Wednesday, 12 October 2016

New Horizons, New Pitfalls: Life After Coming Out

"Authenticity, it is almost needless to say, consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks it involves, in accepting it … sometimes in horror and hate." John Paul Sartre, Anti Semite And Jew 1948.

Happy National Coming Out Day to my American blog readers! I know that Twitter's probably rife with political blundering spin merchants trying to get you to vote for Trashy Trump because they say he'll protect LGBTQIA people (just by having a not so well thought out free gun giveaway) even though he hasn't bothered tweeting support for those who have decided to come out today. He probably doesn't realise how much of a big deal it is announcing to the world (or your Mum) that you identify differently in terms of your gender or sexuality. I was pretty lucky really; having come out as gay at 16 to my parents after having an argument over a girl friend I was close to that they thought was my actual first girlfriend meant by the time they realised I was seriously considering changing my gender identity at 27 it was like hearing a pin drop fall into the Atlantic Ocean!

For a lot of trans people, the process is much more difficult. You never really know what reaction to expect, even if your parents/partner/children seemed pretty liberal with their moral views beforehand. You don't want to offend folks by wearing non-conformist clothing or kissing your future boyfriend/girlfriend/gender-fluid/queer partner in front of them but at the same time you feel that you have to live an authentic life and express it before you end up being stifled by gender or sexual conformity. Questioning your gender or sexuality can lead to a genuine crisis of self confidence that may never truly get resolved. It can lead to some cheating on their wives, husbands, partners just because they feel the need to experiment to express their authenticity. This can be a "moment of weakness", "a night of passion" or a full blown torrid affair of the heart and genitals. Cheating/adultery to me in any form is abhorrent (it might explain my reluctance to get involved with anyone on a romantic level) but I'm not "snowflakey" enough to say that it should/can never happen.

For me, coming out as transgender wasn't about trying to attract a boyfriend, trying to become "gender conformist" or to explain away my "abnormality". Labelling myself as transgender meant that I had sarcastic Tweeters and Facebook trolls casually reflecting on my mental state, my ability to create "rational thoughts" about anything or that I was using my gender identity to make a purely political statement, that I wasn't really serious about transitioning because I'd never "go through with Hormone Replacement Therapy or Gender Reassignment Surgery"otherwise I'd label myself as transsexual and keep quiet on "political issues" such as allowing gender-neutral bathrooms to be installed in every public service building or allowing extra employment rights such as time off for aforementioned surgery to take place. Initially I didn't really think about any of that. It was just a way of explaining to others that whilst I had been born biologically a male, I didn't identify as being biologically or culturally male. Yes I understand people may have issues with a biological as well as a cultural disavowing of masculinity/maleness/machismo but it was my choice, my decision how to explain why I was going to change my body and lifestyle. Everyone should have the choice to be able to label themselves how they want and identify how they want. That's a basic definition of freedom of expression. But again I'm not green enough to believe we live in a world of total freedom of expression. I leave that to radical nationalists who believe they can say (and do) anything to make themselves feel they are in control, exerting power over those who they believe are there to fulfil their every whim and desire. I'm certainly not a whore for sexual deviants who want to indulge in a bit of elicit "sex on the side". If I believed in such regressive tripe I'd have to tolerate murderers and rapists for their freedom to act in a vile manner without being open to challenge and I just don't have it in me to do that. We have freedom of expression in the confines of current law. In the UK this means that we can identify as transgender and are protected at work by our Equality Act, whether ultra right wing Conservatives like us identifying as transgender or not. It's true to say that the EA is far from perfect. There's no explicit mention of protection for gender fluid, queer and non-binary people; it is only implied by extending protections for trans people to them meaning that their rights can be open to challenge. I'm fighting tooth and nail to try and change the EA to make it fully inclusive Protected Characteristic wise by changing the characteristic from "Gender Reassignment" to "Gender Identity".  As an equal opportunity activist it would be remiss of me not to fight on this point. It breaks the myth perpetuated by some bitter Right Wingers that trans people are "very selfish" after they come out. Trans people are far from selfish! Yes some trans people might be preoccupied at times with trying to raise money for gender reassignment surgery, especially if they live in countries where the surgery is not paid for, such as the US but that does not mean they don't care how women are treated after being sexually assaulted if the person is FTM trans. A few "bad eggs" cannot be allowed to poison the reputation of trans people for those wanting to come out as trans.

When you come out as transgender, you should know that you have a level of protection from discrimination within the workplace. Employment Tribunals are not the only avenue you can go down to get your voice heard.If your parents are abusive towards you after you come out as transgender, you can report them to the Police who should then investigate their behaviour under Control and Coercion Regulations or Hate Crime legislation. If the police officer refuses to investigate, report them to your local Police and Crime Commissioner or tweet the Women and Equality Minister or contact Stonewall. If you are made homeless by your parents or partner after you come out as transgender, you can approach your local council and ask to be rehoused or get in touch with charities who I know would do anything they could to try and stop you ending up on the street. One of my biggest fears before I came out as gay was that my Dad would straight away evict me out on the streets at 16 before I even had the chance to complete my GCSEs, destroying my chances of getting on to do A Levels, go to University and perhaps get into a profession (not that I've managed to do the last yet!) Many young LGBTQIA people feel that they would be disowned and left to fend for themselves. It's a fear that we need to try and combat. I hope one day there will be more charities dedicated to ensuring that these teenagers and children never end up homeless because of their choice to disclose their gender or sexuality preference. Finally, no LGBTQIA should be rewarded for their brave decision to come out by being trolled or bullied into believing they have a mental illness. Those LGBTQIA people who are suffering from depression, anxiety or pre-existing conditions deserve comprehensive treatment and part of this includes ensuring that their gender or sexuality choice isn't automatically scapegoated. More psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses need to stop bringing their personal/unconscious bias into the treatment room. More teachers, social workers, youth workers and religious leaders need to realise that labelling an LGBTQIA person as "unbalanced" or need of "treatment" is damaging and can lead to them self-harming because they believe the hype they are "abnormal. It can even lead to a person taking their own life only a short while after coming out. This has to be prevented. Nobody deserves to suffer for wanting to be authentic, for wanting to be true to themselves.

Remember, coming out is an individual decision and it should always be your choice when, where,  how and to who you choose to come out to. If you are already out, you must remember that you do not have the choice to make up someone's mind up what their gender or sexuality "definitively is" or where and how they choose to do this whether you have been wronged by that person or not. You might not know their personal situation because they may have chosen not to reveal that to you. That might seem annoying, especially if they dump you and go with someone else but if you chose to get involved with that person in the first place then you have to accept their right to privacy. Equally if you are friends with someone who is closeted or a self-confessed LGBTQIA "ally",  don't pressurise them to come out. Be supportive and encouraging, listen to them when they need support and advise them only when they ask for advice. Outing them doesn't do your friend any favours and may lead to them disowning you in the long run!