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Fear of rejection still biggest barrier to coming out for trans community

Over 2,500 people a year call the Gay Switchboard Dublin support line, which has said many LGBT people living in rural Ireland face isolation from the community.

Image: zipped mouth image via Shutterstock

OVER 2,500 PEOPLE a year call the Gay Switchboard Dublin phone line, which offers listening, support and information to the LGBT community and their families.

Speaking on National Coming Out Day today, Director of the support line Tony Cooney said callers discuss a range of things such as coming out, relationships, bullying or discrimination and mental health.

“The most common concern would generally be from people who are isolated, living in rural areas who don’t have access to the resources that are in urban areas,” he told TheJournal.ie. “They’re not out in the community, they’re not out to their families and it can be very lonely.”

Cooney said that there has been greater acceptance of the gay and lesbian community over the last decade but that the trans community still faces an uphill struggle and the biggest barrier to coming out is their fear of rejection.

“They have a lot more to do, they have to transition themselves and accept themselves, there’s a lot more physical and medical hoops to jump through to even get to the transition stage and to get to who they are,” he said. “Once people tell their families and it’s accepted, that’s generally the key and they can handle what comes after.”

To mark National Coming Out Day, two members of the trans community in Ireland shared their stories with TheJournal.ie:

‘A lot of fighting and crying ‘

19-year-old Sam Blanckensee, who is a veterinary nursing student in UCD, came out three times as a teenager- first as bisexual, then gay and finally transgender.

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He said the most difficult thing for him was telling his parents:

Their reaction was that they thought it was a phase because of the other stuff and that I was going to turn around and tell them it wasn’t how I was really feeling. I told them by means of letter. They knew something was up with me and pressured me about it. I already had the letter typed up so I went into my room, pressed print, went down and threw it at them and ran back upstairs. I really wasn’t ready to have the discussion. They cornered me in the car a few days later and so we sat down and talked about it.

I had put a lot of resources in the letter which they hadn’t read so it was very much me trying to educate them about what trans actually was and tell them how I was feeling even thought I didn’t know how I entirely identified myself.

It turned into a lot of fighting and crying and tensions were very high. But when they saw I wanted to take more steps they started to come around. I told more people, felt comfortable presenting as a man was binding my chest daily and friends were calling me by a different name so when they saw that things started to change.

I started college entirely as a guy and had already changed my name legally and started to take medical steps.

My parents came round in their own time, it wasn’t like they rejected me but they didn’t understand. Now they’re the most supportive parents in the world and they’re really involved in trans rights – I can’t fault them on that. I would say that everyone should do it on their own terms and if your parents aren’t OK with it, just remember how long it took you to come to terms with it – then give them twice as much time.

‘I never wanted to cause hurt, especially to my ex-wife’

53-year-old Sara, who is chair of the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland, was married with three children when she and her wife split up after over 13 years together.

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Coming out as trans is different because your physical appearance is different, rather than just telling people what is happening, people have to get used to the change in the way you look and calling you a different name – my mum still makes the mistake even now. But you have the same worries about how people might react.

My wife found out and I tried to explain it – I admitted it the moment she asked the question, she kind of felt she knew something there and it was difficult. We struggled on after that for four or five years because I didn’t want to break up the marriage. I thought I can deal with this, my marriage is more important, but she found it very difficulr and in fairness it probably wasn’t what she signed up for, what she thought our life was going to be.

I knew from a young age that I was female but I couldn’t see a way of that ever happening. We’re talking the 70s and 80s, but when it comes down to it, it overpowers you. When the decision was made to actually transition that took huge amount of pressure off, I thought all of a sudden I can be open and be who I am instead of hiding.

It’s difficult to have regrets around my family side of thigs because I have three great kids. But I would never have wanted to cause any hurt, especially to my ex-wife. I married her for love, not to hide.

I would say to people that you can have a good life, Ireland is probably one of the most progressive countries in relation to society – I mean I’m a 53-year-old trans woman working in the construction industry.

The Gay Switchboard Dublin has been running since 1974, currently with 38 volunteers. It is open seven days a week and anyone who wishes to speak to one of the volunteers can call 01 8721055.

Column: ‘Coming out’ as gay meant that, at 54, I could finally be myself>

Read: Trans community has “waited long enough” for gender recognition>

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