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Another Trans person killed themselves last week. That’s another Trans person who died because of our society. Another Trans person to add to the thousands already dead. Another name to be read out on this years Trans day of Remembrance.
She wrote a suicide note. In it she talks about how she felt was ignored, and actively suppressed by her parents. That they tried to do something about it, because they thought there was something wrong with her identifying as Trans. Because, even in this time of greater Trans visibility, society still believes there’s something wrong with being Trans.
We are still seen as less than whole, not quite women, halfway men.

If you pass then things might be better, that is until the media out you, or someone finds out. Then suddenly you’re worse than if you were visibly Trans.
Go take a look at some of the articles about Laverne Cox, or Andreja Pejic, or Amiyah Scott. Take a look at the comments, that is if they haven’t been disabled because of the hate speech directed to these women because they also happen to be Trans.
I don’t know a single Trans person that hasn’t faced physical or mental abuse from another human. I don’t know a single other Trans person that hasn’t, at some point, been shamed, or attacked, or humiliated, for who they are, and how they chose to identify.

In her suicide note Leelah says

I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy.
Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

This is a wake up call for all of us. This is a person saying they give up. At 17 years old they’ve had enough. At 17.
I can’t think of a more damning indictment of society than this.

You can say that maybe she was wrong, that it does get better, but honestly, sometimes it doesn’t.
Imagine being denied your identity but the people that are supposed to be the one set of people that you’re told will love you no matter what.
Then imagine those people take you to more people, people in positions of power and authority that you don’t have the strength to fight against, because you’re a child, and they tell you you’re wrong, and that what you feel is wrong.
Imagine being told that, time after time, by the people that are supposed to be on your side, that are supposed to be there, to comfort, support and help you.

And then there’s society. Leelah writes about how she’ll never be happy with the way she looks and sounds. That she’ll never find a man who’ll love her.
We live in an society where misogyny is commonplace, and deeply ingrained. Ideals of beauty are fucked up, and seep into pretty much all aspects of life. I know, from experience how invasive and damaging this is.
I know I don’t conform to the beauty standards society places on women, and I know once people find out that I’m Trans it’ll be worse, because then I’ll be seen as “not even an actual woman” (and I quote that as a real thing someone said to me) and thus at best I wouldn’t really get it, and at worst why would I anyhow because I used to be a man, so how could it possibly affect me?
I think from reading other stuff I’ve written, you know how I feel about the way society’s dating attitudes towards Trans women affect us, but these transmisogynic attitudes are so insidious that even at 17 they’d filtered down, and added to the hopelessness that comes across so strongly in Leela’s suicide note.

When you have no hope, how can things possibly get better? When society, parents, the world, all say You are Wrong, and you have no way of challenging that, what can you do?

She ends here note asking that her death has to mean something, that we need to fix society, and she’s right.
We all need to start talking about this, because it’s our duty to, as the ones still here.
Yes, it’s hard, and finding the words is difficult. Talking about things like suicide, and death is complicated, and often upsetting. Trying to fix society, change attitudes, and stop things like this from happening may seem like the equivalent of trying to move a mountain with your bare hands.
That shouldn’t be a reason to not talk about these things though. Not having the words to know what to say isn’t a good enough reason, either for us, or for the people that have died.
We have to start a dialogue about this, as the people still here, and as the people this directly affects, we have to speak for our dead. We have to let them speak through our words and actions, with the dignity and respect they deserved whilst they were still alive.

We need to find the words to do this, because they no longer can.

These are some useful resources, if this has affected you, or you know someone that might need a lifeline..

Trans Lifeline A US/Canadian helpline, for Trans identifying people in times of crisis.

Switchboard A UK based helpline and support service for LGBTQ identifying people.

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I know, from gigs to sexual health clinics. It’s quite the jump, yeah?
Never let it be said that I don’t like to keep you on your toes.

So, lets get our cards on the table. I’m going to tell you something, and you’re going to judge me.

I’ve never been tested for any STIs.

As I’m a big fan of context, allow me to explain.
Most of my life I’ve been in long term relationships, and when I’ve not been in said relationships, I don’t tend to sleep with lots of people, despite any impression I give off.
My thinking was that because of these things, the chances of me having anything would be slim to say the least.

I can hear the intakes of breath and the silent shaking of heads. I know, I know. I’m an idiot.

