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My Queer identity doesn’t cause depression…your attitudes do.

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Day and many people are coming out about their mental health issues – depression, anxiety, OCD, psychosis and others – and it has got me thinking. LGBTQIA+ people are far more likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems and are at significantly more at risk of self harm and suicide, a fact that leads many people to think that LGBTQIA+ identities cause depression and anxiety. This however is simply NOT the case for the majority of us.

Susan Calman spoke candidly in her new book about her experience of depression and of her sexuality. She perfectly captured how I feel which is that I am 100% content and comfortable with my sexual identity, and with my gender identity. I always have been, the issue however has been society’s attitudes towards gender and sexual minorities. As a young person I was attracted to boys and girls, I knew that but society told me that I was a woman and therefore could only like men. You might say that it is my perception but the reality is that in 1988 section 28 of the Local Government Act  was introduced, an act that stated no local authority should intentionally “promote homosexuality or publish material which promotes homosexuality” and they should not “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. This act wasn’t fully repealed across the UK until 2003. Yes you read that correctly, 2003. I had completed my formative primary education at this point and was halfway through secondary school. I had received sex education and PHSE (personal, health and social education) for years…and all the way through I was taught that relationships were only between a man and a woman, if I had a question about my attraction to women I couldn’t talk to teachers or pastoral support at school – they were prevented from promoting or teaching the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretend family relationship”.

It hasn’t changed a huge amount, though the act has been repealed there is not active teaching about same sex relationships. Starting a family revolves around getting pregnant, adoption, surrogacy or other ways of having a family aren’t discussed. In fact sex is all about pregnancy, what about fun?! Anyhow I digress…Laws may have changed but attitudes haven’t shifted so quickly. In thinking about holidays my wife and I need to think about where we go and how safe we will be…someone told me recently that in Northern Ireland we would have to pretend to be friends in many places, something that fills me with despair. I married my wife because I love her deeply and I want the world to know that and to witness our love. Not so that I would have to hide away. Our passports will say Mx and Mrs but some countries won’t even view us as a couple.

In some ways it is not surprising I didn’t want to get married…the marriage I would have wanted was illegal until 2013, and again the law changed but attitudes still need to catch up. A (not-so-quick) change in a law will not do anything to change societal views of gender or sexual minorities, and without some huge shift in the paradigm that these identities are less valid. Growing up secretly thinking that your entire being is less valid is what causes depression, not that identity itself. It is the little things too: being denied access to my own bank accounts because my voice does not match what they expect of a Mr, having to come out every time anyone wants to know if your husband is coming as your plus one, knowing that my gender identity is not valid enough to have its own tick box on a form…

It is not my queer identity that causes my depression. I am more happy than I have ever been since I came out and found words to express my own identity. My wife was astounded by my forwardness and how comfortable I was with holding hands or kissing in public. I never had a second thought about it, my relationship with her was as natural as any I had with men. But that is despite growing up in a world where we still have to openly and repeatedly state that noone should be bullied because of their sexuality, while hundreds of transgender people are scared for their lives in case they are outed. It is not my queerness that makes me depressed, it is living in a world where an easy choice, to love someone, is made difficult at every turn. It is having to fight every day against ingrained prejudices and opinions. It is having to shout to be seen. It is questioning at what point in a relationship to come out. It is wondering whether I am safe to come out, or hold my wife’s hand.

THAT is what causes my depression.

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Transgender…A Story of Hope

So many rhetorics around LGBT+ and particularly transgender identities focus on the difficulties and tribulations so I thought that I would share a story of hope today. Five weeks ago I married the love of my life, a cisgender woman, a lesbian. When we met almost 3 years ago I presented as female and, though I was beginning to question my identity I really had no language to explain it. Ours was what most people would call a whirlwind romance, I fell in love with her that first night that we met and she felt the same.

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When I came out to my now wife she said that she loved me, the person, beyond my gender. I initially came out as genderfluid, this was the only word that I had heard that came close to describing my gender which I knew was not female but not fully male either. Over the course of the following 2 years my gender expression changed, I found my comfort zone in the masculine and began to realise that, though I am non-binary I can also be masculine and prefer male terms of address. I internalised this, as is usual for me, and became scared to mention it to my partner as she identifies as a lesbian. I was terrified that she would want a woman and not me, especially when I began to explore top surgery and hormone replacement therapy.

