LGBT+ History Month – Our Stories

LGBT+ History Month – Our Stories

To celebrate and commemorate LGBT+ History Month, we have spoken to staff and service users from Creative Support, who explore their own personal journeys to acceptance, love, and triumph. These honest and inspirational articles show the power of the individual, and the strength that comes from
understanding. Thank you so much to our contributors for telling us their stories.

Emlyn’s Story

When did you first realise that you were trans?

I first began to understand what gender actually meant in my twenties. Up until that point I thought everyone was the same generic flesh. I was taught a lot by my support staff and an ASDAN trained tutor about gender when I was in residential care. It took a few years for me to understand, but eventually with evidence from my family and photographs, I realised I had been transgender my whole life. I just didn’t understand gender fully due to my autism and learning disability until then.

Did people around you support you when you told them about your gender?

The short answer is no. People found it difficult to understand me and I feel like I wasn’t listened to. Because of this I was dressed in so-called “female” clothing at the time when I was in an institution, but I had always worn jogging bottoms or basketball shorts before then. When staff and people around me referred to me “as a girl” it never felt right, but it didn’t make me aware of my gender.

Back then, my family didn’t have a clue that there was a term for how my brain was differently wired in terms of gender. They had always called me a tomboy to other people if the subject came up.

When I finally told my family, there was a lot of crying (not from me may I add- I was finally happy to get this out of my head), and a lot of questions. There was a time when they went through grief. I accepted their feelings and reactions as something people have to go through to get to an understanding stage, even though I didn’t want them to feel that way or go through that process. I don’t think parents can instantly accept their child is different as they have ideas mapped out for us for our whole lives. I found it easier to let them deal with it in their own way and process it how they needed to.

When people call me by my birth name (deadname) and use she/her pronouns, it haunts me. Some people have also treated me like I don’t have the mental capacity to understand, which is also really hard.

The Mencap LGBT group, and the person who used to run it, were an amazing part of my life at that time. They supported me and we were all good mates! It was amazing to have people understand me for one of the first times in my life.

How did you find the process of transitioning?

It was very difficult for me to get accepted as trans as the GP, who had never even met me at that point, decided I didn’t have mental capacity. He was basing it off a phone meeting with my learning disability nurse, and not a meeting with me. I found swapping GPs in the surgery helped me as they had no biases, but wanted to send me to a genetic screening to see if it was a genetic disorder based on me having LD and Autism.

They eventually followed the NICE guidelines for gender dysphoria assessment, which I had helpfully printed out to show what they were not doing.

I had a difficult time getting help from other people who didn’t understand, and they pushed back my assessments with the Tavistock and Portman Gender Identity clinic by a number of years. Finally, after fighting to get onto the list for GIC, I was diagnosed with extreme gender dysphoria and could at last change my name legally.

At that point I was also prescribed Testogel (testosterone in a gel form). After this, it took a long time to change my name on everything with an account, e.g. DLA, internet bills, direct debits, etc. due to my communication difficulties. A few of them wanted to speak to me verbally in order to change the records which is not very accessible!

What are your experiences in LGBTQ+ spaces?

The (gay) village is my most favourite place for being trans because you can be accepted there no matter who you are. I also miss going to the Mencap LGBT group.

I did go to Sparkle, a trans festival, with my two support staff one year. When I was there, someone said that I wasn’t ‘really transgender’ and was really unhelpful. There is no need to be rude, and this really made my self-esteem drop.

What are things you wish people wouldn’t ask you about?

I dislike being asked (or told!) that I may just be confused about my gender and that I’m not actually trans, or that I choose to be trans.

I also dislike people who tell me how to identify myself. I have had people get offended at me for calling myself FtM trans. I don’t call everyone that, just myself, as it gets the point across for me. I also see myself as non sexual rather than using the recognised term asexual as I have never in my life had any kind of sexuality or interest in people. Non sexual to me is more defined and clear cut whereas asexuality means different levels of interest in others. People have no right to police what I call myself, just as I have no right to do the same to others.

How could society change to make transitioning easier?

Firstly I would make things a lot easier for people who have different mental capacity, or a condition, or acute experiences that affects their life. This includes people who may have some level of autism, Down syndrome, a learning disability, severe behaviour that challenges, mental illness, personality disorder, history of trauma or sexual abuse, etc.