Anyhow, I realised the blindingly obvious fact that even if you’ve only been with a few people, you don’t know their histories, and it only takes one person, with something, to pass it on to you.
And that’s why I decided to get checked out.

Sexual Health Clinics are pretty much like every clinic I’ve ever been to. Looking around there are a few people, mostly looking fairly anxious, sitting on chairs.
I have to fill in a form, and I’m immediately on guard, because forms and trans people often do not mix well. Luckily, it’s relatively trans friendly, in that it has pronoun boxes, and a box to tick if you choose to identify as trans. It does still assume all male identifying people have penises and all female identifying people have vaginas though, which is a problem for me, and a post for another day.

I wait for a bit, looking around, listening to the radio that’s playing in the background. An advert comes on for a car insurance company called Drive Like a Girl. It’s probably the most patronising and offensive thing I’ve heard them play so far, and they’d just played Blurred Lines.

I get called by a nurse to come to a room, and it’s a man. I ticked a box saying I didn’t mind who saw me, but now I feel like I do mind. Suddenly I feel like my identity is under threat, as he’ll ask what bits I’ve got, and I feel uncomfortable about telling him, because he’s a man, and my experiences of men are nearly always negative.
I don’t know what to do, because if I say I’m not comfortable after all I’m going to feel like a jerk, and also, I’ve been waiting for half an hour now, and I can’t stand to wait any longer with that radio station playing its horrible songs and incessant adverts.

In the end I do what everyone would do, I go along with it. The commercial radio was the clincher if I’m honest.
We go to a room, and I start saying how I’m actually kind of nervous, and that I didn’t bring a friend, because I thought it would make for something good to write about if it was just me, but that now I regret that because I didn’t think it through, and how that is pretty standard for me.
He smiles and says it’s alright, everyone is a little nervous sometimes. He is reassuring and kind, and I feel like I let my preconceptions and past experiences get the better of me. Not for the first time I also think I’m an judgemental jerk.

He does ask me what bits I’ve got, but he does it in a way that’s so matter of fact, yet sensitive, that it’s okay.
He then asks me if I’d like to piss in a jar.

I’m very keen on this offer, as I’d been holding it in for about two hours now. He also took some blood, and did a throat swab, because well, y’know, oral?
We chat whilst this is all happening, and he tells me about how Syphilis is one of the biggest STIs affecting the area where we live. I have an overwhelming desire to tell him about how everyone thinks Henry VIII had Syphilis, but that actually there’s little evidence to prove this. I’m about to blurt it out in a oh my god I’m nervous so I’m going to say anything sort of way when he asks if I’d like a leaflet about it, and I forget all about Henry’s sti issues, and instead say it’s okay, I don’t need one, even though I’m interested in reading about it. I do this because I’m trying to be polite, and don’t want to put him out.
He gives me two Syphilis leaflets anyhow. This guy is good.

He asks me about the last couple of times I’d been with someone, and I tell him about the French woman I slept with once, and the friend I was with for a bit. For some reason I feel the need to go into detail about both these times. I have no idea why, but he seems to be happy to listen, and offer useful commentary on what I tell him.
It strikes me that I really misjudged him, and I did it entirely based on his gender. When people do that to me it really upsets me, and once again I feel like a jerk.

After all the tests are done we start to wrap things up. He tells me they’ll ring me if anything shows up, and text me if it’s all clear. I get up to go, and I want to give him a hug a say how lovely he’d been. I didn’t because boundaries but I wanted to. In the end he gave me a double hand shake, and I told him he was awesome and that I’d happily come back for more check ups if he did them. Maybe I need to work on verbal boundaries a bit more.
I leave feeling happy, and feeling that I’ve learnt something about my own preconceptions, and also about Syphilis.

A week later, as I was sitting in a cafe, being a writer, my phone buzzed. A text message from the clinic had come through with the all clear. I smile to myself, and think thought as much. Maybe I’ll hang onto those leaflets though, just in case.

There’s a narrative that goes something along the lines of Trans people have always known they’re Trans.
It’s nearly always one of the first things people ask me about when we talk about Trans stuff. I’ve been asked the question “When did you know?” more times than I can count, and when I answer that question, and tell people that I didn’t really know till I was a teenager, and that I didn’t fully form exactly what my identity was till I got to my thirties, there’s often an element of surprise in people’s eyes.
Sometimes there’s an element of judgement there as well. I can see them thinking, but if she didn’t know till then, how can she be sure now? Surely all Trans people just know?

