Life after “He’s Always Been My Son”

Since HE’S ALWAYS BEEN MY SON was released I have been traveling to promote my book, share my experiences of raising a transgender child, and educate about gender. During my travels I have had the pleasure of meeting the most wonderful people.

One family drove an hour to attend my book talk at a bookstore in Corte Madera. They had heard about the book and wanted to meet me. They sat in the front row. When it was book signing time they were among the first in line. The young man of the family was beaming through his bright blue eyes and a flashing wide smile as I signed his book and chatted with his mom. When I looked up at him he looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m transgender!”

He said this with such pride! I thanked him for telling me and his mom and I shared a glance, a “momma pride” glance, that made my eyes well up. (If the family I am talking about is reading this please contact me, I’d love to share a photo that someone took of us together at the book signing.)

I had a very different, but no less meaningful encounter at another book talk. Sadly, this was not a “feel-good moment” like the one I had shared with the prideful transgender boy. The person who approached me this time was clearly nervous and his voice was filled with emotion. He told me it was difficult for him to listen to my talk as he has always felt very confused in regards to gender. He said he had long wished that he didn’t have to be defined by gender—he just wanted to be a person. He said that while growing up he did not have any understanding of his inner feelings, and he wished that the world had been different. He was reticent to read my story as he felt it might be too upsetting to read about someone who was so lucky, someone such as my son who had the support and understanding needed to navigate his gender journey and transition at an early age.

I listened and offered support as best I could, but I could see that he was conflicted. Sometimes, even with all the best of intentions, people can feel left out. This person said he feels it might be too late for him to “go there” and explore his gender identity at this point in life. I suggested some books written by trans people who transitioned late in life, and also some written by people who have chosen not to transition. I acknowledged that each person’s journey is unique and I thanked him for taking the time to tell me his story. I hope that my listening helped him in some way.

This is why I do my work. I hope that sharing my family’s story and educating people about gender will lead to greater understanding and acceptance. And I hope that one day all transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people will feel supported, respected, and understood. May all beings be as comfortable and proud of their gender identity as my young friend with the big smile and bright eyes.

Janna Barkin

‘Hey presto world, I have my vagina, let the pleasure begin.’

There is currently a lack of practical information and advice available for trans women (and trans men) who have undergone realignment surgery. In this extract from ‘Queer Sex,’ Juno Roche reflects on how she felt, emotionally and physically, after her realignment surgery, and how the after-care involved affected her relationship with her new ‘neo-vagina.’ 

When I had my realignment surgery, I sat back and somehow expected my vagina to do all the talking, all the walking, all the work and all of the flirting. I imagined, ‘Hey presto world, I have my vagina, let the pleasure begin.’ I naïvely thought that somehow my sexuality, my desire and my pleasure would be located in my neo-vagina, my vagina rather wonderfully fashioned from the bits and pieces I was keen to let go of – my penis flesh now made sense. I imagined that my new vagina would have an inbuilt sense of self and purpose, like a microchip embedded just under sensual skin. I genuinely believed that after surgery, after the healing, there would be no more work to do. Surely my neo-vagina would take over from there on and do her stuff.

Of course it didn’t happen like that. It’s just flesh, penis and scrotum refashioned – different tissues sewn together to create a rather beautiful neo-vagina that resembles a cis vagina, but actually it works entirely differently. My vagina is crafted from penile and scrotal skin but has entirely different qualities and drawbacks than a cis-vagina. It is beautiful and it feels unique but it never came with a handbook or a set of illustrated and labelled diagrams. Its construction confused me. I felt like ‘badly prepared trans woman’.

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“Being a transgender professional gives me a very unique insight into issues that young people face.” Talking to trans youth worker, Matt Waites

There is currently a lack of information available regarding the specific needs of young transgender men, and the barriers that they face. This can lead to professionals having to give generic advice, which may not be appropriate for the situation. Written to address this shortfall, Matt Waites’ new book provides professionals with the guidance they need to effectively and supportively work with young transgender men. We spoke to him about his reasons for writing it. 

 

 

 

What led you to start writing Supporting Young Transgender Men?

