caspar baldwin: what does britishness mean in 2019?
Caspar Baldwin explores what it means to have grown up trans in Britain, and to live in a country where much of mainstream media blasts out transphobic abuse.
In October of last year, we invited a series of young writers to reflect on what Britishness means to them for The Superstar Issue of i-D. From the nostalgia of home, to fears over rising rents, to the sense of displacement from the place we thought we once knew, our identity has never been more complex. So what does being British mean for a country facing its biggest shift in decades? And does it still matter? Read the full series here.
Sometimes, when I’m on the hour-long bus journey into Newcastle City Centre – I’m still too scared to drive – I slide into a very particular daydream. In it I steal a time machine and take it back to 1999, when I am 10 years old, and I find my 10-year-old self and tell him he’s not wrong; he’s transgender.
To be fair, it had been easy to be an extremely masculine-presenting girl in Rickmansworth, the small town in Hertfordshire that I grew up, and which was perfectly equidistant from central London and the countryside. I tore around those streets and climbed up those trees in my boys’ Adidas tracksuit bottoms and nobody cared. Still, how I longed to tell people what my secret name was. How I longed to know why. How I desperately wanted to know why my insides knotted every time I was forced to correct people who had wonderfully made the assumption I was a boy. How I wished I had the courage to Ask Jeeves even just one of the questions that had come to me after Haley had told Roy on Coronation Street.
Perhaps it’s something to do with nearing 30 now that makes me realise just how long ago my childhood was. Another century, another millennium. It’s beginning to really feel that way given how seismically different my life was then compared to now. Now is the time of our breakthrough. Now is the time of coming out of the shadows, of living an authentic life and being able to ask frank and honest questions about who and what I am.
Sometimes, my bus daydream ends with me taking my 10-year-old self back with me to the present day. This way I’d have had the possibility of avoiding the wrong puberty. I would have given anything and everything, back then, I had for the chance to not be dragged kicking and screaming into a bra shop at the age of 12 and be forced to acknowledge the fact breasts were growing on me.
It would still be difficult of course; the only medical service for children is the Tavistock Centre, which has received much criticism, but it would be possible and I would be saved from the physical transformation that tormented my mind, left scars that, even now, I cannot say will ever fully fade.
But that 10-year-old me would be exposed to hurricane force transphobia, and a lot of it is blasting straight at trans children. Transphobia spews forth from the mainstream media as we await the outcome of the Gender Recognition Act reform consultation.
We are in the midst of the bloody battle that every minority goes through at the critical point when they decide to come out of the shadows; when they are finally able to say that the scraps of equality are not acceptable anymore. Perhaps 10-year-old me, transported to the present, would have to walk home past newspapers ruminating on whether I exist, and if I do, on precisely how much of a danger I am to other children.
So, sometimes in my daydream, me and myself get back in the time machine and I take him to what I hope to be the not too distant future. In my daydream Britain has become a beautiful place, a place where we are finally fully committed to containing climate change, and where we have finally learnt the difference between what it is be silenced and what it is to have nobody agree with you. It is a world where the Gender Recognition Act reforms have gone through and, miraculously, the sky didn’t fall in. It is a world in which all trans people are afforded the dignity of having their identity respected without having to jump through psychiatric hoops and where the representation of trans people is normal and not routinely tragic or deployed shock-value. It is a world where 10-year-old me would be safe. Safe in the knowledge of who I am, safe from the horrors of false puberty and safe from a hideous hailstorm of transphobia.
Eventually, the bus makes it into Newcastle and I am brought out of my daydream, having to accept there is no time machine that can rescue me. I cannot change when I live. All I can do is promise to do everything I can to get us to my dream of tomorrow.
Photography Sam Rock