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I’m trans, out and proud. But does that make me brave?

I’m trans, out and proud. But does that make me brave?

a woman standing up in front of colourful wallpaper with her hands on her hips and her head cocked to the side

No one chooses to be trans or gay, though it might be argued that throughout history many people have felt required to pass as heterosexual.

The only choice concerns how much you reveal of who you are in an all too often hostile and heteronormative environment.

This article is about my choice. No two transitions are the same. Yet there are similar stages. The moment when you realize (I was seven). When you can no longer pretend to play the gender role you’ve been assigned. When you publicly acknowledge this.

There are also generic challenges that arise when that last stage has been reached.

The postcode lottery of the wait for treatment and drugs. The reactions of relatives and friends. The tedious, sometimes baffling, bureaucracy of changing your name in a myriad of settings.

This last stage is now made easier by the plethora of advice available online. It requires knowing which search strings to pull as there doesn’t seem to be a single all-purpose handy guide. And it’s often delivered in an American accent.

But it makes me aware that, although I may be the only trans in my Kent village, I am not alone. Apparently there are about 40 million of us around the globe.

a woman wearing a blue scarf sits at a restaurant table
Pippa is a Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster | Photo: Supplied

The only trans in the village

Such realisations put friends’ repeated exclamation that ‘You’re so brave!’ in context.

I was maybe stoic to not reveal my ‘trans-ness’ until last year, in my mid-50s, but certainly not brave. In certain settings, no doubt, but not in a University whose Vice-Chancellor insisted on flying the Rainbow Flag for London Pride, even if he had to hang it there himself.

Coming out did not feel brave at all. I told my partner, who has been amazingly supportive. A few weeks later I told my Head of Department, who smiled and embraced me and immediately set in motion the processes for me to move to using professionally the name I’d secretly called myself for so long.

This felt wonderfully, gloriously liberating – but not brave.

Coming out at church

Even coming out at my church, or to my students of all faiths from Islam to Evangelicalism, took no courage. They all readily accepted that a loving God would love me for who I am, rather than for who society wants me to be.

The trickiest, as seems to be the case for many trans people, was coming out to family. It can be hard for them to find out how little they actually know about you. It can also be hard for them to let go of the persona that they thought they knew. But I don’t think of surmounting such difficulties as brave.

Much braver were those contemporaries who transitioned in the 1970s as I dithered and chose to pass as heterosexual.

This is not to belittle the challenges that remain, particularly for those for whom coming out still takes much more courage than was required of me. The sad thing is that this courage should not be required of anyone at all

No one should ever have to be brave to be themselves. What does it say of our society when such bravery is routinely expected of anyone coming out as trans? If I can help to reveal the absurdity of this, then maybe there will be some elements of bravery in my transition after all!

Pippa Catterall is a transgender woman and Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster.

The university is hosting National Student Pride in February, 2019, Gay Star News is a media sponsor of the pride. You can get your tickets now.

See Also:

Trans men lose legal bid to have their gender recognised on ID cards

Shocking video shows women barging into meeting and harassing trans woman

British council under fire for questionnaire featuring transphobic image