I never expected to find an accepting environment in South Wales. Growing up, in the Valleys, I was bullied ceaselessly for everything about myself, from my red hair to my taste in music. When I moved to England for university, I was convinced that I’d never come back here again. But when I came out as a trans man, England stopped seeming so welcoming.
The English friends I’d made in university stopped inviting me to reunions, I started to feel eyes on me when whenever I walked down the street, and I lived in constant fear of harassment. It came to a head in Chippenham, where I lived briefly with my partner. I was walking to the corner shop and I found myself faced with two tall, cisgender [not trans] men. I knew by then that in that situation it’s best to keep your eyes on the ground and walk quickly past, but these men weren’t having that.
As I tried to walk past them, one of them moved to block my path, and I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for a punch. Luckily, it wasn’t a physical fight they were looking for.
“You,” he snarled, hatred burning in his voice, “are the most un******le creature I have ever seen.”
The first thing I felt was relief. At least I wasn’t about to be sexually assaulted.
Then he spat on me, and the wave of fear dragged me under. Again, I flinched, waiting for a blow, but he just laughed, and carried on walking. I heard the two of them high-five behind me as they left.
I stood there shaking for a second and then dashed home, swiping the spit out of my hair.
“It could have been worse, I’m lucky,” I told my partner as she insisted that we should report it. “It was nothing.”
And it was. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m privileged enough to be white, and able to run away. But for my Black trans siblings and my trans siblings of colour, this kind of harassment is not only more frequent but it’s more violent. All you have to do is look at the targeted harassment from the media that Travis Alabanza and Munroe Bergdorf have suffered in the last couple of years. See Alok Vaid-Menon’s video below detailing their heart-wrenching tales of constant physical and verbal abuse as they walk through New York City. I am one of the lucky ones.
When I was forced to move back to South Wales, I expected to be ostracised. I expected to be physically attacked. The reality could not be more different.
I spent a few weeks living in Porth, a small town in the Rhondda Valley. The first few days, I dressed as inconspicuously as possible, avoided wearing my binder, and kept my head down. Slowly, I started testing the waters, shifting my wardrobe back to how it had been before.
I couldn’t believe it when, one day, as I wore my binder, a trans pride pin and an MNEK shirt featuring a Black gay couple, an old woman struck up a conversation with me at the bus stop. She spoke to me with interest, asked me where I was from, if I was settling in okay, and moaned about the lateness of the bus. She didn’t bat an eye at my obvious queerness. She was just curious because she’d never seen me around the close-knit community before. When we got on the bus and went to our separate seats, I couldn’t stop smiling.
It had been months or years since anybody had just struck up a conversation with me, as I walked through the world. I’d gotten used to people either staring or averting their eyes with discomfort. I can’t tell you how good it felt to chat about the bloody rain, about which local takeaways to avoid, about becoming a part of the community. I felt welcomed instead of shunned, and it absolutely shocked me.
A few days later, I was in Cardiff, having some meetings. I made eye contact with a charity street worker, and let him pull me in. I don’t donate to charities out of broke-ness, but I like to let charity workers chat to me for a bit, because I’ve done street work, and it’s not fun.
He did his pitch, featuring a drag queen joke, and I explained, emboldened by his effeminacy, that while I was sure he was fundraising for a worthy cause, I couldn’t afford to commit to monthly donations because I was paying for private hormone therapy that I could barely afford in the first place. I realised after I’d said it that this could backfire spectacularly on me, but when I looked into his face all I saw was love, and a little sympathy.
“Wait a minute,” he said, glancing around. “Here, hold this.”
He thrusted his clipboard at me and shrugged off his coat.
“I can’t talk about anything other than the charity when I’m wearing their coat,” he explained, shivering. “I just want you to know that I know it can feel like we gays hate you. But the majority of us are behind you one hundred percent.”
As he enthusiastically told me about the charity fashion show that he and his friends helped organise for their trans friend’s top surgery fund, I felt myself getting overwhelmed. I’d expected him to nod and change the subject, but he clasped my hands and promised me that Cardiff’s gay community had my back. I can’t begin to explain how big of an impact that reassurance had on me.
When you exist as a trans person on social media, it can feel as though the entire world hates you. Every time I post a selfie tagged #transman on Instagram, I get at least three cisgender men sliding into my DMs to fetishize me, some of them threatening rape when I tell them I’m not interested. Every time I tweet about being on testosterone, I get so-called Radical Feminists telling me that I’m a traitor to my sex. Every time I see posts celebrating trans families on Facebook, the top comments are always abusive and violent. It’s so easy to feel like everyone despises us.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned this year is that actually, more people than I realised are supportive of trans people. I’m still careful, still a little paranoid, I still think three times about my clothes before leaving the house, but this year I’ve found myself a little more confident about disclosing my transness to people. I hope that it gets easier. I hope that the abuse we read in the news and on social media dwindles and dies. I hope that cisgender people continue to go out of their way, as that old lady and that gay man did, to be kind and loving. I hope that my trans siblings of colour will stop being forced to bear the brunt of society’s transphobia and racism. I hope that we all make it to the end of 2019, thriving and safe.