Teaching LGBTQ+ awareness and combating misinformation in schools brings me face to face with the pain and heartache trans young people face in 2023, writes campaigner Jude Guaitamacchi.
With transphobic hate crime hitting record highs, a 217 per cent increase in anti-trans news stories in the last five years and the opening of two regional gender identity youth clinics delayed until next spring, is it any wonder that young trans people are struggling with their mental health?
I was 30 when I realised I was trans and non-binary but wish I had been supported to be myself a lot sooner.
Many of us grew up with Section 28, a law that prohibited the ‘promotion’ of the LGBTQ+ community, and meant it was illegal to educate on the topic. Without access to the internet or social media, information about myself and my community was scarce.
At 11 years old, transphobic and homophobic slurs were directed towards me daily. I was ridiculed for looking like a boy and called a lesbian, despite not even knowing what it meant. It breaks my heart that 25 years on, Just Like Us revealed that 78 per cent of trans students are still being bullied in the UK in today.
I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to be a trans young person in 2023, trying to navigate my identity while being unable to avoid transphobic hate amplified in the mainstream media.
My coping mechanism at the time was abandoning my true self to try and become the girl I felt the world wanted me to be, but my mental health issues became so extreme I almost didn’t make my 18th birthday.
The reason I became a trans and non-binary educator and advocate was to be the voice I needed to hear and the role model I needed to see when I was at school.
I have been teaching LGBTQ+ awareness in schools up and down the country since 2015 and the reality of working on the ground means directly hearing the difficulties young trans people face.
I’ll never forget one trans child informing me they had to roll back on their social transition because they were being so badly bullied. So many are clearly struggling their way through their childhood and some, devastatingly, end up taking their own lives.
Every time I meet one of these kids, it’s like meeting myself. Sharing my story openly with teenagers isn’t easy. I open every wound and allow myself to be completely vulnerable in the hope that it might make a difference to someone else’s life.
I have met countless trans students and seen the pain in their tear-filled eyes as they find the courage to say a few words to me, standing with me for as long as possible, as if I might have the answer to their suffering. I do my best to be encouraging and give them the strength to get to the other side, but I can’t help feel aware of my own inadequacy. I can’t bring them relief in a society that is failing them.
Watching the UK government attempt to drag them back to the world I grew up in and listening to news reporters regurgitating misinformation as if being trans should be a conscious adult decision is unfathomable. Being transgender is not a choice and denying that to myself for years caused me long-term suffering that still haunts me today.
Support for trans youth is being stripped away. Guidelines from NHS England mean puberty blockers are no longer ‘routinely available’, despite evidence showing they dramatically lower rates self harm and suicidal ideation for transgender adolescents.
Puberty blockers are considered a safe and reversible preventative measure that pause the bodily changes that occur during puberty and can trigger intense dysphoria. They can make trans lives easier and safer.
Gender-affirming care at an earlier age could have changed the course of my life and that of many others.
Teachers, parents and the general public should be armed with accurate, up-to-date information on the issues that affect trans lives. And I’m not the only person devoting time and energy to battling misinformation. Organisations like Think2Speak, Just Like Us, Gendered Intelligence and Mermaids do vital work in uplifting the voices of trans folk and protecting trans kids.
I remember thinking if anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I was older, I’d tell them all I wanted to be is happy. As Dee Whitnell’s important campaign highlights, trans kids deserve to grow up. But they also deserve to grow up happy.
I’ve written this piece in loving memory of all the trans youth who are no longer with us, especially little Corei Hall, who tragically took his life on 12 October and who asked us to protect trans youth in his name. Please support his wish here.
To any young trans person who feels frightened, or alone, I’ll keep standing with you in those classrooms and hold space for you in those moments until the day I’m no longer needed.
Jude Guaitamacchi is a trans and non-binary advocate and TEDx speaker.
Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to contact theNational Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.
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