where are all the transgender men?
As the Gender Recognition Act comes back into the spotlight, author Caspar Baldwin gives a personal account of growing up trans in the UK.
This month, the UK has a historic opportunity to improve trans rights. The government is currently consulting the public on whether it should make it easier for trans people to have their gender legally recognised through the Gender Recognition Act.
What is it like to be trans in the UK? It’s difficult to come up with a succinct answer to that, not least because every person’s experience differs. Ask a thousand different people, get a thousand different answers. All I can give are my own perceptions based on what life has been like for me: a trans man who grew up in the 90s and 00s unaware of the true nature of my feelings.
I grew up in the quasi-internet period. I was nine when Google launched, but was only allowed on the family Windows 98-running computer for half an hour at a time so as not to hog the phone line. It’s already been hilarious trying to explain that to children. But it meant I grew up unable to find answers to the burning feelings I felt inside nor find out about anyone else who appeared to be like me. I was a ‘masculine’ girl in every respect and was duly labelled ‘tomboy’ by everyone around me. But after a particularly dramatic haircut I saw in myself the truth of who and what I was. It was a truth I hid away in the back of my mind, far from conscious thought, out of sheer fear. I was a boy and yet my genitals were what they were so no one would believe me and there was nothing to be done. Forget that for your own sake. Get on with your life. But I couldn’t stop myself entirely. It never ceased to be painful watching the confused expressions play across people’s faces when they were told by a parent or a friend that I wasn’t the boy they’d taken me for. I hated seeing the cogs spinning around in their heads as it dawned on them that I was different.
"I reconnected with my truth and had the courage to come out in large part because of the increased visibility and hard-won rights of trans people. Would I have made the plunge without knowing the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act were there for me? I don’t know."
Puberty, as you might expect, was hell on Earth. I felt like a horrified, powerless bystander watching a car crash in slow motion, as I trudged through my teenage years developing the kind of sizeable breasts that cannot be hidden. I hated them with every fibre of my being. I hated my hips. I hated my voice. I hated being shut out of the normal teenage experiences like romance and dating and all the joys of independent young adult life. I had no life, not really. It was like being an alien observer who’d been sent to live amongst the Homo sapiens. Live amongst them but not be one of them. It was only after reaching absolute rock bottom in my lonely shadow life that I found my way to that closed door in the back of my mind and reconnected to the truth of me. By this time it was 2011 and I spent that extraordinary night consuming the Internet, which by now was thankfully awash with resources placed there by those who had come before me.
Of course, some people on ‘concernedadultfemalexx.com’ might be inclined to say my use of the Internet makes me a case of ‘social contagion’ etc etc, and that’s because they have no clue about what goes on in the mind of a latent trans person trying to survive in an information vacuum within a perceived hostile world. Their fake science will unravel as fake science always does, however what concerns me is the damage they can do regardless. Look at anti-vaxxers.
I reconnected with my truth and had the courage to come out in large part because of the increased visibility and hard-won rights of trans people. Would I have made the plunge without knowing the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act were there for me? I don’t know. I’d like to think I am that strong, but the peace that came from knowing there were laws to protect me from hate was so important. However, it’s a sad truth that Newton’s Third Law, ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,’ can be said to refer to more than just physical forces. It has been many months now that my Sunday morning has not been punctured by transphobic newspaper headlines. It’s as regular as clockwork. Open Twitter on a Sunday morning to discover what the week’s theme is. All-women shortlists, open-air swimming pools, toilets, refuges, Girl Guides, the target list goes on. You try not to let it get to you, but that’s almost never successful. As ever, trans women and girls are the focus, finding themselves smeared constantly as sexual predators. My heart aches for the intimidation and hate they face, though trans men like me face hostility too. Yes the media mostly ignores us, but the hard-core extremist anti-trans hate groups have us in their sights. If trans women and girls are rapists, then trans men and boys are poor confused girls, too tender, too mentally incapable of knowing their own mind. We’ve been got at by the big bad trans agenda! It worries me sick that, despite the Equality Act, these hate groups will get into schools, they’ll get into the minds of parents unsure of how to help their child.
Yet, there is much to be hopeful about as a trans person living through these times. I am reminded daily that this ‘culture war’ (modelled deliberately on that which is raging in America) is largely manufactured by the media and does not bear real resemblance to Joe Public. My parents retired to the North East coast and I followed them. I now live in the middle of rural nowhere in a ‘ye olde’ fishing town surrounded by multiple mining communities, most of which are still suffering the economic hardships of that loss. On the surface it isn’t exactly an advert for liberal diversity. For example, as someone who grew up just outside of London, I’m still not over how I often go weeks without seeing anyone at all from another ethnic group. Yet for all its unworldliness, mine is a town of friendly faces, where everyone seems to know everyone else and more often than not, everyone else’s business. I have yet to experience transphobia in real life. From the young people I work with to the middle and senior age people who are regulars at the pub quiz, not one has been anything other than congratulatory and accepting without provisos or limitations. Last year, Northumberland Pride, of which I am on the committee, was launched to great support from the local communities.
The road ahead may not be smooth, but despite everything, I am confident the GRA reforms will go through and these transphobic efforts will blow themselves out. Remembering the smiling young trans people I saw at Pride I am hopeful that, in the near future, the UK will be a really great place to be trans.
Caspar Baldwin's book, Not Just a Tomboy, is out 21 November. You can preorder it here.