An open letter to Ticehurst Priory.

Dear doctors, nurses, support workers, teachers, social workers, psychologists and anyone else caring for my daughter who has been told about my gender history,

In our society trans people who are visible are seen to be out waving the trans flag and it gives the impression that we are all out and happy for our gender histories to be shared and we’re all fine with this because we’re all out and proud. However, not all trans people want to be involved in activism, and many, like me, just want to live their lives with a certain degree of anonymity.  That’s no different to non trans people.  Furthermore, trans people who have been activists for a period of time may want to return to their normal lives and not want to be activists any more.  They may not want to be “seen as trans” but prefer to be seen as their birth gender i.e. their core identity, not their assigned sex at birth.  So I’ve found myself in a position where I have to put my activist hat on again, but this time it’s personal.  Normally you’ll not see me, like the other dedicated empathic women who have transitioned, I quietly support others who are going through physical and social transition in my spare time – that’s my kind of activism.

Trans people are scrutinised, analysed and publicised by the cis (non-trans) community, and the effect is a pervasive stress and pressure for anyone who does not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Trans people consider it insensitive to have this entitlement to their personal lives, as it dehumanises them and takes away their human rights – the right to privacy.  It lacks empathy and understanding to share that information without the knowledge and consent of the person themselves.

“Many gay people consider coming out a moment of liberation, because sharing their sexual orientation with the world causes them to be seen more authentically.  Often, the opposite is true for trans people. When we share our gender history, many see us less authentically — doubting, probing or denying our identities.”

– Zeke Smith

Zeke Smith, a trans man, was outed on television recently by another contestant during a “survivor” contestant game.  When binary trans people are outed, one minute they are seen by others as normal men and women, the next they are immediately transformed into the gender they were assigned at birth by many others.  It feels intensely distressing when this happens, and transports the trans person back into feeling the intense distress and dysphoria of their coercively assigned gender at birth.  Culturally it has been normalised to “out” a trans person, but it should be remembered that trans people can consider this like an act of violence against them.

Stigma and abuse from our society can cause a lot of stress and depression amongst trans people.  Sometimes the consequences of this can be catastrophic, as was the case for Dr. Vanderbilt, a woman who had transitioned and who lived her life in stealth (choosing not to publicly reveal her gender history).  After she was outed, following some excessive probing into her personal life, then by some publicity about her gender history, she committed suicide.  Many women and men who have had to transition have gone through a stage of having to be “out” while their body changes and they adapt to close the gap between their gender identity and gender expression.  This puts them under excessive scrutiny from the general public.  Sometimes excessive outing during this stressful and traumatic transition process can lead to tragic results, as was the case for schoolteacher Lucy Meadows, who tragically took her own life in 2013 following massive press publicity surrounding her transition.

In the United Kingdom there is a legal framework that is aimed at protecting trans people from harassment, abuse and discrimination.  The effect of disclosure of trans people’s gender history to trans people’s lives cannot be underestimated.  It is a criminal offence for anyone acquiring this protected information in an ‘official capacity’ to disclose it to a third party without the person’s consent.  Maintaining confidentiality and being absolutely sure to get the trans person’s written permission before discussing their case with anyone else is essential if this could identify them.  Telling others without the trans person’s permission could result in a criminal conviction and a £5000 personal fine.  Discrimination laws, such as the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 and the Equality Act 2010, provide the legal protection to transgender people.

In 2016, a local authority was taken to court after an employee exposed a trans boy’s status to the friends of his adoptive parents.

“Matters continued to deteriorate to the extent that [he] did not want his adoptive parents to be involved in his life nor to receive any information about him including any medical treatment he may undergo.” – the judgement said.

The relationship with his adoptive parents broke down, he entered foster care under a section 20 arrangement, and later moved to a local authority unit supporting semi-independent living.  The local authority paid £5000 for the breach in his right to a private life.

In addition to a legal framework for the provision of the right to a private life for a trans person there are also professional obligations for people caring for trans people and their family.  The GMC has published guidelines relating to good medical practice and confidentiality:

From Good medical practice:

  1. You must treat patients as individuals and respect their dignity and privacy.
  2. You must treat patients fairly and with respect whatever their life choices and beliefs.
  3. You must treat patient information as confidential.

From Confidentiality:

  1. You must make sure that any personal information about patients that you hold or control is effectively protected at all times against improper disclosure.
  2. Seeking a patient’s consent to disclosure of information shows respect, and is part of good communication between doctors and patients.
  3. You must respect the wishes of any patient who objects to particular personal information being shared within the healthcare team or with others providing care, unless disclosure would be justified in the public interest. If a patient objects to a disclosure that you consider essential to the provision of safe care, you should explain that you cannot refer them or otherwise arrange for their treatment without also disclosing that information.
  4. You must make sure that anyone you disclose personal information to understands that you are giving it to them in confidence, which they must respect. All staff members receiving personal information in order to provide or support care are bound by a legal duty of confidence, whether or not they have contractual or professional obligations to protect confidentiality.

