BY JULES GUAITAMACCHI
IMAGE BY VICKI COOK
TW – contains themes of mental health issues
Part 1 – ‘Somebody else for everybody else’
Sometimes school teaches you lessons, other times life does. When you have overcome extreme hurdles in life it’ll often give you insight that has the ability to influence the lives of others. Having battled substance misuse and addiction from an early age and receiving a vast amount of treatment and support over the years, I have been able to push my head above the deep waters of my turbulent past. Paradoxically my rock bottom gave me the drive and desperation to fight for happiness and liberation.
For me, an essential part of recovering has been to give back to others. In my early 20s, I started volunteering in schools telling my life story to people of different ages, year groups, teachers and parents. I found that reciting my story over and over again was not only therapeutic for me but I noticed young people engage with my story. Kids love a story about teenage rebellion but I didn’t glamorise those experiences. Instead, I told a different story. I spoke about a reality of my internal pain and how that lead me into addiction as a way to escape from these painful experiences. I found that when I could be myself with the audience, barriers were beginning to break down; vulnerability became my biggest strength.
I have been a professional speaker for over five years and it is something I have perfected as time has gone on. In doing my own research, I have created a number of presentations on social and mental health issues. I have always maintained that there is no point in being a straight-A student and becoming hugely successful in life but suffering for the majority of it. Just as we keep our bodies healthy, we should do the same with our minds.
“I’ll apologise in advance this is a rowdy lot”, a teacher said, and within the first five minutes of my talk, I’d experience a complete silence where all I could hear was my own voice. As I progressed almost simultaneously so did the schools’ requests for alternative topics such LGBT presentations. In 2015, I was invited to talk at a school because a pupil in an all-girls school had come out as transgender. The school requested I teach whatever I deemed appropriate, clearly uneducated around the subject and requested my life experience. I began to research extensively. I possessed a minimal amount of knowledge on gender diversity but a lot of it resonated with me. I discovered gender-neutral definitions and transgender identities. Each class was introduced by their head of year who instructed students to refer to this pupil by their new name and pronoun. I then felt able to be honest with my students in my presentation with regards to my recent discovery of my gender identity. At the end of my talk, a group of young people approached me and thanked me for teaching at their school about something I was experiencing myself. I began to realise that this was the beginning of my own my journey and contrary to everything I ever thought I knew about myself. I’d lived my life as a lesbian since I was 18 and dealt with all the stigma and discrimination that went alongside my sexuality and being perceived as a woman.
It took me some time to start my transition. As far as I was aware, I had never met a trans person outside of that school and had absolutely no point of reference. It wasn’t until I started regularly visiting Brighton and was introduced to a community outside of the lesbian and gay culture I’d always known that I knew I was non-binary but I didn’t know what that looked like. I was still being referred to with female pronouns and I didn’t understand that that needed to change. As the months went by my discomfort became more apparent to me; I became surrounded by people I related to and I began to learn more about myself. I had been somebody else for everybody else for my entire life. Who was I outside of that?
I started to transition socially but the anxiety worsened. To quote Beck Gee-Cohen, it felt like a thousand individual paper cuts. The more I knew about myself the harder it became to step out into the world and be seen as my former self. I started self-medicating with testosterone on the 26th November 2017 and yet I was frequently referred to as ‘miss’, ‘madam’ or ‘lady’. When the Stonewall Statistics were released last year and I learned that 49% of young trans people under the age of 26 had attempted suicide, that 64% of trans pupils are bullied in our schools, that 50% of LGBT pupils hear homophobic slurs ‘frequently’ and ‘often’, I felt so much frustration and upset. Here was a new world that I now belong to and a new battle to fight. I started to question how many mental health issues there were within LGBTQIA community and how many of them stemmed from socialised issues such as rejection by their own families, the abuse they face on a daily basis, and discrimination even by our mainstream media. That is when I realised that so much needed to be done to fight for, and support our trans youth…
Presenter, Facilitator, Coach