The man who told the world he’s transgender
Albha Foley chose YouTube to come out on. The teenager meets the President next week
Albha Foley with his mother, Annemarie Foley, at home in Tralee. Photograph: Domnick Walsh/Eye Focus
Early last month a young man in Kerry posted a moving, funny and brave video of himself “coming out” on YouTube.
“What I’m going to tell you today and what I am going to admit about myself I’m not ashamed about,” said Albha Foley (18), from Tralee. “It may seem that way because it’s taken me so long to tell you all, but . . . it’s because I never felt ready enough or confident enough and I finally do . . . So, basically, what I am is transgender, which is basically a shortened term for transitioning gender, which is what I am doing.”
Albha goes on to tell how since he was a three year-old ‘girl’ he had always felt he was a boy, that he has always felt he was he was “categorised wrong”.
“My teachers would be, ‘Boys line up on the left. Girls line up on the right’. And I’d always go to the left. The teachers would be, ‘Albha, go on the right’. I hated it. I always wanted to be on the left. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be on the left.”
The 10-minute video of him, in a blue T-shirt, his red hair cut short, talking to the camera is in turn touching, joyful and above all a defiant demand to be accepted. He talks about his sense of being different since his earliest memory, of piecing together his sense of identity, of “discovering” the existence of transgender through reading an older sister’s magazine when he was nine and it being like a jigsaw piece that “just fit right in perfectly”; of finding primary school OK but the Convent girls’ secondary school much more difficult; of coming out to close friends and family when he was a young teenager and of how, now that he has left school and is looking forward to college, now is the time to tell everyone.
He shows viewers the testosterone gel he has been prescribed to begin transitioning to become a young man physically and how he hopes to undergo surgery in England to complete the transition.
At the end, with a beaming smile, he tells us he’s glad too if people want to support him. However, he adds: “If you don’t support me or you disagree or you think I’m God knows what, I honestly don’t care, because this is who I am. I am 18 now. I am sick of hiding. I am sick of pretending to be somebody I’m not. So if you don’t like it there’s the metaphorical door. Please go through it, close it on your way out and don’t come back, so to speak. But I can promise you, I won’t be the only transgender person you come across in your life. We’re out there and we’re just the same as you.”
Speaking this week, Albha says he was “very nervous” putting it up and hesitated for two weeks before, with the support of his family, he did. The reaction has been “amazing”, he says.
“I put it up about 9 o’clock at night and I was up until about 3 or 4 in the morning responding to direct messages. I never imagined people would react that way. It was 100 per cent positive.”
His mother, Annemarie Foley, is “really, really proud” of him. She says she and her husband always had a sense that Albha was more male than their other two daughters. She speaks almost with relief that he has embraced who he is rather than try to fight or suppress his identity. She works in a women’s refuge and says she has seen people “seared by emotional pain”.
“I didn’t want that for Albha and so our biggest worry was that he would not have gone down this road of just being himself. It’s great that he has come out. He is released from that trying to keep it quiet.” She and her husband have had great support from both Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) and the parents’ support group TransParenCI. “There is still so much that has to change in Ireland in terms of stigma and acceptance of transgender people.”
TENI is meeting the President, Michael D Higgins, on Wednesday. It will be, a moment of “huge significance” for the transgender community, says its director, Broden Giambrone. Though Ireland has become a more welcoming place in which to be gay, he says transgender people face stigma and lack of acceptance, and so it is hugely under-recorded as people hide it. There are significant levels of mental distress and even suicide among the transgender population, he says.
Ireland remains the only country in Europe where a transgender person cannot have their birth certificate re-issued to indicate the person’s preferred gender. Gender recognition legislation has been promised by the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton.
Giambrone strikes an optimistic note, however, when speaking about young trans people such as Albha. While it is still “extremely difficult” for them, he describes a gradual softening in attitudes, perhaps due to greater awareness. TENI had 80 calls last year from young people or their parents – the highest in a year yet – seeking information. “There is a shift. People are stepping up and supporting their children and friends.”
The outlook for young people coming out now is brighter than it would have been for young people 10 or 20 years ago. “If you can come out when you’re still in your teens or early 20s your whole life experience is different. Your whole college and work history, for instance, can be in your preferred gender.”
Annemarie is hugely optimistic for her son.
“Emotionally he is so strong, so kind, so acutely aware of other people. He’ll make a wonderful partner to someone one day.”
In concluding his video, Albha points out he is still the friend, son and brother he always was.
“I’m still the same person I was before I made this video,” he says. “I’m just a different pronoun.”
You can watch Albha Foley’s video here