Transgender (adjective): denoting a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender. Or as many say: born in the wrong body. Now a commonly known gender identity, transgender individuals are largely accepted across the globe as many have come to the realisation that although your gender identity is not a choice you make, you are not confined to your physical body and do not have to live as a gender that is not truly you. Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery in 1930, and popularised by the 2015 film ‘The Danish Girl’, was a pioneer for the transgender community, beginning the journey to understanding and freedom. Now there are an estimated 1.4 million trans men and women in the United States alone, as well as hundreds of thousands who also identify as non-binary or gender fluid. As a cisgender female, understanding the true reality of being transgender is difficult. However, Ryan, one of my closest friends, knows what it is really like to be a transgender teen, as last year he began living life as a male.

 Born a female with the name Ria, Ryan began living as a male in the summer of 2015. ‘I think I realised about a year and a half ago, and came out in June last year. After puberty I began to feel more aware that I wasn’t comfortable in a female body, before that, I didn’t even think about my gender.’ As Ryan expresses, many aren’t aware of their gender identity until puberty when they begin to experience sexual attraction and discover more about their identity, and this can be a difficult time for transgender teens as they can feel trapped in a body that is not a reflection of their true gender identity- which alone is hard to make sense of sometimes. Ryan struggled with his physical appearance when he was questioning his gender, saying ‘I felt embarrassed by my body as a female, I felt envious of boy’s bodies.’ And once the journey to self-acceptance is over, there is still the fear of not being accepted by others, particularly amongst transgender individuals, as up until the 21st century, there has been little knowledge of trans men and women all together. Ryan’s biggest fear was whether his parents would accept him- ‘I was massively worried they’d feel like they lost a daughter. I don’t think my Dad was completely ok with it to begin with, but everyone has been very accepting of it which has made everything easier’ said with a look of relief on his face. The first step in Ryan’s journey was a new name, one that was true to his gender identity. ‘I chose the name Ryan because it was close to my female name, I didn’t want everyone to think I had completely changed. Yes, I was no longer a female, but I was still the same person’. Solid proof that your gender does not define who you are.

Now Ryan has been living as a male for almost a year, he knows what its like to be a female and a male. So does he think that males receive as much body image pressure as females? ‘I think there is pressure on men, but in all honesty I think there’s more on women, more pressure to look ‘pretty’’. However there is a great deal of pressure on trans men to appear masculine (and pressure for trans women to appear feminine) as if they have to prove their gender. However I believe gender identities are a spectrum and not just two poles; identifying as a man does not mean you have to be completely masculine and have no feminine aspects. Ryan also believes that ‘Trans men can be feminine. I don’t think I’m very feminine, but being considered ‘girly’ by others doesn’t make you any less of a man’. The pressure on trans men does not end there. Many don’t realise that transgender individuals can still be homosexual; a trans man can still be attracted to other men, but this is a concept that many still struggle to grasp. As I said, I view gender identity as a spectrum, and the same goes to sexuality. However these aren’t linked, your gender doesn’t affect who you’re attracted to. ‘I think I’m straight, but I still believe in sexual fluidity’ Ryan says. He adds ‘A lot of people don’t understand that trans men and women can be gay. But you like who you like. You do you,’ which is always important to remember when questioning your sexuality or gender. Unfortunately, the transgender community even face pressure from the rest of the lgbt community. Although there are only a few, some lgbt individuals believe that heterosexual transgender people shouldn’t be classed as part of the community as they are straight. However I completely disagree, and as Ryan expresses perfectly ‘lgbt refers to all minorities- sexuality and gender. And transgender is certainly a minority, and we deserve acceptance, not further discrimination.’

It seems in the recent years there has been an increase in freedom for the transgender community. The rise of transgender celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox has helped educate the public about the trans community, and Ryan thinks it’s ‘a good thing celebrities are coming out. It might encourage others to’. However he doesn’t believe all of these celebrities are the best role models, which obviously is the case with cisgender heterosexual celebrities as well. Ryan also questions if these trans celebrities are making the gender identity a fashion statement and ‘trying to make it seem trendy, which it’s not. Gender identity isn’t just a trend to follow’. In spite of this, the transgender community is closer to liberation; ‘I think 30 years ago I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to come out as transgender. But now people have more knowledge about it, and people are more accepting, I already feel free’. Ryan says he feels so much happier living life as male, and after knowing him for nearly four years, I can certainly see that. Being transgender does not mean that you can’t live life to the full, even though it can be difficult, the majority appear to be accepting of the transgender community, and I only hope we can one day turn that majority into 100% of people across the globe.

And what does Ryan think about the few who think transgender men are ‘confused’, or not ‘real men’? ‘I’m not confused. I’m not a lesbian. I’m not a girl who dresses in men’s clothes. I’m a man.’

By Rachel S.D.B

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Published by Rachel S.D.B