In this post, I explore what it is to be transgender, interviewing a trans woman. My previous post ”A Charity Chat”, can be found here.
Transgender awareness and acceptance has come on considerably in recent years, with Caitlin Jenner’s very public reveal of her true identity. With Caitlyns debut came public debates on sensitive topics like gender neutral bathrooms, and the legitimacy of her ”Woman Of The Year” nod. Despite progress, there have been stumbling blocks along the way. Donald Trump attempted to bring about a ban on transgender folk serving in the military. Trans people frequently have their identity called into question in the name of biology.
There have been triumphs, too. This year, Virginian politician Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person to be elected to state legislature, The Virginia House of Delegates. Her victory flew in the face of conservative opponents.
Trans visibility has improved, with more characters featuring in film and television. The Emmy – winning Transparent a notable example.
April Ashley was one of the first known people to have a sex change, from man to woman. On her transition, she stated ”I had the most extraordinary feeling. Even though I’d lost a lot of blood and all my hair had fallen out, it was as though my brain was in tune with the rest of my body for the first time in my life.”
In Ireland, there is acknowledgement, help and resources for trans people. For Transgender Awareness Week 2017, Pieta House made known their support for trans people by highlighting issues facing the community.
In 2015, the Gender Recognition Act was passed by the Irish Government, allowing self declaration of their preferred gender on documentation like birth certs. Organisations like TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) and BelongTo work to help trans people feel comfortable and accepted in society, with BelongTo’s Stand Up! campaign in schools and clubs. This is vital particularly for young people transitioning.
One such youth is Laylah Beattie, a 20 year old blogger, journalist and social activist who prides herself on being an outspoken voice for the trans community. She is a keen writer, and poet, and articulately charts her experiences of life as an Irish trans woman on her ”Laylah Talks” site. She has even written an autobiography entitled ”Who Cares” to 5 star Amazon reviews, and made appearances on the Late Late Show, just recently alongside Caitlyn Jenner.
Beattie is clearly not backward in coming forward about her life thus far. As such, she was only too happy to speak with me about points of interest such as her transition, gender norms, transphobia and how life has changed since Laylah came to light.
Laylah, let’s start at the beginning. When did you first realize you were trans?
I have memories of wanting to be a girl for as long as I can remember. My earliest childhood memories are of being really upset because I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as female. The first time I had a word for it was when I was seventeen. I was looking into it online, reading other’s personal stories, and I decided when I turned eighteen that I wanted to transition. That was when I told my family and began the process.
How did the people in your life react?
They reacted well. It wasn’t a surprise for most, it made as much sense to them as it did to me. I was lucky in that everyone accepted it pretty quick, and I could be open with them. I told my parents and sisters first as soon as I could.
Was it emotional, tears?
No! Everyone was fine. We’d all been watching documentaries about Caitlyn Jenner and so nobody was really shocked into that level of emotion.
It was like an education of sorts for them…
Yeah, when we were watching Caitlyn, I was looking at her and thinking that could be me. My family were thinking that could be him! We were on the same wavelength thankfully.
Growing up, did you feel pressure to conform to gender norms?
Yeah, a lot of pressure, but I wasn’t ever good at it! I’ve always been very headstrong. Pressure came from a lot of sources, particularly starting secondary school. It was as though people felt like ”you’re growing up now, stop acting like a girl”.
Can you describe the process of your transition?
After coming out, the first step was getting into the medical process. I couldn’t find much info for it, so my mam went to a support group and got the information . I had to go down to Cork to see a psychologist, who diagnosed me after three psychological assessments as having gender dysphoria. Then I could meet with the doctor and start hormones, but that took a year from making the decision to transition.
When I started, I had to take an injection for a few months that would get rid of my testosterone. And then I could start estrogen. It’s a long process and there’s really no fast tracking it. The assessment was hard in that I felt I had to explain my journey to someone, and justify myself, my existence.
You mentioned gender dysphoria, could you explain it to those unfamiliar?
Gender dysphoria is a condition which causes you to feel that the gender you were assigned at birth doesn’t match what you feel inside.
Did your transition take it’s toll on your mental health?
Definitely. There’s a possible side effect of depression when you start treatment, and I had already suffered with it as a teenager, so I was at risk. I was aware when I started. It messed up my hormones at the beginning, my injection to inhibit my testosterone failed, causing high testosterone in my body. I was getting estrogen at the same time, and those two hormones were effectively fighting each other the whole time. This resulted in exhaustion, I had chronic fatigue. I was sleeping for sixteen hours. I ended up failing out of college and I suffered for it with everything going on. It took it’s toll until I landed in a psychiatric hospital for 9 weeks with a nervous breakdown.
