Trans activist reveals how we can all be better allies to stand in solidarity together

While the world may be slowly waking up to trans rights and trans issues, there is still a long way to go in light of J K Rowling’s recent claims.

The Harry Potter author’s comments, implying only cis-gendered people menstruate, sparked mass denouncement from trans activists earlier this month.

Her comment was made after she quote-tweeted an article that read ‘Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate’ – to which she replied ‘“People who menstruate”. I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?’

Over at Uspire, we caught up with non-binary, trans activist Jules Guaitamacchi to understand more about the trans journey and how it can impact wellbeing.

Speaking about their first experience with feeling like they were born in the wrong body, Jules described how dysmorphia manifested itself as an eating disorder.

Jules said: “Throughout my lifetime I have struggled with eating disorders. I characterise my eating disorder as EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), as they have manifested in various ways that don’t typically fit into one category.

“In my twenties, I battled with my weight, attempting to treat it with support groups and therapy. However, I was never able to fully treat the issue as it was only in my late twenties that I discovered a fundamental aspect of my identity, that I hadn’t been aware of previously, which meant I was able to truly address the eating disorder.

“I discovered I did in fact struggle with gender dysphoria, formally known as gender identity disorder, yet the World Health Organisation has since removed the term as a mental health condition and it is classed as gender incongruence defined as ‘a marked and persistent incongruence between a person’s experienced gender and assigned sex’.

“When I was able to access gender affirmative care (transition), I noticed myself become more comfortable with my body.

“Despite undergoing the process for over two and half years, I still have dysphoria and there are aspects of my body l struggle with.

“However, through the process of hormones therapy and surgery, I found that the difficulty has significantly reduced.”

When asked if there was support from those around them growing up, Jules explained there were very mixed experiences from those who understand to those who judged.

Jules continued: “We have to be very careful as trans people to where we look for support. I found myself attempting to access support through services that did not have the knowledge to address my gender dysphoria and have had experiences where I was given misinformed opinions through psychotherapeutic services.

“I recall discussing the possibility that I could be trans to a therapist who responded by telling me he thought I had internalised homophobia.

“There is still little support and understanding in general mental health services about trans issues. I identified my own struggle from talking to people I could relate to.

“I eventually saw a private specialist who was incredibly supportive.”

With the NHS hugely underfunded and lacking in resources, people hoping to transition are often faced with a very lengthy process when seeking support, sometimes waiting up to four years to receive an initial assessment through gender identity clinics.

It is common for people to seek private support, despite the steep costs. Consequently, trans people often set up online fundraisers to achieve their goal.

Similarly, Jules took years to fundraise for surgery, paying for consultations out of their own pocket and still not having received an initial assessment through the NHS.

Such long waits can inevitably impact someone’s wellbeing, with Jules saying only after the transition that they “undoubtedly saw an improvement in mental health”.

Jules added: “I was fairly unassisted throughout the process, which has been difficult.

“However, community support was invaluable, being able to discuss the process with people who had gone through the process before me was really helpful.

“Although people weren’t able to provide medical advice, just having a sense of community support was really important.

“If you don’t have anyone physically around you, social media groups can be great.”

Quizzed about how they’d like to see education change so that everyone has a better understanding of trans people, Jules said it is down to schools but also individuals.

They said: “There needs to be more trans awareness and inclusivity training for teachers.

“I’ve noticed more of a willingness for schools to educate their pupils, however teachers must also invest in training their staff, so the entire school implements a fully inclusive and supportive environment for their pupils.

“I think it’s important to remember that trans people shouldn’t be expected to educate. Questions can feel invasive and answering the same questions can be exhausting.

“It’s important to note that trans people were born into the same society as the rest of the world and have to go through a process of learning.

“Instead, I think it’s important we understand the ways in which a person can become a trans ally. Being an ally means self-educating, by finding reliable sources of information online and taking action in whatever way they can to support the trans community, even if it’s challenging friends, family or colleagues.

“Organisations, not just schools, can invest in trans awareness training in order get a better understanding of how to better support their employees.”

Jules is passionate about education and allyship, teaching in schools across the country to help our generation of tomorrow have a better understanding of marginalised groups.

And with trans people making up a mere 1% of the population, Jules believes we need allies to work towards equality and see significant change.

They said: “The more people speak out on behalf of a small minority, the more potential to make a considerable impact. Being an ally is simple, it requires taking the time to do research and finding the means to implement changes in each of our lives.

“Whether that comes down to the way we use language for example, asking people for their pronouns, making the effort never to assume a person’s gender, avoiding gendered terms such as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’, and encouraging others to do the same. Not being afraid to confront situations where there is discrimination and prejudice.

“No one needs to necessarily put themselves in immediate danger, however, you can always report an issue if you see it.

“It is crucial to support your trans friends, family and colleagues by being supportive and demonstrating an attitude of open mindedness and acceptance.”

To kickstart learning, start with a visit to Mermaids and/or TransActual.