However I have landed on my feet with my wife. She has been by my side every step of the way. She fought for me when I was trying to change my name at doctors surgeries and banks. She corrected pronouns for me when I wasn’t around. She came with me to my first gender clinic appointment, the one where we were told we probably wouldn’t last due to her being a lesbian and me being a non binary person who wanted their breasts removed and male hormones. She was there when I went down for the double mastectomy and, to my surprise and glee, she was there when I woke up. I say to my surprise but don’t get me wrong, she didn’t give any indication that she wouldn’t be there. It was just that in my mind I knew that I wouldn’t have the body she loved and the words of various clinicians rang around my head, telling me that without breasts there would be no sexual attraction and without that, there would be no relationship. However when I opened my eyes she was there. She took time off to care for me, she cooked Christmas dinner for us and helped me through recovery.

My wife and I have overcome those naysayers though. She has been able to see through the exterior and love the person. Of course there have been difficulties, there have been worries over what hormones will do and whether she could deal with a breast-less partner. But love endures all things, and in our case that includes gender questioning and transitioning. I think so much more pressure is put on couples with one or both of them transitioning…when you think about it, in any long term relationship the couple will change both physically and emotionally. You might get together when you have brown hair then dye it blonde. A partner may have a double mastectomy due to cancer. The other may decide to grow a beard. Bodies change, and relationships adapt and change too, this isn’t any different in a relationship with people who are transitioning. Making out that a cis partner will suddenly not love their trans* partner reduces a trans* person to their body and their genitals. Relationships are complex and I’m not denying that some wont survive transition, but I certainly don’t think we can say that they will definitely fail because one partner is transgender.

marriage equality is a myth…there is no equality if identities are excluded

So back to our wedding day…we knew that I would have to be married as a wife. I had spoken to the registrar and the registry office and the only way to remove gendered language from a wedding is to opt for a civil ceremony, a marriage requires the vows to include “take you as my lawful wedded husband/wife”. A civil ceremony is predominantly the same to a same-sex marriage though some divorce rights are altered and my wife and I wanted a marriage. So, although many societies celebrate having achieved marriage equality – that is that a perceived same sex couple can marry, these same societies cannot allow for transgender people to marry with the same equality. A transgender person must hold a gender recognition certificate (GRC) in order to be married as their “chosen” gender and not their birth sex. Now, GRCs are not easy to come by. You must live in your “chosen” gender for at least 2 years, have evidence to prove this and have this confirmed by a panel. Oh and you have to pay for the privilege. You can also only change your gender in a binary form, so non binary people cannot have their gender recognised. Marriage equality is a myth then, there is no equality if identities are excluded or people are outed by the language used in the vows.

We cannot sit back on our laurels and think that equality is here because one milestone has been reached. Equality is not just about gay people, it is about all of the gender and sexual minorities having the same access and the right to be recognised in a way they want. Not having to be married as a woman because that is all that is available, or having to wait until a panel has agreed on your gender so you can be married with the correct pronouns. The fight for equality continues, and it will continue until all identities are recognised and accepted as equal.

I wish every trans* person could have a partner so understanding and supportive as I have been lucky enough to find. I wish that every trans* person could have someone who fights for them in all things, who is 100% all out for them, no matter what. Most of all I wish that we didn’t have to fight, that all trans* people are considered equal without a fight.

But I said this was a story of hope, so here is the message I have for you, a message my wife has helped me to learn…

Trans* is beautiful. No matter where you are in transition, whether you want to physically transition or not, no matter what your body looks like…you are gorgeous.

Trans* is worthy of love. You deserve unconditional love, to be loved as you are and where you are, whether that is transitioning or not.

Trans* is equal. However much the world you live in tells you otherwise. However much the media makes you feel less or alien, you are equal in all you deserve and should have.

Be fierce, keep fighting and lets see this become reality soon.

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Can A Protest Be A Safe Space?

This month has seen more Pride Protests taking place across the country and my local pride aswell. A little recap of what Pride is, and is not:

  • Pride is a PROTEST. It was started at the Stonewall bar in 1969 when a transgender woman of colour threw a brick in protest against police brutality towards the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Pride is POLITICAL. It is about making a noise to bring attention to the systematic oppression of LGBTQIA+ people. It is about working towards bringing change.
  • Pride is NOT a party. It is not a victory dance. We have a long long way to go and many more fights to come.
  • Pride is a safe place.

