We interviewed Alayna Cole, founder of ‘Queerly Represent Me’ about the representation of the LGBT+ community in gaming

DtL: Hi Alayna! Could you tell us a bit about Queerly Represent Me? 

Alayna: Queerly Represent Me is primarily a database of games that feature queer content. It is also a home for resources about queer representation in games, including data collected and articles written by me, and work provided by other researchers and writers. The database started as a private collection, designed to help me keep track of games I was researching in my academic and journalistic work about queer representation; during that process, I decided to make the resources public so that anyone interested in queer representation could make use of the research I was doing. We are currently in the middle of a major update that will introduce a number of useful new features, which will be released before the end of the year.

DtL: Why do you think something like QRM is important?

Alayna: QRM is important because representation is important. By collating and talking about the representation that does exist, as well as how it positively and negatively impacts the audiences who engage with it, we can help promote change. The easiest way to see more games with queer content is to clearly and rationally show developers what works well, what doesn’t work, and why. I think it also helps that the suggestions on QRM are curated by someone who is also a developer, game design lecturer, and journalist; it helps me to ensure the dreams of our audience are presented in a realistic way that is influenced by a range of perspectives.

“QRM is important because representation is important”

 

DtL: When you built the database, did you notice any reoccurring trends?

Alayna: I’ve found plenty of trends, and I actually spoke about them at the Digital Games Research Association Australia conference a couple of weeks ago. A summary of my conference presentation and a related paper should be available on QRM’s ‘resources’ page soon. Some of the key trends are a lack of asexual representation, diverse genders (transgender and non-binary genders), and diverse relationship structures (such as polyamory). Of the queer representation that does exist, a lot of it is focused on same-gender relationships, particularly between women. It is often presented to audiences in a way that is very focused on sexual behaviour, stereotypes, and what can be seen as attractive from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’. There aren’t many explicitly bisexual characters, with developers tending to instead focus on creating playersexual characters (who are attracted to the player no matter their gender).

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/about-qrm2-1.png”]

 

DtL: Is the landscape of gaming changing? Has there been been an improvement in LGBT+ representation?

Alayna: There have definitely been more games with queer content released in recent years than there has been in the past. There are a couple of key reasons for this, I think: firstly, more easy-to-use game engines are allowing independent developers to produce games that reflect their own diverse experiences; and secondly, our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers. The games industry itself is slowly becoming more diverse too in terms of who is working at these larger companies, and that’s making it harder for developers to simply lean on ‘default’ characters. It’s a slow process, but we’re moving forward.

“Our insistence that queer (and other) representation is important is not going unheard by triple-A developers”

 

DtL: Do you think a lack of representation/visibility in the media we consume has broader effects on society?

Alayna: A lack of diverse representation in media definitely has broader effects on society, just as increased representation does. Increasing representation has two key benefits: it helps those within minority groups establish a greater sense of identity and belonging; and it exposes those outside the represented groups to diverse perspectives, which can help them develop more empathy and understanding. Without the positive impacts that representation brings, we have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem, and we have less empathy in the world. Empathy is what we need if we are going to address issues such as prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and hate crime, which are harming individuals and communities.

“We have members of minority groups who lack relatable role models and who have lower self-esteem”

 

DtL: What is next for QRM?

Alayna: QRM just received a major update, adding a spreadsheet view to the database, as well as new information to help users, researchers, and press. This update took hundreds of (unpaid) hours to implement, so I’m taking a short break on adding new features for now. Next on the list is better integration of social media so that entries can be shared and discussed more easily. I also want to add more categories, so that games can be searched through and sorted by the identities that are being represented. I’m still adding new entries to the database all the time thanks to tips from the community, and am working on feature articles and academic papers that help spread this research further.