These groups are very often stopped from being able to transition and are assumed to be either unable to understand gender, or be too unstable to cope with the hormones. They could use different forms of therapy like art therapy, easy to read or modified DBT, and help people with their dysphoria instead of just saying no and making them feel extremely low.

Do you have any advice for other trans people?

There is the common belief that you can’t get hormones if you are labelled as being someone with autism, learning disabilities, behaviour that challenges, mental illness, personality disorder etc. Please don’t be put off seeking help for your gender dysphoria! The reason they state this is because taking hormones can affect your behaviour, mood, etc.

If you can, show that you are active in helping yourself and your life. Bring along photos if they help, or letters from your psychologists explaining your current mental health or behaviour. If you are stable on treatment or have successful therapy, etc., then you can change your name legally. You just need to be honest with your psychologist and explain how much your gender dysphoria affects you. They will take you seriously and, if they see fit, will put you on hormones and later offer surgery, speech therapy, etc.

You should also:

  • Join LGBTQ+ support/social groups if you feel like it would help you
  • Read about the hormones you would be taking if you want to transition so you can find the one that is right for you. For example, I was told I am too big for Nebido, which works a lot faster in changing your body, so the other option was Testogel.
  • If you’re on Testogel and having testosterone blood tests, never put the gel on the same arm as the blood test site on that day. And make sure you’re warm so they can find your vein!
  • Remember that you don’t have to tell anyone that you’re trans. You can tell them if you’re confident they’re allies, or if they have to know for other reasons. Unfortunately there’s still a lot of transphobia our there so you should choose your battles wisely.
  • Look at the specialist products out there for trans men and women, such as binders and packers. Underworks is probably the best out there for binders, and the Peecock packer is highly favoured by the trans community, but of course these are not cheap!

Keep strong, don’t ignore praise, but filter out all bullying and abuse. They don’t deserve the good feelings they get when they know they have hurt you. Hold your head up- you are worth something, and you mean a lot to someone even if it is someone you are yet to meet.

Read Hazels’s Story

A few months ago I was sat in a bright pink salon having my hair cut when the hairdresser looked up from her scissors and asked: “Do you have a shaved bit on the back of your head?”
The tone of this question was difficult to read. Amusement? Disgust? Or simply confusion? Why, after all, would the person sat in the chair of this candy floss salon, with perfectly groomed eyebrows and sharp winged eyeliner, shave their hair?

“Oh yeah” I answered casually. “My partner shaved me an undercut a few weeks ago and I’m growing it out.”

Her tone was easy to read then. Pure horror. “Why on earth did he do that?” she replied.
Minus some questionable bowl cuts as a child (thanks mum) I have always had long hair. I also wear makeup on a regular basis, a ring on every finger and I love nothing more than dousing myself in perfume. By most people’s definitions, I am “girly.”

So why did my partner shave me an undercut? Simple. I was tired of feeling like my feminine appearance invalidated my queer identity. Like at the hairdressers that day, when I say “my partner” the world takes one look at me and hears “my boyfriend.” The shaved section at the back of my head was my way of taking one step out of heteronormativity and putting a marker on my physical appearance which says “I’m gay, dude.”

So if I’m gay, why don’t I say “my girlfriend”? Surely that would solve the problem? Well, I use the word ‘partner’ because I am in a relationship with somebody who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. However, even when I have dated people who could accurately be described as a “girlfriend” in the past, I have been met with disbelief, dismissal, or have been totally ignored.

Family members have referred to my girlfriends as my “best friends”. Men in nightclubs have told me that I can’t possibly be gay, that it is a waste, or that if I wasn’t interested in them buying me a drink then I should have just said so- I didn’t need to pretend to be a lesbian. Comments have been made friends and acquaintances that I am “too pretty to be gay”, that I “don’t look gay” or (and this is my personal favourite) that I could “easily get a guy” if I wanted to (I don’t.)

At school, there were two people who were openly gay in my year. Both were effeminate gay males. They fit the stereotype, so their sexuality was assumed. They never had to come out. Yes, they were bullied, but their sexuality was never interrogated, never questioned, never the subject of scandalous gossip. One of them was my friend.

One day I told this friend that I liked a girl in my PE class, and that I thought I might be gay. The following day, I found that he had told everybody. When news hit the gossip circles that I was gay, it took everyone by surprise. It was a shock, so it was great fun to gossip about.