Yet somehow many people who are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community co-opt pride to make money or promote business without being sensitive to the real nature of pride or the safety of participants. One such example of this is the publication and sale of pictures of participants without their consent on public domain spaces and putting this pictures for sale. These pictures weren’t large crowd pictures, they were close up images of marchers that would easily identify them.

I see many people looking confused at why this is a problem, so let me explain. Pride protest may be a “public” display and parade, but it is also and should always be maintained as a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people. The almost daily cries for a “straight pride” make it clear that we desperately still need Pride as a protest and a safe space – the fact that large swathes of people do not recognise this need is precisely why DO need it. Many people march at pride because this is a space where they can be their true selves and be safe (mostly), however posting pictures of people without consent has the potential of outing them in places that they do not wish to be outed.

The company who I elude to here placed images on their website and on Facebook set to public. That means that anyone, anyone can access them and discover the sexual orientation or gender identity of, say, an employee, a relative, a customer…This may not seem a big deal to you, and in discussions with the company it did not seem a big deal to them – as they said “walking in the parade is being public anyway”. However, if you are not or haven’t been affected by the discrimination against and oppression of LGBTQIA+ minorities I would say that you can’t fully understand the fear of being outed in a way that is out of your control.

Outing a transgender person is a hate crime in itself, it has the potential to put that person in danger not only from verbal abuse and discrimination but also physical abuse. Cashing in on the oppression of LGBTQIA+ people is morally objectionable, it is despicable. No LGBTQIA+ person should ever be made to come out at a time that they have not chosen, or in a place they do not want to be out. Yes, marching in a pride is a statement, but marching in pride is not consent to be outed, just as walking into an underwear shop doesn’t mean you consent to your bra size, or nude photos being published. In a PUBLIC domain.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to photos being taken. Photograph performers or leaders, photograph people and ask them if they are happy having their photo used publicly and sold for profits. Photograph friends and put them on your private facebook page. Photograph people and send them the photos. Photograph signs, placards, banners, buildings…but don’t photograph strangers in the street and publish the images without consent. This is the biggest sticking point for me, and for the many people I know who have expressed their anger with how this was handled. It has put people in a position where they have been forced to come out as transgender, and as much as you may like to believe that this is safe, it isn’t. Transgender people are at risk of violence, of losing their jobs, of being denied healthcare.

So lets remember this. Pride is a protest, it is political and yes for many it is an act of being visible. But there are people who march and participate for whom being publicly visible isn’t an option and noone has the right to out them on any platform, especially not for money.

A Letter to my Surgeon

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Dear PK,

It was about a year ago I walked in to your surgery and asked you to remove my breasts. You were shocked – you saw me as a healthy young woman with no reason to have a double mastectomy, but I was not and am not a woman and this extra tissue did not belong on my body. It had taken years to come to understand myself, years of self-hatred and torture. Years of starvation and exercise regimes trying to defeminise my body. That is not to say that I always knew I wanted a double mastectomy, I wanted smaller breasts. I wanted to be able to hide them easily, but I wore dresses and low cut tops, I tried to embrace my femininity as the women around me did. There is this dangerous idea that trans people always knew they were trans and therefore have always hated their bodies completely, that is not always the case. I knew I was uncomfortable but that could be put down to bad skin, to self-image, to chronic illness and a body that didn’t function how I wanted it to. I didn’t relate the feelings to gender at all – because I simply did not have the understanding or vocabulary to express that, not even to myself.

To some on the outside it may have looked like overnight I became a different person, but in truth it was months if not years of internal dialogue and arguments with myself that brought me in to your office and I thank you every day that you took me seriously. Each morning I wake up feeling more content with myself and my body. Simple things like getting dressed or having a shower are easier without feeling disgusted or “wrong”. There are days when I am disappointed, though that is with the world and not my body or the surgery you did. I am disappointed that the world doesn’t see the me that I can now see and I still get constantly misgendered. I am disappointed that what I saw as the most female part of me is gone, yet I am still seen as female.

These are not things you could change though, you did your job. You cut away the parts of me that I had long wished were gone and though you may have been confused or may have not understood entirely, you always made me feel comfortable. After that first meeting you saw through the body and recognised me. You made me feel comfortable and enacted changes to make sure my identity was respected throughout my stay – changing the pronouns you used and the title on my paperwork. It may not seem like a lot, it’s not, but it is more than other healthcare places have done and it made the process so much easier for me.