Thing is, there are Trans people who haven’t always known, but that doesn’t make their identities any less Trans than someone who’s always known.
I sometimes think that maybe, if you have to ask, then asking “How did you know” is a more important question than “When did you know?”

So, how did I know?
There were two essential things that let me know what it meant to feel what I felt.
Language and knowledge.
Seems obvious right, if we can communicate how we feel, then we can understand what it is, and find out what we need to do.
Today it’s pretty easy to find out what it means to feel things, the Internet changed everything when it comes to freedom of knowledge, and with that change came greater visibility, and with greater visibility it became easier to find others that feel how you feel. Yeah Internet!
Thing is though, it wasn’t always like that. I grew up in the seventies and eighties, in the last century. (Sounds dramatic when it’s put like that doesn’t it?)
There was no internet then, there was virtually zero visibility for Trans people, and so I had no reference point as to how I felt. As a teenager I genuinely believed I was the only person alive who felt like this. Imagine my absolute fucking surprise when I found out I wasn’t.
That’s when I really started to form my identity as a Trans woman, once I had the knowledge and language, once I discovered I wasn’t alone.
Even then it took a long time. It’s only really now, thanks to a ton of reading, a reasonably large amount of therapy, and the support of truly amazing friends and family that I’ve really got it pinned down.
This is why asking a Trans person when they knew isn’t helpful, or in any way insightful to understanding what it means to be Trans. Knowing that I started understanding that I was Trans when I was a teenager doesn’t give any context to that fact. All that most people get from this is that it doesn’t fit with the narrative of always knowing.
Ask me how I knew though and suddenly things have context. There are reasons, emotions, and ultimately understanding.

The preconception, that all Trans people have always known, is ultimately damaging. It doesn’t help anyone, and that should be reason enough to stop doing it.
Maybe though that isn’t enough, maybe you need more reasons?

How about the fact that it also devalues the identity of those who haven’t always known, and it stigmatises an already stigmatised identity even more.
Or that it creates a hierarchy of validity, which is incredibly destructive, and hurtful to many, many Trans people.
Oh, and yeah it can also divide communities, and damage personal identities, both of which are fundamental to our existence in this world.

Yeah, that’s probably enough reasons.

I have, and will, sleep with people on first dates. I don’t always do this, but given the right situation, it is something I do.
There is a preconception that women who do this are somehow, less valid as people, even the words used, things like promiscuous, easy, predatory, are all demeaning and negative.
This we all hear, and this we all know, a woman who sleeps with people early on is somehow less valid than a man who does the same.

As a trans woman the validity is diminished even more, as in societies eye I’m already less valid anyhow, in that I’m often seen as less of a woman, and this reflects in how I’m perceived when it comes to sex.
Now this is entirely based on my own experience, and as I’ve said before, it may not be true of everyone, but I find that as a trans person, the pre conceptions of being promiscuous, easy and predatory are often there even before I sleep with people.
Trans women in particular are sexualised, often fetishised, and nearly always othered (as in ‘not one of us’. There’s an excellent piece explaining this more here.) in films, television and popular culture. Popular culture is just that, popular. It sinks into people’s minds, it creates impressions of what to expect when we come across particular situations, and in the case of trans women, those impressions are often pretty fucked up.
I’ve spoken a bit about this before, in regards to mental health issues, but these preconceptions are there when it comes to sex as well.

From my own personal experience, these preconceptions are most obvious when it comes to internet dating, which I’m guessing is because of the detachment the internet can create. In real life it’s less likely a stranger will approach you with an offer of anal sex whilst dressed as a maid, because the consequences are more real, whatever way it goes.
The internet absolves us of meaningful consequence, it detaches us from reality, and allows us to show another side, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

There is of course a degree of generalisation here, not everyone has these preconceptions, just as not every Trans person will object to fetishisation.
However, by applying labels such as promiscuous, or predatory, by detaching ourselves from seeing people as people, we are dehumanising an experience that is one of the most human things we can do, and that can’t be a good thing.

Freiya Benson

Writer & Photographer.

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