Peeing is something we all have to do, but it brings with it it's own dangers and anxiety for me as a trans man. I try to avoid using public toilets whenever possible, especially if I'm in a new or unfamiliar place, where I don't know the lay of the toilets. I will hold it until the last possible moment, and only go if I really have to.
I often get sideways glances when I go into the men's toilets, some of which I'm sure is my paranoia misinterpreting, but some of which are very real. I've had passing comments such as isn't that a girl and been challenged by attendants and men using the facilities. Usually it takes one of two forms, either they inform me that this isn't the ladies, or they question whether they themselves are in the wrong toilets.
Mostly when either of these happen, I'm able to reply No, I'm a guy, they apologise and we all get back to what we were doing. Although it's upsetting and makes me feel uncomfortable and anxious I can usually deal with it and focus on what I've gone in there to do, use the toilet.
Last night I had an incident which made me scared for my safety in a way I've not been before. I was washing my hands when a guy came up to me and asked if I was a boy or a girl. I replied that I was a guy. He then proceeded to insist over and over that I'm a woman and looked me up and down in a way that made me feel quite intimidated.
I was fearful that he was going to try finding out and get physical with me. I dried my hands and left in a hurry after, in my drunken state, having a small argument and swearing at him. I noticed him, once I was back with my friends, hanging around the door to the toilets, almost guarding it for a while.
Reflecting on it now I feel I was incredibly lucky that it didn't escalate and I was able to leave, the outcome could have been a lot worse. However, it's definitely put me off visiting the club where it happened in the future. There are already certain clubs and events I have found I don't feel safe at and will not visit, even if it was just a few individual patrons who made it that way.
I do feel fundamentally more safe in queer spaces, and I thankfully haven't had any issues in the toilets in the gay bars I frequent.
Now, some may say that I should not be using the men's toilets in the first place. If I don't want to be harassed then I should use the women's toilets, or the disabled loos.
Firstly, I identify as a man, and so therefore I have a legal right here in the UK to use the men's toilets. Secondly, I would feel just as uncomfortable, if not more so, using the women's toilets, and that is not without danger for me either. And finally, despite the option of using disabled toilets not always being there anyway, I feel it is disingenuous to use them when I do not have a disability that requires me to.
It takes a certain amount of boldness to walk into a toilet where you know you could be challenged, and I'd just like to be left alone to pee in peace.
I have recently realised that I'm bisexual. I feel like I've come full circle to the point where I'm attracted to guys. It feels strange.
Before I transitioned, I only very occasionally found guys attractive, and I could never see myself being with a guy. I was almost exclusively attracted to women and only desired a relationship with a woman, so I called myself gay. I was uncomfortable with the word lesbian and for a while I wasn't sure why. I began to realise it was because I felt that calling myself a lesbian, also implied that I was female and I was becoming increasingly aware that I didn't identify as a woman.
When I transitioned, I found it strange that I was supposedly now straight. I often preferred to call myself queer, because I still didn't feel straight, and I definitely had some attraction to guys. I began having more and more fantasies about men after I'd transitioned, alongside continuing fantasies about women.
It wasn't until I came to uni that I properly kissed my first guy (discounting pre-teen kisses). It was a one off drunken thing, and I was in a relationship with a girl at the time so it never went further. When my relationship broke down, and we split up, I allowed myself to consider my attractions to men again. I was open to something happening, but not really looking for something with anyone.
Then I met this guy on a club night at the SU, he seemed nice, we'd already spoken at predrinks so he definitely knew I was trans. That took some of the anxiety away, but I still remember being quite terrified that night; I was bringing a guy home for the first time ever, and it was to be my first ever experience with penis. He was very considerate, and I ended up really enjoying it. I realised that I would just be in denial if I continued to resist calling myself bisexual.
I've only ever seriously dated girls, but that may well be something that will change in the future. I'm now open to pretty much dating anyone, trying not to obsess too much about labels and letting myself go with the flow a bit more.
However, labels have always been quite important to me, and at any given point I can and do enjoy being able to precisely define my sexuality, even going as far as to put percentages on it. My mind just works that way, and I completely respect those who's minds are different from mine. Not everyone is comfortable labelling themselves, and that's okay too.