 

www.queerlyrepresent.me

Follow Queerly Represent Me on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Categories
Gender

Gender As a Spectrum

“Gender is not sane. It’s not sane to call a rainbow black and white” –  Kate Bornstein (American author and gender theorist)

Gender As a Spectrum is a book that challenges the notion of gender binaries and explores the lives of trans and genderqueer people in an intimate series of photographs and interviews. We spoke to photographer Joseph Wolfgang Ohlert and co-author Kaey to find out more about the inspiration behind the book and what it means to be trans and genderqueer in 2016.

 DtL: How did the idea for the book come about?
Joseph: A mutual friend introduced us. That was also the evening I photographed Kaey for the first time.
Kaey: I already knew who Joseph was and what he did, though. Back then I was working for a fashion magazine in Hamburg, I was already aware of him and his work. I‘d basically followed him from the beginning. That was about three or four years ago. I‘d wanted for a while to make a book about transgender people and wrote to Joseph about it. He already had a similar idea, and had already started on a project.
Joseph: I was sick of just model boys and model photography and wanted to start something a little more personal. During my time at high school I elected to take an art course with the name ‘Man, Woman and Individuality’, and I wanted to pick up on that again. I was out on the scene a lot and wanted to do something for the community, something which I felt was missing, something that I could make comprehensible in my pictures. When Kaey wrote to me, I was in the middle of my preparations for my final paper at the Ostkreuz School of Photography in Berlin. I’d already been dealing with gender for that, and our ideas fitted together well.

“There are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’”

 

Kaey: Three years ago, not long before I started taking hormones, I had a phase in which I had a very strong urge to read some literature about it. I noticed there was nothing available, or just nonsense. It was absurd that there was nothing which reflected my reality, and that of many of my transgender friends. I felt that something was missing and I imagined what I would like to find. I wanted to portray people in their differences, their own identities, their personal pathways and their own words. Not written by some author conveying a story. Not from reporters or non-trans people who had written a book, but transgender people writing about transgender people. I think it‘s nicer to speak up for yourself.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_1.jpg”]

 

DtL: The theme of gender identity is a sensitive and intimate issue for many; how did you approach the subjects and the interviews?
Kaey: From the get-go it was clear that the book and the topics should take the personal perspective. In practice, I decided because of that to conduct the interviews via email, so as to give people the time and personal space that they each needed. Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people and it was important to show that there are all kinds of genders, and that they also have all sorts of sexualities. That gender in and of itself doesn’t explain sexuality, but raises the question ‘how do I define myself and what I am into?’

“Sexuality and gender are often confused by many people”

 

Joseph: We wanted to have questions that were pretty intimate, but it was up to each person how they wanted to present themselves and which questions they wanted to answer. Some do it with humour and eloquence, without having to reveal their innermost selves. It was supposed to be a framework, so that people had the opportunity to say what was important to them.
Kaey: Ultimately, that opened up many dimensions for us; some portraits are very detailed, while others are very playful. Some respond succinctly, others put a lot of reflection into it. Although they are always the same questions, the variations in the answers made it very exciting.

DtL: Joseph – as a cis man, how did you arrive at the issue of gender, what relationship do you have to it?
Joseph: In Berlin you’re confronted with the fact that there are more than just ‘men’ and ‘women’, especially in the scene. Questions such as ‘who am I, and what makes me different from other people?’ arise. They’re thoughts which are fundamental to my understanding of human beings and how I deal with others. I always start with myself, with looking at myself objectively. The inequities between male/female, gay/straight, trans/cis – where are the boundaries, where do I locate myself in it and how can I disrupt it? I realised that there’s no fixed aspect of my gender and my sexuality that I could define as ‘me’, but that it is fluid. You can drift. You’re not trapped at any one point even if you, as I do, define yourself for example as a ‘man’. The book is therefore for me an analogy through which to understand life. Gender is a theme for everybody, and is part of every identity.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_21.jpg”]

 