You wouldn’t realize how hormones affect your daily life until you go through something like that.
Advice for people struggling with being trans?
Grow a thick skin! (laughs) It’s still very hard, no matter what the media wants to tell you. It’s overwhelming and there are times when it feels like one of the most difficult things to live through, but it’s worth it when you get to a good place. I can say that now,because I’m living as a woman. I wouldn’t change any of it, any of the harassment I’ve experienced,nothing. Go with what you think you need and don’t listen to anyone else. Fight for it. It takes work but you can get there.
Have you any trans inspirations?
Honestly, I don’t follow many trans people in the media. I’m inspired more so by the women around me, coming from a family of strong women. I rely on them for support and advice. They inspire me all the time.All that media stuff can feel really far away. especially as Ireland laws on trans rights are so different to the the US and UK.
How do you deal with transphobia on/offline?
I experience transphobia probably every day I go outside. I could list 4 things that happened to me this week. Very much a daily thing. On the streets, I just have to ignore it. I can’t take on these people. At the end of they day they are just…stupid. Either ignorant or intentionally uneducated. I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to change them. I just reassure myself that I know who I am and nobody can affect that.
Online is a different story…I hate when I’m lying in bed or relaxing with friends and messages come up on your phone. It feels like an invasion, even though choosing to transition publicly brings that on a bit. I have a tendency sometimes to clap back. I’ll reply to a few people. I try not to act on anger, but if I feel I have a point I can get across in a way thats not harsh. I’ll do that, but if not I’ll just ignore it.
On my YouTube videos, I know for a fact that a lot of young people follow me, because of the messages I’m getting from them all the time, so I’m very conscious of them reading those transphobic comments. I try to delete them ASAP. YouTube is huge for trolling. It’s not that I want to pretend I’m not getting hate, it’s for the young viewers. They don’t need to see that negativity. Other times I might leave a comment up, because it’s the reality of my existence.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Not to be ashamed – I grew up with a lot of shame as a result of my mental health and gender issues. The world around me did a lot to make me feel I wasn’t normal, I shouldn’t exist. That resulted in a huge internal struggle. I’d say be proud.
Do you think Irish society is accepting of trans people?
It’s making some great strides. In general my experience is very positive. But there’s still some way to go. It’s hard to have grown men in groups shouting at me on the street, but when I’m face to face with someone I’ve never had a problem. I find people aren’t really brave enough to do that. Teenagers seem really scared of the issue. That’s something I want to touch on in the future, go into schools and educate young people,because we exist, we’ll continue to exist and people need to get used to that. It starts at a young age.
How do you find attitudes from both genders?
I find that men are a lot more likely to ”speak up” on the streets and such. I find that women are a lot more understanding in that….one example I can give is bathrooms. When I looked quite feminine but identified as male, I walked into the mens as I didn’t really know what to do. Men were so intolerant of that, I’ve had some of the worst experiences in male bathrooms.
When I used the ladies, I expected the same hassle, but I never even had as much as a stare from them. The women just get on with it and leave you to do the same. So yeah, of course it doesn’t exclusively come from men, but in my experience I find men more aggressive about it.
How has transitioning affected your life?
It’s improved it, definitely. I guess I accepted this existence before my transition, where I’d live a life I knew I wouldn’t be fully satisfied with, so I struggled with that reality for years. Every step has been joyous. I’m getting closer to my true self. Any hardship I’ve had has been worth it for that one reason.
What are your goals for the future, Laylah?
Sort out my mental health as much as I can, seek help because I’m still struggling to this day with everything. Continue to speak out, educate using my experiences as a tool. I’m at a bit of a crossroads with my blogging right now, where I’m not entirely sure where it’s going. But I intend to be even more open and honest because sharing your own story can only be the most positive thing. I’m continuing the road I’m on,while making improvements.
Yeah,and it must give you a real sense of purpose when you blog and talk about your experiences, you’re helping other people towards self acceptance and from others. Understanding and education. You’re working towards social change.
It keeps me sane!
Hope you enjoyed Laylah. Brilliant writer and speaker. Some links below for readers.
BelongTo – http://www.belongto.org/ – (01) 670 6223
TENI – http://www.teni.ie/ – (01) 873 3575
Spunout – http://spunout.ie/life/category/lgbt – (01) 675 3554
Pieta House – http://www.pieta.ie/ – 1800 247 247