The LGBT History Month has highlighted the importance of a community. So how is life like as a transgender girl studying in Cardiff?
The mornings were always the worst for Nicki. She hurried up, avoided the mirror and began to cover her face with lots of make-up. When the make-up was on, she finally felt like herself.
To the world Nicki is a 25-year-old girl studying at Cardiff University. But to Nicki, being a girl has been a yearlong journey. The thing is: Nicki was born a boy and her name was Nick.
“It was the worst to wake up and not feel like yourself. That’s why I always put make-up on, even though people ridiculed me for that reason. Too little make-up and people would stare. Too much make-up and people would stare. They stared at me no matter what,” says Nicki.
It wasn’t until she was 6 years old that Nicki started thinking about being a girl.
It all started one day in her after school club when she was painting her nails with one of her friends and a boy came up to the table. The boy leaned over, took the nail polish and rushed away while shouting at Nicki that she wasn’t a real girl.
“Those words changed everything for me. I’ve never thought about gender until that moment. But after that I couldn’t go back. From that moment, I knew that I was a girl trapped inside a boy’s body,” says Nicki.
People whose gender identity doesn’t correspond to their biological sex assigned at birth are called transgender. In the UK alone, GIRES estimates that between 300,000 to 500,000 people identify as transgender – just like Nicki. But it is one thing to know that you’re transgender and another to decide to come out.
“It’s hard to say the exact number, as not everyone who identifies themselves as transgender wishes to come out. A lot of surveys don’t give you the opportunity to identify yourself as transgender either,” says Jake from the organisation LGBTUK.
It wasn’t until Nicki was 18 years old that she decided to finally tell her parents. Her mom supported her, but her dad didn’t. Ultimately, this led to her moving out and into her own place in Cardiff.
“It was a conflicting time in my life. I was very lonely, as I had no one to confide in. At the same time, it was one of the happiest times of my life. Finally, I didn’t have to pretend to be a boy anymore. I could be the girl, I always dreamt of being.”
After only a couple of months of living alone, Nicki decided that she wanted to both feel and look like a girl. She was tired of not being able to be the person she felt like on the inside.
It took five years but then Nick had become Nicki – both inside and out. But this didn’t solve all of Nicki’s problems.
“When I began to transition, I was extremely lonely. And I definitely thought about ending my life. But then I joined support groups at the university and one outside of the university. This way I’ve found a lot of new friends in the same situation as myself. Without the support groups, I can assure you, that I wouldn’t be here today,” says Nicki.
Unfortunately, Nicki’s story is similar to that of a lot of other transgender people. Statistics show that 59 % of the transgender youth in the UK have hurt themselves deliberately, while 81 % transgender people in the UK have been abused either physically or verbally.
Luckily there are many support groups for LGBT people that can help people through the challenges associated with being lesbian, gay, bi or transgender.
“It is very difficult for most people in the LGBT community to share who they really are with the world. Many of those who come to our support meetings are feeling worthless and lonely. But at the meetings they find others going through exactly the same. It’s been a life saver for many people, and I encourage everyone to find a place where they can go,” says Lisa from the organisation LGBT Community Cardiff.
The organisation LGBTUK has the same experience:
“Most people from the LGBT community say that support groups have saved their life. Some people are not talking to their families, and it can become very isolating for them. The meetings help them to understand who they are, and why they don’t have to be ashamed of who they really are,” says Jake from LGBTUK.
But the struggle of being a LGBT person isn’t only personal it is also political. Reality is that the LGBT community continues to live in fear of prosecution across the world. For example, 72 countries still have laws against gay sex, whereas it’s punishable by death in 13 countries.
However, in many countries, transgender people are getting more recognition and rights year after year. The UK has legalised same-sex marriage, and since 2005 it has also been legal to change gender. And last year was a pivotal year for transgender people in the UK, as public figures came out, a political inquiry was made and Stonewall made a decision to support the transgender community.
“There is a positive change in the legal rights for the LGBT community in the UK – and in the world. However, there is still a lot to fight for. It is still an extremely tough battle to get legal gender recognition in the UK,” says Jake from LGBTUK.
All in all, for most people being transgender includes a lot of challenges. There are the personal challenges when dealing with your identity and coming out. And then there are the political challenges of being recognised.
But today Nicki is happy about who she is and she doesn’t regret a thing.
“Being transgender both ruined and saved my life at the same time. I’ve lost a lot of friends and family members along the way. But I’m happy that I live in the UK, so I have the ability to be authentic to who I am and can express my true self legally. I am happy with who I am today, and I don’t feel ashamed anymore. That’s the most important thing in my opinion,” says Nicki.
(Nicki’s name has been changed to protect her privacy)
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