Poverty and Transgender
Written by Steven Barkess, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES
I am a member of the LGBT community and have had the privilege to witness many social movements of equality for many LGBT people in the western world. I have and have had many friends both part of and external to the LGBT community and I am still shocked to find that people in both spheres still have a huge lack of understanding of the issues transgender people face. Especially those going through gender reassignment.
I am not an academic, or a specialist in transgender issues or trans myself but I am able to recognise some of the inequalities such as class and race which effect transgender people in today’s society. I am however a gay man who has got to know many transgender people both before and after transition. Within my career working with vulnerable people I have also observed some of the serious issues that trans men and women face.
This has made me think a little more about the whole process. For someone to live their life as their true gender they often need to have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, not only for the legal recognition but also to access medical intervention. For many people who are living with complex needs such as homelessness, addiction and mental health, access to this could be problematic. It is not uncommon for people to develop these issues as a result of ‘coming out’ as their true gender. People may become homeless, experience mental ill health and on occasion develop some form of addiction to help them deal with this.
However many people who are experiencing multiple needs complex needs may stumble at the first hurdle. It has been well documented that those who are homeless for example can often struggle registering with a GP for reasons such as having no fixed abode. Those who are substance users or experiencing mental ill health may also be required to address these issues before any diagnosis can be determined. Another aspect of this is that this requires multiple visits to various specialists following an initial GP appointment and can be a long process, which can be limited if people are living in severe poverty or have a variety of underlying issues.
Although I think it is great to see such confident, and powerful stories from the transgender community which should be celebrated. Many of those who have successfully transitioned are often portrayed in main stream media from middle class or affluent backgrounds, this is no way suggests that they have had an easy transition and not experienced terrible acts of transphobia and prejudice. It does however make me consider how those without these means manage to live a ‘fulfilled life’. As a result does this mean that poverty can become an issue, problematic and a potential barrier to people identifying as their true gender? When I think about it more I think that it does. When people transition to their true gender they can also be transitioning their identity and visual appearance. Like much of how we live our lives today this costs money. For those that don’t have this does this mean that people will skip meals, use loans, credit cards and possibly become in debt? Is there potential for people to place themselves in a vulnerable positions to obtain the things necessary to their identity.
Although many organisations are now using true life stories of people’s life experience I personally haven’t seen many that highlight the issue of poverty and homelessness within the media. It is of course possible that I am looking in the wrong place and being naïve about the whole subject. However, i feel that we need to understand this more to better understand and support those who are entering transition. I read a really good guide produced by Mermaids for young people, which I think would be really useful for many cisgender people to read and broaden their insight into the issues that young people have to consider. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like this for people in poverty?
I have worked with transgender people several times throughout my career and seen some of the results of poverty first hand and how this has a further impact on a person’s mental and psychical health. For those that would like to undergo surgery this will only be granted if the individual is in relatively good health. Again for a person experiencing multiple and complex needs or severe poverty this could prolong their transition, their employment prospects and ultimately their whole transition.
As many more people are going realising their true gender identity at various ages from young people to those that are reaching retirement. It would appear that there is a clear need for more training for anyone that works directly within the community in any support role. Although our communities and cultures are changing and from a legislative aspect things are improving. I feel saddened that we are not given a true overview of what a trans person experiences and what we do see doesn’t give justice to the true struggles which are faced by people in all walks of life. I applaud those who are in main stream media for all they have achieved but for those experiencing this who may be homeless, have mental ill health, offending history or addiction. They may often not be taken seriously. Their gender identity may be ignored.