The RCN has also published specific guidance on the confidentiality of trans people:

“Disclosing someone’s trans status or history without permission or cause is, in some cases, a criminal offence. You should always gain consent before disclosing this information, with permitted exceptions only when it is not possible to gain consent and is essential for the delivery of services, for example the emergency care of an unconscious person, and only to the staff who need to know to effectively deliver relevant care.”

Disclosure and sharing of my gender history without my consent or knowledge during my daughter’s admission has been extremely traumatic for me.  As well as coping with the distress of having a daughter who has serious mental health problems and needing to be there for her as much as I am able to be, I’m also having to cope with being triggered (I suffer with “developmental trauma” or C-PTSD) by discovering how my gender history has been pervasively shared within the unit.  It leaves me with a sense of being trapped by my gender history and powerless to do anything about it.  I’m very frightened and very aware of the prejudice and stigma attached to my history and I’m not confident at all that all staff who know are trans literate, or aware of their legal obligations, or how I live in stealth without disclosing my history and how important my confidentiality is to me.  I find it very hard to trust people who know my gender history because historically so many people have been prejudiced and hurtful because of it, and, much though individuals might feel they are open and accepting, and some staff have been really very lovely, this is sadly no exception at Ticehurst.

It was disclosed to me recently that because of this disclosure some staff “didn’t know” whether to refer to me as a male or female in front of my daughter. Also I learned that I was referred to as a man to my daughter, and my gender was held up for scrutiny by that member of staff who referred to me with masculine pronouns. I learned that my daughter had to correct them and state that she had two mums and she was hearing no more about it.  I was told that another young person at the unit had a trans parent and he had difficulty in accepting her as a woman which is why they referred to this trans woman as a man, and why staff were somehow confused as to what pronouns they should use with me and whether to refer to me as a man or a woman in front of her.  I was shocked, not only to hear that the staff were enabling transphobia because a young person had unresolved transphobia relating to their parent, but was also shocked and humiliated by hearing that people called me a man in front of my daughter.  The RCN, NMC, and GMC are all very clear that people who transition should have their gender pronouns respected.  If a young person were to be openly racist or homophobic, I doubt that people would enable racism or homophobia to such an extent.  

This is because our society views trans people as abnormal, a view that is only just beginning to change.  It is discrimination, and this happened because my confidentiality had been breached.  I had no space to discuss my gender and family situation with staff at the unit because I didn’t know that my gender history had been shared, and no one thought to ask me about it or how I felt about the situation.  It is also prejudice not only because staff were treating my transition and my family in the same way as a young person with issues about their trans parent, but also because cisgender (non trans) parents genders are not held up to the same scrutiny in the same way that mine has been.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that not all trans people are the same, and neither are our families.  My daughter is incredibly proud of me for coming out and transitioning, and is open and supportive because she has been exposed to people who are open loving and supportive people, and trans people being loved and accepted for who they are (she has been to many “trans pride” events).  The thing is that she doesn’t really remember when I presented as male, she was too young, and neither does my son.  In their eyes they have two mums in a same sex relationship.  You are all aware that she has been subjected to transphobia and homophobia by association and yet this seems to have been re-enacted by staff at Ticehurst.

On top of what has happened on the ward, I’d like you to know that I’ve also been subject to distressing treatment from the family therapist in the community, (who reacted, unsurprisingly, in exactly the same way as the family therapist in Chalkhill who found out my gender history without my consent) and I have had to write to her to explain how her insensitive handling of my gender history lead her to jump to the conclusion (like the family therapist in Chalkhill did) that transitioning has somehow traumatised my children. My affect was read as people were “walking on glass” around me, maybe that I had controlled them in some way?  The reality of the matter was that I was terrified of transphobia, I felt scrutinised and misunderstood, I was triggered and trying to internally manage painful dysphoria.  I have had to cope with all kinds of reactions to being trans from many people, many therapists and professionals and I suspected that she knew; she simply re-affirmed this to me.  I do not view professionals as safe because I haven’t had reason to trust them.  I have had a psychologist say to me that “I didn’t have to put on a front with her” and it was only later when I realised that she knew my gender history that she was actually just treating me as less authentic because she learned that I had transitioned. She was meant to be helping me.  I was initially just genuinely confused as to why she was saying I was putting something on.  Let’s also be very clear when we talk about trauma, is that it was external abuse from society which has affected my family – the bullying at school, the lack of support from schoolteachers when my children were bullied that my daughter really needs to talk about.  Maybe, dear family therapists, when you’re dealing with minorities, maybe you could start with discussing minority stress?