I cannot put to words how much I wish to thank you for my new body, for my life and my freedom. I cannot describe the joy I have running my hands over my flat chest while I rub sun cream in and sunbathe topless with friends. I cannot tell you how my life has changed, I will always remember you and thank you for believing me, for believing in me and for doing the surgery.

 

LJ.

LGB…what about the T?

So here we are, in the month of Pride all over the world. A month of declaring the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. A month of raising awareness, being visible and marching to change the world. To make the world a little more welcoming, a little more open, a little more understanding.

There is a lot of horror out in the world, something which I have felt keenly these last 2 weeks with 2 terror attacks in the UK. There are a lot of haters who want to tear us apart and the LGBTQIA+ community is supposed to be one of safety and acceptance for those of us who belong to it, to any part of it.

And yet those spaces which are supposed to be safe, welcoming places to be ourselves are all to often excluding the very minorities who most need to find a safe space. Take, for instance, an LGBT bar in the “rainbow” end of Leeds. In an area that is designated as the “gay” scene, with a huge rainbow painted across the bridge and the place that hosts our Pride celebrations. A bar called Fibre, that on the first Friday of every month welcomes transgender patrons as part of “First Friday”. A bar who’s owner speaks at Pride events and whom I saw speak at a vigil for Orlando victims on the need to maintain our safe spaces and stand together. Such a bar, you would think, would be incredibly open and welcoming to trans people.

But it was this bar where I was subjected to one of the MOST humiliating and embarrassing incidents a transgender person can go through. I walked down to the toilets with my two female friends and, saying “I’ll meet you here” we separated with them going into the women’s and I went in to the men’s. I walked past a staff member who seemed to be guarding the toilets. I walked past a sign that said “male” and stepped through to be faced by a wall of urinals. I walked past a man. I walked in to a stall and undid my trousers.

And then someone knocked on the stall door. I ignored it, they continued until I opened the door. It was the staff member from outside – he had watched me say goodbye to my 2 female friends and walk past him in to the men’s toilets and then decided that, at that moment, it was appropriate to follow me in and bang on the stall door to tell me “The ladies is the other one”.  With men in there overhearing. Leaving me to slam the door and sit scared to piss, anxious about leaving, scared of who heard.

WHAT THE FUCK??

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This isn’t the first time this has happened, however it’s the first time in an LGBT* bar. I don’t always pass as male, I know that but in this particular instance the fact I walked the opposite direction to my female friends should have indicated I didn’t want the female toilets. It was also a night for transgender people, a night which many transgender people attend. And it’s worth mentioning again, this was in a bar that flies the pride flag.

Unfortunately the worst part isn’t that I was humiliated, hyper anxious, dysphoric…It is that I wasn’t surprised. Not really. I’m not surprised that a gay bar is not welcoming or safe for trans people. Too often every letter after LG is forgotten in the LGBTQIA+ community. If you are not gay or lesbian, if you do not fit into one of their many subcategories, if you are disabled or an ethnic minority, if you are trans or intersex, bisexual or asexual or queer (yes queer the Q is not for questioning) you are not an equal. You are not truly welcome. The gay scene does not cater to the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, that is not a secret.

It is not a secret because we have had to carve our own spaces, there are trans* nights in gay bars and nights for POC. It is not a secret because the trans women of colour who began the pride movement have been forgotten. It is not a secret because the transgender latinx people were just “gays” at Orlando.

So, here we are in the run up to Pride and lets not forget it is NOT gay pride. It is NOT just for gay people – though you would be forgiven for thinking so with the coverage you will see. Pride and those gay villages in your local town are for more than gay people, they are safe spaces for ALL LGBTQIA+ people, and we need to start making changes so they truly are safe spaces for all members of the alphabet club. It is not the responsibility of transgender people to educate you, take some initiative. Use your common sense; a person walking into a toilet, seeing people and no immediately leaving probably knows which toilet they are in. 

And to Fibre, the bar that has not responded to my complaints. To the manager who said “we can’t do anything other than apologise”. You can do more, you should do more. In a world that shows our community so much hate, in a world where we are killed for our identities and nothing else, in a world where are love is illegal…we should be standing together and fighting for our space, TOGETHER. 

