[First published in The Clare People on January 29, 2019]
There is nothing more beautiful in this world than selfhood. Loving yourself is the first step to being healthy, sane and productive. I came out of the closet as genderqueer three years ago. This places me under the trans umbrella.
Though I identify as a man I feel very much at home in feminine clothing and makeup. I can choose to present as male, and quite often I’ll wear jeans and hardly have time to brush my hair, let alone apply mascara, but the space is there for girly things, and I’m very grateful to my family and friends for the love and support in doing so.
RTE’s Prime Time recently dedicated an entire episode to trans issues. Ostensibly an investigation into the Gender Recognition Act and self-identification, what was broadcast was an uncharacteristic foray into sensationalist journalism and think-of-the-children scaremongering.
If you’re still reading this I’d like to address some of the noise surrounding the episode, from my own perspective as a father and as someone on the LGBTQ spectrum.
Framed as ‘the Trans Debate’ – evocative of historical rhetoric like ‘the Jewish Question’ or ‘the Negro Problem’ – my first argument is that human beings should not be the subject of debate. No one chooses to be trans: they either choose to hide or to come out of the closet. Of course, there is a third option available to them, and tragically estimates of suicide attempts are as high as 30 per cent in samples of trans individuals.
Prime Time described an ‘explosion’ of self-identifying trans people. The truth is that trans people make up a little less than one percent of the population. In Ireland, that’s about the size of the Fine Gael party membership, and no one is suggesting they’re a threat to society. The issue of ‘predatory men’ was raised by Graham Linehan, comedy writer and vocal anti-trans figure. Statistically there is no basis for this concern, which is the conjecture that men will identify as trans simply to gain access to women’s toilets.
The truth is that almost all assaults in public toilets are cis men [men whose birth gender matches their identified gender] assaulting other men. The vast majority of crimes involving trans people are ones in which they are the victim. It doesn’t seem so much of a trans conspiracy as it is a phobia finding some hamfisted justification. Prime Time raised the issue of under-18s identifying as trans. Aside from this paternalistic distrust in anyone who doesn’t already have a mortgage, we constantly conflate identifying as one gender or another with some form of chemical or surgical transition. This is not the case. Anyone under the age of 18 stills need to communicate with their parents, their GP, a therapist, the HSE and countless other hoops and hurdles before they can gain access to any medical services in relation to their trans identity. Prime Time also failed to point out that the first port of call should be TENI, an amazing service that offers support and guidance for anyone with questions surrounding trans.
I don’t think that by giving young people options or information, or freedoms, we are damning them to a future they cannot unmake. The opposite must be true; the truth sets us free, and freedom allows us to be our true selves.
We expect children of eleven to decide their subjects in secondary school. We expect students to fill out a CAO form that determines their career, or at least which country they’ll have to emigrate to.
If our concerns are with the mental wellbeing of our young people, we should be clamouring for better mental health resources. We should include selfhood on the curriculum in our schools.
When I told my daughters I’m genderqueer they asked to see a picture. They told me, ‘you look beautiful’.
We hear of broken trans people; of trauma and gender dysphoria. What of gender euphoria? What of looking in the mirror and seeing your true self, and loving that person?
I trust the young people of Ireland. I’m out of the closet because I trust you all. So when you see me, bibbling about the town of Ennis wearing far too much eyeliner, try not to see the threat to the status quo. Try instead to see a person truly at home in their selfhood.
Ask yourself how many closets there must be in the quiet towns and behind closed doors. Winter is almost over and we could all use a bit of fresh air.
Author: Neil Farrell