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watercolour rainbowIts LGBT+ student awareness this month across many universities and along with other associations such as football clubs, and foster and adoption agencies you’ll see and hear news items highlighting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender stories. Currently one of the biggest LGBT+ stories in the news is Donald Trump’s reversal of Transgender student’s toilet rights in the USA. Regardless of how sensational or political the news may be, it can feel like a distant struggle unless you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Everyone in my social circle is aware of LGBT+ and when a news story makes headlines (such as a recent article about a gay couple’s wish for a wedding cake which was refused by the bakery on the grounds of their sexuality) everyone agrees that a person’s gender or sexuality shouldn’t make a difference and everyone should be free to love who they wish. I was right there agreeing with them and then it would slip from my mind. Until 3 years ago, when a very close family member took a step forward and told me and the rest of the family they were no longer Andrew but would now be known as Tia.

Andrew was a lovely child, full of curiosity about the world, sensitive to the people around him, creative and loyal. We saw each other along with the rest of his family at Christmas, birthdays and family gatherings and I always assumed he was happy. He did well at school, studied hard and was forging a career behind the scenes in the media using his creativity alongside his love of technology and engineering. Until things just seemed to stop for him. I didn’t know he was struggling, fighting an internal battle to be the person he had always wanted to be. 

That step of bravery was immensely powerful and in less than a nano second, I had accepted the statement as they were still the person I loved. It took a little longer for my brain to compute which gender pronoun of he/she to use and I copped out for a few months referring to Tia as ‘they’ in case I slipped up. However, it’s now second nature and I use ‘she’ automatically and only think of her as Tia. I still share memories of when she was Andrew but even talking about the past I refer to her as she. It’s not my reaction and acceptance that is the nature of the blog but the reaction of M who was with us when Tia was Andrew.

M is not great in social situations where she doesn’t know everyone, and she tends to gravitate to the security of her phone or limiting herself to talking to me or Hubby. However it was different with Andrew. Andrew was easy to talk to and they share a similar interest in the media so I tried to plan my moment to tell M that Tia had made the gender change emotionally, was living as a woman and was planning to change her gender in every way through hormones and surgery. I discussed it with Hubby, spent time researching gender change so I could answer any questions M had and one day sat her down and told her. I meant to tell her carefully, but as M sat there waiting for me to talk, her phone burning a hole in the palm of her hand, I just told her. She looked at me and said ok. I waited for her to ask for more details or be curious or even critical but she shrugged and said it’s nothing to do with her, its how Tia feels. In that moment, her brain had accepted the gender change, new name and pronoun and since that day she has never slipped and called her Andrew or used the wrong gender title.

We have since talked about it and her total acceptance has made me proud. She occasionally refers to Tia when headlines about Transgender rights come on the news but to M, it’s as if Tia was always a woman. They still talk and text about the media and now share a love of fashion. They are Instagram friends and if you asked M what was special about Tia it wouldn’t be that she was transitioning gender but of what she could do with technology and how cool she was. 

M is not unusual in her generation; being gay is no longer a talking point and there is a general acceptance of people to be the person they want to be and who they want to be with. That’s not to say that Tia hasn’t faced harassment or discrimination, but it’s generally not from M’s generation. Whether it is their exposure to so many different media outlets or whether the struggle of the generation before them for acceptance is finally on the winning stretch is debateable, but while M’s generation may struggle to concentrate for longer than 5 minutes or be unable to drink a cup of coffee without sharing it across 4 different social media channels, one thing they can seem to do is accept people as they are. This is at cross purposes with the rise in cyber bullying in the class room, but the focus has seemed to shift from sexuality to self image.

You can contact Switchboard LGBT+ helpline for help, support and advice.