As I have discussed, trans people have been known to commit suicide after disclosure and I am no exception as to the levels of emotional and psychological distress being outed has caused.  Like other trans people, I consider it an act of violence, and in this case on an institutional level. I’m currently having to use all of my therapeutic tools, including taking PRN medication, as well as having to rely on the support of an understanding partner and support network to get through this. I have trouble sleeping because of it, which has affected my performance at work, have been less able to keep to a normal daily routine which is important to my mental health, and feel less able to be there and be supportive to my daughter or manage the changes in my family life.  I have discussed it with my psychiatrist and my psychologist who have been equally supportive and deeply concerned about how this has affected my mental health.  My psychiatrist has offered to write to the unit to express his concern about its affects on my mental health, and my psychologist came out himself in support and empathy with the situation I have found myself in.  I’m hoping that writing this helps to resolve some of the distress and anxiety it has caused.  I’m really troubled and anxious about being outed, I find it difficult now to make eye contact with people at Ticehurst, I cannot trust that decisions made about my daughter’s care have not been born out of prejudice – for example, I’m very concerned about the decision made by someone who has never met me that I’m not allowed to visit Kira because it might upset her isn’t born out of bias and discrimination because of the experiences of working with a transphobic young person.  I feel like I’m seen as “less than”, less of a mother, less of a person.  I feel dehumanised, vulnerable, ashamed, scrutinised, powerless, humiliated, violated and trapped.  My family and I have been exposed to prejudice and transphobia because my gender history has been shared without my consent and I haven’t been consulted about it.  This is exactly why I live, on a day to day level, in “stealth” and I explicitly do not consent to having my gender history shared – even among professionals.

I am given the impression at Ticehurst, and with other professionals, that you have an entitlement to know about my gender history.  As far as I am concerned, people do not automatically have this right because they are looking after my daughter.  She doesn’t remember when I transitioned, she doesn’t remember me presenting male.  What she does know is that she has a trans mum who she is proud of but has suffered mental health problems because of societal stigma and discrimination, and she has suffered because of this too – such is the nature of oppression and intergenerational trauma.  This need only be shared verbally between key staff that she and I trust.  I very strongly object to it being written down and shown to every staff member at the unit and other agencies like it has been, and it leaves her really vulnerable and open to transphobia by association.  Please if you aren’t transphobic, if you’re empathic and caring, please try and protect her from this.

The endocrinology department in Brighton has many trans people under their care and they have a specialist consultant who deals with them.  They know, through feedback from trans people, that it is insensitive (and illegal) to share the trans status of their patients, even to other “professionals”, so for example on the blood forms, they do not say that a person is trans.  Working with families where you discover a parent is trans needs to be done with great care and sensitivity. There are guidelines and organisations available to help you make informed decisions as to when you need to out them by sharing their gender history, I just wish that people pay them more attention to them, and I hope that by advocating for myself and writing this I can help you to understand what a tremendous impact it has had on me, my family and loved ones, and implications for the children and families I care for in my professional life.

Transiness forums are here!

It has been a while coming but we’re slowly moving forwards and to help people share information and advice I’ve made the transiness forums.  The Facebook group is great but it has a few problems – some really useful advice and links get lost over time and sometimes it’s useful to have a place where things can be stored more permanently.  Moving from one format to another might be challenging so I’m looking to the group to make the most of the new forums.  I’ve taken technical suggestions forward and you can now connect via SSL instead of unencrypted.  I’m hoping that you’ll find the structure easy to navigate, uncluttered, and of course mostly free from annoying pop-ups and advertisements.

You can navigate to the forums from the address bar above or directly here.

UK’s First Sexual Violence Helpline for Trans and Non Binary People

We’re delighted to announce the UK’s first helpline for trans, non binary and questioning people.

“We offer non-judgmental emotional support and signposting to other organisations who may also be able to offer support”, the service says. The idea for a trans related helpline has been long in development and the team have ensured, not only that the switchboard is operated by trans volunteers, but have built upon their successes and experience with survivors of sexual violence. The idea of approaching support is complicated when you are trans, especially since you won’t know exactly how much those who offer support understand the complexities of being trans is.

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“This is the first service of its kind in the UK to offer specialist support for trans survivors. We are sex worker affirmative, LGBT affirmative and are skilled in working with people in vulnerable situations, such as those who are homeless or living with domestic abuse”.

The service was launched to coincide with trans pride 2016 in Brighton, an event for transsexual, transgender and non-binary people to celebrate their lives in mainstream society which is often oppressive to their identities.

