Amanda from Me & T was interviewed for the newsletter for Outskirt Social, a group for lesbian, bi and/or trans women in the east of Scotland. The transcript is below.
Iona: I understand you run a group for families and friends of trans people – what made you think there was a need for a group like this?
Amanda: Ever since I met my partner, who is a trans man, I have been looking for support in dealing with his transition. Friends and family were supportive of our relationship but none of them could understand what it was like for me. This was very isolating. Unlike the LGBT community, partners and family of trans people do not have particular identities which draw them together. Over the years I have met other partners through online support networks or through trans people that I knew but these have been one-off meetings. I always felt that something more organised was needed but did not have the resources or the confidence to set something up.
Trans people themselves quite rightly have various avenues of support, both from health professionals and from peer support groups. Sometimes events for partners and families are tacked on to these or we are ‘allowed’ to attend on certain dates. This is better than nothing but does not provide the safe space that we sometimes need to express our doubts and fears about transition and how it affects us.
How did you go about setting it up?
The LGBT Centre in Edinburgh did all the hard work. Following a one-off workshop aimed at the friends, families and partners of trans people they felt that there was a need for a more regular space and time to meet people who may have similar experiences, questions or concerns. They started running Me & T Monthly at the beginning of this year. I attended the group regularly and when the staff who ran the group suggested that it could now be run as a community group I volunteered. The LGBT Centre help with venue, training and publicity. Since I took over as a community group leader I have set up an email address, Facebook page and twitter account for the group.
We usually have around 4 or 5 people at each meeting but far more people are receiving information about the group via email and social media. In time I hope that more people will regularly attend the group.
Which areas does it cover?
As the venue is in Edinburgh most of the attendees come from that area but we would welcome anyone who can make their way there. As far as I know Me & T is the only group of its kind in Scotland. If anyone in a different area was interested in setting up a group we would be happy to help in any way we can.
And what kind of support does it offer?
Me & T is a monthly a peer support group where friends, family and partners of trans people can get together and talk about what they are going through. Each month we have a different theme and watch a related video clip to kick things off, but the format is relaxed and people are welcome to talk about whatever is on their mind. The LGBT Centre has a safe space policy which Me & T adheres to as a group – this means that members will be treated with respect, the group will be inclusive and all discussions are confidential.
Do you have funding or is it still at an informal level?
At the moment there is no funding but nor is there much in the way of expenses. The LGBT Centre provide the venue and equipment for free and have also given me some training. Numerous websites and newsletters list our group meetings without charge.
There has been quite a lot of media coverage about Trans people in the last couple of years. In general, do you feel this has been a good thing?
Personally I feel this is a good thing but I am aware that some people feel TV programmes like My Transsexual Summer give away too many ‘secrets’ and make trans people more easy to spot. It’s very unfortunate if anyone has experienced harassment or violence due to increased media visibility but at the same time I don’t see how trans people can gain wider acceptance if the majority of the public are living in ignorance of their existence. Whereas in the past many programmes were simply documentaries about a transsexual woman going through transition, having surgery, trying to pass, I think that recent programmes have shown a much more complex picture of a variety of trans people living diverse lives. Having said all that, there is still a long way to go. Comedy shows in particular have a tendency to use transphobic language. Newspapers can also be a negative source of information about trans people, using sensationalist language, incorrect pronouns, inaccurate statements about the cost of surgery to the tax payer and so on. Trans Media Watch are doing some great work in this area so hopefully things will keep improving.
As the partner of a transgender person, what problems do you feel T people still face in society?
Trans people still face prejudice, harassment and violence. International Transgender Day of Remembrance takes place on 20th November every year to remember the people who have been killed that year, by murder or by suicide as a result of their perceived transgendered identity. Perhaps not many of these crimes take place in the UK but violence and harassment is still a daily problem for many trans people in this country. Then there are the times when trans people are socially isolated because of their trans status or discriminated against in employment, education, healthcare provision etc. When my partner first started transitioning I did worry about violence, for example when he first started using the men’s toilets. Luckily he passed quite well from early on and we’ve never had to face any violence or harassment due to his trans status. Even so, I know that at least one of his work colleagues has maliciously ‘outed’ him as trans to senior staff. My partner is a very easy-going person whereas I tend to get angry!
And what about families and friends – how are things for them these days?
I think there has been an increase in recognition that we exist and need support but it is a very slow process. The new Gender Reassignment Protocol from NHS Scotland states that there should be ‘support sessions for family members, partners, carers as necessary and as agreed with patient’. I’m not really sure how they are planning to implement this though and why we need the permission of the trans person before we can get support! I am hoping to work with the Scottish Transgender Alliance and the Equality Network on a forthcoming health and social care consultation event bringing health and social care policy managers together with family, partners, friends and carers of trans people. I feel it is very important that we have an independent voice and input into future service provision.
And what about you personally?
For me personally things are very stable at the moment. My partner and I are about to celebrate our 10th anniversary. He isn’t planning to have any more major surgery so in terms of his transition I guess you could say it is ‘finished’. We would like to have a baby so we are currently on the waiting list for an appointment at a fertility clinic.
I was shocked to hear recently of a lesbian group that was considering banning trans women from being members. Have you heard of similar behaviour?
I have and I think it’s very sad. Groups who do this are excluding potential members who might have been fantastic contributors and members lose the chance of making friends with those people. In essence women’s groups who ban trans women are saying that trans women are not really women and this is the basis of transphobia.
Is there anything that the lesbian community can do to be more supportive?
Just keeping an open mind and treating people with the respect you would accord to any human being. It’s okay to ask questions too, personally I would rather that people asked questions about my relationship than assume they know it all and say then something really daft!
How would people get in touch?
Our email address is : firstname.lastname@example.org
The venue address is LGBT Centre for Health & Wellbeing, 9 Howe Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9TE
People can also like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MeTMonthly?ref=hl or follow us on Twitter @MeTMonthly