By Vanessa Lacey
The Dáil passed the Gender Recognition Act last July. This legislation allows transgender people to be legally recognised in their preferred gender. It was a joyous moment for the transgender community. It is great to see this legislation passed before the celebrations in 2016. Now the Proclamation means so much more for me. I feel cherished equally in my country as a proud Irish woman.
I lived as male for over 40 years until I transitioned to my female gender eight years ago. This was very painful for all involved. However, it vastly improved my mental health and, over time, people close to me began to understand my circumstances and decision. Living within a gender that I didn’t identify with, from as far back as I remember, was extremely challenging.
I experienced shame and guilt due to internalising the stigma associated with trans people. This damaged my thought processes about my identity. I thought I was disgusting and some sort of a mistake as a human. This perception was compounded by media messages that also shaped attitudes within the wider society and exacerbated the stigma.
It was during the late 1990s while I was watching the news that I questioned my perceptions for the first time. The item was about a dentist from the midlands, Dr Lydia Foy, fighting for her human right to be identified by the state in the gender that she identified as – a woman. From that moment I began to change my thoughts and feelings about myself and decided to fight back.
I expressed myself in my female gender, against the odds. I volunteered with a LGBT group in Waterford. When I began to work with TENI in March 2008, I was ready to take on the spirit of Dr Foy to build an awareness of and capacity for the transgender community throughout Ireland. Over the past six years I feel we have achieved this to some extent, but there is still lots to do.
Legal recognition means we are finally being recognised as human beings by the Irish state in the gender that we identify. This is empowering. The model of self-declaration in the legislation means that we do not have to ask a psychiatrist, psychologist or endocrinologist to decide on our gender identity. This provides us with the licence to be human.
Legal recognition means that every time I have to produce documentation to prove who I am, I have the right identification that shows me as I am, not who I was. Now I can avoid that embarrassment for both myself and the civil servants involved. I don’t have to be anxious. How good that feels! Most importantly I have documentation that reflects my true gender.
It is all very positive but what about the families, especially the families of children who are under 16? The current legislation does not meaningfully include young trans people, and excludes anyone under 16. However, transgender children do exist and we are seeing an increase in their numbers every year. These children are very vulnerable. In many cases they have been trying to explain to their parents that there is something different about them for many years. Parents often feel confused, scared and angry when faced with their children’s gender identity and should seek help.
These families are faced with the decision to allow their child to dress and express themselves in the gender with which they identify at home so as to reduce anxiety for all involved, and, in some cases, to allow their child to transition in school, both national and secondary. This is a situation that causes sleepless nights and angst-ridden days.
Many parents experience loss and grief but still, through the love for their child, they advocate on their behalf. Unfortunately those wonderfully courageous parents, siblings and young transgender children have been ignored by our legislators for now. They are not protected in the legislation and this is sad. As an optimist I am trusting the legislators will readdress the issue in two years time as they have promised us. I hope this will top off very progressive and ground breaking legislation.
In the eight years since I began my journey to be myself I have faced many challenges. Gender recognition is an important step but we need this to cascade into a holistic form of care for our community.
Vanessa Lacey is the Health and Education Manager at Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI)