“Aren’t you going to get AIDS?” The question was asked by an 11-year-old as I walked from one school class to another. I was 14 at the time.
“Do you have to make things so difficult for yourself?” That’s what my mother asked me when I showed her my acceptance letter for college.
“Why can’t I find someone so I can have kids!?” demanded my sister. “You’re never going to have them anyway because you’re a lesbian,” she added.
I was a lesbian. I was bisexual. I am now a gay man. When you explore and experience so many identities, you find similarities between them. The biggest similarity between every stage of my life is that I have always encountered a term that is described as a ‘phobia’ - whether homophobia, transphobia or biphobia.
Today is IDAHOT – an International Day of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. It helps people understand what people like me are faced with on a daily basis.
One might argue that acts of hatred are not a ‘fear.’ However, I believe that the negativity that stems from such acts is the irrational fear of the unknown - of change - of deep-rooted issues that still remain in society such as misogyny (which is a large basis for homophobia and transphobia). When people are overwhelmed with this irrationality, they are likely to lash out at the things that most concern them in a way to protect themselves. Not that this ever makes such behaviour acceptable.
With every step, I have had to stop my journey abruptly as I faced a wall of hate. Ever since I was 13 years-old and a rumour of my sexuality spread like wildfire across my school, I could not go a single day without being asked inappropriate question after inappropriate question. I was screamed at, belittled, punched, spat at. The world was saying to me: “This is how you deserve to be treated.”
When I was brave enough at college to start undergoing transition as a transgender man, I had a hope that things would somehow be easier despite the challenges that I would face. What I found was that people’s attitudes could be far more damaging and terrifying than any doctor’s appointment or surgical procedures.
Eventually I reached a point where my anxiety and depression became so crippling that I was incapable of working. I was pretty much incapable of everything. I could hardly leave the house and felt nothing but intense hatred for myself because the people around me had never shown me anything to suggest that I wasn’t some kind of offensively horrific deviant.
I had fought so hard to be myself, and yet I kept that person locked away. I even have a tattoo on my forearm of a keyhole and an anatomical heart. I couldn’t let anyone in. I couldn’t let anyone truly see me even when I had done so much to be true to myself.
Last spring, I lost my house, and with that I lost everything. I was forced to take shelter with one of my sisters in Northamptonshire and start life all over again from the very beginning. At 27 years-old I had no work experience, a mixed bag of grades from school and was a two-time college drop out. But that sudden kick to the system made me realise: “Why am I worried about other people instead of living for myself?” I got thrown into the world and I embraced it. For the first time, the world started embracing me back.
I did four volunteer jobs, enrolled in two classes, overcame my fear of public transport, and started to look after myself. What shocked me was that everywhere I went, no-one batted an eyelid. I even spoke about the fact that I was gay to a teenage girl who volunteered alongside me in a charity shop. I expected her to be repulsed like people her age were when I was at school. But all she showed me was acceptance.
Imagine my surprise when I was offered a job working for the Combined Court in Northampton with the Ministry of Justice. I had almost written myself off entirely, yet here I was. One of the first things I noticed in this job was the well-written e-learning courses on Diversity and I was utterly shocked. They used correct terms, correct pronouns, they were modern, friendly and easy to understand.
With that knowledge, I asked my manager if I could lead a TIB during February to do something a little different and speak to the team about LGBT History Month. I prepared a bunch of facts and tried my best not to have a panic attack when I delivered them, but everyone was absolutely delightful. They listened and they acknowledged what I had to say, and there wasn’t a single drop of criticism. Any concerns I had about them treating me differently from then on turned out to be completely unfounded!
Then more recently, I happened to be leading the TIB on the International Day of Transgender Awareness. As a completely spur of the moment act of spontaneity I ended the TIB with, “So in recognition of that, uhh… I am transgender. So! Now you all… know that.” And then practically ran away, shaking like a leaf.
No-one said a thing. What they did do, however, was treat me exactly the same. If anything, it almost felt like everyone was a little more approachable towards me after that, probably as a result of me breaking down a barrier that I myself had created in the first place.
My experiences working with MoJ have been nothing but positive and it has had a huge impact on my daily wellbeing. I work with an amazing team of kind, intelligent individuals who have never once even begun to show any sign of judgement. From day one they have made me feel extremely comfortable, and that has also been reflected in the management and their support of my ongoing gender transition.
I hope that days like IDAHOT continue to spread awareness of the problems that people are being forced to face, so that the world can be more like what is happening here at Northampton Combined Court.