Words: Declan Henry, author of Trans Voices – Becoming Who You Are
Up until 2015, I’d never met a transgender person. Most of my gay friends hadn’t either, except for some who encountered drag artists in pubs.
I’m unsure whether this is indicative of the larger gay community but if so, maybe it’s because whilst the gay and trans community are grouped together under the LGBT framework, their differences sometimes outnumber their similarities. The former is about sexuality and the latter is about gender, with each sharing different nuances, history and direction. I discovered these facts whilst writing the book and my motive for writing lay sorely with my curiosity as to why a person would seek to change their gender.
Trans Voices examines gender dysphoria by looking at the lives of ordinary people who reported having incongruence between their brains and physical bodies from an early age, before deciding the only way to release this mental anguish was to transition to the opposite gender. Gay people do not have to endure these difficulties, which entail lifelong hormone treatment and sometimes multiple surgeries to bring the new gender into physical reassignment.
I’m not saying gay people don’t face rejection and homophobia in society but trans people, more often, face intolerance. Transphobia is about fear and ignorance and in the trans community it regularly consists of verbal taunts, physical threats and assaults. Transwomen are accused of being gay men, and transmen as women who dress as men because they are lesbians. It goes without saying that a lot of work is needed to dispel these misconceptions.
Indeed, throughout writing this book, I was reminded by interviewees of the various myths surrounding the trans community. Examples included that it was a lifestyle choice, or prompted by sexual deviation, and often the discussion shifted to the gay community’s opinions. Some trans people commented on prejudice they received from gays and lesbians. Perhaps they were less accepting because they felt gay people should be their allies, based on their experiences of discrimination.
The key point to this is realising that although these two groups encounter rejection and prejudice, this does not automatically render a mutual understanding and acceptance. The reason gay people may discriminate against trans people is because they too lack knowledge about why people are transgender, or forget how difficult it is to be different to others.
There is a chapter in Trans Voices which looks at sexuality in the trans community. It could be argued that a person does not change their sexuality after changing gender, and that a heterosexual carries this over to their new gender. Take, for example, a transwoman who was in a heterosexual relationship with a woman before transitioning, but afterwards enters into a relationship with a man – this would still be considered heterosexual.
Other examples of sexuality are explored in the book including non-binary people (who do not identify as male or female or are sometimes a combination of both). Labels play a big part in how people view themselves and how others view them, but during my research, I discovered most people I interviewed sought connection with a person who reciprocated friendship and love, irrespective of gender and/or trans identity.
Coming out as gay does not bring the degree of changes that coming out as trans ensues because changing gender is primarily an identity change in every aspect of one’s life. It isn’t just relationships that change – daughters become sons and brothers become sisters – different pronouns come into the equation and also the legal framework such as changing official documentation.
But everybody I interviewed heaped praise on their decision to transition and never regretted it, and that can only be good news. I take great pride in knowing that I have written a book that will support a greater understanding of trans people and clear up senseless misconceptions and discrimination – both for those connected to the LGBT community and those who are not.
Below is a excerpt from the book.
Thomas, trans man. ‘The T as part of LGBT has always been conflicted. Whilst it belongs within this framework, it doesn’t always benefit. Many people in society confuse the issue and reflect upon it in terms of sexuality. But it is not a gay issue. Being trans is a process that is immensely different from being gay, lesbian or bisexual. Some trans people view it as a civil issue and feel it should not belong within a sexuality category with the other three groups. Others disagree, and refer to gay icons who do drag entertainment as champions to the cause. Whilst most drag queens and drag kings are not real trans people, they have nevertheless inadvertently brought into people’s consciousness a degree of acceptance.’
Ruth, trans woman. ‘I feel the T is just something that is tagged at the end of LGBT. Gay people can be as ignorant as anybody else in society about trans issues. They are equally capable of poking fun, making snide comments and sneering at us. These are hardly the actions of allies. Gay people need to educate themselves better by talking to trans people and listening to their life stories and experiences. It is only through this that they will begin to grasp what trans people are about and what their issues are, which will enable them to view life from a different perspective to theirs.’
Page 39, Trans Voices, Jessica Kingsley Publishers