Trans Profile – Ashley

We have a chat with Ashley. Jamaican. Transgender woman. Fashionista

Hi Ashley can you tell us a little about yourself? 

Here are 5 words that best describe who I am: Brave. Positive. Fashionista. Fun. Loving

How did you identify in your childhood/teenage years and what were some of the challenges you faced with your gender identity throughout your youth?

As a child growing up I always felt like a girl. I was always uncomfortable to do boy stuff but as I grow older I realize I am definitely a girl on the inside. Everything I do is natural. I was born this way. 

How has your identity, sexual orientation and gender expression changed or progressed through your adult-life?

Nothing much has changed as it relates to my gender identity and sexual orientation. I am more confident within myself and the decisions I made are truly how I feel in my heart. 

What is it like to identify as a transgender woman, living and working in Jamaica? What are some of the challenges you face?

 It’s very difficult because contrary to popular belief, trans women are not sex objects and prostitutes. This is not true. The opportunities are very limited. This is my life and I’m 100% responsible for every decision I make so I have to do whatever it takes to survive without selling my body. No judgment to those who choose that path though.

Tell us about your blog and your professional journey? (Check out her blog here)

I’ve always loveeeeeed fashion and dressing up growing up and because I never got to graduate from high school to become an accountant as planned. My love for fashion never dies so I decided to start a fashion blog in late 2011. With me being consistent with my blog it has given me alottt of opportunities some of which I capitalize from. I just want to keep on striving and dream big no matter what challenges or obstacles I may face ahead in life. 

Do you have a support network? What are some of the resources that help you navigate life in Jamaica as a transgender woman?

 My ONLY support is me, myself and God. No one gives me anything. Everything I achieve thus far is me believing in myself and go out there and making a way. 

What are some of the changes you wish to see regarding the accessibility to healthcare for transgender men and women in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean?

One of the most important changes is I would love to see is for trans women to be able to get hormone treatment here because as it is right now I don’t know of anyone or doctor that does that kind a treatments in Jamaica. 

Do you face any other challenges you wish to discuss further?

I don’t really face any other challenges and I’m thankful. I get criticism everyday when I’m going about my daily business. It’s my normal now because I’m grown and I have a strong unaffected spirit. 

What advice would you give to transgender men and women living Jamaica and the wider Caribbean?

Stay in school. Get an education. Believe in yourself. Don’t worry too much over people’s words. It’s powerless and does not matter. 

 

First Event Conference (A Review)

Our co-founder, Neish McLean, attended the First Event Conference recently held in Waltham, Massachusetts from January 20-24, 2016 at the Westin Hotel. The event was attended by over 700 persons within the transgender community and featured a plethora of workshops as well as social activities. The workshops offered participants an extensive array of gender specific topic options to choose from and catered to therapists, youth, family, transmasculine persons, transgender women and cross-dressers. In addition, there were general-focused workshops ranging from professional development to meditation.

First Event1

Each day kicked off with a new-comers orientation session. This was  a great way to start the day as it afforded the opportunity to meet other new-comers and explore what brought each person to the conference. After the orientation session, persons dispersed to their different workshops of interest.

Of particular interest was the  transmasculine track of the programme which had workshops such as ‘Masculinity and the Trans Masculine Person’, ‘Show Me Your Package’,  ‘FtM Chest Surgery Show and Tell’, and ‘New Directions in Surgical Gender Confirmation for FtMs’. One of the more impactful sessions was the FtM Chest Surgery Show and Tell as it gave a live and personal exchange between the volunteers and the audience. The volunteers were able to stand up, bare-chested and explain their procedures and experience.

Some of the general workshops included topics such as ‘Preparing a Successful Transition’, ‘Building a Support Team’, ‘Professional Workplace Transition’ and ‘The Power of Voice’. The Building a Support Team workshop highlighted the importance of creating a safe space that supports the transgender individual through their journey.

In addition to the workshops, the conference also featured a vendors’ area displaying products and services being offered by businesses and professionals for the community. In addition, Tiffany’s Closet was a budget-friendly, high quality offering of clothing and accessories for the shoppers to take advantage of.

