Opinion: Alexandra Day is a writer and activist. Here, she shares her experience of being Trans in Ireland today.
When I came out as transgender to my dad, we were sitting in his car in a parking lot in Tallaght. It was November, I was in my final year of college and had only come out to my mam and younger sibling back in August.
The first thing he told me was that he loved me and he would always support me. He immediately followed this up by asking "What does transgender mean?"
It speaks to how much my dad's support has grown in the years since that he's gone from someone who knew almost nothing about trans people to one of my biggest supporters. When I was first presenting as female in public, a lot of people would stare.
Most of these people were simply curious but every now and then, somebody would stare for a bit too long or tell me they were disgusted by me. My dad would stare right back.
He was still learning about what it meant to be trans as I went through this journey, but he knew how much it meant to me for him to stand up for me. Just like that day in Tallaght, he knew his love and support were more important than understanding everything about this part of my life.
Trans identities can be and are incredibly complex. There are many assumptions made about our experiences from people outside our community that don’t necessarily speak to what many trans people find themselves going through.
For example, many assume we grappled with the complexities of our gender identity when we were children, that surgery is the end goal of transition for many in our community or, on the flip side, that some of the community don’t feel the need to transition at all to be valid in their identities.
Some of this can be explained by how transness is seen, represented and then often misrepresented. These narrow definitions of trans experience are the ones almost exclusively pushed by certain media outlets and through films and television. This is what people outside of our community read/watch when it comes to trans stories.
While there are definitely some milestones that we all share - name and gender change, coming out to friends and family - it’s important to remember the diversity of stories in our community. There is no universal trans experience.
With that in mind, this is a guide for trans folks as well as allies of the trans community who want to know more about our daily lives and struggles.
One of the first steps towards legal recognition taken by many in the community is to change their name by deed poll. I went through the process myself back in March and what I found was an experience that's both validating and incredibly tedious.
Before I came out, it was one of the days I would daydream about at length, starting when I was nine years old: the freedom of not having to be called by your old name anymore and finally having documents that matched my true gender identity.
If nothing else, it would mean less awkward looks from passport control officers at Dublin Airport, or having to show people a Public Services Card where I look like I’m auditioning for a role in Love/Hate.
What I didn’t anticipate was how dull it would end up being.
Don’t get me wrong, there was still an incredible amount of validation in finally signing and submitting those forms. When it was all finished two hours later, a friend and I went to Token in Smithfield and celebrated over food and drink, and a few rounds of Street Fighter II.
Growing up trans, you cling to this idea of changing your name being an important day that almost seems like it will never come. The reality is signing paperwork and verifying your identity to legal office staff on a rainy Tuesday morning in Dublin like any other. Still, it was bittersweet, marking the end of one part of my life and stepping directly into the next.
For a step-by-step process of how to go about changing your name by deed poll, check out this guide put together by Citizens Information.
Public spaces can produce many mixed emotions for trans people. When with friends or family, it can give us a sense of well-needed anonymity, especially when we first begin our transition.
When it comes to transitioning, it’s more than a physical transition. It also involves a social transition, which is effectively your chance to introduce the new you to the world, family, friends - and complete strangers.
Great news from St Brigid's National School in Greystones - they are introducing a #genderneutral school uniform policy for students. Policy changes like this are an important step in creating inclusive schools for #trans children https://t.co/av8ixZBosq pic.twitter.com/fcn0hXb1oD— BeLonG To Youth Services (@BeLonG_To) June 20, 2019
When trans people go out in public as themselves for the first time, it’s a gamble: they can be stared at by members of the public or even verbally confronted by complete strangers. On my worst days, being stared at by strangers can feel like being put on exhibition for the public, being seen as something to mock rather than a human being.
Looking back, I now realise that much of the difficulty I felt in being in public could be down to the pressure I put on myself to look a certain way. At this point in my transition, I struggled with the idea that I needed to wear dresses and makeup constantly or I would somehow be less valid.
For some people in the community, these complicated feelings about how the world views them are something that will stay with them throughout their transition. For others, it’s something that gradually fades, as they increasingly feel that they "pass" as the gender they identify with in their day-to-day lives.
Passing, and whether it’s something that trans people should even be striving for, is a hotly debated topic among trans people.
Some feel that it’s essential to them feeling comfortable in their own skin. Others feel that we should not be comparing our beauty by societal standards and instead acknowledge that we are all beautiful by living our truth, whether we "pass" or not.
Even so, there are members of the community who worry that by not passing, they will face harassment and possibly even violence.
For as long as trans people have existed, street harassment has haunted the community. Trans people of colour, particularly trans women and non-binary people, face much of this abuse.
In 2018 alone, Human Rights Campaign (HRS) advocates tracked at least 26 deaths of transgender people in the US due to fatal violence, the majority of whom were black transgender women. This year, HRC has reported at least 10 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means, all of whom were people of colour.
Everyday, LGBT+ people in Ireland suffer abuse and harassment simply because of who they are. #CallItOut and help us bring homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to an end.https://t.co/7pjkN5E0qK pic.twitter.com/HlaRCoy063— TENI (@TENI_Tweets) June 4, 2019
There have been great strides made in legal recognition for trans people in recent years with the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act on 2015. This act, along with Marriage Equality being introduced in the same year, meant that a community who had existed on the fringes of Irish society previously could finally be visible.
However, this increase in visibility of our community is a double-edged sword. While we are becoming more visible as a community, this has also come with threats of harassment and violence from those who don’t understand us or in some extreme cases, drive us out of public life altogether.
This can range from verbal harassment all the way up to physical assault or worse. In 2017, trans advocate organsisation TENI published a STAD (Stop Transphobia and Discrimination) report that detailed 62 hate crimes against trans people in both the Republic and Northern Ireland between 2014-2016. These ranged from assault causing harm and threats to kill, to sexual harassment assault.
Still, the path forward is clear. Trans people, as individuals and a community, are here to stay. The fight for legal recognition of all members of our community must continue. We need to stand against those who would threaten us or rather we weren’t so visible.
Most importantly, we must continue to keep living our lives as our authentic selves so that the next generation of trans people can come out in a world that is less hostile to them than it was to us.
For more information or support, contact TENI.ie.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ.