The first thought I had upon receiving the LGBTQ+ Soc x Cherwell submission call was “Incredible, Cherwell is publishing an issue on trans experiences – maybe I’ll enter a piece”. It is telling that despite having been wrestling with my trans identity for nearly five years and having been out and proud as genderqueer for nearly five months, the second thought I had was: “I probably won’t let them publish my name. I wonder if they’ll accept anonymous submissions?”
Any queer individual reading the above paragraph will know the myriad of reasons which could have caused my trepidation. One of the very fun (read: not fun at all) upshots of laying claim to one’s gender-based ramblings is the sharp, cold panic that comes from outing yourself to someone new: that split-second moment as you gauge their reaction and determine whether everything between you has catastrophically changed. Now take that feeling and multiply it by all of Oxford. Putting your name on any piece of work ties it to you irreversibly; putting your name on a piece about the trans experience is a statement (particularly if you are trialling a new name in the process). A statement that says I am here, queer, and claiming it. Now – how are you going to react?
Yet the term ‘statement’ applies in more ways than one. Publishing an article such as this requires having not only the courage to come out, but the courage to trust oneself enough with one’s own identity to claim it in the first place. Thus, the insidious question currently reverberating in my head, persuading me away from proud authorship, is the following. What if put my name on the article, what if I change my pronouns, tell my parents, start transitioning… what if I do all of these things, and I’ve got it wrong?
After the aforementioned five years of self-interrogation and five months out of the closet, it seems ludicrous that I am still questioning whether I’ve been kidding myself all along. But for transgender youth, the concept of being seen as a fraud is all too stingingly familiar. As the trans community has become more visible, sceptics have sought to undermine us by saying that we’ve all been suckered by social contagion. The brutally dismissive terms often used to describe this are the ‘transgender trend’, or ‘transtrenderism’. I, personally, fell prey to the particularly nasty narrative of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, a term used in a much-criticised research article to describe an increase in questioning individuals who were assigned female at birth, and which many celebrities and mainstream media outlets have sensationalised under the concerned guise of ‘protecting young women’ who are supposedly taking desperate measures to ‘escape misogyny’. What, and face overwhelming transphobia instead? Let me be clear: there is no ‘transgender trend’, merely increased visibility, increased acceptance, and thus an increased number of people having the courage, language, and resources to explore their identities.
I am sick of infuriating conversations where J.K Rowling’s outbursts against trans healthcare provision are dismissed as frustrating but ultimately benign. Such rhetoric legitimises the concept of ‘transtrenderism’, leading directly to legislative decisions such as the banning of puberty blockers for trans youth, and most recently the inclusion of gender therapy in the UK government’s proposed conversion therapy ban, cruelly equating lifesaving medical treatment for trans youth to the traumatic, life-endangering process by which queer individuals are psychologically manipulated into abandoning their identities.
Yet while we’re no strangers to being battered from those outside the transgender community, accusations of faking it can also come from within. The impulse, upon experiencing external oppression, is to turn inwards and play the game of respectability politics. As a result, some of the most damaging rhetoric I absorbed as a young queer came in the form of internalised transphobia. Any questioning individual will be aware of the raging online debates over the necessary and sufficient conditions to identify as trans. I still don’t know where I stand on these issues, but I do know that the aggressive gate-keeping they engender lead to the isolation of those who need community the most. At fifteen, I spent hours of my life watching trans YouTubers who told me that I was mistaken, that I wasn’t trans enough, that I was a trender. If I didn’t fit into their narrow conception of an ‘acceptable’ trans person, I couldn’t be trans at all.
These are still issues I struggle with now. While some trans individuals know exactly who they are and how they want to transition – and good for them – I have no idea who I’ll be in twenty years’ time. It’s taken a while, but I’m slowly coming to terms with the idea that even if I do change my mind in the end, there is nothing inherently wrong with taking the time to explore one’s identity. I understand the panic that young people may make irreversible mistakes, but the solution to this rare phenomenon is not the blanket repression of trans identity and healthcare. In the UK, only 0.47% of post-transition Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) attendees surveyed experienced transition-related regret: to me, this does not speak to an epidemic of vulnerable young people jumping on the bandwagon and regretting their choices, but to individuals of all ages figuring themselves out, accessing crucial affirming treatments, and going on to thrive as a result.
Instead, the answer is a proliferation of the very services transphobes criticise. Greater availability of counselling will allow questioning youth to experiment in safe professional environments, rather than in mercilessly exclusive corners of the internet, and thus quite literally save lives. Besides, anyone who has tried to transition through the NHS will tell you that it is impossible to get surgery in a snap of your fingers. Wait lists for NHS GICs are staggering: as I write, they are currently offering first appointments to people who were referred to their services in October 2017. ‘Transtrenderism’ as a concept does not protect young people, but actively deprives questioning individuals of better resources. When nobody trusts you about your own identity, within your own community and outside it, it is difficult to trust yourself. There’s a reason it took me five years to come out, and that reason is because I was searching desperately for the self-assurance necessary to say no – I know myself best. As the trans community, we truly are the authorities on our own experiences, and we deserve to recognise that. So while it’s no wonder I was reluctant to write my name on this article, if you look beneath my title, you’ll see it there. It’s a statement indeed: a statement which still feels daunting, but one that I’m finally willing to make.
Image Credit: Ted Eytan / CC BY-SA 4.0