Around four years ago, I was in the pub having a drink with my boyfriend and the phone rang. I answered, and the woman on the other end burst into tears. It took a couple of minutes for her to calm down a little before she could actually speak.
She apologised for not calling sooner, and then explained that the family had recently been having a very difficult time. Three days before she called me, she walked into her 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom and found her trying to hang herself. Her daughter told her that she couldn’t live anymore as a freak, and that she would prefer to be dead. And the reason that her daughter felt that way was because she was born male. Her daughter is transgender.
I invited her round to meet me and my daughter the following day. As the Chair of Mermaids UK, a charity that supports kids with gender issues and their families, being involved in such situations is a huge part of my life. Her daughter met my daughter Jackie, who was 17 at the time. My daughter is also transgender. She has suffered a lot due to prejudice and ignorance, but she has survived. Despite seven suicide attempts between the ages of 11 and 13 years old, my daughter is now 21 and enjoying life. My friend’s daughter is now 14 and, even with all the issues that being trans brings, has not made another attempt on her life. However, as a group, young trans people under the age of 26 continue to be at risk – a survey conducted last year found that nearly half of them had attempted suicide in their lifetimes.
I know what you're probably thinking: what has this got to do with Caitlyn Jenner?
Caitlyn’s transition has made a huge impact. She has hidden her true self for years to try to protect her family, and she knew that she could not reveal herself without the media attention. Hats off to her for the classy and incredibly stylish pictures in Vanity Fair. And for her honesty. So many people are talking about her. Some are saying that it is privilege that has allowed her to transition so well. So what? She has that money because she worked hard for it. And, frankly, she is raising awareness and understanding so that people like my daughter and others not so fortunate have the chance to live a better life, with more empathy and less hate. How can that be a bad thing?
We hear it all the time – having more visible transgender role models is something we should always be striving towards. But rarely do we hear about why it matters in human terms, and how it actually affects young trans people. One young trans boy I know recently attended a residential event I was hosting. He was born female but identifies as male. After meeting other trans people, he told me that his life had changed."I finally feel that I don't have to hide being trans," he said. "Having the chance to speak to other teens that have found acceptance has given me the confidence to be myself and not hide anymore, and knowing I will find someone to love me for being me is amazing. I think I am the happiest I have been for a long long time, and I finally know where I fit."
It doesn't matter who the person is: trans people who haven't been on TV can give just as much strength to young trans people as celebrities. When I spoke to my friend's daughter yesterday, I asked her how she felt about Caitlyn Jenner. She said that it was one of the hot topics at school, and that she thought she was awesome. I then asked what she got from that first meeting with Jackie and she thought for a few seconds. Then she looked at me, and all she said was one word. Hope.
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