Every month one of the LGBTI+ organisations in our town hosts a meeting group for trans and non binary people, and their friends and families. A few weeks ago, Alvar and I went to one of the meetings together. Having lunch at a pub before, Alvar told me that he was so nervous that he thought that he might be sick. It was the first time that he had ever presented himself as trans to other people. I was worried that he might be put off from wanting to take his transition any further, if the meeting turned out to be a negative experience for him. In all honesty, I was afraid that we would meet the kind of brokenness and despair that media often associates with trans people, and that Alvar would think that his future would turn out to be the same if he started transitioning physically.
Before going into the building, Alvar and I both took deep breaths. We hadn’t told anyone that we were coming, but the organisers welcomed us at the door, and showed us around, making sure that we got something to drink and a place to sit. The hallway was full of information about all things LGBTI+; some of the brochures that were specifically for trans and non binary people had practical information about health care, and support for trans employees, as well as social events and trans friendly sports clubs.
One of the main rooms had several sofas, where people of all kinds of gender identities were sitting and drinking coffee and talking. Some were in deep discussion about the phases they were going through in their transition, while others seemed to be happy just to relax in an open and non-judgemental environment, talking about life in general. It was clear that some of visitors had known each other for a long time; however, just like us, there were a few that were new to the group. From what I could tell, I was the only one who had come along as a supporter; apart from Alvar, everyone else seemed to have come to the meeting group alone. We all have our own stories, but I got the sense that for some people, this is the only support network there is, when friends and family are not able, or willing, to accept their true identities. I still felt that the energy in the room was mainly positive; even though there were serious matters discussed, the core thing was the quality of affirmation, of meeting each others’ eyes and acknowledging each others’ presence.
Once Alvar and I had talked to one of the volunteers for a while, people came and sat down next to us, introducing themselves. One of the things that made the biggest impression on me was the non-obtrusive way that people approached us, I had the feeling that nothing was taken for granted about who we were, that people were waiting to speak to us before putting us into a category. To me, that made the communication more open. There was room for being creative with oneself, even for re-defining; I was pleased to be asked the question how I identify myself.
I have asked Alvar how he felt about the meeting, if he felt different after having been there. The first thing that he pointed out was the enthusiasm and warmth of the organisers, how he felt that they were truly dedicated to helping people, and that they were open to any ideas on activities or discussions that would be valuable for people attending the meetings. At the session that we went to, there was a workshop with a person who works with concealing scars. She gave advice on how to cover scars, whether they were from injuries, or operations, and also what kind of support there was for people who had traumas connected to their scars, and ways of healing.
Alvar said that it was good to see so many trans people in the town that we live, as he has mostly been watching YouTube videos of trans and non-binary people, and that sometimes made it feel like transitioning is only something that happens to people ‘on-screen’ rather than in everyday life. When I asked Alvar if he felt that he could see himself in any of the people who were at the meeting, he shook his head, and answered that even though they had experiences in common, they, just like any group of individuals, all had very different personalities. While he enjoyed listening to what the others had to say, he did get the feeling that some people were watching him with a kind of reservedness. He says that this happens to him sometimes, and he thinks that it has to do with his masculinity, both in his appearance and in his way of being. ‘Direct’ is the word that he uses to describe himself. Knowing him, he does give off a sense of security and self confidence that I think some people might find a bit intimidating. However, I would say that this directness is balanced by the genuine want to connect, and to find a common ground with whomever he speaks with, even if that means throwing himself into conversations about matters that he knows nothing about. One of the things that he fears, he says, is that he won’t be welcomed into the trans community once he starts with hormone therapy, as chances are that his already masculine features will be accentuated so much that he will ‘pass’ as a man. People might think that he is so well-immersed in the community of cis men, that he doesn’t need the support of other trans people.
Something that we both took with us from the meeting was the acknowledgement of Alvar’s identity as trans. He says that not only did he become more certain that he wanted to transition, but that he also felt pride in having the identity ‘trans man’ rather than simply a ‘man’. His experience of having lived as a woman is something that will always be a part of him, and rather than wanting to blank it out, he says that he prefers to embrace it, and to draw knowledge from it. “I will always be in the middle”, he told me.”Even after I have transitioned, and even if other people only see me as a man, I will always be part of the LGBTQIA+ world.”
I love him for that.
© ‘The Symbol’ by Alvar