Blogged by Kate Hutchinson, All About Trans volunteer, Director of Wipe Out Transphobia
My partner, Emma, and I were looking forward to travelling down to Cardiff from Wrexham to take part in this All About Trans interaction. We were going to the BBC’s offices to speak to their Audience Council about our experiences of living life as a transgender person, and in my partner’s case what her experience is of being the partner of a transgender person going through transition.
After a bite to eat at the BBC offices, we got down to business, which comprised of introductions and a discussion about the purpose of the interaction and our personal expectations. We then split into pairs with our designated ‘buddy’, someone that we may have some common ground with – Ryan Davies, our buddy, had a liking for Formula One, as I do too.
As my partner Emma and I spoke with Ryan, our conversation turned to stereotypes including racial, religious and those about trans people and how they can be used by the media. We found common ground in how Ryan’s experiences growing up mixed race in a small Welsh village made him feel at times separated from the crowd. I think that we could all relate to that sense of isolation that these experiences can make us painfully aware of; but looking back now, we can draw from those experiences in a positive way.
“I was quite surprised at the difficulties the younger people are going through that are still present. I guess I thought that society had moved forward, but I think we’re pretty behind in our acceptance of people who are transgender!” – Ryan Davies
We then fed back to the group as a whole which elicited more discussion. Lewis Rimmer, founder of Transgender Awareness in Wales, an organisation that supports trans men and their sexual health, shared his experience of coming out as an older man. This led to Pam, one of the Audience Council members, and a trans woman herself, sharing how she had expected to hear that the situation may have improved since her transition in the 1980s. She was surprised to hear this was not the case, but heartened to see that younger people now seemed to feel safer and more confident to come out, instead of waiting till later on in life. From our perspective, we were interested to hear that she was well supported through her transition working at the BBC in the 80s.
Our next designated ‘chatter’ was with Karl Davies (Chief Adviser), who was excellent to talk to. Having read the book ‘Conundrum’ by Jan Morris, Karl had always wondered how a relationship could survive if the sexuality changes. We explained that being trans is about gender identity and not sexuality, and that from our perspective it is about the relationship, being the essence of who we are as people and who we are when we are together, which is important to us – it isn’t necessarily about sexuality.
We went back to another group conversation where we focused mainly on the care path with the NHS for trans people within Wales. Many of the volunteers shared their experiences with GPs and coming out in schools. We touched on the mental health issues that many people face and how being trans remains on the mental health register whilst LGB has been removed in recent years. There was overall shock with how many medical professionals lack the expertise or knowledge to work with trans people and/or gender questioning people and how they are often misdiagnosed. The lack of a gender identity clinic in Wales also means many people have to go to London for healthcare.
Lastly, we spoke to Siôn Brynach, where we talked about the awkwardness of language and the business of treading on eggshells when around trans people or discussing trans issues. He was also interested in hearing about our relationship. Emma explained that her perspective of transition was that the trans partner is, and understandably needs to be, quite self-absorbed to go through the process of transition. The importance of taking good care of herself through the process, in order to remain supportive, is also very important. We talked about how important trust and honesty is in a relationship and that it comes down to loving the person as they are. And we explained that just like other couples, it is more likely that we have our arguments about who does the washing up and hoovering and it’s those things that create normal strain and tension, rather than the transition itself. This was really enlightening for Siôn.
“It’s been absolutely fascinating. I’ve done one of these interactions before; I feel that laid the ground work, and now I feel as if we’ve started to build the house and my understanding has developed a lot more.” – Siôn Brynach
All in all, it was a great day, and it was good to meet people who were genuinely interested in understanding the lives of trans people and their partners. Everyone thanked us for our honesty and openness. The group said trans issues hadn’t really come up in the past but now they were keen to put these issues on the map in Wales and think seriously about how the Audience Council could work and consult with more Welsh trans people. We left feeling that it was a very positive experience.
Outcomes of the meeting (and previous meeting with BBC Wales)
- Television and radio appearances with Jayne Rowlands and some of the young people speaking about their experiences on BBC Radio Cymru, S4C and BBC Radio Wales (in English and Welsh).
- Jayne Rowlands joins the BBC in 2015 as an assistant for Horizons. Here she blogs for us about her experience and gives her top tips for getting into broadcasting
- Jayne also takes part in Patchwork and you can watch her film here
- Ongoing relationship and potential future interactions with the media in Wales
If you are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please get in touch.