This month has seen TransSwindon begin its role as an active group within both the LGBT community and the local community. Everyone who has spoken to or messaged me had only positive things to say.
For the first time Trans had a presence at Swindon Pride. So many people of all ages came up and talked to us about transgender issues. There is no way we can say our group is not needed.
Our own launch day was an amazing success. An emotional, exhausting, nerve-stretching, and did I say emotional day for us all. It was also a day from which we can all take a sense of pride in what we can do, what we have achieved and in ourselves.
Already we have had contact from people asking advice or seeking support – that is what we are here for. We also have a fantastic relationship with the local media and for those of us who talk with the media it may be difficult to be open about our personal journeys the fact is it is by being so we reach out to someone who feels alone, depressed and needs to talk.
The speeches and poetry readings at our launch event emphasized the problems transgender people and their families face and the lack of equal rights transgender people deal with on a daily basis. Bringing about an awareness through information and education is the strongest step forward we can make.
The T in LGBT cannot afford to be silent anymore and we are making the noise now. We are not going to be silenced.
Jez, a trans man, is 49 years old and is currently what he calls a work in progress at just over a year in to the medical process of transition. He started his journey at 25 after his relationship broke down. Initially presenting as a male in his private life when the urge took him. Jez has two sons, now adults, and once they were both past 18 he started living as a full-time male occasionally stepping back into neutral when he had to avoid being ‘out’. He now works as a writer, trans advocate and activist for transgender rights.
Jez knew at the age of 6 he was a boy but back in the 1970s no one understood that so it was never heard. His parents labelled him a tomboy and any expression of male identity was frowned upon. “I do not blame anyone it was just how it was back then.”
Telling his parents their only daughter is in fact a man was the hardest thing he has ever done. His mother still sees it that he has killed her daughter and that has been a bitter pill to swallow, he is under therapy to helped him through that.
He rarely has any prejudicial problems as he was blessed with facial hair and a deeper voice. However, on his blog and as a support group organiser he does get a fair bit of hate mail from across the internet.
He uses the gel Tostran as he wanted to be proactive in his transition and hates needles. “My morning routine is shower, apply gel, shave and dress and I really do feel part of the process.”
He has been on T for 8 months now and the noticeable changes are his voice is much deeper, goatee is thicker and at last he has a mustache. Jez is also developing coarse and more pronounced body hair on his chest, back arms and legs. He gets aches and pains in his upper body, my arms and legs where the muscle density is changing.
Jez is more mentally and emotionally balanced than has ever felt in his life and thinks that is partly the T and partly being so active in the process. He has loads more energy and goes cycling and weight-training on a regular basis.
Laura is a 29 year old transwoman who has been transitioning since 2011. As well as being one of the core members of the TransSwindon admin team, she is a student starting at Bath University in the autumn. Her interests include video games, socializing, digital painting and comedy.
Laura never really considered herself a trans person until after she came out to her parents at 24. She had an inclining of who she was around the age of 8; as I was under the impression that I was a woman in a past life. She would also imagine myself as female characters in the books she read, such as She-Ra from He-Man rather than He-Man himself. In her teens Laura would also try on female clothes, as she found them to be more comfortable. At 16 Laura found that she couldn’t form relationships with women leaving her confused with regards to both her gender and sexuality. However a work accident put any attempt to discover herself on hold.
Laura’s feelings never really stopped, as she could never stop thinking about who she was and how she should express it. She managed to partially surpass them in her schools years due to bullying although that nothing to do with being transgender but was provoked by her small stature making her an easy target. After nthe accident at 18 left her needing to focus on getting physically and mentally better she was forced to focus on rediscovering who she was; in terms of being trapped in the wrong body. This turned to depression as Laura could not think how she could tell her parents.
After Laura witnessed her sister’s pregnancy and held her niece for the first time the feelings of awe and jealousy made her identity and she knew she had to embrace it to be happy in her life.
