There has been quite a debate in the media recently about young children with gender identity issues. Many consider this an ethical matter, (children from the age of nine are being prescribed hormone blockers) and question whether they are misguided by professionals (and indeed parents) that their gender issues are permanent. UK statistics show that a third of people who express gender dysphoria in childhood do not go on to transition in adulthood.
My book, Trans Voices, deals with the experiences of adult trans people only. But the reason I mention children with gender dysphoria is because all the people I interviewed expressed complete satisfaction with their decision to transition to the opposite gender - or in the case of non-binary people, to an androgynous state that was neither male nor female. In fact, many commented on how lucky children are these days to be able to voice their gender dysphoria. The opposite was true for the adults I interviewed. Their childhoods were often filled with silence and guilt, and many suppressed their feelings until their twenties, thirties and sometimes older. As a result their mental health suffered; their lives marred by depression, self-harming and suicidal ideation, all of which abated or lessened considerably after transition.
Trans Voices examines gender dysphoria by looking at the lives of ordinary people who reported an 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. Being trans is not something that discriminates amongst different cultures. Trans people are no different to people who aren't trans. They have the same likes and dislikes, needs and desires. The only thing that is different is they feel their brain does not correspond with the physical body they were assigned at birth.
Transitioning entails lifelong hormone treatment and sometimes multiple surgeries to bring the new gender into physical reassignment. In addition to the mental and physical demands of transition, trans people also endure transphobia - such as verbal taunts, physical threats and assaults. Transwomen are often accused of being gay men, and transmen, as women dressing as men because they are lesbians. It goes without saying that much work is needed to dispel these misconceptions and for trans people to be seen as normal, decent people who just happen to have been born with an incongruence between their brains and physical bodies.
Coming out as trans is never easy. A person's whole identity changes when they announce they are not the gender others perceive them to be. Reactions from family and friends are varied, until they get used to the idea of what this identity change will entail. It isn't just relationships that change - daughters become sons and brothers become sisters - different pronouns come into the equation, as does the legal framework (changing official documentation).
There is also the issue of sexual orientation. It could be argued that people do not change their sexuality after changing gender and heterosexuals remain so in their new gender. Take, for example, a transwoman who was in a heterosexual relationship with a woman pre-transitioning, but afterwards enters into a relationship with a man - this is still considered heterosexual. The book explores other examples of sexuality, including non-binary people (who identify as neither male nor female, or 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 sought connection with a person who reciprocated friendship and love, irrespective of gender and/or trans identity.
Within the next decade, it is estimated most people will know a transgender person, just as everyone currently knows somebody who is gay, lesbian or bisexual. By that time, much of the current curiosity and fascination surrounding trans people will have waned. It will be the norm for people to say they have trans relatives, friends, neighbours and work colleagues.
I am proud to have written a book which explores the lives of the four main categories of trans people - women, men, non-binary and cross-dressers - although the latter are not trans, rather they form part of the broader trans community. I have endeavoured to clear up some of the ignorance and misunderstanding expressed by certain strands of society about the trans community - such as myths that it's a lifestyle choice, it's prompted by sexual perversion, trans people are really gay people dressed up as women/men, they are confused, mentally ill and it's just a phase - none of which are true.
Trans Voices will open your mind to the trans community and answer many questions. Your heart will also open to the people featured in the book who have found the courage to become who they really believe they are, despite the obstacles that have hindered their journey to living the true authentic lives that were both their destiny and entitlement.
Trans Voices - Becoming Who You Are was published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers on 19th January 2017.