Chronic Illness and Trans* Identities

The last few weeks have been tough. I live with a chronic illness, a genetic liver disease called alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency which has led to cirrhosis of the liver. It doesn’t mean too much, I don’t take medication I just have to have check ups. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke and I have to be careful with medications, but none of those have really ever bothered me.

However, the one thing it will now affect is my choices in transitioning. I will most likely not be able to take testosterone to masculinise myself – the risks are high and I have to weigh that up. Risks of liver cancer aren’t small, is it worth it to see a few changes? It was not something I thought about really, taking hormones. It wasn’t on my radar as there are only a few things I every considered wanting to change – my voice and my body shape are what make me most dysphoric. I thought I would be able to work out to make myself look more masculine, I thought my voice wouldn’t be too big a give away.

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Yet I feel less and less like myself and less and less able to change that. I have no choice, it has been taken away from me. This is the first time in my life I have grieved for the life I would lead if I were physically well, the things I would do and the person I would be without alpha 1. I didn’t miss drinking, or smoking. I didn’t miss nights out. But now I mourn the person I cannot be. Every man is a taunt of who I could be. Every “ladies” directed to me is a reminder of the body that betrays me.  I feel the stab of jealousy for signs of masculinity that I won’t have; well fitting suits and strong shoulders. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it is that I hate being feminised and viewed as a woman so much.

I’ve said previously that I had hoped my surgery would somehow change the way people view me, that it would lessen the misgendering. It hasn’t, and every day is an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a non-woman. As a “not your darling”. As a “mate”, not “pet”. Nothing seems to change that and I wonder constantly whether hormones would make a difference.

I have fought and fought for the ideal that our outward appearance should not reflect our gender – that my gender isn’t reliant on the body that people perceive me to have or how they match that to pronouns. And I truly do believe that. I believe that my non binary gender is not dependent on me having a sexless body. I believe non binary people can be femme and masculine and both and neither. But for me it is becoming more clear what is means to me to be viewed as more male or more female. I feel comfortable moving in male spaces, I feel comfortable being feminine. But the world is not comfortable with that. They cannot cope with a man who is feminine and they cannot cope with a non binary person who is masculine. There are days when it doesn’t seem worth it, when it feels like no ground will ever be taken.

Sometimes standing on the parapet is terrifying, one slip and the ground will swallow you. Sometimes it means standing above everybody, neck out. Sometimes it means getting shot down in flames. But no matter what, it means I have to explain constantly why I am there.

Nearly 30 years of living with a chronic illness has never stopped me, until now when it may just stop me being. Full stop.

Authenticity tells lies

**Edited for TDOV – 31.03.2017**

Today, 31st March, it is Transgender Day of Visibility. Here I am, trying to be visible. I am trying so hard to live my authentic life right now, to live fully and honestly as myself. Yet every step I find myself telling lies. Not malicious, not “big” lies. But lies nonetheless.

I find myself coming out as a transgender man, asking for male pronouns and male privilege. But I know that I am not really male. Some days I feel more male, and most of the time I am happy to pass as male, but I am not and I don’t think I ever will be.

However, I find myself answering the questions of “did you always know you were a man?”, “do you feel like a man now?”, “when will you have a beard/low voice?”, with the untruths that I always knew in some way, yes I do, and I won’t ever have a beard or low voice due to not taking hormones. I utter lies when I say that I’m devastated by this, when in fact I’m upset some days, horrified others, but mostly fine with it. I didn’t ever imagine I would be able to take hormones, so it is no real loss. What I lament is that I won’t ever fit society’s vision of a man without hormones, so I won’t be recognised as “not a woman”.

I come out again and again, I remind people that it’s “he”, not “she”. It fits better, but it’s not my authentic self. It’s not really me. I come out, and by doing so I hide myself again because I am not declaring my true identity.

There are few places I can truly be myself, and those are queer places, not gay spaces, not straight spaces, but those spaces that welcome those of us who fall between the cracks. The “real” world, the world of work and bills and taxes, it has no place for me as a non binary person. There is no “NB” box. There is no Mx option on most forms.

I am doing my best every day to live authentically and yet I feel like I fail at each hurdle, though not for lack of trying. I wonder how to continue, when every day is so exhausting yet I am still telling lies, to a degree. I wonder how authentic I can really be, without full honesty. And I wonder how to change the world so my true identity has a space.

