CN: Suicide, self harm, gender dysphoria.
The recent Stonewall School Report had some shocking findings this week. The figures show that more than 60% of transgender pupils experience bullying, 80% of transgender youngsters have self-harmed and 40% have attempted suicide by the age of 19. On reading the key findings I can say that I am saddened, I'm disgusted, but I'm not surprised.
And for most readers, most commentators, most of the people condemning the systems that allow this to happen, these kids will remain a number, a statistic to be improved. However, in order to bring about real lasting change we need to understand more about what it is that leads these young people to hurt themselves and for that we need to hear their stories - so here is mine.
I am transgender, I'm a non-binary transmasculine person. And though I do not want to be defined by my struggle or my mental health, it is part of my story. Here it should be said that this is not a story of all transgender people. It is not a one-story-fits-all. And it is probably not the "trapped in the wrong body" story you are expecting. But it is a story of a young person struggling to realise their gender in a world that did not allow space for that.
A friend of mine told me that as she knew she was a girl she had assumed she could grow up and grow boobs, be a woman and get pregnant. It wasn't until she got to school and began being taught about bodies, gender and sex, that she realised this would not happen. She was being told she was a boy and would grow up to be a man, and it is at this point that many of us become detached from and discontent with our bodies. Our sense of gender is so innate that it doesn't occur to children that their bodies are wrong until they are told that.
For me this meant that as my body began to change at puberty I became increasingly uncomfortable. I cannot say I felt trapped, and I think many transgender people will say they learn to love their bodies in some ways. My body has worked hard and been subjected to a lot to get me to this point. I have starved it and hurt it, I have tried to cut away the parts I didn't want, I have burned holes in it and pushed it to the point of near collapse at the gym to make it lean and harsh instead of round and soft. I have hated my body and what it stood for, I have hated that it marked me out as "woman". And yes, I have attempted suicide, more than once. I have thought that was my only option.
It is not surprising that so many young transgender people contemplate or carry out acts of self harm because we are taught to hate ourselves. Not overtly or always on purpose, but the media and our society teaches us that we are not normal and we are not beautiful. I hear you scoffing at that, "there are loads of trans* people in the media, look at The Danish Girl or Orange is The New Black. What about Caitlyn Jenner?". But these representations are flawed, too often transgender women are portrayed by cis men. Too often transgender women are only "beautiful for a trans woman" or beautiful after surgery. Too often we are shown trans bodies that are fully formed, post surgery and hormones and interventions. But that is not the lived experience of young people. In this country children cannot undergo interventions for gender confirmation. They may get hormone blockers to delay puberty but they are not considered able to consent to hormones or surgery until they are 18. Young transgender people need to see trans bodies in transition, they need to see trans identities that don't undergo surgery but are beautiful. They need to see trans people occupying a platform that is equal to their cis peers and they need to know that trans is OK.
Half a century ago a cancer diagnosis was a death sentence, and our innovators have worked tirelessly to change that. Stonewall's report tells us that transgenderism is a death sentence for 40% of young people, so what are we going to do to change it? It starts with you. Not a scientist or a teacher or an academic or a transgender person. You. We need to include transgender identities in our discussions with our children, in school and in the media. We need to include transgender people in writing their parts in the media and in representing themselves too. We need to make space to hear the stories and we need to learn from them.