In the evenings, there were scheduled social activities to attend. Thursday evening featured event was a Black Tie/Red Carpet Community Service Award event. Friday night featured the John Warrener Memorial Fashion Show and Saturday night’s main event was the banquet with keynote speaker – Dr. Renee McLaughlin.

First Event Conference provided a wonderful opportunity for attendees to learn, explore and challenge the restrictions that often prevent the freedom to express and live an authentic life. It afforded a safe space, especially for those who didn’t have a supportive environment, to embrace all that they are, all that they deny and to let themselves out; let themselves be. Many lives were changed over the course of the conference. Many mental barriers were broken and many lives were set free.

The Way Forward for the Jamaican Transgender Community

After interacting with individuals in the transgender community and participating in the workshops, TransWave is charged with thinking about a way forward given our local context. Jamaica has a far way to go when it comes to equality for the transgender community. However, 2015 reflected greater visibility and increased engagement with civil society and government agencies. For 2016, further collaboration with our partners such as J-FLAG, We-Change, Colour Pink Group and Aphrodite’s Pride is integral to paving the way for increased access to services for transgender Jamaicans. The work continues.

 

Trans Profile – FJ

This is Part 1 of  a two part series on FJ. Part 1 focuses on FJ’s personal journey from childhood to adulthood and how his gender identity and gender expression evolved through the years.

Hi FJ can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hello Internet! 🙂 My name is F.J. and I am a young man in his mid-twenties with high aspirations and the brightest of futures. I hold a B.Sc in Computer Science from the University of Technology and am hoping to pursue my Master’s within the next year. I’m an introvert with a few extroverted tendencies and I enjoy reading, working out (I wish I was more consistent), coding all manner of apps and playing video games.

How did you identify in your childhood/teenage years and what were some of the challenges you faced with your gender identity throughout your youth?

As a child, I never really gave much thought to who I was or how I identified. The only thing that I knew for certain was that I was different from the other children. I didn’t identify as a girl as I could not relate to them and my perceived notions of femininity, but neither was I accepted by the boys as one of the guys. This resulted in me being in a sort of identity limbo which left me isolated from my peers.

However, it wasn’t until after I had had my first sexual encounter at 16 that I embarked on a journey to explore my gender and sexuality. Initially, I identified as a lesbian as it was the only term I knew that could begin to describe who I was. I started doing a lot of reading about the LGBT community and when I came across the definition of the word “transgender” I knew I had found what I was searching for.

I could relate to the dysphoria experienced by some trans persons unequivocally. My body had never felt like it belonged to me; so much so that there were parts of me that I deliberately ignored when I looked at myself in the mirror; parts of me to which I had no attachment; parts that felt foreign; whose very presence on my body caused me severe discomfort.

Even so, I didn’t begin to identify as transgender immediately; I feared that I would never be able to live my life fully self-expressed here in Jamaica. I figured society would never accept me, I’d never be safe and that my mother especially would have the hardest time accepting who I am. I decided that transitioning wasn’t worth risking the mental and physical health of my mother; that my happiness was not as important. Because of this I gave up my desire to transition and live the life I’ve always envisioned myself having.

After one of the great crises in my life, I was faced with what would be a pivotal point in my life. It was at this point that I began embracing my identity as a transgender man, rather than continuing to run away from it. The first few steps out of the closet were quite refreshing. Though I had always tended to be masculine in my presentation (save school uniforms and church wear), I had always harboured this version of guilt because of it. I knew I was not behaving the way I should have been. I was not even remotely interested in makeup, dresses or other “feminine” things; and I was definitely not interested in romantic relationships with boys. This resulted in an internal conflict between me being myself or conforming to society’s binary, and thus, extremely restrictive gender roles.

How has your identity, sexual orientation and gender expression changed or progressed through your adult-life?

When I began accepting myself in my mid-twenties, I felt empowered. I regained a sense of control over my life that I had long lost in the chaos of my teenage and young adult years. I grew to love and appreciate myself more; my sensitivity, sentimentalism, preference for video games and chill over a night out on the town; my love for books and insatiable hunger for knowledge.

