My Trans Life: ‘Punished for who I was, basically, by adults’

Transgendered people may be legally recognised but they’re not necessarily understood


During the revolutionary summer of 2015, shortly after the Marriage Equality referendum, Ireland adopted the Gender Recognition Act. On the surface, it seemed unheralded and unfussy (in truth, it had involved years of tireless work) but its effect was immediate and profound. Now, if you were born into one gender category, and realised it did not fit, your nation recognised your right to change.

The impetus behind My Trans Life (RTÉ Two, Thursday, 9.30pm), a two-part series which follows five young trans people over the course of two years, is that while transgendered people may be legally recognised they are not necessarily understood.

For one fascinating marker for how much a society can change in a few short years, you may notice that documentary maker Matt Leigh does not appear to have had a tough time finding willing subjects. As YouTube clips, Facebook videos and Vlog entries abound, a new generation of trans people aren’t just more open about their journeys, they have been documenting and sharing them for some time. As recently as a few years ago, one documentary about two transitioning women required utmost anonymity. Today you could discover most of these Irish trans kids with a Google search. 

When we meet the amiably unhesitant Nicky he has already made great progress with his transition. Now the far side of a hysterectomy and a double mastectomy, he is counselled by his surgeon, “You’re never going to have the perfect male chest.” (Join the club.)

But Nicky has always been candid, from YouTube posts at the beginning of his testosterone treatment (“I’m not nervous, I’m excited”). When we meet a similarly unguarded trans couple, Jamie and her partner Harry, via an old vlog post, the most remarkable thing about them is their insistence, “Obviously we don’t want to over-flood people’s newsfeeds.”

It would be nice if the most significant challenges facing young trans people was the threat of oversharing. But the programme is affecting for both what it discloses and what it does not. Take Dylan, a trans woman before medical intervention, who recalls “being punished for who I was, basically, by adults” from childhood, or Luke, still in school, whose painful chest binder has given him curvature of the spine.

The programme benefits enormously from their uncommon articulacy; each participant is fluent in emotional and psychological matters. And, encouragingly, the families we meet are universally supportive.

Still, the occasional blurred face in an old photograph hints that not everyone is so accepting, which may be addressed in the next episode.

For the moment, though, there is nothing else to hide, like Dylan’s realisation of the “chemical castration” effect of testosterone blockers and decision it’s not for her.

“I’m just so glad that I could be trans without changing myself,” she says. Even that realisation can be life changing.