LGBT pride month was largely marked in a virtual capacity this summer, with only small scale events taking place due to Covid-19.
The community still found unique ways to show solidarity and unity. Some members also got involved with the Black Lives Matter protests, with many promoting the message that 'Black Trans Lives Matter'.
The 't' in LGBT stands for transgender, and the umbrella term 'trans' is used to capture all non-conforming gender identities within the community.
Gender identity refers to a person's deeply-felt identification as male, female, or some other gender and this may or may not correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender can be expressed through mannerisms, grooming, physical characteristics, social interactions and speech patterns.
Those who identify as non-binary or gender fluid, can fluctuate with their gender expression or identity. At times, they may present themselves differently and even not identify as either male or female at all.
Those who are not transgender are termed 'cisgender', which acknowledges that everyone has a gender identity and a 'cis' person's gender identity and gender expression is aligned with the sex that was assigned at birth.
In recent years, the trans community has become more visible and found its own voice as part of the LGBT community, and even got involved in separate Pride parades and protests.
It has become clear the that challenges faced by trans people can differ greatly from others within LGBT circles, such as gay, lesbian or bisexual people when it comes to freedoms and self expression. It's important to note that being trans does not define a person's sexual orientation.
Veronica and Nick are both transgender and live in county Wexford and although there are 20 years between them, some of their experiences being out as trans here are similar. While Alexandra, moved to Wexford during her teenage years and has since left Wexford to live elsewhere.
Veronica (39), is a trans woman originally from the United States who is living in rural county Wexford with her husband.
She began transitioning later in life, but has always considered herself an activist particularly around LGBT issues, anti-racism and animal rights. Veronica sits on the board of TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) and runs a support group for trans people in Waterford.
Living here, she explains that she feels as safe as anybody in her position.
'Whether you're in the city or the countryside, you always feel your difference. I can't say that the country is any less accepting than what I've seen in the cities. I feel as safe as I did before my transition, when I was presenting as a masculine queer person.
'I don't have any neighbours here in Wexford that I know of who are in the LGBT community, so you're very much in a hedero-cis world. People knew who I was before I transitioned, and I don't see that much has changed those relationships. I've never experienced negative reactions here in my home or neighbourhood. However, I have in certain towns and cities.
'There's a lot of factors that go into that, it's a density issue, but in that sense I don't think that me being trans has changed how the people around see me. Especially in the country, it's impossible to not be visible. People know who you are even before you know them. It's really bizarre for me as an American who is not used to that'.
Veronica said that she experienced transphobia during the early stages of her transition here two years ago.
'In those early days, it was difficult to be out and comfortable in the world. I got a lot of stares, comments, nasty looks and laughs. These were mostly from younger people, which I found quite shocking.
'Everyone likes to pretend that all the world's problems are going to die off with the next generation but of course that's not true. When you think about the younger generation and all of the awareness they're growing up with, you wouldn't expect that kind of treatment but it certainly exists.
'It got to a stage where I would just avoid groups of kids or teenagers, or if I had to pass them I'd just kind of armour up and hope they didn't notice me passing them on the street. There were a couple of incidents with adults as well, but it's just an extreme amount of ignorance on a lot of peoples' part.
'There's this sense that they have the right to say what's on their mind to somebody that they don't know. Like a child who is young enough for me to be their mother outright disrespecting me relating to my gender expression or an elderly man who is old enough to be my grandfather, saying "is that a man or a woman" and laughing in my face, that kind of thing makes me think about the safety they must feel in a group of people to behave this way.
'It never occurs to them that the people around them, the general public, may not agree with their statement. They feel confident that most people would agree that I'm a 'freak' or whatever. We haven't reached that point where societies views are strong enough to give somebody like that a moment's pause before they open their mouth'.
Speaking about feeling different, Veronica said that there is unity being within a minority group.
'I knew I was different and queer from a young age, but I wasn't open to transitioning until very recently. For most of my life I would have considered myself gender-queer, and my gender expression fluctuated throughout my life. I would always have been very dedicated to the LGBT struggle and involved in the community.
'Being involved in TENI or support groups to varying degrees allows me to know what's going on, to insert myself in the centre of it and have an idea of what's coming down the pipeline. I would have always been very vocal about my beliefs.