DtL: The book doesn’t limit itself to one side of gender identity, but it contains portraits of people from transgender to drag, binary to non-binary, it also includes performed, playful aspects of gender roles. What was particularly important when selecting the subjects?
Kaey: In the beginning it was my idea to make a book about transgender people, but Joseph was very connected to the community around the drag scene, having taken a lot of pictures at parties. That is what captivated him. We wanted to then open the issue up and not confine ourselves to transgender themes. It also made sense for the title of the book, and the question of how people define their gender. The hook was to present people who do that differently to the norm.
Joseph: Maintaining a balance was difficult. A lot of the work was in persuasion. These are the real lives of the people whose portraits are presented here, and that’s sometimes a very profound thing. Suddenly people show up who want to show that to the world; something that intimate. This isn’t a scientific study for which we sought and collected, but a documentary collection of portraits of personal encounters. It was primarily always about the person and not necessarily about having to have a particular facet of gender represented. I didn’t want the work to take a back seat in order to keep everybody happy. The book was important to me, but it was also a lot of fun. I would like the people to feel the same joy when they look at the pictures that I felt when I took the images, and not to think about what could still be missing.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_18.jpg”]

 

DtL: For a while now, transgender issues have received the attention of the mainstream media. What is of particular personal importance to you about this new attention? Do you think your book could make a contribution to it?
Kaey: As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important. When I was 18, there was no Internet, and what is possible today is worlds apart from that. Fortunately, there is now a limitless well of information if you‘re young and don’t know where you can, or want to position yourself. That well must continue to be filled, though. Transgender people and people who do not fit into standard categories still go too much ignored. It takes many voices, and it’s good that in the book there’s no Conchita Wurst or Caitlyn Jenner represented, people who get their press anyway. The average person, unfortunately, always hears more of the ‘shock stories’. It‘s great to have a book that just shows people as people, and I think that is still relatively rare for transgender people. When we give transgender people the opportunity to speak about themselves, it lends a whole new colour to the discussion. I know from personal experience that when cis people write about you, you’re always one of the very special butterflies behind glass – something to be admired before moving on to the next exhibit. When we speak for ourselves, I find it much more authentic.

“As a transgender woman I feel any visibility is important”

 

Joseph: Transgender has always been there, it’s not a new thing or a trend. Three or four years ago, when I started with this theme, there was no Caitlyn or Conchita in public
life. The increased attention was good for the work, though, and it has further convinced me that other people are interested in and being confronted by it. Due to the greater media attention, more people dare to stand up for themselves, and our work seeks to inspire people – that they can be who they are.
Kaey: I also find it important that it’s a book and not an exhibition. A book is something wonderful, something immortal! I would like to leave something for all those who come after me. Who do you have in Germany that talks about it? The book may be international, but in Germany we have far fewer icons like Caitlyn Jenner or Laverne Cox. Of course there are already conversations taking place about this topic in art contexts. The fact that we offered people the chance to tell their own stories themselves creates a great framework for discussion. Through Joseph’s eye an aesthetic is proposed which has nothing to do with bird-of-paradise readings, or representing people as sad freaks. Joseph has a flair for capturing people in their emotional presence. Not with a suffering gaze, but honestly. Sometimes melancholic…
Joseph: … and proud.
Kaey: Yes, proud too – it‘s a talent to capture emotions, whichever they may be.
Joseph: You can’t make a book on talent alone. Without Kaey this project would never have become what it is now. I am very glad that we found each other, with such a basic trust, and that something this valuable could come of it. We‘ve both grown through it. My photography has also evolved a lot over these two years. When you photograph someone, it is always a kind of convergence. It’s my desire to hold onto that – that interpersonal interaction of commitment that is created. As an artist, it is often as if that encounter would never have happened if I hadn’t taken a photo.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/joseph_wolfgang_ohlert_4.jpg”]

Gender As a Spectrum is available from [email protected] 

 

Fox and Owl, Trans and non-binary couple

Fox and Owl on what it is like to be a trans, non-binary couple in 2016

DtL: Hi Fox & Owl – can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you met?

Owl: We met at the Transgender Europe (TGEU) Council in Bologna, Italy. The Council is held every two years by TGEU and is the biggest European (even international) event where trans people from organisations all over the world come together and meet, share experiences, host workshops and generally have a chance to network with one another, both personally and professionally.