Through my personal experience of being trans and my professional experience of working with young people, I found that there was a huge gap in knowledge and understanding in terms of processes of transition and issues that trans men face, due to a lack of specialised training and availability of information. I conducted some research which found 50% of professionals surveyed felt they did not have enough knowledge or confidence to support a transgender young man through their transition. Frontline professionals are best placed to serve the transgender community because the social and medical transition processes are not holistic in practice. There is a lack of available support for trans people in general, therefore by ensuring that frontline professionals in a variety of sectors have access to the right knowledge and information, they can improve outcomes for transgender men, reduce suicide rates and ensure that trans men are given quality support when they need it the most. These issues led me to write Supporting Young Transgender men because it is an area that I feel very passionate about. If professionals have the right knowledge when supporting their service users, young people will be more like to be able to reach their full potential.

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Why is LGBT+ teacher training so important?

Dr Elly Barnes MBE is CEO and Founder of Educate & Celebrate, a leading charity who work with schools to transform them into being LGBT+ inclusive. She was voted #1 in The Independent on Sunday’s Rainbow List 2011. 

Who would like to live in a world where we are all treated equally and fairly?… Then let’s begin our journey to LGBT+Inclusion…

As teachers, we all have enough to do on a daily basis in our school already without adding in yet another initiative….which is exactly why at Educate & Celebrate we do not advocate that you write more lesson plans, but simply employ strategies that make LGBT+Inclusivity part of the fabric of school life.

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LGBT exclusion in politics – how far have we come?

Jennie Kermode reflects on the election of the UK’s first openly gay candidate, a historical moment in LGBT history, and considers the extent of homophobia and transphobia in politics today. How far have we really come?

Who will be the UK’s first trans MP? Labour has most big names in the running, with student Lily Madigan, comedian Eddie Izzard and TV presenter Sophie Cook all clear about their ambitions, whilst civil liberties campaigner Zoe O’Connell and former Trans Media Watch officer Helen Belcher are prominent in the Liberal Democrats, and Aimee Challenor has wide support in the Green Party. It may not happen at the next election or even the one after that, but it’s only a matter of time. Trans candidates report that the voters they speak to are less and less interested in their gender and simply want to know what they have to offer as potential representatives. Things were not always like this.

Back in the late ‘eighties, I was an active member of the Labour Party in Sheffield. I progressed from taking minutes for my local ward to sitting on the Housing Committee and working with members of the city council on a number of policy development issues, including insuring that the World Student Games, held there in 1991, left a lasting legacy for ordinary people who wanted to engage with sport. It was a challenging time to be in politics, especially on the left. Thatcherism was at its height and morale was low. The party was keen to make the most of what young talent it could attract and I was continually being encouraged to take on more. People saw me as a potential future MP. But there was a problem.

I was leading a double life. It might sound scandalous, but back then it was commonplace. In one life I wore suits, went to meetings, met elected officials and dignitaries, had discussions about strategy. In another I wore leathers, went to clubs whose names many in the city couldn’t speak without scowling, met women, had intimate encounters in toilets and alleyways with the mutual assurance that they would never be spoken of again. It wasn’t that I was appalled by the notion of settling down with a nice girl, but that seemed like a hopeless fantasy, and it would have met with an equal amount of social disdain.

I knew it couldn’t go on. One life or the other had to go. And I knew that if I chose politics, if I sacrificed my sexuality, there would still, always, be the risk of one of those women reappearing, or of somebody noticing my eyes linger on the wrong person for a fraction too long. Back then, suspicion was all it took to ruin a career. If I could be blackmailed, there was no promise I could ever make that I could be sure to keep, no means by which I could guarantee being able to stand by my principles. If I were exposed, it would all be over, and the people who had nurtured my career would consider me a traitor. This wasn’t just about political opponents and Clause 28. There was plenty of homophobia in Labour, too.

So, I left. There were other reasons, but more than anything it was that lack of hope, that sense that meaningful, respectable politics had no place for creatures like me. And then came 1997, and I was lying on the floor of my flat in Glasgow (part of what had coincidentally been Scotland’s first ever gay club), drinking Guinness with my American girlfriend, watching Michael Portillo (whom everybody in the scene knew was gay, though he was still in the closet and supporting anti-gay policies) lose his seat to the openly gay Stephen Twigg. It was an amazing moment. Twigg was seven years my senior, but he’d stuck it out, found the nerve somehow where I had not, made it happen. Still, I’ll never forget the look of astonishment on his face.