GP Trans Care Guidelines – Northern Ireland

We’re really pleased to announce that the royal college of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland recently produced these guidelines with respect to the care of trans patients.  Often it can be a frightening and infuriating process as a trans person trying to make some headway undergoing a permanent physical transition.  Often people know what they need from services but actually accessing them is a difficult process, having to navigate personal prejudice along with inappropriate referrals for counselling or treatment for depression.  This excellent guide encourages GP’s to treat trans people with the care and dignity they deserve.

LGBT History month

I’m sorry that transiness has been a bit slow lately, however, our co.uk site is back up and running (it’s been a year already!), and here’s our history for LGBT history month!:

Transiness was formed in 2013 and pioneered a radically different approach to online support which steered away from political-led victories towards health and wellbeing. Using the tenents of transfeminism – that of freedom of expression and bodily autonomy, transiness furthered it’s goal by adding wellbeing as a core factor of wellness for trans identified people, and peer support as a key factor which had previously been identified in local support groups.

Since then, this model has been emulated, and concepts of health and wellbeing has formed part of the vocabulary of trans people and support services.

Transiness has stood on its own through the contribution of its members sharing their transition victories and stories, and through its wide appreciation that transness is a community issue: families friends and allies share a space where people are allowed to be vulnerable, open and honest about what is going on for them.

Inclusivity means supporting not only people who choose to only socially transition but , but also those who need to change their bodies (bodily autonomy) which is radical in the face of ideologies against trans people changing their physical bodies.

We encourage everyone to self define how they feel most suits them, from binary identified people, to agender people and across a spectrum of identities, and across social and ethnic backgrounds.

LGBT history month : An interview with Carol Steel.

As part of LGBT history month I was delighted to be able to have the chance to interview a prominent activist who has seen her fair share of change over the years.

In 1961, at the carolage of 16, Carol began in earnest her journey to physically transition from male to female and in 1972,  she formed one of the first groups for transsexual people in the UK with a friend, Linda B. The group grew fairly rapidly and she was asked to give a talk to the students union at Manchester University about transsexuality. After the meeting she was approached by a young trans guy (who identified as a lesbian at the time) who told her that he had always been conflicted about his gender – this person transitioned shortly afterwards and later went on to become one of the leading campaigners for transgender rights and he was part of the legal team that won that all important victory in Strasbourg that forced the then Tory government to implement what became known as the Gender Recognition Act of 2004.

Currently she is doing groundbreaking work supporting trans people in Devon, with her site transfigurations, and ongoing work exploring people’s experiences with their GP’s (something we found to be a big issue with our members in our straw poll in 2014).

Rebecca Williams:
Hi Carol, I was wondering if you wanted to take part in a small interview for transiness.co.uk about your activism and the GP database for LGBT history month. I think it’s such important work!

Carol Steele:
Yes, I would love it if you would promote it, it is something that is very important and could prove a lifeline for some people.

Rebecca Williams:
How did you come about having the idea, of the database?

Carol Steele:
It came about from somebody mentioning in one of the groups of the hassle that she was having with her GP to get her referred to a GIC – and the rudeness of some of the other staff at the practice.

Rebecca Williams:
There’s a lot of content on your site, how did you envision it?

Carol Steele:
Yes, the site was meant to be a resource where anybody (transgender people of all ages, parents, partners) could gain a little insight into the condition as well as gain reassurance that they were not the only ones in the world – which is what a lot of people feel when they are coming to terms with how they feel about themselves.  That’s why I included some pages about “our stories” to show people that we are all the same but at the same time all unique. Unfortunately that side of it has yet to take off properly

Rebecca Williams:
Yes, it’s much more in the public eye than it was. I remember going to my first support group and thinking “thank god, it’s not just me”.

Carol Steele
My thoughts as well.  When a person who was counselling me put me in contact with a couple of other transwomen – and with one of them we set up the first TV/TS group in Manchester.

Rebecca Williams
Oh, what was that called, and how did it go?

Carol Steele:
As we wanted it to be very recognisable, we went for the name of ‘The Manchester TV/TS Group’ lol! It later went on to become the Manchester Concord I believe, but that was well after the time I left to get a job in London. It very quickly became very popular and together with the Leeds TV/TS group were responsible for some of the early activism – including gatecrashing the annual psychitrists conference in York one year lol!  They ended up throwing us out!  It was around 1974

Rebecca Williams: omg I wasn’t born then.  It’s incredible all the work that was done for TS/TV people but when I was young there was absolutely nothing to be heard of.  The nearest I had was Kenney Everret and frankly that was so scary for a very young trans girl.

Carol Steele:
Yes, it was difficult back in those days as there was no such thing as home computers or the internet. The Manchester Gay Switchboard used to pass on all enquiries of a transgender nature to me. Some gay friends of mine were actively involved with it and they suggested it as they felt it was better to refer a caller onto me whenever possible rather than try and handle it themselves. That was back in the days of CHE and the GLF

Rebecca Williams:
The CHE?

