Experiences of being born with a gender identity that differs from your birth sex.
Whether an individual is an ultra-feminine man or a super-masculine woman, it simply should not affect you or your interaction with them. If you fall into either of these categories fear not, transgender man Jesse Altham argues that a combination of both masculine and feminine qualities is essential to understand and navigate through important relationships and life events in the modern age.
Trans people have an internal sense of gender (their gender identity) that differs from their birth sex. The term ‘trans’ is an umbrella term that includes both trans men (woman becoming men) and trans women (men becoming woman). According to La Trobe University 59.3% of trans women have experienced a major depressive episode.
Jesse has recently undergone chest surgery to finalize his process of becoming a man. This process was not readily available to him, or others, until recently when transgender conversations became more common. I spoke to Jesse to understand the physical and mental process of his transformation and deconstruct the common understanding of a transgender person.
“Weirdly enough the concept manifested in me when I was meditating at 18. I had never been able to meditate because I have A.D.H.D— it was when I first managed it that I realized I could not progress any further unless I was in the correct body. Once I acknowledged that and I knew that was the path I needed to follow, I felt free. I didn’t even know being transgender was a thing until I was sixteen, but during that meditation epiphany I could trace the feeling of being trans back to the age of about four, running around in the country playing cricket with the boys.”
Fortunately, at a young age Jesse’s parents were very understanding of his tell-tale signs of gender confusion, not wanting to be identified by a girl’s name or wear girls’ clothing and as he matured they continued to support him becoming an essential part of his support system.
“I didn’t know being transgender was possible until I had passed through puberty, and I missed the early treatment method of estrogen blockers which would have made pubescence a lot more of a seamless, less confronting, safer process. I guess now that Caitlin Jenner has started the conversation it is more acceptable to the mainstream… but beforehand we just didn’t know about the medication process at an early age or even know to go to a specialist child psychologist.”
As a young woman Jesse was branded as a lesbian due to masculine behavioral traits. Happy to assume this “label” due to sexual interest in women, he assumed the “lesbian identity” but never truly felt complete. He stressed, however, that it is often harder for trans women (who transition from male to female gender), since society is constructed to be a male dominant culture. Pressure to be accepted, especially in rural environments, was stronger. Prejudice against gay people and feminine men often cause transgender women to suppress their idea of who they are and this condemnation leads to further mental health issues such as depression, social anxiety and suicide.
“I knew that this would be a hard process, but it would have been harder to stay in that body. I thought that I might have to kill myself”
20% of trans people in Australia report current suicidal thoughts. Up to 50% of trans people have actually attempted suicide at least once in their lives.
“In high school people would ask; ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ So that they could lock you down within their understanding of gender identity. Even now that people know that I am transgender, they blatantly ask about the appendage between my legs which is even more confronting. Just because I am comfortable talking about my transformation does not mean that I am comfortable talking about my genitals, that is a very private topic that is against all forms of socially appropriate discussion.”
Although Jesse never felt an internal angst about his journey there were personal relationships that suffered due to people’s assumptions and what he thought he would be viewed as. The hardest being the confrontation of sexual partners.
“I was in a serious lesbian relationship when I began my process, and I had to discuss with that person that I needed to transition, and acknowledge that, since she preferred women sexually, I may not be a part of her life moving forward. The relationship broke down, and it was due to me coming out as trans— but I empathize and understand due to that confronting change.”
Jesse has a lot of confidence in his network of friends and believes this modern generation is very understanding of his process due to the evidence that this was the natural progression for his personality and identity. However, there is a cultural distancing and uneasiness with an older demographic of folks due to lack of education and comfortability discussing the subject. His mother even sometimes forgets to use the correct pronouns, but Jesse understands, if you are trying to accept his gender identity. “I feel that people need to be discussing the feminist movement because having a feminine side for a man is a beautiful thing, it is not simply a female movement. For women to be a ‘tomboy’ or more naturally masculine it is slightly more socially accepted.” He explained.
“When someone first goes through the process even psychologists want to label you as a certain gender that they can comprehend, but they have probably never personally struggled with a gender identity that differs from their birth sex so I believe that the tertiary mental health ward at Royal Perth Hospital should employ people who have gone through this experience so that young trans people are not alienated or feel a psychologist is being condescending when not allowing treatment to begin due to harm protocol. This should be a public service like hospitalization for suicide attempts and other mental illnesses”
Jesse was frustrated with how some physical mutilation symptoms needed to be observed before some previous treatments could begin, in the psychological system where he lives transgender people must be seen to inflict self-harm on their genitals before treatment could begin in most cases. These discussions should be had with children and adults showing signs of confused gender identity and for those potentially suffering silently, speak to a professional or another person you trust. The battle continues for further social understanding of the topic. You can contact us at Howl Magazine and we can direct you to the help you need.
For more information on transgender mental issues read this.
Words by Jackson Lavell-Lee
*Views are an expression of opinion from the individual interviewed.