Last summer a friend introduced me to an organisation called Diverse Church. It's a group for young LGBT+ Christians aged 18-30 to get to know and support each other. Our biggest way to connect has been via a private facebook group, which is very active with people posting prayers requests, links to articles and worship songs. There is also a public twitter, where every friday a member of DC shares their story. It's always extremely moving and definitely worth following for. In addition to this there is a public facebook group called Diverse Church Friends, for supporters of DC.
Last week we had a national meetup here in Sheffield, with people travelling from all over the UK. It was absolutely amazing. I've spent so long feeling like I don't quite fit into any community, either because of my gender identity or sexuality, or because of my faith, and at times it's felt very isolating. To meet so many other people like me who have also felt this isolation and even rejection from churches, really helped and I felt so at home.
We spent a great afternoon at the Cathedral, where we were welcomed by the Dean and two other canons. I was quite amazed by this, they knew we were gay and they served us tea, and listened to our stories. They showed us love in a way I've come not to automatically expect from churches.
Often in church sexuality and gender identity are not spoken about, and ignored, leaving it unclear as to whether I would still be completely welcome if I were to disclose that information. Or when I do talk about it, it is often met with uncomfortable looks, and swift moves onto other topics. When these topics are discussed it's usually not in a positive light, for instance advertising petitions against gay marriage. I think it's important to break the silence, to let people in your church know that you love them, and that they can talk about their lives in the same intimate way everyone else does. Mentioning partners and everyday struggles, and asking for prayer. It's important to let everyone know that they are as much a part of the community as everyone else.
I've not had a terribly awful experience of church, and there have only been a few occasions when I have felt extremely uncomfortable. I'm generally quite open and honest, and have an attitude that I am beyond caring if people have a problem with it. I think it also helps that I don't really feel massively called at the moment to serve in church, and I may face more problems if and when I try to get involved more fully.
Hearing other people's stories last weekend was absolutely heartbreaking. Stories of secrecy in order to continue serving in their church, and stories of extreme rejection when they were honest. Stories of people doing their utmost to live a celibate chaste life, and it still not being enough, and stories of people who had vicious rumours spread about them.
I can only hope that the church continues to grow and change, to live up to the gospel more and more, showing love to the marginalised. Society has definitely changed for the better, and now the church needs to as well. Diverse Church is a great place for people to be themselves, and completely open about who they are, without fear. It is a mixed community of people from all different traditions and I think I'd struggle to find anywhere so loving and accepting.
I was encouraged to read reports of Pope Francis welcoming a trans man to a private audience last month. The man had experienced discrimination in his home church and had written to the Pope for support. What exactly took place during the private audience and what was said seems to have been kept private, and so instead there was a lot of speculation on whether this signifies a change in the Church's position on trans people.
Today it has emerged that Pope Francis has made some comments about so called 'gender theory' in a new book. He compares it to nuclear weapons, saying that they both do not recognise the 'order of creation'. To compare trans people and different ways of thinking about gender to nuclear weapons is horrific, and a gross misrepresentation.
To be honest here, I think transphobes would make a better comparison to nuclear weapons. In the same way that nuclear weapons have the potential to take hundreds of lives, transphobic views, conversion therapy and poor access to proper medical care contribute to, if not directly cause, the deaths of trans people.
The Catholic Church's position on transgender people is slightly more difficult to discern than their position on homosexuality. In the case of homosexuality the Church very firmly teaches that although being gay is not a sin in and of itself, homosexual acts are sinful. A gay person is expected to lead a life of celibacy unless they marry someone of the 'opposite sex'. Apart from some leaked church documents there isn't really a great deal on the topic of people who transition to live in a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth.
A great deal of the Church's teaching revolves around the fact that God created two genders, male and female, and your body determines your gender. The belief is that to go against what your body is 'saying', and to change your body, is to go against God's creation. It's not a new concept, Pope Francis has just reiterated it, with the unfortunate comparison to nuclear weapons.
As there isn't clear guidance, unfortunately how trans people are treated in Catholic churches can vary wildly, and there isn't a consistent approach that is used in ministering to trans people. The Church teaches love and welcome to all, but all too often this isn't people's experience. Even a binary trans person would be barred from getting married in a Catholic Church, because they would be deemed too 'confused' or 'disordered', and would always be considered by the Church to be the sex they were assigned at birth.