Carol Steele:
Campaign for Homosexual Equality – a bit like Stonewall – a respectable organisation working for gay rights. The GLF (Gay Liberation Front) was more proactive as its name might suggest

Rebecca Williams:
Ah ok. It sounds like attitudes to gender minorities were quite good from sexual minorities – is that how you experienced it?

Carol Steele:
Yes, very much so – we used to work well together – no such thing as TERF’s back in those days.

Rebecca Williams:
Right, is that what happened then, is that what caused the rifts?

Carol Steele:
A lot of gay groups are still very helpful to trans people – we have one in Devon called Proud2Be and we work very well together. It started with Germain Greer and then the publication of the Transsexual Empire by Janice Raymond. It served to drive a wedge between some feminists and transgender people, or perhaps I should say some feminist lesbians

Rebecca Williams:
Yes Germain Greer has been in the press recently, thoroughly discrediting herself. I think a lot of modern feminists just wish she’d shut up now! There were some laws passed in America that saw that sexual minorities had rights, but trans people didn’t, and moreover, that transgender people were denied access to medical treatment. So around this time you were in London?

Carol Steele:
Yes, Cathy Brennan and her cohorts had a lot to do with trans people losing rights to medical insurance etc.  Yes I was in London from the mid 70’s to the very early 80’s

Rebecca Williams:
And you’ve been an activist all this time?

Carol Steele:
No, not all the time – when I moved to Torquay to set up my businesses, I took a break.

Rebecca Williams:
To live in stealth?

Carol Steele:
Yes, I owned a hairdressing and beauty salon and I don’t think I would have got very many clients if they had known I was trans lol

Rebecca Williams:
Yes, exactly… on a personal level, how was that for you?

Carol Steele:
It was great, just being accepted as just another woman – but I, like you, was lucky in that respect- I could blend in without a problem

Rebecca Williams:
Yes, it’s actually who we are.  What made you come out again?

Carol Steele:
The realisation that there was still so much to be done for people who were not as fortunate as I had been – and that I had an (almost) lifetime of experience – both good and bad – that I could help people with… so I joined an online forum and quickly became a site moderator – but I became disenchanted as they would not accept people below the age of 18 – when most people need that help.

Rebecca Williams:
Yeah, I hear Tavistock is rammed right now. So is that when you started your own group?

Carol Steele:
Yes, around 4 years ago

Rebecca Williams:
How did you get things started?

Carol Steele:
Originally it was just for Torquay people – a casual group meeting up – but I saw that there was a need for it to be much wider based (and open to trans youth/parents/partners) so set about becoming much more active with the police, the NHS and other bodies – then I decided to create the website

Rebecca Williams:
It’s looking really good, and it’s fantastic to have a very personalized site. It must have taken a lot of time and effort.

Carol Steele:
Yes, originally, it was often a 20 hour day whilst I got it up and running and looking the way I wanted it to…. but well worth it in the end. It receives a huge number of visitors these days
Just as well that I have a good web hosting company!

Rebecca Williams:
And what are your plans for 2015?

Carol Steele:
Further expansion, more membership, go out into schools, help people back into employment, work with the NHS to try and improve transgender healthcare – the usual stuff! I have a tour of the custody suite at our local police station – and then some important work around a new protocol that we are developing for transgender detainees being held in custody in the afternoon.

Rebecca Williams:
Carol thank-you so much for your time.

Part of Carol’s work includes the GP database, if you identify as trans-gender or trans-sexual and have needed to approach your GP about it, please take the time to fill in Carol’s survey below.


 

Since it was first published in July of last year, the results of the survey into Trans Friendly Doctors and GP’s has been accessed 3,100 times by people from all over the UK – showing that there is desperate need for this type of information by transgender people all over the UK – yet sadly, many transgender people are not coming forward to supply the much needed information sought by so many.

Please, please, PLEASE those of you who have been retiscent about providing information in your area, please take the 5 mins to complete this survey so that you can help others in your area find a GP who will treat them with respect and dignity – or those to avoid because of bad practice.

You can find the survey here.
And here for another article about Carol’s work.

Welcome sassy transmonaut, welcome 2015!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWelcome to 2015 everyone, I’m glad you all made it through. As far as New Years resolutions go, my son came out with a great one recently – his friend said “to write 2015 at the top of the page”!

I’m inspired by people like Brene Brown, Julia Serano, Anne Enke, Bell Hooks, our local activists who put so much hard work into supporting people – and everyone here for their comments and contributions to make this a positive space, despite all our differences and individualities! I know and try to understand how it is difficult to understand how different spaces work on facebook, but I’m so pleased to read people’s courage not only in talking about issues that matter to them, and trying to be respectful of others, but also in really trying to remember the good things that happen too and making a note of them here.

