How do you identify?
I use he/him pronouns and I identify with the label transmasculine but I just go by man. But people call me boy, I have been ID'd for stamps and bars even though I am teetotal before with my baby face. Or people just misgender me full stop.
How did you come to realise your identity?
It was something I realised early on but also took a long time. My body has never done what I wanted it to do so I have always felt isolated from it in some regard. From very early on, I sensed that there was something amiss. I identified very early on as masculine, my sister knew from when I was 2. I saw myself as a tomboy, I did not like dresses or the colour pink, the typical feminine things that had me labelled as a girl. My appearance remained very static, I looked the same from the age of 7, I did not change my haircut and wear makeup. I was uncomfortable with who I was. There were different realisations, the first when I was 4 or 5 that there was something different about me that I did not know how to articulate then and now. At 11, I went to an all girl grammar school, which was difficult, it is very affirming for those who were feminine and I admit I felt more comfortable with femininity there. But it was the time of puberty and I really felt uncomfortable with my body. I realised that there was something different about me but I did not have the language back in 2010 with the lack of trans visibility. I was trans about 2015 but I did not acknowledge or accept it. You know when you realise something but don’t accept it, the cognitive dissonance. I did realise until late 2016, not influenced by Trump but rather this growing realisation reaching this peak and kicked in. Once I fully accepted it, I wanted to tell everyone. I realised who I am, a man. I was still at the all-girls’ school the whole time, but it was a mixed sixth form and I dressed like the guys. In 2017, I started coming out but I was not out to everyone until 5 days before university. University was the first time I was out and a friend has talked about at the start, I was yet to embody my masculinity. She did not know what pronouns to use. I was not used to having Luke as my name, 5 days in really. I was out to my family, dad, sister and my dog who hated my hairstyle. But at the start of university, I did not really identify or embody myself, avoiding it. But back at my school, there have been about 10 trans people who have come out in my year of 50 people and there have been more since. My trans journey has been something.
Have you been supported in your journey?
I think that it was for most people I know, it was not surprising. But I came out to my dad 3 times, this was because I was skirting around it and he was skirting around it. My dad does not quite get it but he is trying and I do not blame him for that because it is complex. My sister is very good, she was always preparing as she already sensed it long before. I was constrained by the lack of visibility and no one really knows how to react to having a trans child. Mine is influenced by me being a tomboy and my undiagnosed disability so they did not know if it was my disability or something else completely different. If I was 10 now, I think it would habe been easier becuase of the transgender wave. It was the words, the closest word I had for what I was growing up was tomboy. If I had the words, it would have helped me earlier on come to a realisation.
Did you find any trans representation in the media that was helpful to you?
It was a general thing for me really. I was not influenced by the Caitlin Jenner case and I did not understand what was going on or why it was a problem. But rather it was more a creeping in of ideas around gender identity. But I did not see trans people until 16 when a person came out. He started describing his experiences and it hit me like a gut punch. How complex it seemed to me and still does, like I am in the eye of the storm. There was no singular person though but I owe my sister a lot for support.
Have you been able to connect with the trans community?
I went to a few Pride Soc events but I feel like everyone was friends and it was kind of exclusive. But that may just be me. I never deep drove into it but I do have really supportive friends. I did start to look more at trans issues with my two Grand Challenges work, analysing trans policy here. Falmouth have a far more comprehensive, tolerant and supportive one. The current Exeter one only helps people who are transitioning but while I have started transitioning but I have not started hormone therapy. There are a lot of gaping holes in there and outdated language in there so I have been trying to get a policy in place and there does seem to be progress now. I am now part of the Liberation committee as a widening participation officer and trying to make changes as it is my final year.
Is it very difficult to make the changes you need as a trans person in the UK?
It is very exclusive for those who are not rich. My change of name was 170 pounds for the lawyer as a witness and deed poll. I needed it for the university then there were the changing bank accounts, passports. But I did not have a gender recognition certificate as I had not been living as trans for 5 years, it is very expensive so I had to fish for proof that I am trans so I had to get a letter for a private clinic specialist that was acceptable. I am lucky that I am being supported by a charity, MCF, that has supported my family. If I tried on my own, it would be 5 grand which is just for two sessions at the private clinic. I waited two years on the NHS waiting list at Exeter. Exeter has one of the shortest waiting lists but in September 2017 I was told that I had to wait for an appointment until December 2020. My entire time of being at university. In terms of my medical transition, it was never easy but I was not really braced for how quick it has been with the MCF help. I was ready to wait it out on the waiting list, I was anticipating time to adjust before having testerone for maybe 6 months. I need more adjustment time because I struggle with change, very ironic really. And that has not happened, so I am adjusting to the thing that I knew was coming.
Have you started?
Not yet. It is sitting on my table. They say start in the morning but I wake up at 11am, I don’t do first thing in the morning . So I will have to figure that out.
How have you found it constantly being an educator?
I am used to talking about it, I don’t think people understand how much we have to be educators. It is exasperating and exhausting but what has guided me is my hope that others down the line will not have to do it. I understand that for many, the questions come from a place of never being taught about it. I had to find the langauge and labels that fit me, but cis people do not usually have to do that sort of work. And they probably should, learning about gender. Once you start to examine your gender, you learn things about yourself that you never realised. A lot of people carry toxic things about their gender that affect them but they are never taught to critically assess or challenge their gender. Men in particular need to do, I feel, women already partly practice this under the patriarchy. Coming to uni and speaking to other men about the aspects of toxic masculinity that they may have and I may have but I am working on it but most men don’t see it as important. When I mentioned my period to a bunch of heterosexual cis male flatmates I had before, they started shrieking what are you talking about? What do you think happens that you need to panic, just a bit of blood. And they say women are emotional. Men really need to do the work. I am still dealing with the aftereffects of the ways in which women are suppressed. As a trans man, I was socialised to be a woman even though I was never and never will be that. The socialisation though is still ingrained in me and I still feel a greater affinity towards women in the sense that men that I meet there are these traits of toxic masculinity I never taught them. I feel a need to support women because I would not say I was one but I was one. I wish white cis men used their power to help the women, people of colour, the disabled.. in their lives, to have a greater reflection of how what I would call chivalry in society.
What would you wish trans kids had that you did not get?
More of the vocabulary to use for them, their family and other cis people. Describing the trans experience can be very difficult. So to have the accepted phrases and terms which have really helped me. I don’t like the phrase, born as a girl, I was not, I was seen as a girl but I never was one. Young trans people having that is a very good thing. I like that there is more trans visibility but I would like there to be more and more being actual persons beyond just transness. But also getting more policies to protect us with the issue of gender identity is becoming more important. What I needed the most at age 10 was the world to know that transness was not this weird thing that is reserved for odd people. I am odd but it is not that, there are words out there and people that are more accepting and open about it. I didn’t think at the start that there were this many people who are okay with it. For young trans kids, they should know that they are not alone and they are older trans people. I remember the first time I met an older trans adult, in their 40s and it was a bombshell moment. It is not just confused kids but grown adults. Also our life expectancy is so short so becoming an adult did not cross my mind but afterwards, I realised that I am going to be this for someone else. You know, I am going to grow old and have a life beyond this that I never envisioned. Trans kids in some ways have it easier but it is still very difficult and I think it will always be. But I am happier it is easier in most cases.
Interviewed by Kabejja