Olly took time out from study to talk about himself and his transition.
How old are you now?
Just turned 20
How do you identify yourself sexuality, gender or otherwise?
I identify as a straight, transgender male.
Many of the readers won’t know the area you were born in so could you describe it, especially the attitudes towards LGBT members, if any;
I grew up in Norfolk, England, in quite a tight-knit community where most people tend to know most people- everyone had mutual friends and it was hard to walk down the street without recognizing someone, or being recognised. I lived there until I was 18 when I moved to Lincoln for university, and have not returned home for more than a few days since moving, two years ago. Although not strictly religious, I would describe my family as traditional.
When did you first discover that you may be Transgender?
I was 5 or 6 years old, I began wearing boys clothes, and my parents allowed this. My friends were all boys, and my Christmas presents consisted of Action Men and cars. But this was always me being a ‘tomboy’, even though I began writing the name Oliver on my colouring books and worksheets at school, this was all shrugged off, and I think this was essentially because no one understood what was going on. In the middle of secondary school I came out as a lesbian, and was still dressing ‘boyish’ but has long hair and was living as a girl. I had a lot of struggles with mental health from the age of 14 onwards, taking anti-depressants and generally struggling a lot with my self-confidence. It wasn’t until university when I realised that passing as male was making me feel good, and although I had always worn clothes from mens sections, it wasn’t until then that I began strapping down my chest, shaving my face and getting regular haircuts to avoid any kind of pixie-crop situation. I identify as a guy at work now and my colleages are great, and although I am still studying for my Fine Art degree I am also a practicing artist, focusing on gendered performance and ideas of social gender.
Who did you tell first and how did they react?
It was my girlfriend, Jess that I first spoke to about how I was feeling. It was extremely hard for her at first, being as she identified as a lesbian, and was worried she would lose me completely. However, I think it was quite clear that something was ‘up’ with me for a little while, and so I think she was most concerned about my happiness. It took us a few months to adjust to the situation, but she now calls me her boyfriend and uses male pronouns all the time and her support has been absolutely amazing.
Did you find any support out there from your partner or even a friend?
My friends have also been brilliant, but I’ve only been able to talk to them about things very recently. Having just had my first birthday ‘out’ as a guy, I received so many good wishes and messages from friends using the correct pronouns and it was great.
Below : before transitioning at 15 years of age.
What was the reaction from your family?
My sister has been amazing- she’s 17 but understands me more than anyone. Although she still lives in Norwich we text everyday, and when I spoke to her about how I was feeling, she said “good job best friend is gender neutral!” and that she did’t care if I was her sister or her brother, which was the best thing to hear seeing as she’s known me for all of her life as her big sister. Shes really supportive and I wish I could see her more often.
Although my mum and dad are still together, and obviously live with my sister, they have been fine with my transition but have not spoken to me about it. In fairness, I don’t really wish to speak to them because I know that they will not understand. My mum recently informed me that she will still use my female name in family cards and left it at that. I know they wish the best of me but we don’t have a close relationship and that’s ok.
Did you anticipate a good or bad reaction?
I anticipated and am still anticipating a bad reaction from my extended family. I only ever came out to a few as having a girlfriend, and whilst I know they just want the best for me, my apparent “lifestyle” doesn’t agree with the values they have grown up with.
How did you deal with it?
I’ve only just entered the first adult years of my life, and to be honest I see myself as really lucky to have supportive friends and an incredible girlfriend who are always there for me. I’ve never been close to my extended family so I don’t feel like I’m particularly missing out on anything, and I know my parents will always be there for me.
Tell us a little more about the transformation from who you were back then and where you are now;
The biggest change for my life as a male happened when I cut my hair short when I was 16. Before this I had really long The biggest change for my hair because I never wanted to get it cut, and my mum never permitted me to get anything shorter than a bob when I was younger. I was lucky enough to be able to pass as a young boy to many elderly customers when working in a newsagents in Norfolk, having a slim figure and small natural chest anyway.