It is transgender day of visibility, yet so many of us cannot be visible because the world will not see us.

Sometimes coming out doesn’t mean being true to yourself, but true to the idea of what people expect you to be. Sometimes coming out means agreeing you feel trapped in the wrong body, because that is easier than trying to explain you are happy with the body you have and it is not “wrong”. Sometimes coming out means still having to tell lies, to appease the fears of others, to sweep past their fear of the unknown. Sometimes, Authenticity tells lies.

 

All Men (and Women) Are Equal

This week Jenni Murray of radio 4 was given a huge platform, in The Sunday Times, with which she was allowed to publicly proclaim that transgender woman are not “real women”. She wrote “Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood? It takes more than a sex change and makeup”.

And yes, a man cannot lay claim to womanhood, however a trans woman IS NOT AND NEVER WAS A MAN. That is the very crux of this matter, the false belief of the cisgender world that trans people somehow “become” their gender, that they come to a point where they suddenly change, from man to woman, from woman to man. Yet that is just not the case.

A transgender person’s sense of their gender identity is just as innate and real as anybody else’s. Yes, a trans woman’s experience of womanhood will be different to yours, Jenni Murray. But so will every other woman’s. The experience of a woman in the UK is different to that of a woman in India, or China. The experience of a white woman is different to that of a black woman. You would never say that they are not real women, so why say that about a trans women simply because her experience differs from yours?

Of course, we are socialised according to our designated gender. I have been socialised as a girl and a woman. I have experienced misogyny, sexism, I’ve suffered verbal and sexual assault because of my perceived womanhood. And that is exactly what it is, perceived.

Just because you view someone as a woman or a man, it doesn’t mean that is who they are, it is simply how you perceive them. The fact that I was raise as a woman is not an indicator of my gender, my parents didn’t know my gender because I wasn’t able to articulate it to myself, let alone to other people. But my ability to communicate my gender does mean that it is not real.

So, Jenni Murray, and anyone else who says that trans people aren’t not “real” men or women. Just because I wasn’t born with a body that you deem acceptable for my gender, it does not mean my gender is less important, that my experience is less real. In fact, how about this….Trans people are MORE of a woman, or a man, than their cisgender counterparts. Because trans people spend their entire lives fighting to be recognised as their gender. They undergo humiliating tests and invasive questioning to be allowed to transition. They spend hours correcting your misgendering, fighting for gender confirmation treatment, for the right name of their paperwork.

Trans people’s experiences are valid. And just because they are not the same as yours (Jenni Murray), it does not mean they are not “real” or authentic, it doesn’t mean that they are less worthy of the position of woman or man or human. After all, we are joined in our experiences as humans, and separated in our experiences as individuals. That is all there is to it.

EXPOSED: The Truth About Top Surgery

CN: surgery, surgery pictures, images of wounds, top surgery.

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So it’s about time I updated you on my surgery. What surgery? Well, on 19th December 2016 (that is a date I will never forget!) I had a double mastectomy, or “top surgery”. It is a surgery many trans* men and non binary people have in order to reduce dysphoria and feel more comfortable in their bodies. I had the surgery for the same reasons. I was previously very large chested and I was binding every day for long long hours and that HURT.

Top surgery, and in fact almost all medical interventions for trans* people are spoken about with such rose tinted glasses, it’s hard to find a story about the difficulties or sad times. Particularly the social aspect of transitioning and the impact of surgery on these things. So rather than a simple before and after I want to share with you journey of this.

The whole run up to going down for surgery I felt nothing but calm excitement. I knew that this was the right thing for me, I’d planned and planned and thought it through so much. I’d talked it through, I’d asked questions. But the only image of myself I truly had was that of a breastless person.

I woke up with my family there, something I feel truly blessed with. I have had lots of people, including GIC Drs, tell me that my relationship would not last as my partner is a lesbian. What the outside world doesn’t know is that my partner and I talk, we’ve talked these things through, we’ve discussed the implications, we’ve aired our worries, and we’ve come to the conclusion that our love for one another is more than gender or bodies.

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(my first post surgery selfie!)

I spent the first week sleepy and worried. I was worried that my chest was swollen, full of fluid, bruised, the nipples were gammy and awful. It looked horrible and not like the pictures of top surgery that I had seen. However I quickly learned that this was because people don’t put the “yucky” pictures up. Just the nice healed ones. So here is a yucky picture just a few days post surgery.