Fox: I was hired by TGEU to create 5 short films about the work they do and Owl was on a list of people that I was supposed to interview during the Council. So that’s where we connected and the since then it has been a romantic comedy, really.

DtL: Did you have any fears about transitioning?

Fox: It was fear that held me back for so long. I was scared of not being accepted, but most of all I feared it not fixing the deep sense of dysphoria, discomfort and anxiety I felt. Luckily, I took the leap, I’m still around to tell the tale and never been happier.

Owl: To me it was definitely a step that was very frightening to take – but I also felt like it was the right one. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but the alternative was even more frightening and grim. I basically would not be here if I had not made that decision and I don’t regret it for a second. I didn’t have many fears related to the transition process in itself. I was more afraid of how people would react and how I would be treated in society, because we all know that trans people are heavily discriminated and marginalised in society for a variety of reasons. We often lack proper access to health care and our human rights are being broken all around the world. Thankfully I had the opportunity to access a health care system, which is a privilege I am very aware of.

“An act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion”

 

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

Fox: I’ve been medically and socially transitioning for 5 years now, so I’m past the initial wobbly years, and no longer feel like a teenager! For me, it’s about catching up for lost time. I’m a work-a-holic, so not it’s about trying to find a balance between work for My Genderation, Trans Pride Brighton, All About Trans and my love life with Owl! I’m lucky because we are both heavily involved with trans activism in Europe (and beyond) so we understand when work has to come first.

Owl: I guess my most prominent challenges were to learn how to accept and love myself. In our society, trans people are so heavily scrutinised that an act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion. It’s also learning how to navigate your way around the world where you’re sometimes very celebrated but in other places deeply hated. As an activist who does a lot of work around the world, it’s very difficult to find your place sometimes. But I am in a very good place now with myself. I’ve both socially and medically transitioned and I feel in a place where I am happy with myself, and I’ve also finally found someone to share that with. And not only that but someone who understands and shares my experiences in so many ways.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/foxxx.jpg”]

 

DtL: What is it like to be non-binary in 2016 and what needs to change?

Fox: There’s still a lot of work to do in public awareness of non-binary issues. We even have a battle from within the trans community, where some people feel that presenting as other than the binary threatens their own identity. We have no legal recognition. This is why Owl and I are embarking upon a feature documentary called They, which is our non-binary love story, documenting our lives, the way the world treats us (both positively and negatively) as well as the day-to-day lives of many other non-binary or gender-fluid defining individuals.

Owl: Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement as well as being a personal experience. In a world that is so fixated on two genders and two sexes, you simply don’t get to exist in a way. Socially, we are still at such a starting point with the discussion of gender and gender identity, not to mention that we are almost nowhere legally recognised and possibilities to register your gender as anything else than man or woman is impossible. What needs to change is something very fundamental in our society; the constant binary of gender and sex is what is causing most difficulties for non binary trans people and it just causes difficulties for us all. It creates the notion that men and women are two opposites of a spectrum and that they come together and unite each other. This creates very essentialistic ideas about behaviour, expectations, gender roles and so on. So in my opinion, we need to start challenging and questioning this more actively and push for legal rights and access to health care for non binary people.

“Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement”

 

DtL: What are you experiences (positive and negative) as a non-binary couple?

Fox: Just recently there was a massive explosion on FB as our vlog was shared on the darker side of the internet. Within 24 hours we had 4000+ hateful comments. We made this live video at the time: https://www.facebook.com/uglastefania/videos/1400204600006031/?pnref=story. Strangely enough, we’d already filmed this sketch about trans haters, so it was perfect timing to release: https://www.facebook.com/MyGenderation/videos/1253511338016869/?pnref=story

Owl: Our gender expression is mostly feminine and masculine, so when people who don’t know us see us down the street, they might assume that we are cisgender and straight. This is something that gives us a certain privilege in society as we fit into the norm in many ways and rarely have to worry about our safety in public spaces, at least not in places where people don’t know who we are. However, our identities as queer and non-binary are also very important to us, so when we are in queer spaces we sometimes notice that people seem to think we don’t belong there, because of our gender expression and the way we appear to them. They assume we don’t belong in queer spaces.

