I find myself torn between pride and concern on National Coming Out Day. On the one hand, I love that our society has evolved to the point that we now celebrate people coming out, on the other hand, I wish it just wasn’t a big deal. I look forward to the day where it doesn’t matter what our sexual orientation is and we won’t need to define ourselves into narrow, static boxes of gay, straight, bi, pan etc. We just fall in love with someone, and their gender is not an issue. I can dream.
The other reason I find national coming out day troublesome is that when talking about the LGBTQ community, trans people are frequently overlooked. For the majority of trans folk, our coming out is far from celebrated in society. When we come out, we face being cut off from our families, sacked or discriminated against in the workplace, harassed on the streets and all too often being the victim of violence and murder.
Those that are newly discovering themselves to be transgender, have no choice but to come out. In early days, before cross-sex hormones change our appearance, we suffer the humiliating dysphoria inducing event of being incorrectly gendered many times a day. The only way to counteract this is to ask people to use the correct pronouns for us. Of course, as soon as a trans person who is not yet being read correctly does this, they automatically out themselves as being trans and place themselves at risk.
There is the additional issue that once fully transitioned (in whatever way that means to each particular trans person), we can often blend into society and not have to disclose our trans history. Those that do this, then, in turn, feel pressured on National Coming Out Day to make themselves visible and feel as though they are letting the community down if they don’t or can’t do so. The fact that not disclosing is described as “going stealth” highlights how much shame is involved in not revealing a trans identity.
I am a very proud man with a trans history who on most days is more than happy to shout it from the rooftops and face the inevitable backlash that still so often happens. However, many trans people have no control over their being outed or feel unsafe to come out. These people are no less proud, they just do not have the same freedoms and choices as the rest of the LGBT community does in being visible LGBT people. Therefore I ask you please, to spare a thought for trans folk on National Coming Out Day
As always after a documentary on TV regarding trans people, even when done sensitively as in the case of Horizon’s “being transgender” last night, I always spend the next day reading numerous misinformed and bigoted comments across my social media. I could stay quiet, I could just blend into the background, but I wont. I am blessed to live in a country where, although far from perfect, I have access to medical treatment, allowing me to transition which has without doubt saved my life.
I would not have access to this had it not been for brave trans folk who came before me and fought, in even worse circumstances than we have now, for our treatment and safety. I feel drawn to pay this forward, which is why I share as honestly and openly as I do. The payoff, in the amount of love and support I have received and in the messages from people I have helped or who feel better informed from my sharing, make this all so very worthwhile.
So to all the haters and bigots out there, throw at me what you will, leave your hateful comments on my videos after all, your doing so helps in our fight for equality and understanding as you help to highlight just how much opposition we face on a daily basis, in simply trying to live our lives comfortable in our own skin as is the right of any human being.
In the words of Frank Turner, “I won’t sit down, and I wont shut up”
Last week, the date of the 9th March, marked 5 years since I officially changed my name by deed poll to Finlay. I had entirely forgotten the anniversary until Facebook reminded me by posting an old picture of my very proud boyish looking face celebrating the event. Being prompted to remember brought with it a flood of memories and a huge smile. I need that, with all that has occurred lately in having a setback in my surgical journey, it was wonderful to be reminded of just how far I have come. I haven’t gone backwards at all, not in terms of the whole picture at least.
The picture of me that flashed up on my Facebook news feed, with such a knowing grin, proudly clutching my signed deed poll, symbolises far more than just an official change of name. It even symbolises more than the official start to my living my life as a man. It represents the birth of Finn but far more it represents the birth of my whole being.
Just a year prior to changing my name, I entered the rooms of Alcoholic Anonymous and started my journey of recovery after a lifetime of abuse of drugs and alcohol. I truly see myself as being born the day I put the drink and drugs down. My video diaries and writing may well be heavily focused on my being transgender and undergoing gender transition but in all actuality, I see my journey as about being sober and in being so, being finally able to find the truth of who I am. By this I mean that the discovery of my being transgender was a consequence of getting sober and the start of my gender transition was the result of finding the courage to face myself and make the changes I needed to make, thanks to the fellowship of AA. In this way, my being transgender is a small part of a much bigger journey rather than being the journey itself.
It is for this reason that this picture symbolises far more than just the change of name. The grin I am wearing symbolises the relief in finally getting to the bottom of a lifetime of depression, anxiety, self-loathing and self-destruction. It symbolises an awakening, to myself and to life and an excitement in finally being able to live, rather than to simply survive. It symbolises hope and opportunity, possibility and adventure. It symbolises an eagerness to commit to the journey of continuing to peel off the layers to reveal the truth of who I am
It has been so wonderful to be reminded of this and the way I felt when that picture was taken and even more wonderful to be reminded that I still feel the exact same way, even with all the bumps in the road. Most importantly it has reminded me that my life is far more than just about my gender transition. It can be incredibly hard not to get lost in that one part when things are not going to plan. This has been and continues to be an incredible journey of exploration, discovery and self-development of which being trans is, in the grand scheme of things at least, just one small part of a much greater whole.
November is Transgender Awareness Month and I thought it might be useful to address some topics around key debates and concerns in trans issues. I shall be sharing on my YouTube channel, where there will be an an accompanying video to this post, and on all my other social media sites.
One issue that frequently arises is backlash after a poorly presented program, film, or article on trans people and trans lives, hits the public sphere. Sadly it is quite rare that the media gift us with positive and affirming stories of transgender people.
