Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. Ayla Holdom – who served in the RAF for 13 years and now flies helicopters for the National Police Air Service – came out as trans in 2010.
Ayla frequently speaks out about trans visibility and rights. She has worked with many charities, including Stonewall and All About Trans. Ayla is a patron for Mermaids.
I started by asking Ayla why International Transgender Day of Visibility is so important?
So often, we find trans and non-binary people are spoken about, with an assumed air of authority, by people who aren’t trans or non-binary. Whether in published media, in our places of government, in our workplaces, friendship groups or our homes, trans people are most usually distant from, talked over, or completely absent from these conversations. While these are conversations we should be having, are lives and experiences we should be sharing, it’s critical that the subject experts – trans people themselves – aren’t too distant. Trans Day of Visibility is an opportunity to see, meet and hear from trans folk up-front. They may share some commonality about their experiences with gender, but they are otherwise as diverse as all humanity. Trans Day of Visibility – because trans people are!
Can you tell us about your coming out journey?
Coming out for me was one of the most daunting things I had to face growing up. Firstly, coming out to myself, a challenge in its own right, then to my wife, family and to colleagues. Above all, I wanted to speak to them directly, and avoid the types of crude stereotypes that were so prevalent over a decade ago. I wanted them to see the pride I had in myself and what I hoped was integrity and authenticity. I’m deeply fortunate that, while not without turbulence, all those mentioned – all of them – recognised the honesty and the inevitability of my coming out. I knew coming out would be life changing – lifesaving really – but I have always been surprised over this past decade, at how much capacity it freed up in me. Capacity for everything… I’d been using so much, unconsciously, in keeping myself hidden from the world. I’m so glad that, with the support of others, I convinced myself I didn’t need to hide and can put that capacity to far better use, like building love and a life with my wife and our four-month old daughter.
So often, we find trans and non-binary people are spoken about, with an assumed air of authority, by people who aren’t trans or non-binary.
Which trans people inspire you?
There are so many, it would be unfair to list names… So many are quite private too, which I completely respect. Clearly there are the big names many of us have heard of, but the world is changed the most in countless little encounters, by everyday folk just like you and I. For example, being trans and a creator, an engineer, a nurse, a friend, a parent… I’m buoyed up, every time, by listening to trans people, quietly proud of themselves and full of potential at whatever they can and will do. That pride is deserved and when it’s shared, either directly or through others, a potential in life is also shared.
What are your three top tips for being a trans ally?
Firstly, labels and definitions are sometimes useful, but also only created by people to describe a complex world – don’t get hung up on them. Let people be. Let them evolve, let them find what’s right for them without pressure to conform in any particular direction. Secondly, find the confidence to speak up for trans and non-binary folk when they aren’t around. Thirdly, remember that trans folk don’t exist in a vacuum. If we do hear about trans people, it’s often as an individual, but rarely about the connections and relationships they have in the world – kids, parents, siblings, friends and partners – there’s important experience, perspective and context here.
Do you have any advice for young trans people?
No one can tell you who you are. They can help, they can hinder, but ultimately you are the person whose opinion of you matters most, and that’s the one you should give most time to. I feel like I’m the same ‘me’ now, as I was when I was nine, or 19, even though the world saw me quite differently then. However you’re perceived by the world on any given day – and whether you get to explain your gender or not – the core of you is persistent and enduring. Being trans can be wonderful and it can also be tough. Don’t forget that all these experiences will combine to make you who you are in future and that you can steer that.
Follow Ayla on Twitter: @AylaHoldom