In our interviews with trans and gender diverse young people, young people spoke about the many different healthcare experiences they had and the importance of multiple narratives [journey or sequence of events] of trans lives. There is not one way to be or appear trans or gender diverse and transgender journeys take many different paths. Here you will find examples of the multiple journeys trans young people take in their lives and young people talking about the importance of diverse representation of trans people including:
- Multiple journeys and pathways;
- Navigating healthcare pathways;
- Expectations inside and outside the trans community;
- New transitions throughout life and;
- Representations of trans journeys and pathways
Multiple journeys and pathways
The trans and gender diverse young people thought about trans identities in different ways. Summer discussed her fears about not being ‘trans enough’. She said ‘when I started out, I thought, I can’t really be trans because I didn’t have that trans narrative,I didn’t have childhood dysphoria or this or that.’ Max said that he ‘was very tempted to stick to a narrative and it is kind of funny, cos some of the stereotypical narrative is my narrative, but not all of it’. However, G stated ‘there’s no wrong way to be trans, all narratives are healthy’.
Young people were keen to stress the importance of acknowledging and validating multiple trans journeys. Declan said it’s ‘important for people to have their own individual narratives’. Many young people spoke about how their life experiences deviated from what they thought might be a ‘typical’ or fixed trans narrative. Beth said, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever fit[ted] into a particular narrative, my whole existence is not fitting into a narrative’. Tyra said, ‘Conforming in general is not something that I really like to do. I like to set my own path and follow what I feel is right.’ Bailey said, ‘Ill do what I wanna do. I dont feel like you have to do this, or this is compulsory, cause its not.’
Jaz criticises the idea of being born in the wrong body’ and welcomes a multiplicity of trans narratives.
Kat says there isn’t one acceptable trans narrative’ and questions the fixation of the general public.
Some of the young people we spoke to cherished the idea of different possibilities with trans identities. Safia stated that ‘the world is always going to try and put you in boxes’. When talking about their genderqueer identity they said, ‘here is a space where you can just experiment and if you don’t like something and you want to go back, that’s fine, no-one’s going to judge you, we’ll just roll with it.’
In contrast, some young people felt that knowing about a ‘typical’ trans journey acted as a helpful guide and found it validating. Freya described how ‘for me, all that is really important to me is just being as close to a cis woman as possible.’ A said that ‘as a non-binary person, you do end up feeling a little bit lost when you’re still in the early stages of working out what you want.’ They suggested that it could be helpful for people who are questioning and unsure where to go to have a ‘path that many people have walked before’.
Finn weighs up the change in his sense of direction’ as he transitioned.
Henry talks about the challenge of fitting into a model of transitioning and a narrative that the rest of the world understands.
Bee says this is me as I am at the minute, and my body doesn’t define meI don’t fit into a narrative.
Navigating healthcare pathways
Some young people described what they thought was a ‘typical’ route for trans people through healthcare services which focussed on seeking medical intervention such as hormone therapy or surgeries. Participants felt that this characterised the adult NHS pathways (see Experiences of Gender Identity Clinics (GIC) and Experiences of Private Healthcare).
Charke felt that the NHS pathways were ‘harmful’ and ‘restrictive’. They said ‘I think they serve a standard that trans people are expected to follow and I think the Tavistock plays a part in setting up that sort of standard’. Alistair said, ‘I feel like there’s popular routes [through the NHS] that are sometimes maybe seen as the [only] route, when it’s not.’ He felt it would be hard for trans people to seek gender affirming surgeries with starting hormone therapy.
Rosa talks about how they felt trying to conform to a particular narrative accessing help from GIDS.
Jessica shares her thoughts about what trans narratives are required to access NHS pathways.
Some young people felt social expectations to conform to a certain type of trans journey in order to access healthcare. Jack talked about a ‘huge imbalance of power’. He explained ‘there’s essentially the doctors who are gate keeping and the patients who are kind of trying to figure out the ways to say, ‘I want this’ and the correct answers’. He said ‘you may feel pressured to lie to get access’. He thought that ‘a lot of doctors are expecting a certain narrative and if the narrative doesn’t fit what they expect then [trans and gender diverse person] won’t get what they need’.
Some pathways were favoured over others. Jessica shared that she had ‘heard [stories that GICs] can be kind of gatekeepery and you’ve got to prove that you’re trans enough.’ She says she didn’t experience that with GenderGP [private healthcare provider] where ‘it was like, just be honest with us [about your experiences] and we won’t judge’.
N shares their fear of medicalised pathways and how they navigated transition outside of it.
Expectations inside and outside the trans community
Pressure to conform to a ‘standard’ or ‘typical’ trans narrative was felt not only through accessing healthcare services, but also from inside and outside the trans community. N stated that ‘there’s [pressure] in community and outside of community’ to conform to a certain type of trans narrative, whereby the trans person would have known they were trans from a very young age (see Journeys to identifying as trans and gender diverse).
Some young people spoke about expectations to behave and appear certain ways in order to be accepted. Summer felt ‘pressure to just be more feminine’. She said ‘I felt I had to do it.’ Cas talked about the pressure he felt ‘trying to prove that you are actually trans, that you are actually going to go through with it and that this is something that you want to do.’
