'Caitlyn Jenner had the money to transition quickly and was universally accepted - for Irish transgender people it often wasn't that easy'
Published 08/06/2015 | 12:30
Deirdre O'Byrne, an Irish transgender woman, applauds the bravery it required for Caitlyn Jenner to reveal her true self to the world. But she questions how did Caitlyn managed to do it so quickly while dealing with the social and psychological effects?
The past few weeks have been like a dream for the Irish transgender community. First, the people of Ireland tell us that we may marry whomever it is we love. Many of us love the people we married before we discovered we are transgender, and we also love the children we produced with our spouses. And many of our spouses loved us through our transition, and still love us today.
My married transgender friends were devastated when the Government announced in 2011 that the gender recognition legislation would require them to divorce before getting their gender recognised, lest a “back-door” to same sex marriage be created. As if an out-and-proud gay man would make a legal declaration that they are female, and go through the lengthy process of changing their legal gender in all their affairs, and live with the consequences, in order to marry.
So you can imagine the relief of my married transgender friends when the people of Ireland voted to permit them to remain married and have their gender recognised.
But the dream wasn’t over. Caitlyn Jenner was suddenly on the front page of Vanity Fair magazine, vulnerable, and proudly declaring “Call me Caitlyn”. That didn’t stop many from calling her Bruce – but we’ve become used to such denials of the realities of our lives, and we insulate ourselves from the psychological impact by reminding ourselves that those who call her Bruce are saying something about themselves, not her, or us.
But she was actually receiving near-universal love and support. For a community used to seeing media articles espousing the view that we are disgusting freaks, and that our rights and our lives should therefore restricted for the common good.
The dream continued when our Government decided to do a U-turn on another contentious issue in the bill. They dropped a requirement that transgender people get a supporting letter from the medical profession – a requirement the HSE had asked them to drop years ago.
Basically, the Government decided that I would not have to, yet again, prostrate myself in front of the medical profession, and yet again beg them to recognise me as female. Indeed, as part of the process of getting HRT and other medical interventions, I’ve already had to go through a clinical psychologist and a clinical psychiatrist, both of whom were dissecting me trying to find if there was a reason to not allow me to live as me.
My psychiatrist’s report talks about how I was dressed during the interview, and my use of makeup. Since when was a woman’s use of makeup a psychiatric issue?
Forgive me – I digress. When Caitlyn came out, many of us in the transgender community had an uneasy feeling. Transition just isn’t that quick. It takes months of battling with the medical profession, and months and years of HRT and other medical interventions, and months of recovery from some of those interventions, and years of social transition, and years of processing the psychological impact of having lived in a body which betrays you.
I’m five years in, and I’m still processing that psychological impact. How had Caitlyn managed to do it so quickly? Had she, in fact, dealt with the social and psychological effects?
The answer to the first question was, of course, money. Caitlyn had the resources to quickly go through the physical processes of transition. Indeed I’ve thrown many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of euro at my transition – my resulting ability to live makes it worth it.
And what a physical process she has gone through! In the vernacular – “phwoar”! And that created another bit of controversy in the transgender community. And it wasn’t jealously.
Laverne Cox – a star of “Orange Is The New Black”, a Time magazine cover girl, and a star of the transgender community – captured it perfectly. She wrote on her blog about how Caitlyn’s embodiment of physical beauty is to be celebrated, “but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities”. Cox also wrote the important words “there are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody them and we shouldn’t have to to be seen as ourselves and respected as ourselves”.
I don’t embody those standards, and I don’t see it as worth it to try. But I am fortunate enough that my genetics and the little blue pills I take every day create an embodiment which results in most people being apparently shocked to discover I’m transgender. But that hasn’t stopped some of the local beta males trying to climb to alpha male status by shouting at me from across the street when they see me going shopping for groceries.
The problem isn’t with my appearance and my significantly-less-than-Caitlyn embodiment of beauty – it’s with those people, and a general lack of understanding and acceptance of the innate diversity all transgender people involuntarily embody.
There is a lot of work to be done. I’m particularly thinking of young transgender people, and those whose innate expression of diversity means that they can’t comfortably call themselves either male or female – all those people are going to remain unrecognised in Irish law under our gender recognition legislation as it currently stands. And the legislation will permit the Government to prosecute me as male even after I get my gender recognised – the message seems to be “we will recognise you as female except when we decide we would prefer not to”.
I’m also thinking of my transvestite friends, who are still referred to as “freaks” in much of popular culture, and who have no legal protection. My heart is singing with hope for the future. I don’t think anyone of my generation could have imagined the scenes in Dublin Castle when the referendum result was announced, and the international attention of being the first electorate in the world to respond positively to the cries of sexual minorities to be allowed to be married. It seems to me that Ireland is embracing the beauty of diversity, in which people are free to express their scariest innermost beauty. And that can only be good for all of us.
Deirdre O’Byrne is a middle-aged bisexual transgender woman and activist. In 2014 she won a discrimination case against AIB. She works in I.T., and is an occasional radio broadcaster, film-maker and writer.