DtL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.

Fox: I honestly think that everyone has experienced bullying. When I was younger I was bullied for not being feminine enough. And, as a mixed race person (I’m half indian), having spent many years in the Saudi sun (our family lived out there when I was growing up), I was bullied for the colour of my skin. For many years I was very down on myself but I learned to turn that sadness around, and to create poetry, fanzines, music projects, screen-prints and film.

Owl: I think that anyone who has ever been gender non-conforming at some point in their lives has experienced bullying. I was bullied constantly for being too feminine, constantly being called gay, a fag, a sissy in a negative way. Fortunately I had friends who supported me and I become very involved with sports, as an act of rebellion and to show people that even the people they bullied could beat them at sports. I became very good and I certainly did show them what I was capable of.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/unnamed-11.jpg”]

 

DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in because of attitudes towards their gender identity?

Fox: Don’t give up and live your life for yourself, nobody else. You’re only in a position to help others once you’ve assessed your own situation. Life’s too short to not be happy.

Owl: I think it’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways. Find your passion and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Don’t give up and keep going strong. Try to find support around you; what helped me the most was finding people in my position, other trans people and people who experienced bullying.

“It’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways”

 

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?

Fox: Having our first broadcast on the BBC in 2015 was amazing. Having a celebration at C4, for the creation of 25 short films through All About Trans was extremely special. It was so amazing to have all the contributors there to celebrate, which is apparent in the photograph afterwards. I felt the most proud at each Trans Pride event I’ve helped put on. We’ve just had our 4th annual celebration and it’s so much work, but always fills my heart with joy. The feeling there is unlike any other.

Owl: I’ve had so many wonderful moments that it’s hard to say. I’ve achieved much success in my activism in Iceland and I’ve been a part of so many different and amazing projects all around Europe. Just to recall a few, I think it was extremely special when I was a part of a project in Lithuania were we held the first official meeting for trans people in that country. It was an amazing experience and I feel like these moments are always the most special. When you connect with trans people around the world and you give each other support. I take my pride from the connections, the friends I make and the people I reach out to and support. It also gives me so much and inspires me to continue.

I’ve also received awards in Iceland for my contribution as a spokesperson, including the science and education award from the Iceland Humanist Association (Siðmennt). I’ve also done a TEDx talk, and done TV interviews, articles and appearances around the world.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Fox: If you’d like to see more of our work, join us on social media!!

www.youtube.com/mygenderation

[Photo credit: Alda Villiljós villiljos.com ]

Award-winning playwright, filmmaker and published author Alec Butler was born intersex and now identifies as trans. Here they blog about their experiences.

*Note to Reader: Alec uses pronouns I/we throughout the article

This moment right now is our proudest moment, to be an award winning playwright and filmmaker, a published author, a budding scholar at one of the most prestigious research universities in the world, is a dream I dreamed for myself for years.

We were born with an intersex condition over fifty years ago; there was no closet for someone like us growing up. We were both teased and threatened about whether we were a boy or a girl every day at school; bullied on a regular basis in the locker-lined hallways. The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead. Instead of dwelling on a reality where we were not wanted, we found solace in writing and making art, reading stacks of books at the local library, biding our time until we were in a position to leave a community where we were not wanted.

I left home on a quest to find other people like us, aware that there were gods/goddesses like me in myths only according to what we were reading in the encyclopedias at the library. In the Greek myths, Teresias, the doubled sexed seer caught my imagination.

“The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead.”

