Trans Awareness Week
We’ve been lucky at Red Balloon to welcome many fantastic trans and non-binary young people (and staff!) through our doors, and this week we’re celebrating Transgender Awareness Week.
Transgender Awareness Week (13th – 19th November) is about increasing our understanding of and empathy with transgender people and the issues they face. To top off the week, the 20th of November is Transgender Day of Remembrance where we honour those who’ve lost their lives to anti-trans violence.
Being transgender (or trans for short) means that your gender identity is different to the sex you were assigned at birth. This encompasses a lot of different experiences, so some people may choose to use terms that more specifically and accurately describe their gender such as non-binary, trans woman, trans man, agender, gender fluid and many more.
Some trans people may choose to express (through things like their pronouns, hair, clothing, mannerisms and others) their gender in a way that aligns with their gender identity, and some won’t. You can’t tell if someone is trans just by looking!
Being trans is NOT dependent on the way someone presents visually or any medical procedures.
What is Transitioning?
Some trans people will want to align their gender expression and/or their bodies with their gender identity. This can be a long and complex process and varies a lot from person to person. It may include:
Socially transitioning by sharing with friends and/or family, using a different name, pronouns, and/or changing your appearance
Legally transitioning by acquiring a Gender Recognition Certificate which allows you to update legal documents with your correct gender (such as your birth certificate), get married or enter a civil partnership as your correct gender and other legal matters.
Medically transition through hormone replacement therapy and/or surgical procedures.
Barriers to Transitioning
Not all trans people will socially, legally or medically transition. Sometimes this is a choice (this is valid, and these people are still trans!), but sometimes it’s because there are barriers that make this difficult or unsafe.
Trans people are facing high levels of discrimination, harassment, violence and prejudice. This means that it’s not always safe to socially transition. In 2018, Stonewall found that 41% of trans people experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months. The media has flamed a lot of hate and misinformation about trans people which influences people’s views and can add to the hostility trans people face when transitioning.
Medically transitioning means navigating a complex healthcare system, long wait lists, and LGBTQ+ people can often encounter staff who discriminate or do not understand what it means to be trans and what a trans person’s healthcare needs are (more here).
In the UK, legally transitioning requires someone to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which not all trans people experience (and doesn’t make them any ‘less trans’!), or have had gender affirmation surgery, which not all trans people want to undergo or have access to! In addition, non-binary genders are not legally recognized in the UK.
This isn’t an exhaustive list but highlights some of the big barriers trans people face when they simply want to live and be recognized for who they are.
Supporting Trans People
Because there is no one ‘trans experience’ or ‘right way’ to transition, supporting trans people looks different depending on the person. Here are a just a few guidelines we like to follow at Red Balloon:
We like for everyone at Red Balloon, trans and cisgender (those whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth) alike, to be addressed by the correct name and for their pronouns to be respected. To avoid assuming, we like to ask at the start of new sessions what young people would like to be called and what pronouns they’d like us to use. If a young person wants to change the name they go by or start using different pronouns we make the switch! Remember, no one should have to ‘prove’ their case in order to have their correct name and pronouns used.
At Red Balloon our young people have always been encouraged to wear the clothes that they feel comfortable in. We don’t ask our students to wear uniforms and we know that clothing can be a great way to express oneself.
Beyond names and pronouns, we let the young person tell us as much or as little as they like about their gender and experience with gender. While we try to create a space where young people feel free to bring their authentic selves and talk about their experiences, they may not want to share anything about their gender and that’s absolutely okay. We don’t pry because it’s not our business!
If they choose to share, we respect the terms our young people use to describe their gender. If they’re not sure yet what works best for them, that’s okay! We’ll never tell them which term they should use or that they have to use one.
If a young person has shared information about their gender or gender history with us, we won’t assume others know and won’t share this information casually. It’s theirs to share, and while we’re happy to help if they want some extra support in sharing it more widely, the decision is theirs. Not all trans people want others to know they’re trans and sometimes it can put them in dangerous situations.
We will never give medical or legal advice to a young person as we’re not their doctor or lawyer!
At Red Balloon, we do our best to encourage and support all our young people to be who they are and respect those around them, whether that’s small things like taste in music and food or bigger things like spirituality and personal identity. Whoever our students are we want them to feel safe and accepted as they explore who they are and how they fit into the wider world.
Every day, but this Transgender Awareness Week in particular, we’re championing the right for people to be their authentic selves.