Telling my parents took years and almost resulted in Laura taking her own life due to the stress. Fortunately she thought she should at least tell her parents before taking that decision. Being completely open with her family put Laura on the path she is now. Then came the coming out on to her friends and family on social media – so far none of them have given a negative reaction.
The biggest problem has been the inevitable waiting which has been by her hiding away and the condition of osteopenia. The medical professions consider her a “pretty straight-forward case.”
For Laura the effects of HRT have been breast growth, smoother skin and softer hair. There has also been a small but significant shift in body shape. On the negative side she has had to deal with minor aches and pains due to muscle changes and nausea.
“Over the years I have been given the opportunity to not only be myself completely but to grow and develop who I am through constant analysis of the world around me and and place it in. I have also become a lot more open to other people and have made many friends since the start of my transition, both transgender and cisgender. It ultimately has allowed me to finally start living my life the way I chose and as much as possible.”
Meet Tazmin, known to many of us as Taz. A MtF transgender she has been living in fulltime RLE (Real Life Experience) for 19 months. She is waiting for GRS and is a parent of two lovely and supportive daughters.
Taz was 13 when she felt something wasn’t right. She experimented with fashion by borrowing from her mother’s and sisters’ wardrobes.
“It was an experience though a very unusual one.”
Working through her sexual and gender identity Taz often experimented with guys buy always took on the female role as that was how she felt comfy and right. Even so her mind kept coming back to the point that she shouldn’t have been born male. She knew she was in the wrong body and tried to get rid of the outward signs of manhood through self harming.
Becoming aware of her female identity released the pressure from Taz’s mind but still she tried to deny it and continued to live the lie. Self-harming continued until finally Taz got help for mental health problems but there was no resolution to the feelings of gender dysphoria.
In the late 90s Taz kept her sexuality quiet from her family until her mother found out and Taz ran away from home seeking safety in a homeless hostel.
“I couldn’t talk to my parents about my true feelings ”
Taz put herself and her body through years of hell until 2 years ago.
“I couldn’t cope inside”
Taz knew she needed help to get started, mental health services and doctors all got involved and sort HRT. She went shopping for female clothing, make up and grew her hair. With the support of friends, family and local the local transgender support group has enabled her to live in her true gender identity.
With the support of her partner, Kris,Taz has not let the ignorance of bigots laughing at her get her down and is now strong enough in her identity to go out as herself. With HRT changing her outward appearance to a more feminine one she considers the journey to be worth it, despite hormonal changes making her feel tired.
This is a short series of background stories featuring the admin team and members of the group. Today we meet the group secretary and Pride Liaison guy – Kris.
Kris is a railway engineer now living and working in Swindon. after spending time in Cardiff, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Mongolia. Kris grew up in a healthy and supportive community with lots of childhood of social activity such as church youth groups and Brownies. He enjoyed playing running games with his sisters and friends. However in the role play games, he always wanted to be Luke Skywalker.
At 10 years old when the early part of puberty started Kris became aware of his body and realised it did not match his self-perception.
“My favourite toy was my red mini; I always played with cars and trains. I preferred playing rough, wearing boys clothes and the company of other boys more than girls.”
Due to teenage acne, Kris had to keep his hair short and at his request, his mum would buy boys’ clothes so he felt comfortable. He believes it was this boyish presentation that protected him from a predatory youth worker in a youth group when he was a teenager. His sister was groomed and abused by that youth worker.
A psychiatrist told a teenage Kris he was mentally ill and whilst he may identify as a boy he would have to wait until he was an adult to do anything about it. Instead Kris tried to make the most of his life as a girl and eventually gained a place at university to study civil engineering. In his second year of university he got married but due to the volume of work, he switched to an HND course and went on to work as an engineer in Cardiff. After around ten years, his struggle with gender resurfaced with feelings of low self-esteem and discomfort at female social roles.