 

In the mid 1980’s I moved to Toronto, Canada where I lived as a butch lesbian for decades, making a name for myself as a playwright in the queer Canadian theatre scene, writing, producing and directing plays about lesbian life in the big city. Getting nominated for a national drama award while at the same time couch surfing with friends because we were homeless. Such is the precarious life of marginalised artists in this society.

In the late 1990’s while performing a monologue by Pussy Boy, a film character I was developing at the “Counting Past Two Festival”, the first literary and film festival featuring the work of trans people in Canada is where I heard the word “intersex” for the first time, struck a deep chord in the core of our being.

I researched the many intersex conditions that exist on the worldwide web.

A memory of my mother telling me about a drug her doctor made her take while she was pregnant with us bubbled to the surface. I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention in utero, lucky us. I often wondered if we were the result of a medical experiment when I was a kid. Thoughts that inspired many sci-fi short stories in my mind, turns out we were not too far off the mark. Since those young fantasies of being special, or an alien from another planet, I discovered that people like us, people who identify with both genders, or none, have existed since human beings have existed, that we were worshipped as deities, that masses of people performed special rituals in our honour, we had sacred and practical roles in the community, we were wanted and desired.

“I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention”

 

In North America before colonisation, First Nations recognised people like us as healers and teachers called Two-Spirits. Our mixed race family background is a result of colonisation of Canada; our ancestors are First Nations, French, Irish, as well as African on my mother’s side, my grandmother Nanny, was a descendent of the first 250 slaves brought to Cape Breton, a small island on the east coast of Canada. It was on this island in New France where the first point of contact between European and Indigenous people was established, the island where Fortress Louisburg was built 400 years ago, a huge military complex that controlled the trade routes of the New World. In was from our favourite beach at Kennington Cove that Captain Cook launched his curriculum trip around the globe in the 18th Century.

In the 1960’s a section of Fortress Louisburg was rebuilt as a tourist attraction, my father worked there as a carpenter. We lived a twenty-minute car ride down the road from what was once the epicentre of the colonisation, the main port of resource extraction from North America on behalf of the King of France. Today the colonisation continues unabated, it is still in progress. The colonised mind is the root of the mentality of people that bully; colonisation is the birthplace of feeling entitled to take what does not belong to you without asking.

Over the years, since coming out as trans we have made it our mission to decolonize our mind and our community, but the forces of colonisation have been at this for hundreds of years, destroying not only the land, cultures, food and living resources, the very spirits of the indigenous people they encountered and in the process almost wiped out the many beautiful gender expressions that have existed since the dawn of humanity.

We need to remember as Two-Spirit, gender queer, non-binary people that we are the descendants of these LGBTQI2S ancestors who were almost exterminated but they did not succeed because we are still here, that we exist as flesh, blood, guts and bones, mind and spirit, living lives of purpose and pride, we are not just myths in stories from the past.

If I had a message to give to my past self from what I know now it would be to love myself more, by using my voice more not just bury myself in books, thoughts and dreams about how it could be different, although dreaming is an important stage in decolonizing the mind, it is equally important to speak up and act. It’s now the 21st century, trans people have made unprecedented gains in getting their humans rights recognised but a vicious backlash has ensued in response, black trans woman bare the brunt of the backlash, Trans Day of Remembrance is a mass communal memorial to the hundreds we lose to violence every year. So speaking up, not being a bystander when witnessing abuse is more crucial than ever, not just for trans people but for all people who are bullied.

 

Louie Helyar on his trans journey so far…

My name is Louie, I am a 20-year-old trans man from Surrey.

This means I was born into a typical ‘female’ body, but on the inside I have always been male – I just had to transition to make my exterior a true reflection of my interior. I guess I first realised I might be trans when I saw ‘My Transsexual Summer’, a documentary about transgender people that aired on channel 4. I found myself incredibly jealous of Fox Fisher and realised that I wanted to be doing everything that he was doing.

I officially started transitioning on the day I came out; 31st March 2015 – which coincidentally is also Transgender Day of Visibility, a day dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people worldwide.