'The trans community is really unique, because it cuts across every label and strata of society. I'm a white trans woman but you'll find trans people who are of all sexual orientations, all income levels, ethnicities, backgrounds and family make-ups.
'What has surprised me coming from a primarily queer gay space is seeing that actually finding a common ground within the trans community outside of our trans identity, can be kind of challenging in terms of finding people you can relate to on a personal level.
'I've enjoyed seeing people make connections based on more than just the fact they're trans in the support groups. It's kind of like you've to find your tribe within the tribe, which is the same for cis [people who are not trans] people.
'I grew up in the southern United States, I may have privileges and particular advantages that others wouldn't have and talking to a trans woman in Ireland who may have been married with kids before transitioning and living their life as a woman, I can't really relate to that as I was never married to a woman.
'I would like that the trans community become so large, robust and visible that people are able to connect on more than just being trans, and then maybe they could mobilise on other issues. But as a trans person, I would steer clear of America now. My husband is Irish but he lived in Poland for years. He's eager to take me there and show me what his life was like but we aren't going any time soon. Some of the new policies and LGBT-free zones, it's terrible and we would never feel safe there. There are other places as well but those are just the two on the top of my list at the moment'.
Challenges exist for trans people simply being out in the world, but some strong opposing views can be heightened in press as well as social media. Veronica said that countering some of the anti-trans narrative can be exhausting.
'A lot of these cases are coming out of these pseudo-feminist movements, and you start to notice that they have close ties to extreme alt-right groups. Somehow they have laid down the true meaning of what they're fighting for, to pick up these beliefs that could be used against them a women. You can't kill an ideology, and people with opposing beliefs tend to dig their heels in deeper but we have to remember that these people are a very small and vocal minority, and they speak out in these extremely violent ways that mirror historical oppression of other groups.
'The way I see it, they are very small, pre-occupied and unhappy people but it's difficult because sometimes it's hard to remind yourself and it's easy to feel like the whole world is against you. But you have to follow the money trail back to its root and ask yourself, who is benefiting from any given narrative and who is profiting from perpetuating any particular stance?
'When you look at their arguments scientifically, not one is based on fact and they need to be held accountable for what they put out into the world.
'It can be picked apart but the onus gets put on us as a minority to do that and it's exhausting. Sometimes you have to just swallow your pride and walk away and other times you bite their heads off and it doesn't get very far. Through subtle words that are used, that's how we internalise these things and that's how we betray the people at the other end of those stories,' she said.
In terms of how Irish people can treat people in the transgender community better, Veronica said that it comes back to simply thinking before you speak.
'I see a lot of freedom with words and reactions, and not that conscious intelligent reflection on 'what I'm saying, does it mean what I think it means?' and that's learned life-long. In Ireland it comes down to the idea of questioning your assumptions.
'For example, you see a little girl and you think it means something about who she is, her life and who she'll grow up to become, marry, what car she'll drive and what clothes she'll wear, the life she's going to have. We have to stop assuming these things.
'When you see me on the street, whatever you perceive or think I'm presenting as or it says about me as an individual, if you just took a moment to think before opening your mouth, a lot of harm would be reduced.
'The other thing is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and be willing to ask questions. Introduce yourself with your own pronouns and normalise pronoun declaration because in doing that, you open the door for the other person if you're not quite sure.
'That simple act of awareness and kindness will allow that trans person to breathe a little bit easier around you as a cis person. Asking that question is never ever going to be worse than assuming. The other thing is that you should never be sure on someone's gender as there are non-binary people, but a cis person needs to be aware that they are coming from a position of power.
'They need to understand the history that they bring to an interaction with a trans person as we come from different worlds'.
Nick (19), from Gorey identifies as a trans-man and came out to his peers when he was a teenager in fifth year of secondary school.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, he has been staying at home in Gorey but in normal times he's away from home for college in Dublin from Monday to Friday.
He explained that, in his experience, there is a rural and urban divide when it comes to transgender issues and acceptance.