The girl from my PE class did not appreciate this. She was the star of every sports team, so she had faced her own taunting from people at school for being perceived as a lesbian. This gossip fuelled the fire and she lashed out. My first serious queer crush was a traumatic and painful experience which was taken out of my own hands and made into a school spectacle- all for the shock value and gossip.

As a society we have developed a very rigid perception of what a queer person looks like. Gay men with handbags, gay women with buzz cuts and non-binary people who sit right in the middle of masculine and feminine. Every time someone assumes that I am straight, I feel like I’m a fraud, or doing a disservice to community, but even in LGBTQ+ spaces femme erasure is rife and I find myself worrying about how I’m perceived. Does everyone think I’m a straight girl who has gone to the pride parade to get drunk with her mates? Do I look like I’ve come to the gay bar because I’m a gay guy’s friend and not because I am, in fact, gay?

The undercut didn’t stop people from assuming that I’m straight, but I’m glad that it didn’t. If it had, my fears would have been confirmed: that femininity and queerness are mutually exclusive. Instead it taught me a lesson. It taught me that yes, I can change my appearance in an effort make people see “the real” me, but it’s a waste of time if the things that I do feel inauthentic to who I am as a person and how I feel comfortable presenting. So I let it grow out. The locks which were once shaved short now sit in soft curls at the nape of my neck, constantly falling out of my pony tail and reminding me that I can change my appearance if I want to, but my appearance doesn’t dictate my identity.

Read Abby’s Story

Being Non-Binary

Hi, I’m Abby, and I’m non-binary!

You may be wondering, what is non-binary?

Broadly speaking, non-binary is any gender identity that is not strictly ‘man’ or ‘woman’ (the binary). Non-binary people may identify outside of the two binary genders altogether, or may identify with some aspects of one or the other (or with some aspects of both!). There are various genders that fall under the non-binary umbrella, including agender, gender fluid, and genderqueer. Being non-binary can also fall under the trans umbrella, although some non-binary people don’t identify as trans, whereas others do!

For me personally, I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin for a very long time. I didn’t feel like the word ‘woman’ accurately described me and my experience, and the word ‘man’ didn’t either. So for a while I just let it slide, and just accepted that I wasn’t comfortable and that I couldn’t really do anything about it.

I have quite a large number of LGBT+ friends, and through them I learned a lot of new terminology, especially relating to trans identities, and then I discovered the term ‘non-binary’. After a while, I realised that this described my experience with gender identity with incredible accuracy. Not a man, and not a woman, but something else that is somehow both and neither at the same time, and something outside of the binary of man and woman. I was elated to finally give a name to something I previously struggled to describe.

I’ve been out as non-binary for about a year-and-a-half now, and I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by very supportive people, particularly my friends.

However, being openly non-binary comes with its own challenges, and many of these are not unique to me. Firstly, some non-binary people (including me) choose to use gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ and ‘them’ in place of traditional gendered pronouns like ‘he’ or ‘she’. This is understandably quite difficult for people to wrap their heads around, so it has meant I’ve spent a lot of time correcting people! It also opened my eyes to how much society automatically genders things as male or female, and therefore how much of our language is also gendered that way, for example “ladies and gentlemen.”

The way non-binary people express their gender identity can vary greatly, from clothing, haircuts, makeup, etc. They can present as masculine, feminine, androgynous, or anything in between. I personally prefer to present more androgynously in general, sometimes leaning more towards masculine or feminine. However, I am sometimes put off wearing my more feminine clothes because people will more likely see me as a woman.

It is difficult for non-binary people because our society has developed in such a way that people are automatically seen as a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ as opposed to simply ‘a person’. Incidentally, there is also a lot of pressure for non-binary people to present completely androgynously, which is essentially forcing them into a ‘third gender’ box when the experience of non-binary people is so varied that it is harmful to try and force them to all fit into a singular idea of what they should be like.

There are also some people who simply refuse to acknowledge non-binary as a genuine gender, or make fun of it, which can cause a lot of non-binary people to avoid coming out altogether. One of my biggest fears before I came out was people refusing to acknowledge my gender as real, or respect my pronouns.

As much as being an out non-binary person is a challenge, I feel more comfortable being myself than I ever was beforehand. It’s increased my confidence to no end, because I know in my mind that this is who I am, and it is wonderful to finally have a name for it.

Don’t forget to read our LGBT+ Newsletter, full of information and articles on mental health and wellbeing, the gender spectrum and much more.