Spare a thought for transgender people on National Coming Out Day

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 simply 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 because of the part of the LGBTQ community that so often gets forgotten when talking about these things. Our beautiful trans community. 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 work place, 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 a trans persons 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, as in my case although I choose not to, blend in to 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 disclosing 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 roof tops and face the inevitable backlash that still so often happens. However, there are so many trans people that have no control over their being outed or feel unsafe to do so. 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

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World Mental Health Day 2017

This year’s World Mental Health Day has the theme ‘in the workplace’. I am not in paid employment at the moment but I feel this theme is still very relevant to me.

I have had mental health issues since as far back as I can remember. My official diagnosis started in 1993 when l was sectioned after a suicide attempt.  At that time I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Not that l needed a label to tell me this but this label allowed me access to the mental health system, support and various modalities of treatment

In the years since then, my mental health became steadily worse. Unfortunately, the main way I dealt with my depression and anxiety was to numb it with food restriction, alcohol and drugs. Doing this also allowed me to keep working. If I was numb then l could blot out the anxiety and exhaustion that being around people caused and cope with the sickening feeling of nameless dread I experienced on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, living life like this was not manageable and soon, not only was l caught using cannabis and being drunk at work, but also being numb just was not masking the low mood and anxiety like it used to. I then moved from being, in the loosest possible term, a ‘functioning person with mental health issues’ to being completely non-functioning. My anxiety was at astronomical levels, to the point where I was constantly rocking and l had picked up self-harming as another futile coping tool.

No longer functioning, my life began to shut down. My University faculty department suggested I take some time out of my University degree studies which I wasn’t managing at all. I approached my local GP for some support and was officially signed off from work. Later that year, I was admitted to a full time 18-month non-residential treatment at a therapeutic community in which I stayed for 23 months including assessment phase. There I was diagnosed with various personality disorders, to add to my already existing diagnosis

Although the therapeutic community addressed my drinking and using, it wasn’t enough to stop me completely. For the entire time, except the last month of therapy, I was free from using cannabis but I was still drinking alcohol. The communities approach to alcohol misuse was to use controlled drinking methods rather than abstinence and this allowed me to continue to drink and lie about the amount I was drinking. Once I finished the 18-month program in the April of 2010, l went out for a drink to celebrate and that party lasted 4 months.

Waking from a particularly wild night in early August 2010, for some reason I found myself for the first time really wanting off of the hamster wheel of it all. A series of chance events led me into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous where for the first time I was able to admit I was an alcoholic, stop drinking one day at a time and begin to take responsibility for my recovery and my life.  Not only am l now 7 years clean and sober but l am also managing my various mental health issues in healthy ways and am able to move forward in my life, despite them often making things more challenging

And this is where I return to how this year’s World Mental Health Days theme applies to me. I am still unable to return to paid work, although l am so much better than l was l am still unable to stay consistently well enough to withdraw from benefits into paid employment. On top of my mental health issues, I am also undergoing gender transition which currently involves a lot of medical treatment and surgery recovery. This in turn has an impact on my mental health and l have to be so careful to make sure I’m being balanced and taking care of myself. If l don’t stay self-aware and vigilant about my recovery and my mental health, I risk relapse and if that happens l could lose all. mental health progress I have made.

The worry and shame of being on benefits affects me every single day. I live in dread of the constant reassessment forms and medical assessments which are done by people who have never met me and make an assumption based on a small snapshot of my life. It’s an exhausting and humiliating process that you never get a break from for more than a few months at a time and always negatively effects my mental health.  As anyone with mental health issues knows, the benefit system, including the back to work team, are not clued up about how having long standing mental health diagnosis effects trying to find and keep employment. This means that many people with mental health issues fall into two categories. The first are those forced back into work due to inadequate mental health assessments deeming them fit for work by the benefits team. The second are those who are awarded benefit and then get stuck on it because they are too scared to move forward into work for fear that if they do and they find it negatively effects their mental health, they will then lose their benefits.

I am trying to develop a career for myself that allows me the flexibility I need to make my own income. I’m not lazy, l don’t want to be on sickness benefits, l am hard working, and driven but the current general pattern of work that employers ask for just do not suit my mental health needs. I need to be able to evaluate where i am on a daily basis and set my own hours according to my level of mental well being. I need to be able to simplify things when times are tough or take time off when my mental health is feeling too fragile. I have to put my mental health first or nothing else is possible. The way we work in our society does not allow for this flexibility in employment.

Surely there must be a better way. Can the benefit system and employers work together to provide a system whereby a person with long standing re occurring mental health issues, can be supported into work with flexible hours and the option to withdraw at times where their mental health is too severe without losing their money? This would be so fantastic and would also help in recovery as the self-esteem generated from managing to be productive and achieve something is so good for one’s mental health. Additionally, knowing that in times of need, some down time can be taken without fearing looking money, would also remove the shame or worry of having mental health issues and encourage better self-management. Until something like this is created, those attempting to make the transition from benefits to work will be failed by the system time and time again causing a cycle of constant relapse, shame and stigma.

 

“Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes”

c3bac0c0998fdd737acaaa254a9a6aadAs 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”

 

 

 

 

The world works in mysterious ways

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I haven’t written here for some time.  My last post here was about deciding to begin to walk the South West coastal path, I have not made a lot of progress on that, in fact lets not beat around the bush here, I have not made any progress whatsoever!

My lack of writing , specifically about my coastal path adventures, stands as evidence as to how much life can suddenly change. At my last time of writing , on the back of my gender confirmation surgery going wrong, I was in the worst mental health place I had been for a while. My anxiety was so high that going outside was a challenge that took me two days to work up to and a week to recover from. I needed solitude, finding people to be just too much to cope with. I  couldn’t handle people being close to this body of mine which had returned to feeling like it was wrapped in barbwire and if I moved too suddenly or someone moved against me I would be cut to ribbons.

I desperately needed to balance looking after myself with also gently pushing myself to not sink into depths of isolation. I decided that challenging myself to a regular walk would help to accomplish this aim and would likely also help me to have a feeling of achievement.

Then, out of the blue, I met a woman who was to completely change how I felt in every way possible and would suddenly catapult me forwards in life, meaning that finding the time to do a coastal walk would turn out to be impossible!

Thanks to this wonderful woman, I have had a complete sexual paradigm shift. Despite my body still not working in the way that I hope it will one day in the not too distant future, I no longer feel the dysphoria I felt just a couple of months ago, My body feels freer than I ever thought it was possible to feel, especially considering its current “unfinished” state. This wonderful woman and I are no longer in a relationship, but the healing and growth that she ignited continues to blossom and I will be forever grateful for her.

My point in this post, as well as noting my lack of coastal walks, is to reflect on the wonderfully mysterious way that life works. Had I not had the awful surgery experience, I would likely have not been open to this sexual and relational epiphany that’s happened. Its hard when times are tough to not label things as good and bad but developments like this are proof that things are not good or bad, they simply just are. Trusting this means in the midst of a difficult experience, such as the one I had for the first half of this year,  the faith and knowledge that it will open up again and make sense , helps me to keep on travelling on.

When my new and exciting sexual world stops spinning so fast, I still plan to find the time to do these coastal walks, its just that now I shall do them with a rather large spring in my step and a incredibly wide smile on my face.