A blog by Jules Guaitamacchi, Public speaker, an LGBTQ+ Awareness trainer, events organiser and activist.
“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place” – author unknown
My ambition is to work towards the inclusion and equality of transgender people within society. I do this by work by delivering LGBTQ+ awareness presentations and workshops, in schools for charities, organisations, businesses and institutions and more recently addiction treatment centres. I run LGBTQ+ specific events and actively work towards social change through the means of community projects and campaigns. I am also an addiction psychology and counselling masters’ degree student, with a keen interest in broadening understanding and research specifically focused on addiction in the trans community.
This work stems from my own experiences and the social conditioning that stripped away my identity from an early age. With no point of reference, I remained unaware for most of my life. I hadn’t heard of the term non-binary until my late twenties. I think it’s important to highlight that non-binary and transgender people have existed throughout history, in different cultures and communities.
The world I was born into predetermines your gender before you are even born. This predetermination of gender is exactly where the problem begins. Interestingly the notion of gender identity and biological sex as independent concepts was a theory introduced by sexologist John Money in 1955, who began to suggest gender roles were socially constructed characteristics, rather than predisposed, biological presets. After years of redefining the word ‘gender’ over time we have come to recognise the complex and diverse nature of the human race and the thought of categorising gender into only two groups seems absurd. Perhaps this isn’t dissimilar when taking into consideration other aspects of human identity. For example, we have begun to extend the LGBT+ spectrum to be more comprehensive of different genders, sexual orientations and variations of biological sex. Intersex people make up 1.7% of the world’s population and yet I’m endlessly correcting those who insist there are only two sexes and only two genders. I find myself constantly up against people, so desperate to express their opinion backed up by a headline with no context, accurate or reliable sources of information. I’ll often read a lazy Facebook post, by someone who has chosen to listen to the ramblings of someone in the media, poisoning the minds of people all over the country with sarcastic and derogatory comments about gender non-conforming people. It is these comments, in my opinion, that directly contribute to the discrimination and violence of this group of people. Yet they are still given a platform to air these dangerous and oppressive views to a national audience. Therefore, should we be focusing more on the systemic structures in place that promote the discrimination of transgender people as a form of entertainment and the forums where our exclusion from society is debated as a legitimate subject?
It is no surprise that the police national database reported an 80% increase in transphobic hate crimes in 2019, and what I find deeply disturbing are the findings by the Stonewall School Report in 2017 that suggest that 48% of transgender children under the age of 26 said they have ‘attempted’ suicide. So, you can forgive me for feeling unsympathetic towards those who feel personally attacked when I challenge their ideas. Surprisingly I experience more pushback by the idea of inclusivity and intersectionality from the older generation, who feel threatened by the dismantling of their self-perceived, intellectual superiority. Whereas young people are inherently more inclined to be open-minded and have not yet been tainted by older generational restrictive thinking, they are generally able to be inclusive of diversity. Although I have witnessed the effects of religious views or family values already influencing many young minds. On some level, I have had to revisit my youth, by unpicking years of social conditioning to rediscover my true-identity.
In case I need to make it any clearer, trans lives should not be a source of intellectual debate in any form. We cannot afford the detrimental ripple effect these conversations could have on a greatly suffering community. I find it interesting that so many people without any kind of direct experience feel entitled to imposing their opinions, much to frustration of many transgender folk who have fought endlessly for the right to have a place in the world.
I don’t mean for this article to sound provocative, but at the same time I do want this piece to provoke thought and self-reflection. Acknowledging our own privilege is a start and considering how we can work towards the equality of all people should be our objective.
If I cast my mind back to my childhood, I knew from the age of 4 or 5 that my gender identity did not correspond with the sex I was assigned at birth. I liked to express myself in what society defines as more masculine. I hated wearing dresses I was forced to wear for special occasions or at school. I remember tucking my hair into a short black wig when I was 5, which would soon become the funny story told at family gatherings. I remember eventually cutting my hair short at 11 years old and yet when I returned to school it would be the subject of ridicule by my classmates, who were quick to call me names, such as lesbian or boy. These experiences instilled a deep sense of shame within me that taught me that I was not acceptable as I was. So instead I conformed to dressing in the same way as many of my friends and looking like a stereotypical female. I became ‘who I thought you wanted me to be’ so that I could feel accepted and no longer a target for bullying. After a traumatic childhood and the discomfort I experienced, I discovered ways to alleviate the pain through various addictive coping mechanisms. Eating disorders were a way that I could control the more curvaceous areas of my body. In my mid-twenties, I was underweight and incredibly unhappy, however I felt a sense of relief.
Drawing from my own experiences, I have taken a particular interest to the specific links between gender dysphoria, addiction and eating disorders, as well the impact of social and medical transition on mental health. Through the very little, existing research I discovered, I came across the concept of oppression based trauma. Researcher Elizabeth Diemer and her colleagues found that individuals from stigmatised social categories experienced higher rates of stresses due to the ‘higher rates of discrimination, violence, pressure from concealing one’s true identity, alienation, and internalised social stigma.’
I have recently been approached by addiction psychologists and treatment centres seeking to learn more about addiction in the trans community, where I have been able to offer my own experience and findings. My theory is you cannot possibly treat an individual if you do not understand a person’s individual challenges. The Equalities Act 2010 requires services not to discriminate against certain protected characteristics. Yet how many organisations truly have an understanding of trans-related issues? Treatment should be inclusive of everyone, not letting anyone slip through the net. I work predominantly with young people and yet I am eager to face more of an adult audience, who can have a much more profound impact on their children lives than I can ever hope to achieve. I can merely plant the seed, but it is the parent’s responsibility to water it as they are their children’s true teachers.
The transgender community is experiencing a global epidemic. In America trans women of colour have a life expectancy of 35 years of age and experience the highest rate of violence and murder in the trans community. With 331 murders this year, 2019 has been the second deadliest year for trans people on record. Recently I lost a friend. She sent me many beautiful messages of love and appreciation but also a specific request to be the light for others. She expressed her hope for the future generation of trans youth. Since her death I have vowed not to allow addiction and trauma to beat me and to do everything I can to ensure my own wellbeing and hopefully do some good in the world as well.
In memory of Kelly DuHamel, 10th August 1980 - 8th October 2019
iCAAD Online 2020