I finally cut my locs after a year of contemplation, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was beginning to actually see myself being reflected whenever I looked in the mirror. I had always preferred male clothing and my apparel transformed into one of the most wonderful forms of self-expression that I could possess. My garments became one of the ways in which I affirmed who I was daily and it is one of the ways I use to remind myself that I am a man of my own design and no-one else’s (Local clothiers won’t let my wardrobe be great though 🙁 ).

My sexual attraction has remained constant throughout my life, though the name given to my sexual orientation has changed a few times. Identifying as a lesbian made me a homosexual, but after claiming my gender identity, heterosexuality was the name of the game. Funny enough, I’ve always told my peers that I was straight. They always thought I was merely being humourous.

Now I’m heading into my late twenties and I feel more grounded than at any other point in my life since hitting puberty. I own my gender identity, my gender expression and my sexuality. These are no longer things people can make me feel ashamed about.

Your blog gives the reader a very in-depth and personal view of your life. Tell us some more about the reason and motivation behind your blog?

About 10 months ago I met a young man; his name is Sean. Sean was the first “out”, self-identified transgender man I had ever met. Gradually, our friendship flourished and as I got to know him, I became aware of some of the struggles he faced; one of which was the lack of a support system. Sean’s struggles – which it is logical to assume many other trans men share – prompted me to attempt to provide these men with a medium through which they could garner support, or at the very least, realize that despite however they felt, they were not alone.

Almost a decade ago – when I first realized I wanted to transition – I thought about documenting the process in the form of a blog which would aid in informing other persons who might want to do the same, or those who were simply doing some research. I’ve contemplated many times whether or not the very personal nature of my blog was a reckless move on my part, but in order for people to identify with it, it’s the only way it can be. It also aids in spreading awareness about the everyday realities of other transgender men and myself.

There is a lack of visibility of Jamaican trans men and I hope that in stepping forward, I inspire other men live their truth. Being trans (gender dysphoric or not), or gender non-conformist, carries with it it’s own unique set of struggles; and regardless of the severity of them, no-one is ever worse off with additional moral support. I also utilize the platform to highlight social issues, provide what education I can and (hopefully) generate discussion on these topics. The blog is still young, but I harbour high hopes for it.

I have found that writing can be therapeutic for me; which is ironic because I used to detest it. Albeit, since I began writing about my life and my experiences it has helped to provide closure for many of the unresolved issues I have had in my past; some of which I never even knew I had. A lot of my experiences have affected me negatively, but now given my increased level of introspection, I’m better able to deal with their effects.

Part Two continues here.

Check out FJ’s blog here

Bounty Killa and the Case of the Funny (as in “Funny”) DJ

He’s not a funny guy but him have some funny behaviour.

In Bounty Killa we may have found a future spokesperson on  matters relating to gender and sexuality. I would not have thought so myself, until I happened on Winford Williams’ On Stage interview with Tony Matterhorn. Please watch the video clip — the relevant portion ends at 2:42.

Here’s a quick summary. For years, Bounty Killa believed in Tony Matterhorn’s heterosexuality, despite all alleged evidence to the contrary — his gender expression. Bounty could tolerate the wigs, the animated body language, and lady-like gibberish (aka “woman attitude”). What he could not tolerate was a fan pic circulated on the web in which Matterhorn posed with two young women who, to someone’s eagle eye, appeared to be *drag queens.

That was too much! Somewhere you have to draw the line. He stated, emphatically, “Man nuh act suh. That is feminine gender!” **Almost, Bounty, almost! Let’s review your presentation and see what can be refined.

Gender – Right: Bounty’s mini-lecture demonstrated how gender is determined by social norms: how much we fall within a culture’s parameters of what is to be a man or woman. Wrong: Sorry, Bounty, but those parameters should not be allowed to limit those who don’t wish to fit within them.

Sexual orientation & gender expression – Bounty was right! There is a common misconception that how you present your gender in social settings — body language, speech, clothes etc. — dictates which gender you are attracted to. Therefore, a man who likes to wear skirts, or is too well-groomed must be a homosexual;  a grubby Levi’s aficionado, who would never take the front seat in a coaster, even if it could save his mother’s life, must be hetero.