I’m very aware of the recent tragic news that has affected the trans community, that possibly might be bringing up issues for everyone here as well so it’s probably a good time to send that facebook message to someone you haven’t heard from in a while, or just to let your tribe know that they matter to you. I’m also mindful of our friends here who have lost loved ones because of depression, who feel sad and isolated right now – everyone matters. Every life is precious, every trans life, every queer life, all genders, sexes, colours, regardless of upbringing or disabilities.

You are special.

2014 brought us fantastic integration with Maz’s trans friendly events in Brighton, the establishment of a roller-derby team with an amazing trans friendly policy. Like 2013, Brighton had trans-pride 2014 which was bigger and better than ever. We’re seeing much more kindness in the press and media than before with fantastic productions like “Orange is the new Black”, as well as the emergence of more realistic trans storylines. Healthcare providers are becoming interested in “trans training”, and the once hailed “S onewall” seems to be interested in putting the “t” back in. I’ve also had the delight of watching friends and acquaintances grow stronger and happier through sometimes gruelling transitions.

2014 has also brought us the establishment of both binary and non-binary identities as “a thing”, where transition to a place of personal, individual comfort is something we all share. Sometimes this is just a shift in the way we think, and for others a little more work is required!. All identities are unique, special and treasured.yal4 c

So where are we going for 2015? Well we hope to continue the stickies, and hope to add as many as we can to the co.uk site. We’re also looking for contributors to write on the co.uk site if anyone feels brave enough saying publicly!

Was there anything else brilliant about your 2014? What would you like to make happen in 2015? How can we help each other better and have a bigger, stronger, brighter and better positive-thinking community?

Rebecca x

Never good enough.

Today I wanted to share something about not feeling good enough.

One of the most entrenched beliefs I have is about not ever being good enough, it manifests in everything I am, everything I do, and in every aspect of my life.  That… overwhelming sense of failure.  Sometimes I’ll go so far as to bring failure onto myself – to make it tangible, less ethereal, make it real so that I can at least experience it.

“she grew up learning to scan the people around her, craving approval, trying to identify and meet their expectations as well. But approval is like a sugar high. It doesn’t last. It’s never enough. And it subjects us to an endless round of subordinating ourselves to others, taking us further and further away from ourselves. Even today, as a successful professional, Jill harbors that “not good enough” feeling inside, unable to accept compliments, to believe in herself, to fully relax and enjoy her life.” – D.Dreher (Psychology Today 2014)

Everything from my profession, to my relationship, friendships and parenthood – never good enough is a message constantly internalised at every level.  And of course, a strikingly internalised message was that that I was not a good enough girl and I’m not a good enough woman.  Its echoes remain with me always, and those from feminism one of the strongest – “male socialised”, “not raised with that level of vulnerability”, “endowed with privilege”… “not good enough”.  My body was not good enough, my psychology not good enough, my emotional intelligence not good enough.  I’m never a good enough parent, sister, or daughter, I don’t have a noun for my parenthood, but what does it matter – not being good enough anyway.

And from this thread of inadequacy, so many others blossom.  My partner tells me how beautiful and graceful I am, how much she loves me and what we mean to each other is profound, but I still have that sense of not being enough for her.  I’m told I’m competent at my job, I get good grades academically – but I’m never good enough to myself.  Recently, talking with friends I heard the words “imposter syndrome” – there seems some validation of that feeling of not being good enough, of not being worthy.  I guess in a psychological way I carry around a “not good enough” cup nearly filled to the brim – it doesn’t take much for it to spill over and cause devastation with relationships.

So now that I know, where can I take this?  Where does one go with a sense of never being good enough – and this sense of a deep prevailing daily struggle, upheld by the many acts, behaviours, comments and micro-aggressions faced by a minority woman every day of her life?

Dreher (2014) suggests three things:

  1. Mindfulness.  Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Name your feelings to yourself—“I feel sad, scared, hurt, angry, confused.”
  2. Common humanity.  Tell yourself, “It’s OK. No one’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.”
  3. Kindness to yourself.  Actively soothe yourself with kind words, even giving yourself a hug by crossing your arms over your chest, squeezing your upper arms, and feeling a sense of compassion for yourself (Neff, 2011).

Listening to what I’m feeling is a totally alien thing for me, I have a lifetime training in not listening, in not being myself, in not talking about the issues that bother me.  My feelings are magnified, enormous, loud and torturous, but once released… safely… they loose their power in time.  I know this, I’ve been in enough therapy.  Madison Sonnier from “the tiny buddah” suggests 7 things to remember when not feeling good enough.  Tartacovsky (2013) suggests simply accepting that we are enough already,  Chernoff (2014) suggests 20 things to remember when you think you’re not good enough, and Coster (2013) reminds me of the importance of self care.

