Trans Pride: coming to terms with gender identity

London Pride in 2008 Transgender activists draw inspiration from the success of events like the London Pride marches

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As the UK's first Trans Pride event is staged this weekend in Brighton, one of its organisers Sabah Choudrey talks about the challenges of having a transgender identity.

Growing up with a twin sister in a South Asian family in West London, Sabah was a bookish, chubby child. Never bullied, but not popular either, childhood for Sabah was uneventful, mostly spent hidden behind a book.

Sabah points to his Trans Pride ribbon Sabah proudly points to his ribbon for Trans Pride awareness

As a little girl she wished she was a boy.

"But as you grow up, you kind of learn what's right, what's wrong, what's normal, what you should do, things like that." he says.

Mr Choudrey sounds more mature than his 23 years would suggest. He speaks in a calm, measured voice about the decision he took three years ago to start gender reassignment and become a man.

The Gender Trust defines transsexual as "a person who feels a consistent and overwhelming desire to transition and fulfil their life as a member of the opposite gender".

Who is trans?

  • Trans and transgender are terms that are used to describe people who don't conform to the traditional division of male and female.
  • This includes transsexual people who have a strong and constant desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex. Many have gender reassignment treatment such as hormone therapy and surgery
  • The term trans also covers transvestites, people who cross-dress, but don't want to live full-time as a member of the opposite sex - as well as people who feel that they're both male and female, or neither male nor female.

As many as 1% of people could identify with a different gender to some extent according to advice from the Gender Identity Research and Education Society, (GIRES).

But it estimates a far smaller proportion are likely to seek medical treatment. It estimates that 12,500 adults had sought treatment by 2010, but says there has been a rise in referrals to NHS clinics averaging 11% a year.

Increased visibility

Mr Choudrey lived as a gay woman for three years before exploring his gender identity. During this time he made many friends in the lesbian community and learned about the history of the gay movement and its struggle for equality. He thinks the trans community face many of the same issues which gay men struggled with in the 1970s - negative stereotypes and the lack of acceptance by mainstream culture.

The Trans Pride event being held in Brighton is aimed at tackling that. Over 350 people are expected to attend events including a beach picnic. Mr Choudrey told the BBC:

"I hope that this event will increase visibility...showing people that we are a community and that it's not a fetish or some kind of freak show or a strange medical phenomenon."

Sabah stands on Brighton Beach Sabah Choudrey spoke about Trans Pride at 'Queer Day Out' on Brighton Beach

The NHS guidance on transgender issues identifies Gender Dysphoria as the "discomfort or distress" caused by a person's sense of their gender identity. It is not seen as a mental illness in itself but says "the associated pressures... and social stigma... may result in clinically significant levels of distress."

While the guidance is provided by the NHS for health professionals, it recommends anyone seeking treatment from their GP print a copy and take it along to their appointment in case this is an area their GP is unfamiliar with.

Referrals by GPs for gender dysphoria treatments are usually followed up by an assessment by a psychiatrist or another specialist doctor, before any treatment starts. Patients are then assessed to ensure they understand the commitment they are making when choosing gender reassignment.

Mr Choudrey found this frustrating as he was anxious to start treatment as soon as possible.

"I think a lot of the problems I had were kind of jumping through medical hoops, kind of waiting on assessments and reports and I'd get another referral and all that and that really got me down."

The listening post

Like many people who have doubts over their assigned gender at birth, Mr Choudrey didn't consider gender reassignment until he was an adult and had moved away from his family home. He said:

"I just thought it was impossible and beyond medical science and all that, so I had it in the back of my head and I had to push it away."

Start Quote

I don't have to go through another appointment to be more male, I'm trans and I like that.”

End Quote Sabah Choudrey

Activists in the trans community hope with more visibility, society will change and it will be less difficult for people who want to explore their gender identity.

"Trans history is very dark and it isn't as progressive as gay history really." Mr Choudrey said.

In particular there have been ta number of transphobic attacks in recent years.

Stephanie Scott, who is another of the Trans Pride organisers, thinks visibility will help bring change.

"I myself have suffered transphobic and biphobic abuse in supposedly LGBT venues and at Pride events. I felt it time that trans people had the space to celebrate their lives with allies, friends and partners."

Sarah Savage, a co-organiser of the event agrees this is time to celebrate the transgender community. "We thought it was sad that the trans community only get together to mark the murders of trans people for the Transgender Day Of Remembrance so a few of us got together to plan an event where we could all celebrate who we are and the gender diversity that unites us.

"Some felt that a traditional gay pride, being about sexuality and not gender didn't represent us fully so we have created an event that is focused on gender identity and including people who do not fit within the stereotypical male and female labels. We've put the T first in LGBT."

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For Mr Choudrey, transsexuality is part of his identity.

"Even though I'm still in the medical system, and still have a lot of hoops to jump through, I've become a lot more comfortable with myself and I don't have to go through another appointment to be more male, I'm trans and I like that."

Breaking stereotypes

Mr Choudrey recognises it was difficult for his parents to accept his trans identity.

"I think there was just denial, because they didn't know about it and I think a lot of that is to do with our culture and their upbringing and what they have been exposed to and what they have seen as well. Because I think being trans isn't something that happens in Asian communities, it's something that's a Westernised thing (laughs).

"For me personally it's been harder because I'm South Asian and I've never met another South Asian trans person in Brighton. I don't even think there are that many South Asian lesbians around either. It's a very white area, so I feel I've had to kind of overcome, to breakthrough even, two stereotypes."

But Mr Choudrey thinks living in Brighton has helped him because of its liberal culture.

Sabah stood in front of a microphone Sabah speaking at 'Reclaim the Night'

"It wasn't really like one day I was a girl and the next day I was a boy. It sort of happened without me really realising, because my friends and people around me who I told, one at a time, were just kind of like, yeah, okay you're he now, that makes sense, that's totally fine, yeah that really makes sense now we think about it and it was just as easy as that."

And having found his own identity and a purpose in the trans community, Mr Choudrey has also been accepted by his family.

"Now they do see that I'm happy and that I'm actually a person to be proud of, yeah they are supportive."

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