'Gender-neutral bathrooms make the world more transgender-inclusive, it's something that should be recognised. It is in place, but at the moment that's only in Dublin, Limerick and the bigger cities but it's not in rural communities. There's definitely a rural and urban divide in terms of understanding.
'Usually the gender-neutral bathrooms that are there, they're the disabled bathrooms and that's not really a good thing when other people need to use them. We as trans people nearly feel like we're doing something wrong using them,' he said.
Speaking about healthcare for transgender people, Nick said there's a need for more doctors that have an understanding of trans issues.
'More needs to be done for trans people in Ireland going forward. There needs to be more doctors for trans healthcare. For a physical transition, the reality is that you'd have to go abroad and it presents a challenge, especially if you're independent, living by yourself and trying to raise the money.
'I've many friends who are trying to raise money to go abroad at the moment and it's difficult'.
Nick said that being trans and experiencing transphobia has an impact on mental health, certainly in his own experience.
'I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression even before I came out. But being out as trans has definitely made it a bit more of a challenge. Going to therapy and friends are helping though.
'I remember going through secondary school, the reception I was given wasn't the best, especially by those around my age and older. The transphobia was fairly obvious to me at that stage. People would call me names like "freak" and stuff like that. But it's a mixed kind of thing, I've experienced the bad side and the good side many times'.
Nick spoke about finding support from trans-specific and LGBT+ support groups.
'Going to those groups made up of other trans and LGBT+ people for support was very important. Meeting up and getting to know other people who are like you, it gives you the drive to disagree with those who would have been critical towards me and see that it was wrong, but it also gives you that push to be proud of yourself and to be yourself.
'Hearing other peoples' stories gives you a little bit of hope,' he says.
Although the national Pride event took place in a virtual capacity this year, Nick said that going to a positive gathering like this means a lot to the community.
'Going to big Pride events is amazing, especially coming from a rural place like Wexford. You go up to Dublin and see so many different people who are like you and you feel like you're not the only one experiencing this. I have support from other people in that way.
'Sometimes the media can promote negativity towards trans people, and petitions are a big thing at the moment. My friends and I try not to get too involved with it, but we feel if it's something we need to get involved with, then we do'.
'What I would say to someone reading this article is that to show support and respect to trans people, education is really a big thing. If we had trans issues taught to people early-on in life and be something that is recognised and not be given prejudice towards. Even from as early as when children are old enough to comprehend it.
'The message is: we are people, just like you. Being trans in Ireland has been a long and difficult road for me, but in other ways it has been great and I'm glad to be out'.
Alexandra (29), is originally from Wicklow but spent her teenage years in Carnew and Gorey before coming out as transgender at the age of 23.
The journey was a difficult one, as Alexandra said that she felt like an outsider particularly in a rural setting.
'I'm originally from Bray so when I moved to Wexford as a teenager, the family were kind of already outsiders because we weren't from the local area. Even in school, insecurity was a bit of a thing for me but coming out was difficult.
'For a long time I didn't want to step foot outside my door, because I didn't know what reaction I was going to get. I stuck very local, especially early on in my transition, I'd stay close to home because, if I did need to retreat, I'd have that space to do it.
'Mentally, it was quite difficult and it was a very isolating experience. Most of the people that I ended up being friends with in Carnew and Gorey were also not from the local area, mostly closer to south Dublin.
'Even without the trans element, you still feel like you're this "other" when you want to belong and you don't want to stick out. You want to fit in and make friends with people, but it just never really felt like I was on the same wave-length with people when I was in my teenage years. I didn't feel like I had much in common with people from the area. Some people got it and we were friends but a lot of people didn't really understand and just took an attitude towards this part of my personality, and made sure I stood out.
'I spent the first 23 years of my life as one person, by name and the way I see it now, a body that didn't fit with who I was. I felt like I either had to come out then or I didn't know what I was going to do, so I decided in third year of college to come out. I felt like I was heading towards a crossroads in my life and I said to myself I can come out and be Alex or Alexandra, or I can keep living this life and never really truly be happy with myself. Even though I knew there might be a push back from people and I might need to find another place to live, I knew I had to be myself'.
Things became a lot lighter for Alexandra when she began to link up with trans and LGBT support groups.
