting feelings of guilt and shame get in the way of just being able to “be” the correct person. What about something so simple as hair? Those who identify as female may not have long hair and will never have had the daily routine or practice of styling their hair. When you break it all down, a lot of simple everyday activities like walking or posture have to be learned part way through life, not as part of growing up. It’s like going back to university to change career, only there are no lectures. Rosa’s “glam squad” idea is great: a chance to not only learn but to have support too, rather than just relying on YouTube videos.
Age most certainly does play a huge part. I believe transitioning early is the way to go. The longer you leave it, the more of your life you have to change. Not just physically either. In my opinion, a person who transitions earlier in life is less likely to suffer from mental health issues than somebody who’s been trying to fight it for most of their life. The mental health problems manifest as a result of a person not being able to be who they are. Frustration, shame, anger, confusion, fear…they can all present themselves in ways we wouldn’t expect. As I’ve described in my previous posts, I’ve suffered from an eating disorder for a lot of my adult life, I’ve self harmed and I’ve attempted suicide. I have also suffered from depression and, at one point, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Spread out through my life, these hurdles were always things I’d wondered about. What caused them? Why me? Through therapy, I learned a lot about myself and what led to certain things happening. It was never a specific answer. They never tell you that. Instead it’s more like “you reacted and became like this due to feeling like you had no control of your life”. Years of therapy enabled me to manage my life better but it never helped me with my denial. Gender dysphoria was there, hidden, but I never mentioned it to any therapist. Whether it was shame, embarrassment or confusion, I never talked about it. I thought I could learn the necessary skills and then fix myself of gender dysphoria. Ok, you could say it was naive of me or that I had the chance to deal with it back then, in any of the therapy sessions…but stop and think about it for a minute: would you have made the link to gender dysphoria from all that? Would you even have stood up and admitted it? Then, I was overwhelmed by therapy and the need for immediate answers. My eating disorder stemmed from a lack of control in my life – something I attributed to my family situation and bullying, as that was the most obvious event. But, as I only discovered recently, there’s more to it: the lack of control over being me. The real me. Though I’m now more comfortable with the truth, it’s still difficult. Especially at this stage in life where I’ve already done or started so much. The world becoming more aware of gender dysphoria and what it means to be transgender is still a relatively new thing. It’s not a complete shift, by any means…just a step in the right direction. Charlie, like others who transition early on in life, is part of a new generation who aren’t afraid to stand up and tell the world they are transgender. They’re an inspiration. With the support of Rosa, who is an advocate for equality, and others such as open-minded family and friends or organisations like Stonewall, Charlie will be able to live the rest of her life in a way that makes her happy.
There’s been a lot of debate about whether children should be allowed to decide for themselves what gender they are. Some say they are too young to know any better, whilst others say it is their choice. To those that say children don’t know, I say they’re wrong. There are some things in life that you know are just wrong. You can’t always explain it, nor can you analyse it…you just know. I knew, from a very young age. As much as I tried to grow out of it or act differently, I couldn’t. I just knew there was something seriously wrong. Well, if I was 4 and knew something was wrong, what about others? Surely I can’t be the only 4 year old that knew? No, I know for a fact I’m not. Even if I was, as Ghandi once said: “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” What right does anyone have to question or change the truth that somebody else believes in? Even those that seek help for gender dysphoria are challenged by a psychiatrist who is there to question the choices of an individual. Say the wrong answers and you will be turned away – regardless of what you know. More people like Rosa or Paris Lees are needed. People who aren’t afraid to stand alongside the transgender community, raise awareness, offer support and help those whose voices aren’t always heard. At the same time, there needs to be more provision within the health service for this sort of thing. More understanding, more recognition and more facilities. As more and more people come forward and admit to feeling the same, the country’s health service needs to cater for that – not disregard it, which in turns stops others from coming forward. Had there been more awareness of gender dysphoria when I was growing up, life could have been very different for me. But I can’t dwell on that. The fact is, there was no awareness. I had no strength to come forward about it, let alone any role model or advocate fighting my corner. As such, I did my best to ignore it, telling myself that I was wrong because I didn’t fit what I was being taught or told. Now, even if I wanted to do anything about it, there’s always a (sensible) part of me that just says “don’t bother, it’s too late for you.” These are tough words to hear from anyone, but they feel even worse when they come from within. And those words are right. Yeh, I wear makeup and have long hair etc now…but I’m still behind. I’ll never have the chance to catch up. I guess that’s one of the more practical issues I face: is there any point in doing anything about this? Even if there was, who would I be left with by the end of it?
Featured image: via Google