On Trans Day of Visibility – remember our identities are not a 'phase'04/07/2023
The first time I was told that my identity was a ‘phase’, I was in my early teens.
There wasn’t the language available at the time to articulate the way I moved through the world but my teacher was very clear that it was a diversion from my intended path (it was a very religious, Catholic school).
She called my mum in to discuss what she saw as a seemingly very feminine gay boy that wore makeup and openly had relationships with boys.
As a child of the 90s, visibility of trans people was non-existent and so throughout my adolescence I thought that I must just be a gay person that didn’t quite know how to be a gay person.
My school believed that I had lost my way and that it was something I would grow out of.
This idea that my identity was transient was echoed by some family members of mine.
Looking back, it is clear to me that the only ‘phase’ I was in, was that I didn’t understand myself – yet.
As my teen years progressed, I began spreading my wings and sneaking into gay bars and clubs where I came across other trans people for the first time.
I began to get a better understanding of myself. Having access to the language and seeing other people like me really helped me to articulate my trans identity and understand who I was.
When I shared my realisation with friends and family, on the whole, the response was overwhelmingly one of love and support, but there were some who, once again, reverted to the trope of it being a ‘phase’.
Rather than undermining my experience, this just made me feel underestimated and emboldened to show them they were wrong. I knew who I was.
I have since come to realise, having spoken to so many others, that this suggestion of someone’s experience being a phase is not unique to me. It is in fact something that many people go through. Not just those whose gender is anything other than cis, but also those whose sexuality is anything other than hetero, though awareness and understanding around sexuality is certainly improving.
It’s interesting to see the way that this idea that our identity is something unstable or passing, is used to undermine our experience. The undercurrent being that we couldn’t possibly be what we say we are; we couldn’t possibly have such an understanding and ownership of our own identities.
And yet, very few people, if any, would question someone’s assertion that they were hetero, or cisgender.
This whole concept was part of what inspired the formation of the charity that I helped to set up in 2020.
When we were brainstorming ideas for what it should be called, Not a Phase seemed the obvious choice. It’s such a powerful statement.
The charity was set up to support and uplift the lives of trans+ adults through community and joy – what better way to send a clear message than by making that message the name of our organisation? Our service users are living proof that this is most definitely not a phase.
What we have seen through first-hand examples in our roles, and studies, is that individuals who are supported in their own journey to self-discovery have significantly improved mental health outcomes as adults and spend a lot less time throughout their lives unpacking the damage that has been done to their self-confidence through the constant denial of their experience.
But the current climate that surrounds our community is one of fear.
There’s the fear around what our futures might look like, due to the uncertainty that comes with living in a society where we don’t fit the stereotypical mould and we don’t always know how that will be received.
And there’s also the fear that is manufactured by those in positions of power to other and isolate us.
This fearmongering plays into this notion that being gender expansive is not real, that we will grow out of it: that it is a phase.
That’s why our key message seeks to counter that in the simplest way possible, by saying we are here, we have always been here and we always will be here.
As a leading charity supporting trans adults, we take our position at this time very seriously, not only as a source of joy and refuge for our service users but also as a place for allies to get insight into the lives of trans adults who are living authentically throughout the UK.
Something that is, in and of itself, a brave and bold statement of self-belief.
This was the main motivation behind our recent self-titled campaign. Within the ‘debates’ that are scattered throughout mainstream media and in government – so often without the input of our community – our humanity and dignity is lost.
In response, and in many ways as an act of empowerment, we brought together a cross-section of people that represent a wide spectrum of who we are. From a dog walker to a lawyer, from a classic northerner to someone that migrated to our country for a better and safer way of life.
This campaign and its accompanying video are the real story behind the headlines, the story of those that are overcoming the hurdles that we face every day.
But everyday lives of everyday trans people are not what sells papers, and so these stories are all too often ignored in favour of something more likely to generate clicks, whether the story is accurate, or not, seems less of a priority.
Trans Day of Visibility (31 March) is our chance to highlight our continued fight for equality and justice and we hope that with our campaign, we are able to be a reminder to anyone paying attention and open to listening that This is Not a Phase.
Find out more about Not a Phase on their website here.
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