One has nothing to do with the other. “He’s not a funny guy him just have funny behaviour”, is simply an on-the-path-to-enlightenment way to communicate that there is no set gay, bi, lesbian mode of gender expression. Rather, it is connected to gender identity: a transgender woman with a cisgender man would consider herself to be in a heterosexual relationship.

Bigotry & sexual orientation – “Suh wah, him a open closet….If him nuh prejudice, him open den.” Bounty Killa implied that if one was not prejudiced against LGBTQI persons then one must be numbered among the same. Wrong: Many of us have hoped and prayed that this was true but, alas, it is not so — we have many allies in Jamaica who remain that and nothing more.

Rather, there have been too many headlines about prominent anti-LGBTQI public figures  who were themselves more “open” than expected. Best to abandon this one, Bounty.

It will take some effort to get Bounty Killa fluent and ready to educate. TransWave is a safe, open, learning space. We’re here to help. For a brief primer on gender expression and similar terms, read our first post.

 

*A drag queen or king is someone who dresses as the other gender for performance purposes. Watch this great ABC News video for the definitions of that and similar terms. TransWave does not know whether the women pictured fit that definition. It’s not our business. 

**Kind of.

Boy or Girl?

In Western society, gender and sex are presented as synonymous, static concepts. I remember viewing pictures of a Girls and Boys Day that a friend took at the private pre-school his children attended. As you can do doubt guess, the girls were dressed in pretty pastel coloured frocks, wore tiaras, had tea and pastries. The boys rough and tumbled it outside in the yard, made toy vehicles with juice boxes, and ran around in their pants and shirts. It was a clear, if extremely limited, example of Jamaica’s take on gender: what is to be feminine vs masculine. It’s social.

Sex seems simpler. We are born, the doctors identify us as male or female by our external sex organs: penis or vulva (the outer part of the vagina). As we physically develop, our chromosomal and hormonal make-up will cooperate, and we’ll have the deepening voices or growing breasts that our parents, peers and general society expects. We take off from there, everything aligned from birth to death, with space for little variation.

That is a popular perception but it is not the reality. Our understanding of gender and sex is evolving but there are many facts that we do know.

Fact 1
Biological sex includes external and internal sex organs, as well as sex chromosomes and hormones. Some persons internal structure may not match the external. Others may be born with ambiguous genitalia: neither obviously male nor female. For others, such variations aren’t detectable until puberty. It’s not really a surprise to learn that, biologically, humans fall along a spectrum. For those who fall somewhere along the middle of the spectrum, the catch-all term is “intersex”.

Fact 2
For many of us how we feel and think about our gender matches our biological sex. For many, it doesn’t. It is even possible that one may not feel wholly male or female. This is called our gender identity. Transgender persons most obviously fall under this concept. One does not have to be intersex to be a transgender person.

Fact 3
How we present our gender to society is called gender expression. One may identify as a man but behave or dress like a woman as it is understood by one’s particular culture. We all express ourselves as a particular gender, to varying degrees. Gender identity is internal while gender expression is external.

Fact 4
Finally, there is our sexual orientation: who we are sexually and romantically attracted to. Those attracted to the opposite gender are heterosexual. (By this definition, a transgender man attracted to a woman would consider it a heterosexual relationship.) Those attracted to the same gender are homosexuals. Pansexuals are those who are attracted to all persons regardless of gender.

Here’s a useful visual aid for illustrating what’s known as the gender spectrum. Imagine it as a numbered scale from 10 – 0, left to right. Spend some time to consider where you would fall. (Feel free to share in comments!)

Biological Sex

Female <————————————–> Male

Gender Identity

Woman <————————————–> Man

Gender Expression

     Feminine <————————————-> Masculine

Sexual Orientation

Heterosexual <————————————–> Homosexual

All of this may be confusing at first. Learning a new language about how we relate to each other can be a hurdle for LGBTQI persons as well :-). It establishes how complex and beautiful an experience it is to be human. We excel at envisioning different ways to be on the earth. This is our right — and it’s a pretty harmless way of exercising it! However, we are aware of how others see this as disruptive, chaotic and “against nature”. Transgender, more so than other groups, bear the brunt of this stigma. TransWave is focused on presenting this trans* experience in all its complexity.