UWE Trans Awareness Week, 2012

I was unable to attend the Trans Awareness Week event at the University of the West of England in 2012, so they asked me to send a personal statement that could be read out. This is it.

Personal Statement — Cheryl Morgan

I went to university in the late 1970s. Public knowledge of trans people was limited, at the time, to a few high profile cases such as April Ashley and Jan Morris. There was a gay society at my university, but it was just a society for gay men (and perhaps a few lesbians). In any case, gay liberation was in full swing at the time. The Tom Robinson Band was topping the charts, and gay people had quite enough to think about without taking on a strange case like mine. Thanks to Ashley and Morris, I knew what I was, but I was absolutely terrified of talking to anyone about it.

It took me the best part of 20 years more to come to the understanding that I couldn’t live with myself unless I at least tried to transition. During that time, social attitudes towards trans people had not shifted much. We had no legal rights. I found that I was deemed a danger to children, simply by existing. When I came out to my family, many of them were horrified. At the best they worried that I was about to destroy my life, and to be honest I didn’t expect to survive the next decade.

But, unbeknownst to me, something amazing was happening. Trans people were starting to stand up for their rights. People like Christine Burns and Stephen Whittle were organizing political campaigns. More and more trans people were coming out and telling their stories. I started the new millennium female but unemployed and unable to afford a home. But I had an amazing boyfriend, the support of my mother, and in just a few years I got civil rights and a birth certificate asserting that I had been born a girl.

Since then some things have gone very well for me. I’ve been able to support myself by starting my own businesses, I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely, and I’ve become quite well known in one of my areas of expertise. Bizarrely, some of my relatives now seem to be more embarrassed that I’ve won international awards for writing about science fiction than they are about my being trans. I’ve been able to be open about being trans on my blog without completely losing my audience, or having it limited solely to other trans people.

Of course there is still a long way to go. Trans people are still a common target for bullying by the media. Unemployment and suicide rates are still ludicrously high. I still fear for my personal safety when I’m out alone in public amongst strangers. But there is plenty of hope as well. People coming out as trans today have the chance to transition young, before age and hormones make irreversible changes to their bodies. And just as importantly the “one size fits all” treatment policy that was followed when I was young is beginning to be replaced by a much more flexible recognition that individuals need to be able to find their own paths rather than be shoehorned into binary gender roles.

We are still, to a certain extent, in the middle of a great social experiment. No one knows how brave young people like Livvy James will be able to make lives for themselves when they reach adulthood. Perhaps more worryingly, no one knows what will happen to today’s transitioners when they reach old age and are reliant on state support. But the long term prognosis is good because most surveys suggest that support for trans people is greater amongst the young than amongst the old. When I was young trans people were regarded as sad freaks in need of serious psychiatric help, or as dangerous sexual perverts. I look forward to a day when parents regard finding out that a child is trans or intersex is no more worrying that finding that she needs glasses, or is left-handed.

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