I've been lucky to meet many supportive Catholics, including several priests. There are varied views throughout the Church, and my goal has always been to seek out like-minded people who accept me for who I am.
While many people decided to idolise Pope Francis, I have been reserving judgement. Yes, he seems better and somewhat more open minded than previous Popes, and certainly seems to be doing a better job of showing Christ's love to the poor and marginalised, but he's still Catholic. He's not about to completely change Church doctrine, and sadly I never expected him to. His recent comments simply reflect the state of current Church teaching, and a lot of change in how the Church thinks of gender would need to happen in order for things to progress.
At my catholic school we had this lay chaplain, he wasn't a priest but just a fairly ordinary catholic guy who was there to organise religious services and events and also, to some extent, to provide spiritual support to students.
I ended up coming out to him after he walked in on me crying in the chapel one day. I'd been struggling quite a bit with reconciling my sexuality with my faith, as well as with my mood generally, and by lower 6th (age 17) the chapel had become the place where I would go to hide away when school got too much. It was basically just a tiny room with an altar and a couple of pews in it, but hardly anyone ever used it, so you were usually guaranteed a private space.
I don't remember all that much about the specific day in question, except that I was sitting in there in tears talking to God about what He wanted me to do in terms of relationships. At this point I was exclusively attracted to girls, and I wanted to know whether it would be okay for me to consider pursuing a relationship, or whether I should remain celibate, but I kept going round in circles without getting anywhere and getting quite upset.
When the chaplain walked in to the chapel it was quite awkward; there I was in floods of tears, not exactly expecting to have to talk to anyone. He sat with me for a few moments and then said that if I wanted to talk then I could come find him in his office. This gave me some time to collect myself and decide whether or not I wanted to go to see him.
I had struggled over the past year and a half with finding someone to talk to about my sexuality who also could see where I was coming from with my struggle to reconcile it with my faith. Nonreligious support workers or mental health professionals I had spoken to could not quite understand the specific religious conflicts I was having and religious people often seemed judgemental.
I found it quite hard to actually talk to people about topics that were important to me so I wasn't sure that I would be able to say what I wanted to say to the chaplain if I did meet with him. However, when it came to it I found him one of the easiest people to talk to and I managed to come out to him almost straight away. He was the first person who had really seemed to understand why I was struggling.
Over the next few months we discussed and explored sexuality and faith. It was a really open and honest discussion, and I think it helped that it was one of the first times the chaplain had fully considered homosexuality in a faith context so we were able to explore it together.
We also started speaking about gender and I realised that that was something I wanted to discuss. A year previously I had come to the conclusion that I wasn't a girl, but that realisation terrified me so much that I didn't feel I could do anything about it, so I promptly squashed it. Over the year that followed I continued to learn more about being trans from the internet, but I was still too scared to say anything to anyone.
When my discussion with the chaplain turned to gender, I finally felt able to express how I'd been feeling. After I'd told him that I thought I was a guy, he simply told me that it would be possible for me to transition in school, if that was what I wanted. For the first time I started to consider that I could, that it didn't have to be that scary and that the school wouldn't have a problem with it. I suddenly felt empowered and confident and knew that I at least had to give living as a guy a go. He helped me talk through some of the practical aspects and it became so much less scary. He didn't know very much about being trans but still managed to provide a space for me to talk about it, and was so understanding and receptive.
Within about a week I had gone in to see my headmaster and spoken to him about transitioning at school. He was somewhat surprised, but immediately supportive. He spoke to other members of staff and we agreed that I could come back to school after the half term holiday as Zac.
The only issue I had was over which toilets I was supposed to use, as they originally thought I should use the disabled toilet. I didn't think this was appropriate so they suggested I use the staff toilets, which I reluctantly agreed to. They didn't want me using the boys toilets because they had this idea other students might complain that there was a 'girl' in there. I ignored their directive however and used the boys toilets, and as far as I'm aware there were never any complaints.
I continued to meet with the chaplain weekly for the remainder of my time at the school, and he was one of my biggest supporters. I really don't know how I'd have got through school without him.