Ari found it frustrating’ to be held to a model of transness’ by other people.
Our young people wanted to make others know that you do not have to conform to these pressures. Cas went on to say ‘I know,I’m valid either way regardless of what I decide to do and my identity.’ Bailey says to others ‘just do what feels right, dont feel like you have to do anything,you are the only person that knows how you feel. Nobody else does. Dont, dont get phased by other people.’ Shash questioned ‘why are you trying to make cis society tolerate you, when they should just accept who you are regardless?’
Ezio talks about the pressure he felt to choose between which bathrooms to use and the expectations of other trans people.
The question of being ‘trans enough’ sometimes impacted feelings of whether someone felt they belonged to the community. Shash said, ‘Trans people are also somewhat complicit of this, specifically ‘trans-medicalist folk”. She said ‘they’re like, ‘You need to conform otherwise society won’t accept you, and that’s terrible for the rest of us.’ Alistair felt that young trans men ‘do the whole sort of cis guy lad thing’ and can ‘be like we’re in this group until you’re kind of fully transitioned or like a few years down the line, you can’t kind of join us.’ Alistair and Shash both felt these expectations to be unhelpful.
Jacob talks about pressure he’s felt from other trans people’ who gate keep what you can and can’t do as a trans guy.
Eel discusses peer pressure’ and drama’ within the young trans male YouTube community.
New transitions throughout life
Young trans and gender diverse people spoke about the possibilities of new transitions throughout life and expressing their identity in different ways. Charke said it’s ‘natural’ and ‘okay’ for feelings to change throughout life, including for people who retransition or detransition.
Many young people advocated for an understanding of multiple transitions. Freya felt that the idea of ‘detransitioning’ is ‘really just transitioning again’. She felt ‘if that’s what you need to do, do it’. CJ said that ‘to transition is a journey, it’s a motion’. When talking about multiple transitions they said ‘it’s not that they’re de-transitioning, they’re still transitioning. They’re transitioning to a way in which they’re comfortable in their bodies’. Ezio said ‘people go through several different types of identities throughout their lifetime’.
Charke speaks about their experience of multiple transitions and how they will always be working things out.
Many young people were keen to ensure the wider LGBTQ+ communities welcomed and supported all people with diverse journeys and transitions. Jack said, ‘I support people in their best choices to find out who they are and what they want.’ Anderson felt that ‘it’s just a part of your journey’. He said ‘I respect people who go through a transition, find themselves and then find themselves again’. Most of the trans and gender diverse young people we spoke to encouraged deeper and more flexible understandings of gender diversity and fluidity. G stated that ‘the idea that [gender identity] is an on off switch, is quite dangerous.’ They said it also ‘erases a lot of non-binary experiences’.
Some young people commented on the negativity surrounding the media representation of multiple transitions. Finn said that there is ‘too much negativity’. Sophie said that she is ‘saddened’ by ‘all this stigma attached around it.’ She stated, ‘I feel as though your gender identity is constantly in flux, only you can define it’, adding ‘we’re all human, it’s all a fluid process, we’re all realising things.’
Shash felt that there were several misunderstandings; ‘there’s a common misconception that de-transitioning means a reversal of hormones’. She suggested ‘de-transitioning could mean something as simple as stopping using particular pronouns or going back to your previous name’. Noelle added that discrimination is often a primary factor in decision-making around having multiple transitions.
Theo talks about his personal experience of doubting his identity and the complexities involved.
Safia says language hasn’t caught up to the reality of many people’s experiences’ and ‘my history changes over time.
Representations of trans journeys and pathways
There was recognition that the understanding of multiple trans and gender diverse pathways depends on the representation of trans lives in the media, literature and online. H talks about the pressure of living up to the representation of trans figures in the public eye. He said ‘it feels like trans people are only celebrated in the media when they’re absolutely stunning, and they pass really well. He continued ‘this is now the bar that people outside of trans communities expect to happen, when it’s not the reality for all of us.’ CJ stated, ‘we cannot have a white middle class narrative being the thing that drives what it is to be trans.’ Shash stated that ‘weirdly like when people transition like they have to be hyper masc or hyper fem’. She said ‘it’s perpetuated by the media and cis people’.
CJ talks about the importance of having a multiplicity of narratives of trans lives and journeys.
June talks about the representation of feminine trans men and implications of race.
Some young people provided suggestions of diverse trans narratives they wished to see more of to improve the health, care and wellbeing of trans people. These include greater representation of non-binary people and trans people of colour. Anderson said that the media ‘struggle sometimes with non-binary people’. There are also ‘almost ‘zero representations of [being black and trans] in the media’. Anderson talked about the pressure attached to representations of being black and transmasculine. They said, ‘it’s making a mark on something that hasn’t really existed before [I’m] gonna be potentially the representative of all black trans people in the whole entire world’.
M talks about the importance of black trans representation in their lives.
CJ says we cannot have a white middle class narrative being the thing that drives what it is to be trans.