MenTal(k) Health is a series for men from all backgrounds and identities to talk about their well-being, from mental health to spiritual and sexual health.
This month is Pride month, and people across the country, and specific parts of the world, are gearing up to celebrate pride in themselves and their identities.
Transgender people in the UK still face many battles.
Many are exposed to violence and are at risk of losing their lives on a day-to-day basis, while other trans-people face physical abuse.
A lot of trans people have to justify to others that their identification itself isn’t a mental health issue, but rather they are more likely to experience mental health issues because of the battles they face to be themselves.
A small breakthrough was announced in May, when the World Health Organisation declared that it was dropping transgender from its list of mental disorders.
Transgender activist Kenny Ethan Jones, 25, sees it as a welcome step.
Kenny’s transition, like many in his position, wasn’t the easiest. From coming out as trans to his mum when he was 11, to being bounced from therapist to therapist by the age of 14.
By the time he was 18, he began taking testosterone and at 19 had his top surgery, a double mastectomy to remove the whole breast, and was offered bottom surgery by the age of 21 decided against it. His sister wasn’t too keen on the risk and invasion the surgery required including a removal of the womb and Fallopian tubes followed by a penile implant and more.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘When I was younger all of the clinics had “mental health” written across the doors.
‘I was 13 when I went to the Tavistock and Portman Trust, which is a specialist mental health center before I moved to the Gender Identity Clinic at 16.
‘When I got to 16 and began seeing people with what I would call ‘real mental health problems’ was quite scary. I kept wondering whether people would see me like them. I just didn’t see it as a mental health disorder. I just saw it as my body wasn’t in line with how I felt.
‘I think it will be good to have the WHO take transgender off of its mental disorders list and will be good for a younger generation coming through transition so they don’t have to experience as much stigma around it as well.
‘You get these letters sent out to you of a briefing of your therapy sessions and seeing that it comes under mental health at such a young age is daunting – you don’t know what’s going on, because doctors don’t tell you, you’re just seeing all this talk about mental health and you start to question, “am I mentally ill?”’
Being transgender is not a mental illness. The effects of these stigmas in society, however, contribute to poor mental health in the community.
He said: ‘Being trans was not what was affecting my mental health. It was society’s issues surrounding my transition, and other trans people’s transitions, that affected my mental health. I was fine with me, I knew what I wanted. It was everybody else who didn’t get it.
‘At the time I started to transition, people still weren’t caught up with what it meant to be trans. I went to a Catholic all-girls school, so they literally saw me as the devil.’
When I was younger, I wanted know why I was so wrong for wanting to transition. But as I grew up, I realised that it wasn’t me, it was the world that wasn’t ready for the transitions.
Another challenge that many in the transgender community face is that not everyone in the health service is made aware of the new identity of the patient which means trans people are not always aware of things that could affect them.
For example, at the age of 25, women in the UK are put forward for smear tests to screen them against cervical cancer.
Kenny is 25-years-old and hasn’t had his bottom half surgery, which includes restructuring his female reproductive system to align with his identity, yet he wasn’t made aware that he would need a smear test.
He said: ‘My doctor didn’t know to tell me since they didn’t ask the question, they didn’t know how much surgery I had. My sister told me.
‘Those kinds of things need to be on file because if my sister didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t have known. I feel for people who don’t live in London because there are so many resources here, from places in Soho.’
But even in London, Kenny feels people don’t really understand what it’s like living as trans.
‘I had an incident where I passed out, the paramedics came and my flat mate was asked if I was on any medication and they said I was on testosterone.
‘When they asked why and my flatmate said I was transgender, the paramedics automatically started calling me ‘she’.
‘They just didn’t understand. To not get something as simple as pronouns right, never mind what you are getting wrong.
‘Ten years ago, I would have cried. But there’s so much that needs to change as this is baseline care.’
Kenny had to manage being trans throughout school and college, with people persistently misgendering him.
‘As I got older I started to get really angry, and lash out at people because I just got sick of it.
‘I think from the age of sixteen to eighteen I couldn’t go to a house party without somebody turning around and saying “that’s a girl” for two years straight.
‘It got to the point where my friends got sick of it, and I was just going there to have a good time like everybody else. I’ve always been quite attractive so I’ve always attracted girls and the guys got jealous of that.’
Kenny took to saying he had a twin sister so that he could escape their questions.
‘So I lied to get away from the whole situation, and it seems a bit funny now but that was the extent I had to go to in order to get away from those situations and have somewhat of a normal teenage life.’
Family life was also strained.
He told his mum when he was 11 about his identity, and both his mum and sister accepted him and wanted him to be happy. It was his dad that was harder to convince.
He said: ‘My dad wasn’t supportive at all. He is Jamaican, born and raised in Kingston.
‘It’s not his fault, but that’s the way the culture shaped him, so I couldn’t blame him. Me and my mum had many conversations, saying “he’ll come round”.
‘We still had a relationship, but he wanted to ignore the situation and hope it would go away. One day, I went into the car and told him I shaved my head and changed my name. He didn’t believe me, so I took off my hood and he went crazy.
‘But he came around when I had my top half surgery. And saw how happy I was and just hugged me and said he was proud of me. He started to gender me correctly and use my chosen name and would correct the family when they got it wrong, and they soon got on board with it.’
Kenny recently took part in a campaign with men’s wellness brand, Manual, during Mental Health Awareness Week called Men of Manual that looked at body image.
He said: ‘I hated my body. I wouldn’t look at my body for years pre-transition.
‘I looked in the mirror and said: “that’s not me”. The closer surgery day came, I was so excited. As soon as I got the surgery done I felt myself, but it wasn’t until I went topless that I felt self-conscious again.
‘Everyone started to look at my scars, but then after a while I just said “I don’t care”, at that’s your problem if you have a problem with my scars.
‘I don’t want to live my life based on everyone else’s perception. I was going to get skin dermabrasion, but I decided against it when I started to do more media work.
‘I realised that by me wearing these scars were a visual representation of me being trans without even having to speak. I love my scars, they are apart of my story and journey to this point and represent the courage of my community.
What is MenTal(k) Health?
MenTal(k) Health is a weekly series that speaks to men who have a lot to say on a range of health issues from mental and physical health to fitness, sexual health, and emotional intelligence.
If you know someone who might be great to speak to, please email: [email protected] or connect on twitter @AlexReads__.
Last week’s MenTal(k) Health with Jeff Addison about his experience with penile cancer.
Keep a look out for next week’s feature of MenTal(k) Health.
Source: Read Full Article