'Finding support and an outlet like a support group is absolutely vital for a trans person in rural Ireland, it can save a person's life.
'I see it as a lifeline and I was the moderator of a group locally for about a year, and that experience of getting to hear other peoples' stories and their lives and journeys, it was an incredibly humbling experience but raw at times. People go to support groups to be open and say what they may not be able to say in their everyday lives.
'There are groups in cities like Dublin but it's the rural areas that really need them because we exist everywhere, whether we're visible or invisible, we are in your community.
'There's a social aspect too because you may not be aware of the community around you, especially when you first come out but by getting involved, you find a way in.
'Through it, you meet people who might have had similar experiences to you or completely different experiences, but you still get on as great mates because they know what you've gone through.
'It's critically important and I've seen this with the medical side of things. There are trans people that the only time they get to be around other trans people is when they go to the hospital and see others at the gender clinic. In my view, that's really just not good enough and there has to be more of a push and demand for rural LGBT people to have access to resources.
'Not everyone has the money to go to Dublin for a support group, and that's why it's so important for these local groups to grow and for there to be more of them, it's vital for that support to be there in the community'.
Alexandra said that the new government must keep trans issues on the table.
'I worry a lot about what this government is going to do. I don't necessarily feel there's an anti-trans stance, but what might be more likely is that our rights, especially legally, might just go ignored by this government. There are some new ministers in positions that wouldn't exactly be liberal in their views.
'Trans matters are on a long list of topics and issues that need to be addressed by this government but we have really made great strides in this country, but recognition is only binary-trans people.
'If this government can do one thing, they should be looking to places like Canada where they have introduced non-binary gender options and recognition. Here, we're got half of our community not recognised which is damaging. There's the other issue of those aged 16 and up not being let go through the medical system and start that very lengthy process, to become the person that they want to be.
'I don't know if we'll get both of them from this government but it would be incredible if we saw non-binary recognition by the Irish government because then all Irish citizens would be recognised in the way that they want to be'.
Even though Ireland has taken important steps for trans and LGBT rights up to this point, transphobia remains consistent.
'Worldwide, it's always existing but to experience it as an individual, that comes and goes. Sometimes you can go weeks without having someone say something to you, but other times you can have a flare up of incidents.
'I've had people burst into laughter at me, some have attempted to spit at me and I've definitely had a few slurs thrown around. Even if it's not directed at me, I have two ears and I can hear them as I walk past.
'To give Wexford credit, there's a lot more people who would support trans peoples' right to live their lives truthfully however they want to be, but there are pockets of people who are vocally transphobic or feel like they have the right to comment on somebody's gender presentation. It's in every county in Ireland and that's the ugly side to it, because some people feel like they can lash out at trans people as if we're an easy target and they've a right to make a nasty comment or in some cases, throw a punch at them. I haven't had any physical altercations, but the verbal stuff sticks with you and stays with you.
'We live in a very gendered and binary world, and I've seen the abuse that non-binary people get because they don't present in the way that people might find acceptable'.
In terms of being kinder to trans and non-binary people, Alexandra said it simply comes down to compassion. 'It's heartening to know that there are people out there that will support us even if they may not be directly involved in trans right or LGBT activism.
'The number one thing is just to take people as you find them. I and my sister were taught that by my parents as kids, to be empathic.
'The easiest thing is to ask if you're not sure about someone's pronouns, because we love that. Most people are not going to explode at you for asking if you're not sure.
'Also not closing yourself off to someone if they have a different gender presentation. If someone really wants to take this further, they can always educate themselves and read up on it. There are a lot of books and resources out there to help people, especially cis people.
'It comes down to the fact that people are brought up with an innate sense of gender, and we're conditioned by society to have a set idea about what a boy is like, what is girl is supposed to be like and I think that's where the reading comes in. As you can discover that it is more complex than that binary and that people contain a multitude, it's easy to see that people are complex and they can surprise you.
'More than anything else it's just to be open and compassionate to trans people as there's a lot of hostility out there in the world towards us as a group, as well as misunderstanding. Kindness can go a long way, you don't know who's day you could brighten up'.
To find out more about trans issues, visit the Transgender Network of Ireland's website, www.teni.ie.