Now I am living as a guy I am so so much more confident and happy, healthier, and have a lot more ambition for my life- hopefully making it as a practicing artist and trans advocate.
So what happens next, regarding to treatment?
I am currently pre-testosterone and will remain this way for a while longer, after being put on a 2 year long waiting list for referral to a gender clinic. Two years just for an appointment with a consultant who can help me start to get what I need to live in my body, which is really hard but I am getting to terms with the wait and making active changes the best I can, such as going to the gym and getting my tattoo sleeve done.
I understand this is costly, do you want to talk about the financial implications?
I have no money, as a student with a part-time job in retail I’m already in a lot of debt. But at the moment not going ahead with my medical, physical transition isn’t an option- it’s the thing that keeps me going. All I can say is that I hope I can have a stable enough job after I graduate to support myself!
What about work, were they ok about the situation?
I work at a game store, and although there are only about 10 of us at my particular store, a few people are out as gay or lesbian and we’re generally a really accepting and friendly group, so I’m super lucky to have such a good workplace environment. When customers automatically address me as ‘the man’ to their children, or call be ‘mate’ I often get supportive nudges from my colleagues on tills like- result! It’s all good.
Do you get any transphobia issues from any other people who fall in the LGBT window?
There hasn’t been any issues involving a direct confrontation, but I’m generally quite a shy and non-confrontational person, so if anyone was ever trying to ‘start’ something with me I would probably leave it and walk away. But there’s never been anything from anyone who I know of being in the LGBT window.
What about when people don’t know how to react or speak to you, how do you deal with that?
Its extremely uncomfortable to me. For quite a long time I’ve felt guilty about asking people to use male pronouns, or use a different name for me, and I know I shouldn’t feel like this but it feels like a big ask. When people have asked me what’s going on and I’ve informed them and they don’t have a response, I’ve now learned not to take it to heart. I guess the only solution is more public knowledge of general transgender issues.
How do you now feel at this moment about where you are?
In all honestly I do wish that I could medically transition sooner. Being 20 years old and not being in my ideal body, still looking like a young teenager and having to deal with being either misgendered or ID’d constantly is hard, but I’m learning to accept being who I am. Without support from my girlfriend, friends and sister everything would be a lot harder, and I’m happy with the changes I’m making. Using gender theory and ideas of artificial gender within my artwork is also a really great release for me, and I’m making good work which I’m proud of.
First got my hair cut short:
Do you think being visual about yourself actually helps or educates anyone out there?
Yes I do- and this is why I’d really like to move into transadvocasy. ‘FTM’ Youtube bloggers in particular have really helped me in my transition- it helps to know you’re not alone, and it informs people who are not knowledgeable about LGBT issues as well, which is super important.
So are you involved with any LGBT right groups, or others, at all?
I’m not at the moment, but there is an LGBT society at my university which I’m thinking of joining in my final year.
Do you think talking about gender and sexuality helps people became more aware than they are at the moment?
Yes definitely. I have been involved in a number of interviews for journalism students, Contemporary Lens Media students and Media Production students and been open about my gender- I think it’s important to talk about.
How I look now, working at a game store:
I like to end on a topical question, what are your feelings about the so called bathroom laws in some states in America at the moment, in your view as an English man?
As someone who frequently used to get physically pushed or shouted out of female toilets in nightclubs, but too afraid to use a male bathroom full of drunken men and with myself being pre-testosterone, I think it’s nuts. I have permission from my university to use the disabled toilets to avoid problems, but at the end of the day I’m not disabled- I’m a man and I deserve the right to use a toilet for men. Especially at the gym, I do not want to be in a changing room full of women who are changing into their sports bras- it’s not fair on them for me to be there. I’m very thankful for living in the United Kingdom, but I think the answer for America is gender neutral bathrooms, when non-gender conforming and transgender people can go without harassment or questions.
Thank you very much for taking time out for me, do you have anything else to add?
Thank you for asking me to do this interview!