When I first started sharing my story of my gender transition, I was very keen to work with the media to help raise awareness and reach out to other people struggling with gender issues. However, I find myself having to say no more and more because I have done things that did not come out how I hoped or was told they would and it’s disappointing. I’m also sick of seeing articles and documentaries that patronise us or sensationalise our stories. I feel for other Trans people that, like me, want to help only to find that the message conveyed is not the one they intended.
I’m having to be strict now, all l care about is helping other Trans people, yes l want to increase awareness and understanding but for the benefit of Trans people, not for the amusement of the general public
I do not believe in boycotting all media as a response to bad press, I feel that’s cutting our noses off to spite our face and just creates a stalemate between us. Instead we need a dialogue, you are still learning about us, our lives and our language, you will get it wrong and that’s OK, but what’s not OK is not apologising when you get it wrong or not listening to us and continuing to get it wrong. There are many of us who do want to tell you our stories but you need to first stop, drop what you think you know and instead really listen to us.
Here are my ten tips on what it will be helpful to bear in mind when working with us.
- Only trans people know how to tell trans stories
- I do not think the media can tell accurate stories or create accurate films and documentaries without the input of trans people, I believe it is vital that a production team member is trans or that the team relies heavily on the advice of trans people in the creative process.
- Make sure to do research, talk to the wider trans community and consult with experts such as Trans Media Watch
- Stop generalising
- Remember the Trans person or Trans people you are filming or writing about, are just a small sample of a vast population. We all are very different people, came to realise we were Trans in different ways and live our lives very differently so please do not generalise to all trans people.
- Don’t focus on surgery as defining us
- Don’t focus on hormones and surgery as defining our gender, these changes reflect our gender, they do not create it
- Be aware of your preconceptions
- Think of your impact on our lives. The way u portray us effects the way we feel about ourselves and the way society feels about us
- Check your perception of us before filming does it actually match with what we are telling you?
- Stop projecting your ideas about what you think it is like to be us onto what we are saying, instead bracket your ideas and listen to what we are telling you
- Ensure your whole production team is singing from the same hymn sheet. I am sure that most producers mean well with their questions but the way it’s edited can completely change the message as can the choice of lighting, the voice over and the music. They all convey a message and too often it takes away from the trans person reasons for taking part in the first place and then misrepresents us
- Be aware of our vulnerability
- Trans people are vulnerable people, even the strongest of us are vulnerable because of the prejudice that exists in society towards us.
- Remember that every time we choose to be visible for you it is your responsibility to respect and protect that trust
- Trans people agree to articles and programs because of a wish to increase understanding and to reach those struggling. Respect that and do not miss represent us
- Learn our language
- There is a general consensus of best practices guidelines and the language to use when telling Trans stories, these guidelines are there to protect the individual and the wider community so please study them. I will put a link at the bottom to trans media watch who provide great advice for the media
- Sometimes a trans person may have different feelings about words, in this case follow the person’s lead but clarify it was their choice. Again this demonstrates that each of us experience being transgender differently and navigate life differently
- Be aware of the power you hold in telling our story and the impact you have
- Remember the power you have, over the Trans person/people you are working with and in the effect of the message you send out with your creation
- As trans people we have little social power, we trust you, you’ve told us you want to tell our story, to help spread awareness, to humanise us. Due to your expertise we see you as people of power and we trust you. Do not abuse that trust, make sure you tell the story that we tell you and nothing else.
- Be honest and respectful
- Be honest with us; tell us your aims, what will be used, how it will be used, what message you hope to convey. This will give us informed choice in working with you.
- Be honest with yourself, what are your aims? Do you really want to help trans people or do you just want ratings?Remember we are people and people who are still fighting to be accepted, please do not exploit our vulnerability in order to further your own ends.
- You are responsible and accountable
- If you write a story and pass it on l believe it is still your responsibility to ensure your original intent is not misrepresented. A great story can be turned into circus play with just a few poor tag lines and headlines.
- Remember we are people not ratings generators
- Emotive tag lines may well pull in viewers and readers but they serve to feed the sensationalist view of trans people as people who are odd, different and to be gawped at which only serves to make things worse for us.
- We are not freaks, anomalies, emotive tag lines, or tools to increase ratings. We are people, with inspiring stories to tell that go far beyond what gender we were assigned at birth, what our old names were or what we have in our pants.
As both a student psychologist and a man with a trans history, the topic of identity and how it develops over time fascinates me. I have found that my identity never properly developed a stable base, in hindsight I expect this is why I was diagnosed with a personality disorder and I now believe it was down to the fact that I was never female and this caused the personality, identity and mental health issues I faced.
In transition I have experienced a loss and a grieving for my old identity, not because it was one I like but because it was all that I knew and without it I was in limbo whilst I waited for my new identity as a man to form and become stable.
During transition we are in a constant state of flux, as hormones and surgery change the body we have to get used to our new embodied selves and as our gender roles and societal expectations change we have to get used to the new way we interact with others. This constant flux means that the stable identity base is hard to build.
Now, nearing the end of my surgical journey and hormones having done their most significant work, I find I am at last able to put down stable roots to my identity, allowing me more security and stability from which to explore other aspects of myself.
In this vlog I discuss this process and the ways in which I am continuing to actively discover and develop my new identity.
I thought it might be helpful to share the ways in which I have been protecting my skin graft on my forearm. I originally tried a tubi grip but I found it hot and uncomfortable and have since found some much better options
Continue reading “Protecting An Arm Graft After Lower Surgery”
I have been open about all aspects of my gender transition and I have chosen to do the same with my lower surgery journey. It has not been an easy decision to share my surgery experience and photos but I think it is very much needed. There are so many detrimental myths around this surgery and very few people willing to be candid about it so I wanted to fill that gap in knowledge.
Continue reading “A No Holds Barred Account Of Lower Surgery”