Wednesday 28 September 2016

'Stop putting people in gender boxes' - Young Irish transgender man talks online dating and census forms

Catherine Devine

Published 11/05/2016 | 17:03

A young Irish transgender man has told how census forms and online dating are just some of the common challenges he faces in modern Ireland.

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Andrew Martin (23) has identified as transgender since the age of 16.

The LGBT Rights Officer for Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) Students’ Union said he thought there was "something wrong with him" as a young teenager.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Andrew said he couldn't figure out if he "belonged" with the girls or boys in his class. He said he always felt like a boy but that society “perceived him as a girl for a long time”.

“I was one of those kids who wanted to be something different every few weeks,” Andrew said.

“We had to write a story about what we wanted to be when I was in first class and I had written that I was going to be a boy when I grew up. It caused quite the stir in school.”

Andrew preferred to play with the boys in his primary school and described himself as a “messer like all young boys are”. He always played the masculine roles in make-believe games and played sports in the schoolyard.

“I didn’t notice anything was consciously different until I entered an all-girls’ secondary school. I was completely different to everyone else in the way I expressed myself. I didn’t have the same interests in make-up and clothes.

“I thought that there was something wrong with me, I thought that I was just weird. I was just different and I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t belong with the girls or boys but I started to express myself in a masculine way through my clothes and behaviour."

In Andrew’s first year in secondary school, he was outed as a “gay woman” by his peers.

“In my first year in secondary school it became very obvious to other people that I didn’t belong and I was outed as a gay woman. That brought along its own massive set of problems in an Irish secondary school. So I started down that road because it did fit in with my own sexuality.”

Making friends in school was a big challenge for Andrew as people didn’t want to be friends with the “queer kid”.

“It was hard to make friends but I was comfortable making friends outside of a school setting. I had some friends that were great during my transition.”

Andrew recalls that when he first came out as transgender, he put on a very masculine façade in attempts to fit in.

“I did anything that was stereotypically male and I wouldn’t have been that kind of person who is really engaged in sport and drinking pints but the way for me to gain people’s acceptance was for me to fit into a mould of what society deemed to be a man.”

While some people had an “active problem” with Andrew’s change, his close friends were a great support to him.

“My friends took my transition lightly, it was what it was and I was still the person that they were going to make fun of like anyone else in our group of friends which I really appreciated.

“We even went through a stage of giving me dodgy haircuts. Because I hadn’t got to experience the dodgy years of boy haircuts like most teenage boys do my friends decided to give them all to me in the space of six months.

"I got the V, I decided it blonde, I had highlights, I had the Justin Bieber fringe all so that we could say that I had this fake teenage boyhood,” Andrew laughed.

One of the biggest challenges for the LGBT community is gaining acceptance from their families. Andrew explained that it can be hard talking about your family’s reaction without “shaming” them or pretending as though there were never any problems.

“For me my mum knew that something was different and it took her a long time to be able to accept it and that’s perfectly fine. I had time to understand my transition and she needed time too.”

Andrew describes dating as an “interesting” concept and that he had to learn the dating game again.

“Dating as a trans person is like this very interesting concept to me. Dating in general in your early twenties is messy and terrifying and everyone is expecting that you’re supposed to be doing it.

"When you add in this whole other level of transition it makes things so much more complicated and funny. Some days it’s really sad and you think that the only reason that you’re never dating someone is because I feel really bad about my body. Other days you think it’s very entertaining.”

Online dating made it more “complicated” for Andrew. 

“Finding a time to tell people that your trans is hard enough but with online dating, when do you know when to tell someone, do you include it in your online profile?”

Andrew dated someone last year, who was also trans, so the issue never arose.

“It felt as though how I imagine dating when you’re not trans is like,” he explained. 

Mental health issues are a big problem for the LGBT community. “The statistics speak for themselves. You already feel as though you’re different because society makes you feel that way and that leads to a lot of anxiety and real fear of things that can happen to you just for being how you are.

“You don’t feel yourself represented. Even the TD’s didn’t show up to debate the cuts to mental health. Once again the people who are going to feel the damage of the cuts are those who are the most risk in society but not even bothering to show up to pretend that you care is a disgrace.”

Imagining an ideal world for the LGBT community, Andrew explains that we need to “stop putting people in gender boxes”.

“Even with census forms and bus cards we have to select male or female, there is absolutely no reason for this. Society needs to stop focusing on gender.”

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