Rebecca

Suicide was such a friend of mine…

[Editors note: Part of wellness and recovery is about talking about our pain, and people listening with compassion and empathy, we’re aware that this isn’t a particularly positive experiene, but the process of writing things down is healing and cathartic.  Sometimes things are difficult and life is hard.  Suicidal ideation is surprisingly common, but it’s also a sign that you need help.  The Samaritans 08457 90 90 90 and Mind 0300 123 3393 (open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).) can help you to make sense of things if you’re feeling suicidal, low, or distressed about things.]

It’s funny how even these days I always find myself referring back to this moment of my life time and time again, that moment when everything in my life seemed so lost and completely out of reach. The silent tears that I cried that no one could listen to, or even if it were possible that silent tears could make a sound, would they still listen?

The story starts In my teenage years, I never had the best that the world had to offer me, as a child my parents went through a tough time when I was 11, at school I was still painfully shy to the point I was taunted and bullied almost every day, and later when I was about 13 my parents finally decided to eventually split. Torn between the two I never knew which way to go, in the end I chose my dad. I guess seeing him there at my nans house, watching a grown man reduced to nothing but a quivering wreck and a cascade of tears as I heard him trying to tell my nan and uncle that my mom had said she was leaving him really brought reality home to me. I really felt for him that day, in all my short years I’d never seen this big strong man I called my dad, cry a single tear.

The following year was another life lesson for me, Bob Geldof was in the news raising awareness for the famine that raged through Ethiopia, Band Aid, and of course Live Aid ensued, the rest we know as history. I was sickened by all of this but realized there was very little I could do but be sympathetic towards it all, my dad felt the same way too as we watched it together on the news.

Sadly my dad died the following summer, I was only 15, and at 43 he was only a year younger than I am myself right now. It was me who found him, stone cold and face down, he’d died in his sleep. From that moment my world came crashing down, I was distraught beyond belief but I’d also become destroyed by it all too. Life seemed so pointless at that moment, I was forced to stay with my older brother, who just like the kids at school, used to bully me and push me around, we’d fight a lot too. I never spent much time in school after that moment, and of course this resulted in me not taking any exams and failing. My art teacher caught up with me though and constantly bestowed his faith in me that I could do this, needless to say through his efforts I passed my art exam. The only thing that really got me through these tough times were remembering the troubles in Ethiopia, which of course by now were still continuing. I realized that as tough as it might be for me right now, there are children out there in the world that are far worst off than I was. Maybe in relation to that, I was still very much, one of the lucky ones.

I’ll jump a few years now, if not to ease the burden of reading a story that has now extended to over a 2000 words.

I was 19, I’d lost my flat through not being able to find sufficient work to pay the bills, I guess leaving school without exams makes finding quality jobs a real tough one. I’d already hiked to the bright lights of the big city, and back again. I guess I was never going to find my fortune there was I? I’d also had a brush with the law too, quite a few times really and this resulted in a short spell in prison for my sins. I was really down and so deeply depressed with nowhere to turn, or even anyone I could really talk to. It seems that even over the four years that had passed since my dad had died I was still grieving for him in a real big way, The scars that still exist on my wrists to this day are a testament to the deep depression I’d gone through in my late teens, a reminder of how dark those days were for me. Later after the visual scars had finally healed, I turned to my mom as a means to find somewhere to stay, but she turned me away, not just once but quite a few times. I remember on two separate occasions I had to sleep under a tree in a park as I had nowhere else to go, on a clear cold night you could look up and see the stars shining really brightly. I went for help from other close family members too but they all told me the same story, no room at the Inn. I was so desperate for help but also so depressed from it all too and there seemed very little point in continuing. I took the small amount of cash I had with me and walked into a shop to buy paracetamol, they came in packs of 25 back then. I went to another shop to buy some too, and then another but this time I also bought myself a can of coke. I got on the bus to go to my moms, I sat on the top deck throughout the long journey, I was on my own up there as it was late at night. A few at a time I took those tablets and washed it down with coke, the first packet was empty so I moved on to the next, then the next until I’d taken all 75 of them, I felt fine for a while. I turned up at my moms front door, her boyfriend answered and let me in. He told me my mom was in the bath and that I should just go straight upstairs quietly so she wouldn’t hear me. all I wanted to do that night was die, or was I really crying out for help? There was nothing left in this world to live for, everything I tried to do for myself had failed so life for me just had no meaning anymore. I got into bed and slowly faded off to sleep, somehow hoping that I’d never wake up again and this whole nightmare would at last be over.