To be honest with you, I was absolutely terrified of coming out. To start with, I only told my best friend, and although he was extremely accepting of me, it took me about a year before I actually plucked up the courage to come out to everyone. I decided the best way to do it, was to come out on Facebook first – that way, I could tell everybody at once.

The response was no way near as bad as I expected – in fact, in the main, people were very positive and understanding. Of course, I have had my fair share of unaccepting and ignorant people but you have to take the rough with the smooth.

After I first came out, there was a period of time that followed where I felt really low and down about everything. Mainly due to the frustration of not being able to transition instantly. The waiting list on the NHS for transgender people is quite long, so I looked into other alternatives to speed the process up. I managed to save up some money to get the treatment privately. I started testosterone shots (hormone replacement therapy) on the 21st of December 2015 – a day that completely changed my life for the better. I then went on to have my first NHS GIC (Gender Identity Clinic) appointment on the 31st of March 2016.

Louie now!

I am now currently on a waiting list to be referred for surgery, which hopefully should be happening in about 8 month’s time.

Throughout my school life I was bullied a lot for being ‘different’, although I wasn’t even out as transgender at this point. I couldn’t pinpoint why I was different exactly, but I knew I was, and I guess others did too. It was a really tough time for me, but, things do get better and I could never have envisioned myself as happy as I am right now.

I am now making it my mission to help other transgender people; I hope that by sharing my story, there might be someone else out there who is going through something similar, that will find comfort and reassurance in reading this.

If I could go back in time and tell my younger self one thing, it would be to never put your happiness on hold because of someone else. It’s okay to be who you are, even if you don’t conform to what society (in the main) considers ‘normal’ – and if that means losing people along the way, then so be it, because they obviously weren’t meant to be there.

I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.

 

Written by Louie Helyar

 

If you would like to share your story with Ditch the Label, get in touch!

Comedian and Transgender Frontwoman of The Axis of Awesome, Jordan Raskopoulos lists 10 things she misses from before she transitioned from male to female

1. Pockets
It is now a remarkable thing if an item of clothing I own, has pockets. So much so, that I’m afraid of using them, because I won’t think to look in them if I’ve lost something.

2. Not crying at all the Pixar movies
Before I transitioned I was an emotional brick wall. Now I cry all the time. I dropped a carton of milk and cried last week. I literally cried over spilt milk. SO many feels.

3. Running without my chest hurting
I love my boobs, they’re the best. I grew ’em myself and I’m very proud of ’em. Whenever I want boobs – I got boobs. But oh my god, they hurt a bunch when you’re doing anything active, like descending stairs.

4. Not being patronised about the Marvel Universe
Before I transitioned, folks presumed I was competent at pretty much anything I was doing. Now I have guys trying to explain stuff to me all the time. It’s cool dude, I know who Dr Strange is.

5. Urinals
There’s a lot of things I don’t miss about men’s bathrooms, but I do miss the convenience of just waltzing in, pissing on the wall and waltzing out… I mean, technically I could probably do this in the ladies’ bathrooms as well but…

6. Pockets
Did I mention that there’s a distinct deficit of small bags sewn into women’s clothes? Cause there is. A severe deficit.

7. Upper body strength
Testosterone fuels muscle growth and once I’d gotten that hormone out of my body, my muscle mass began to dwindle. I mean there were plenty of positive changes too (boobs) but I do miss being able to effortlessly lift sh*&!

8. Not getting my butt grabbed
Everyday harassment wasn’t really a thing before I transitioned. I lived in the ignorance that, every day, ladies cop a torrent of whistles, butt grabs and all manner of harassments. It’s an awful thing. Let it be known that it is not okay to grab my butt (or anyone else’s) unless I/they explicitly invite you to.

9. A simple morning routine
I do miss that I used to just walk out the door, think to myself “am I wearing pants?” and if the answer was affirmative, I could carry on with my day. Now I gotta brush my hair and stuff.

10. Pockets
Yeah, pockets. I really do miss pockets.

Follow Jordan on Twitter: @JordanRasko