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Recovery was sore, but the physical side was relatively easy. That’s the bit that’s documented, that’s talked about. What isn’t discussed is the rest of it. The way your body shape changes, the fact that now, without breasts, my hips suddenly seem so much more female. Or, most importantly, the fact that having top surgery does not suddenly mean people view me as any less of a woman.

A quick reminder here: I am non binary. I identify as neither male nor female but I identify far more with male. Therefore in places and situations in which I have to adhere to the gender binary and choose, I choose male. I live as a trans man to the wider world, however I am still non binary. My non binary gender identity is still valid.

 So back to the topic. I had this wild idea that having my tits off would make me appear more male. And I guess, yes, it has. If I’m topless. However I’m rarely topless outside the house. And so, short of lifting my shirt to every person I meet, I am still read as female. I thought that this HUGE step, this MASSIVE surgery, would somehow have a huge massive impact on my transition and they way the world views me.

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But it didn’t. And this is the hardest part. Not the pain, not the recovery, not the worry over whether I would keep my nipples or not (the grafts can fail and leave you nipple-less). Not whether I would like the results or not. The hardest part is that on the days I feel most myself, the days I feel connected to my body and comfortable, I still face consistent misgendering.

I have what is now viewed as a male chest, and suddenly it is deemed socially acceptable for me to be topless. But no-one prepares us for this. I have spent my life being conditioned, as a woman, to keep my chest covered. Even more so because I was big breasted – I was subjected to assault and cat-calling in the street and bars and clubs so I learnt to hide my chest. Yet now, I don’t have to. And I know I should be ecstatic, excited, thrilled…but I’m terrified. I feel exposed and naked. No-one prepared me for this. No-one talked about the social side of top surgery. So I’m doing it. I’m telling you.

Surgery will not change the way people see you, unfortunately. Rewiring the social conditioning that we had as children will not be undone by an operation. You may feel like it wasn’t worth it. You may feel startled by the changes. You may feel overwhelmed. But if you know it’s the right thing for you, it is SO worth it. The weight lifted is not just literal, I feel lighter and more free. Despite the fact I wasn’t gendered correctly once today I feel more comfortable within myself. I feel more myself. It wasn’t as easy as waking up minus breasts, but my goodness it was worth it.

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The Reality of Non Existence

The reality of life as a non binary person is that of non-existence. That statement might seem dramatic, yet it is true. Certainly in some, if not all, areas of existence. The simple act of going to the toilet is one of deciding who you are, male…or female? Will my appearance get me thrown out of one? Do I feel comfortable using the other?

Sometimes, or in fact most of the time, the world around us insists on a binary gender system. On a system of male / female. Therefore a non binary person is often forced to play the role of male or female. They are made to assume the feminine  or masculine appearance that most closely aligns with the way they feel or want to be regarded. Can you see the difficulty here, for someone who is neither male nor female? In our society there is no real way of presenting as neither, every person it seems simply must be categorised as one or the other. There is no grey in between.

A non binary employee is forced to change in the disabled toilet so as to “not upset” other staff members. They don’t have a male body, nor do they present as female. There is no space for them.

A non binary person is not welcomed at either the male nor the female sports teams. They were assigned male so “have the advantage over women” yet they do not look “male enough” with their make up and skirt to join the men’s team.

A non binary person hold the desperate urge to pee because they do not feel safe in the men’s or women’s and there is not disabled access.

A non binary person stares at the form in front of them, there is no box for their gender. No option for their title. No acknowledgement of their identity.

There are days when it truly feels as though I (we…the enby population) are non existent. There are days when I have the energy to fight for my identity, and other days when I accept that a binary gender is just what I have to deal with.

However, when we discuss other “in betweens” we seem so much more ready to accept that the world is not black and white. A white person may be half middle eastern. A black person may be half Caucasian. We readily accept that addiction isn’t as black and white as a choice to continue, that poverty isn’t just caused by overspending or unemployment. We are fed the lines “it isn’t that black and white” from a young age.

And yet, here I am, trying to convince you and the world just that. Gender isn’t black and white, it’s just not that simple. Take some time to consider the ways in which you recognise the grey areas of existence. Realise that there is no easy black and white answers. And come to terms with the reality that maybe, just maybe, you are the one who needs to change your thinking.