The following morning I woke from my sleep, I had the most enormous headache you could ever imagine and it was obvious that my attempted overdose had failed. In fact I failed at suicide just as much as I’d failed at life and it just seemed that I couldn’t get anything right. My life did improve after that though, not straight away, but things did get better. I later looked back at that darkest moment of my life and realized how disgraceful those actions were. Who was I to decide when I should die and what right did I have to think I could just end it all?

Moving forward to the next 23 years we end up in June 2013 and I’m already 12 months into transitioning after coming out again for the second time as transsexual. Times had been tough over the previous 12 months but June 2013 had been my worst month yet. I was battling with my own demons in my head, always trying to do the right thing, doing what I needed to do for myself, but also trying to please everyone around me that I loved so much. I’d heard so many negative comments from others, you don’t look like a woman, you don’t act like a woman, oh and yeah, you don’t talk like one either whilst at the same time being told that I’m ugly. I was doing some decorating work for a friend at the time, most days I couldn’t even concentrate enough to do a full days work, getting more and more depressed as the days went by to the point where I just wanted to just end it all there and then and get it over with, to cure my own and everyone else’s misery. I got chatting with my good friend Rebecca, she talked me through a lot of stuff and helped a lot to put my mind at ease, and yes it really did help.

The following week though depression set in even deeper and there just seemed no turning back from it all. I was going through the thoughts in my head over and over, planning every detail down to the last bit. I started by wondering how much paracetamol I could buy with the £16 I had left in my pocket, but then thinking about the slow and painful death that might occur from it all as my body slowly shuts itself down. Then there was the craft knife I was holding in my hand, how deep could I go with the blade to cause sufficient damage that I’d just bleed to death. Then I realized what a mess that might make on the lovely cream coloured carpet and that someone would be left behind to clear it up after me. Also, seeing the scars on my wrist was a reminder that I’d tried this once before, and like everything else I’d failed. So I stood at the top of the stairs and wondered if I could throw myself down them violently enough that my neck would be broken by the time I reached the bottom, but then I was worried about all the pain I might be in if I never managed to do it right. It seemed that throughout my life I’d never done anything right, I failed at being a husband, a father but also the two suicide attempts when I was a teenager. I was a failure full stop! But was I?

I’d survived suicide and depression when I was younger, I’d even survived a very serious illness when I was 21, being told by the doctor that you only have 24hrs left to live because they don’t know how to treat your illness makes you have a very different viewpoint on life. But it was that week in June 2013 that really did it for me though. Chrisie Edkins had already taken her own life 2 weeks previous, I was adamant that like her I wasn’t going to become another statistic but the reality was that through all of this, what the hell did I have left to live for? Everyone I loved was quite rightfully against me living my new life as Reena, my kids needed their dad and my wife who I loved so much just wanted her big hairy man back, the one who was as tough as old boots and not scared of anything, the very same person who by now had become crippled by severe depression and nothing to live for.

There were two distinct things that that saved me from taking my life that day, my failed suicide attempts when I was much younger along with the realization that suicide really is a wast of time and life, and music. Two days after my deep depression there was a major open air gig that myself and my band were performing at in Birmingham. In my own mind it seems I’d let everyone else down, these guys had back me all the way and I suppose in my last attempts to get things right.

I guess the real moral of this story is that whatever the reason appears to be that suicide is your very last option, it really isn’t. No matter how dark your world may appear, there is always a light in the distance waiting for you, that no matter how much hurt you may be feeling, the pain always goes away. There is always a better day waiting for you around the corner, there is always hope, and above all there is always going to be a day and a life you can claim and call your own. Suicide is never, ever, the final option. If you’ve got through to this part of the story then you’ll already know that I talk from experience, that in essence, it really does get better.

The song below was written by myself in 2010 and it’s now performed at every gig that myself and my band attend. Yes It’s a constant reminder of the bad times when I was younger, but it’s also a celebration of the good times since then as I live to take center stage one more time, and do things my way.

Reena xx

Don’t Tell Me (A World Without You)

I found myself in a different place
So sick and tired of the human race
Being down on your luck
Is always so tough

Walking down the street with no name
It’s kinda funny, we’re both the same
Stuck in the middle
With no place to go

Don’t tell me that you understand
If you’ve never walked in my shoes
There’s a price I paid for someone’s mistake
And it’s got me left in the blues
Don’t tell me, Cos you don’t know
The pain that I’ve been through
Every time I came, you closed the door to your heart
And left me, In a world without you…

Found me a place to stay for the night
It wasn’t pretty but those stars were bright
Left out in the cold
With only the cloths I had on

Suicide was such a friend of mine
I know I tried it, from time to time
To find a way out of this place
But what a disgrace…