“I began to feel very dysphoric about my female gender when I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis in 2007.”
After several courses of gynaecological hormone treatment, Kris underwent a hysterectomy in 2009 and he realised if he had not struggled to remain female, the problem would not have become so severe.
“When the hysterectomy was done, the surgeon encountered an unexpected frozen pelvis and I lost three pints of blood during the surgery. I was really annoyed that I hadn’t done anything about this before.”
It was after his surgery that Kris’s marriage ended and stayed with a friend from church while arranging a bedsit. Sub-consciously he started testing his sexuality and gender to find out what felt right. During his divorce Kris had been self-harming. In a last attempt to accept himself as female, he relocated to Taiwan for two years.
On returning to the UK, Kris was met with disbelief when he talked to medical professionals about his gender identity, despite the long track record of mental health issues surrounding his dysphoria.
“I was told that sort of thing is not available on the NHS.”
Having used the private option for both hormone and chest reconstruction Kris now feels he is able to live openly as himself.
When asked why he felt the work of TransSwindon is important Kris said – “I’m passionate about my right to live and speak freely. No one else is going to do it for me; I have to stand up for myself!”
Today I met with Sara from Swindon’s Healthwatch. Unsurprisingly there is little mention of transhealth needs in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and what mention there is in there is diabolical.
So what is a JSNA?
A Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) looks at the current and future health and care needs of local populations to inform and guide the planning and commissioning (buying) of health, well-being and social care services within a local authority area.
Transhealth needs in Swindon come under Men’s Sexual Health – yes, the flaw in that alone is obvious. Not only is being transgender tucked into Men’s Sexual Health but that of gay and homosexual men.
Predominantly this is a report about the needs for cis-gender gay and bi men and tagged into it is one paragraph covering transgender people, all transgender people. Transgender people are given this paragraph.
“This group can self identify as either male or female, and further can identify as being heterosexual or homosexual. They can fall into Transgender, Transsexual, or cross dressing. As a rule they are very private individuals, and numbers are not known or fully understood, however, it is believed that transgender (pre and post operative) account for 1 in every 11,500 in the UK, but within this group that does not allow for any knowledge of sexual behavioural identity. Consequently it is currently impossible to quantify the number of Trans people in any area, who fit into the MSM category”
Transgender covers so much more than sexual health. The process of transition is not covered; the health screening needs of transgender people are not covered. A transperson has to monitor and instigate their screening tests because normal health screening services are made for the identified gender whereas some services may be required given the birth gender.
I also question the stats used. If 1 in 11500 people are transgender that would make 17 in Swindon. STGG and TransSwindon both have more than that on a regular basis and there is a significant variation in members to mean it is likely to be far higher than 17, nearer 50 at a rough guess. That is 50 people whose health needs are not being met by this JSNA. Given that some transgender people are invisible it makes me wonder just how high that number could be.
The JSNA needs to be amended to reflect the unique needs of the transperson. Sara has kindly provided a survey for us to complete but it needs to be by the end of June 2015. It is anonymous and can be done discreetly via TransSwindon. If you want to make your voice heard contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming out as Transgender is emotionally, mentally and physically draining. In the preparation to come out we have faced our deepest fears. The announcement that we are Trans and are going to transition is often met with shock, and sadly rejection.
If coming out is met with rejection and aggression – there is a problem. Where does the Trans person go? Who can they turn to?
This is a crisis-point. Transgender people face many such points before, during and after transition. There is little or no support out there so to meet that gap the TransSwindon crisis support is being launched on 1 June.
At this time support consists of email via the contact facility and in the case of emergency a phone number. We have contacts that we can refer people to as their individual needs require. In the future we would like to see a safe space available as a temporary stop gap.
Gender specific hostels are not a safe environment and placing a transperson in such places is not beneficial to either the transperson or the residents already living there. Transition is a difficult time without this kind of thing happening, but it does and an alternative must be our ultimate goal.