There are now 48 openly gay, lesbian or bisexual MPs in the House of Commons. Here in Scotland our elected party leaders include a lesbian and a bisexual man. Homophobia has not gone away, but candidates’ sexuality simply isn’t a consideration for most voters. Nevertheless, there remains a lot more open transphobia, and the hateful articles published in the Times and the Daily Mail over the past six months have reminded many people of the mass media homophobia that surrounded Clause 28. They have included a number of attacks on Lily Madigan, and have whipped up a storm of social media hatred which she found difficult to bear. This kind of attack is designed to say what those ‘eighties articles said to me: politics is no place for a creature like you.

Since the late ‘nineties I’ve been living openly as a non-binary person (something that was largely unheard of back in my party-political days). I now chair Trans Media Watch and work every day to educate journalists and work towards eradicating this kind of hate. I believe it can be done. What is painful is seeing other people’s ambitions destroyed in the meantime, and it is painful not just because of what it does to them, but because of what it does to society. People are always complaining about politicians who are in it for themselves and lack any real interest in serving the electorate. Nobody would endure being attacked like this just for themselves. These are people who have real passion and, often, a lot of talent – and all that is wasted if they are driven out of politics simply because of who they are.

We are all poorer when LGBT people are unable to fulfil their potential and contribute to society. This is true in politics and it’s true in the workplace where, a recent Stonewall survey revealed, a shocking one in eight trans people has been physically attacked. It’s something that all of us need to step up and take responsibility for. There will be a trans MP, sooner or later, and we will live in a more inclusive society, but history doesn’t write itself. If we want to escape the weight of past prejudice, if we want to reach a better future, we have to work for it in the here and now.

This month, will you do your bit to make homophobia and transphobia history?

Jennie Kermode is Chair of Trans Media Watch and author of Transgender Employees in the Workplace.

Take a look at our collection of books on LGBT issues for LGBT History Month here.

Non-binary inclusion in the workplace – an interview

Companies are becoming more aware of the need to include non-binary people in the workplace, to attract a diverse workforce and create an inclusive environment and brand. This new book from J Fernandez and Sarah Gibson, both of whom identify as non-binary, provides an ideal introduction to including non-binary workers in your business, and presents practical solutions to basic workplace issues this group faces. We spoke to the authors on the launch of their new book.

To start us off, when did the idea for Gender Diversity and Non-Binary Inclusion in the Workplace originate?

We’ve both been working in equality and diversity for some time and we see employers coming to us and asking for help and advice because they simply haven’t been equipped to deal with non-binary inclusion yet. The business case for inclusion has been growing over the years and when we were approached by JKP we saw it as an excellent opportunity to engage with employers in a new fashion. Now is a great time for businesses to get up to speed on the issues and put themselves ahead of the curve.

We know that there isn’t much research about non-binary people’s experiences at work or many comprehensive guides on the topic, and we wanted to put something accessible together to help those without much experience grasp this. There are guides to help employers understand trans issues more widely, but in most cases, the specific problems faced by non-binary people simply haven’t been addressed in any depth.

We thought the book was a great idea, so decided to go ahead with a long process of research into different areas, helped by Jos Twist and with input from GI and the Scottish Trans Alliance. The areas we looked at ranged from how non-binary people are affected by dress codes, to what barriers non-binary people face during job seeking, to experiences of hate crime at work.

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Talking to Sabrina Symington, author of First Year Out – the first graphic novel to explore transition for trans women

Sabrina Symington is an illustrator, graphic novelist and blogger from Vancouver, working to normalise transgender issues. First Year Out is based on her own personal experiences and those of her friends. The graphic novel follows Lily, a trans woman, as she navigates the ups and downs of transition. From laser hair removal to dating and gender reassignment surgery, the comic tackles difficult issues with honesty and intimacy. We talked to Sabrina about her reasons for creating First Year Out. 

What made you decide to explore the process of transition in graphic novel form?

