Geeks Vs Loneliness: being transgender, and dealing with transphobia

A few words for those who are transgender, or have friends or colleagues who are...

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our weekly slot where we try and talk about issues and things that may be affecting you, or someone you know. As always, we don’t promise miracles, we don’t have magic wands, and we are just us. But hopefully in these articles, over the year, there’s something of use to you.

This week, we’re talking about transgender and transphobia. And we’re handing you over to Daniel Langrish-Beard…

[Please note: getting the language correct to talk about gender issues has been a challenge. We understand this is a sensitive area, and if we have got the tone slightly wrong here – and we’ve re-read and re-read this piece! – please do let us know. Our aim here is to offer support and friendship, not to upset people. Thank you]

I was at a staff party for the Southampton branch of TGI Fridays about 15 years ago. It was in a big hotel somewhere in the New Forest and it was our Christmas do. TGI Fridays did always seem to have great staff parties and to this one, for a change, people were allowed to bring guests. I had started to feel the effect of the copious amount of alcohol, so thought I should mingle a bit more.

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I sat down next a girl I didn’t know and started talking to her about nothing in particular. As we were chatting the conversation took a surprising turn as my colleague told me that she – her words – was “having a sex change” (a phrase that is no longer used, 15 years later). In truth, I didn’t know what to say, nor did I know the correct conversational etiquette as to how to proceed. I had never met anyone that had gone through something such as that, so I didn’t know how to respond.

I wished my colleague well. Five years later, he was a very good friend. He had gone through his reassignment, and I remember talking and nattering with him, and understanding he was never meant to have a female body. Some of my work friends didn’t understand him and why anyone would, in their eyes, change gender. Yet it was clearly who he was meant to be.

Today, the word transgender is more common, and acceptance is higher. But it is still something that’s really misunderstood. Why is it, still, so difficult to understand?

Just reading through the comments section below an article on The Evening Standard website about puberty blocking medication for children, you can see some really negative comments:

“I thank God I was I was born in 1946. Things were simpler then… The doctor took a look at you when you were born and you were male or female. That’s how it should still be.”“People don’t ‘identify’ as female. We are born female. Or male”“Whether we are born a girl or a boy it should stay that way.”

All this misunderstanding – not least the factual incorrectness – leads to very public transphobia. And that in turn has a further impact.

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A survey reported in The Guardian said that 48% of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide, and 30% said they had done so in the past year, while 59% said they had at least considered doing so. The research also found 59% of transgender youths said they had deliberately hurt themselves, compared with 8.9% of all 16 to 24-year-olds.

The idea of telling people that you’re trans is, understandably, a massive hurdle for many people. Thankfully, society has moved on slightly, but there’s still a long, long way to go. 

Danielle, a friend of mine, said of her own experience:

“Coming out as trans to my friends and my family was the scariest thing I’d ever done. I spent so much time playing it through my head, worrying about how they would react… but the reaction I got was so positive – admittedly some of my family weren’t as positive. My Mum especially has been amazing and supportive… though having to explain that, even though I’m a woman, I still like women was a hilarious conversation”.

What’s helped is that out and open transgender actors have been cast in a TV programs recently. Riley Carter Millington, who plays Kyle Slater in EastEnders, Laverne Cox, who plays of Sophia Burset in the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, and Rebecca Root, who stars in the BBC comedy series Boy Meets Girl (a show about a man who falls for a woman who is transgender) to name but a few.

I had a chat with Rebecca, who agreed to answer some questions for us.

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Now being in the public eye with the amazing Boy Meets Girl, how has the public reaction been, I asked. “To the show or to me? If to the show – by and large fabulous. Everyone who has ever come up to me in the street tells me they loved the show. If there are people out there who dislike the show, they haven’t yet told me so directly…”

Rebecca transitioned full time in 2003 and said her family reacted brilliantly with openness, compassion and love.

But why does she think there’s so much transphobia? “Presumably because the people who profess to misunderstand are apparently at ease with their own sexuality and/or gender, so then they think ‘how can anyone want to do something so different to what I do?’ Society is largely run by heteronormative people who can only see the world with the same blinkered vision”.

So what do you do if you feel that you were born in the wrong body or a friend or family matter tell you that they want to transition? Firstly, please know that you’re not alone. Please know that there are people on your side. Please know that we’re giving you warm hugs and as much support as we can from this side of the screen. Just say hello in the comments below, and you’ll soon get proof as to how many people are rooting for you.

Please know too that there are many people and excellent organisations that are worth talking to. Here are a few – and again, if anyone wants to add recommendations of other groups in the comments, please do.

You can always call the Samaritans, or find them online at Tel: 116 123. They are there round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This number is free to call. You don’t have to be suicidal – or anywhere close to suicidal – to call them. In fact, the Samaritans have told us that their doors are open whatever challenges you need to talk about, and however advanced they may or may not be.

Ad – content continues below is a listening ear, a caring support and an information centre for anyone with any question or problem concerning their gender identity, or whose loved one is struggling with gender identity issues. facilitates meeting centres in the South Hampshire and East Dorset, for people who are seeking to establish their gender identity and those who are transitioning from one gender to the other. R-Trans is a support group covering Reading, Berkshire and the surrounding areas for those who seek support and friendship through transitioning. supports children, young people, and their families to achieve a happier life in the face of great adversity. They work to raise awareness about gender issues amongst professionals and the general public, and campaign for the recognition of gender dysphoria in young people and lobby for improvements in professional services.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Hugs to you all, folks.