Aitan blogs about how stigma and stereotypes around being transgender has impacted on his mental health.
Warning: this article contains mentions of suicide and self-harm.
Ever since I was a child I struggled with my gender and mental health. I was born in the eighties in Italy to a very traditional family.
As a child I was hyperactive, always on the move, incredibly sporty and very competitive.
Rather than getting praised for my sports ability, kids and adults would point at me and say ‘‘Are you a girl or what??”
I hated those girly things that mum and grandma tried to make me wear till I was 20.
I was rejected by both girls and boys and I always felt like an outsider. Boyfriends just seemed to want me for sex. My fellow students called me terrible names at school, and parents and other children said I was a bad influence on them. Not surprisingly, I hated myself.
I would play princes and princesses with my girl friends and kiss the girls. Parents hated that. I was also the best football player in my neighbourhood and the boys were upset to be beaten by a girl.
My mother was ashamed of me. She repeatedly told me: “I have made a girl, not a boy, you disgust me!” She said I was the reason for her heart disease and did not leave her bed for days.
When I was 20 I ended up in conversion therapy. I had tried to express my sexuality openly when living abroad and having a one-year relationship with my first and still only official girlfriend. But I trusted my parent's judgement more than my own and so I attended conversion therapy for three years. I had zero confidence, felt guilty for the pain of everyone around me and believed I was unlovable.
College was hell for me, I changed four classes and three institutes. I had my knee broken three times in sports injuries, and after the surgery, I got very depressed about gaining weight and developed bulimia.
Eating disorders continued for more than 10 years. Drugs, alcohol problems and self harm followed. I was trapped in a vortex of pain without being able to feel or understand what was going on. Psychologists and psychiatrists did not know what to do with me and I struggled to explain how I felt.
I felt suicidal. I thought that things would never change, and I couldn’t cope with the pain of it all. I ended up in a psychiatric hospital, because, during a crisis, I was screaming: “I want to kill myself’’ and neighbours called the police.
That was my lowest point. I struggled with panic attacks, self-harm and felt alone for many years.
I eventually came to the UK with my ex-partner who had got a job in Cambridge. And it was here that things finally started to look up.
First of all, I attended workshops and support groups for panic attacks, anxiety and depression and then slowly and gradually found the right LGBTIQ+ friendly services and support.
“I changed my name. I finally realised how alien it was for me to identify as a woman.”
Then I changed my name. I started to feel hopeful at last.
I travelled to India and Argentina and finally realised how alien it was for me to identify as a woman. In India, I was in an Ashram where I had to wear a traditional saree and sleep in the girls’ room. I was not able to eat for three days.
Transitioning has had a huge impact on my mental health – for the better. After five years of talking therapies, medications and support groups and getting into T gel daily, I am learning to be gentle on myself and have patience with my ups and downs. I have also learnt to respect myself while respecting the boundaries of others too!
“I am still at the beginning of my journey and I know I need to keep going forward.”
Before I was just getting sucked down into a spiral of auto destruction. I would cheat on my male partner with women and infuriate him by wearing his clothes and underwear. Now I am happier wearing what I want and being true to myself.
I am still at the beginning of my journey and I know I need to keep going forward to see my new me and start to live my life.
I am lucky to be in London.
I am lucky to be with TransPlus, the first integrated Gender, Sexual Health and HIV service commissioned by NHS England.
And I am lucky to be a trans non-binary person because I can appreciate even the smallest achievements, as I know how hard it has been to arrive at the point I am now!
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