I initially started drawing autobiographical webcomics as a way of working through the rollercoaster of emotions I had in the early days of my transition. But as I progressed in my transition, I realized how much misinformation there is out there about trans people. Since I believe in the power of narrative to change people’s views on controversial subjects, I felt what was needed was a humanizing trans story – most importantly one written by a transgender author, as opposed to a cis author translating their view of trans experiences through their own lens. I wanted to not only present accurate information about trans people’s lives and experiences, but also to present trans people as real people, rather than the stereotypes that we are usually portrayed as. One thing I will say is that I changed and grew immensely over the course of writing First Year Out. Transition is an ongoing process. It doesn’t “end” when you get a surgery. It goes much deeper than that and can last a lifetime. And while much of the story reflects my views and experiences during my own first year out as a trans woman, if I were to write “Second Year Out”, the story and Lily’s character would be *very* different. For I, too, am a completely different woman now.

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Are you looking for books and resources to support your work with gender variant individuals?

 

We publish a range of books for therapists, counsellors and healthcare practitioners who work with gender variant individuals. From informative guides to personal memoirs, our books offer support and promote greater understanding of gender identity and expression. This collection includes books that address themes of gender identity, sexuality, relationships, transitioning and mental health. For more information on new books and to receive a copy of our new catalogue, join our mailing list here

The Voice Book for Trans and Non-Binary People

Matthew Mills and Gillie Stoneham

Written by two specialist speech and language therapists, this book explains how voice and communication therapy can help transgender and non-binary people to find their authentic voice. It gives a thorough account of the process, from understanding the vocal mechanism through to assimilating new vocal skills and new vocal identity into everyday situations, and includes exercises to change pitch, resonance and intonation. Each chapter features insider accounts from trans and gender diverse individuals who have explored or are exploring voice and communication related to their gender expression, describing key aspects of their experience of creating and maintaining a voice that feels true to them.

This pithy, practical guide is a treasure trove of rare and wonderful gems – particularly the exercises for trans men and non-binary people, often neglected but vulnerable to crippling self-consciousness and even phobia around speaking. Clinicians and clients alike, I unreservedly recommend The Voice Book to anyone looking to feminise, masculinise, neutralise or just explore the potential of voice.’ – Dr Stuart Lorimer, Consultant Psychiatrist

Who is this book for? Speech and language therapists, healthcare practitioners, counsellors, gender variant individuals

 

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Exclusive: Read Charlie Craggs’ letter from To My Trans Sisters

Charlie Craggs is an award-winning trans activist…and now author, apparently.

She is the founder of Nail Transphobia and has been travelling all over the UK nailing transphobia since 2013 and has just gone global, taking her campaign stateside in 2017. She uses the proceeds from her campaign to run free self-defence classes for trans and non-binary femmes. Charlie topped the Observer’s New Radicals list of social innovators in Britain, was awarded a Marie Claire Future Shaper Award in 2017 and has been called one of the most influential and inspirational LGBTQ people in the UK by both The Guardian and the Independent. She has starred in campaigns for Selfridges, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Stonewall, and has written and spoken about trans issues on the news (BBC, ITV and Sky), for numerous publications (Vogue, Dazed and Confused and The Guardian) and at the Houses of Parliament.

Read Charlie’s letter from her new book, To My Trans Sisters, here.

For more information on the book or to buy a copy, click here.

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Self-understanding: Guaranteed! Meg-John’s gender identity journey

This is Meg-John Barker here. I’m one of the authors of the new JKP book How to Understand Your Gender. JKP asked me to write a blog post about how I came to understand my own gender identity, so here I am.

Self-understanding: Guaranteed!

When I shared a pic of the book cover on Facebook one of my friends asked whether it came with a guarantee that the reader would understand their gender by the end of the book! They pointed out that they’d already read and learnt rather a lot about this topic and that certainly hadn’t left them with some kind of clear simple understanding of their own gender.

I had to agree. ‘Complex’ might well be one of the words Alex and I use most in the book, because gender is certainly that! As with our sexuality, relationship patterns, sense of self, inner emotional world, and so much else about being human, understanding our genders is probably going to be a lifetime journey for all of us. And it’s made even more of an ongoing process by the fact that both the wider cultural understandings of gender, and our own experiences of it, change over time.

So, no the book won’t necessarily leave you understanding your gender in a simple ‘Eureka, I’m a ___!’ kind of way. What it will help you to understand is how your wider world views gender, how you came to experience your gender in the way you do today within this, and what options are available to you as you take your next steps on your gender path.

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