In a series of discussions, members of our community talk through generational lines about how we grow, adapt and take care of ourselves. In this discussion, Sara R Phillips, Chairperson of TENI, speaks to Alexís Ríva.
Sara and Alexís
Sara: Mental health has been crucial to me since I started out on this journey 25 years ago. An awful lot of it was to do with looking after yourself. In the early days I didn’t. Eventually, I started looking into ways of finding time for myself, to step back and do things that might be a little less stressful. That’s served me well, especially in the last 15 years since I transitioned.
Alexís: How long are you in TENI?
Sara: I’m a member of TENI since the start, which is 2006, but I’m the chair since 2012.
Alexís: Going back before that, what about when you wouldn’t have met many other trans people?
Sara: I’ve had connections to trans people since 1992 when first time I stepped out into the predominantly gay community, but the trans community were on the periphery of that. I went through four or five years when I was struggling with only being able to spend part time life as myself because I had responsibilities. I struggled with how was I ever going to transition, as a middle aged person working in the construction industry predominantly, how would you pay for a roof over your head, food on the table, maintenance for the kids, and keep your family with you? When I went to the support group in Dublin the first time it started I had other people to share my stories with and I would listen to them and we could share our problems.
Alexís: I didn’t have a family to think of, or all the obstacles you had to consider. So my way of dealing with my mental health is to be around other trans people, because I don’t actually encounter that many trans people in my general life, in work or living in Louth.
Sara: Do you think it was more beneficial you were that bit younger when you were dealing with your transition, that you didn’t have those extra pressures on you?
Alexís: Definitely. Like, I only start figuring myself out when I met other trans people. But I would love a family. I look at other people who have transitioned and already have kids. I feel like it will be a lot harder now. To have kids.
Sara: Maybe true, but there’s also the fact of having to come out after having kids and having a partner, whether the partner will be supportive, whether the kids will be okay with it. I know other trans people my age who have lost their kids, their family don’t want to know. Do you think it’s easier now, in this era, considering what you would know of the past?
Alexís: It seems like it’s easier and it isn’t easier at the same time. There’s high exposure to trans identities and it seems to bring a lot more hate. There was miseducation back in the day, but there’s just this big wave of hatred now because of how complex gender is with all the different identities. But yes, I can imagine it’s easier now.
Sara: I don’t know what it’s like coming out now, but back in the mid ’90s it was really difficult. Trans people didn’t want to be visible, because it felt like it was more dangerous than even being gay. Nowadays, while those dangers are still there to a certain degree, traversing life tends to be much easier. Even for my predecessors in the ’80s, I know from talking to them, some of the things they went through.
Alexís: I wonder, the number of trans murders, of trans women of colour, is so high now, the number probably wasn’t as high in the ’80s only because not as many people were out.
Sara: Not necessarily because I think first of all, that problem was there back in the ’80s, the issue was there was no program to monitor the numbers until ten years ago. In my own experience in the late ’90s, early 2000’s, you would read an awful lot of reports of trans women around the world being killed violently. Going back to the health aspect, do you think you consciously look after your mental health?
Alexís: Yes. It’s an ongoing thing, it needs to always be maintained. From giving up alcohol and smoking, and trying to focus on my mental health instead of just letting it magically fix itself. And exercising more. As I said, being around other trans people helps me. I keep finding myself back in the cis world, and we both know how lonely that is.
Sara: I find comfort in both worlds. I’ve had long enough to find those niches in the cis world that I fit into and I have friends there. But for trans people going through this process its crucial having other trans people in your life who have experienced what you are dealing with.
Alexís: I know how much the older generation have done to pave the way and make it so much easier for me. I came out in 2015, the year that the legislation came out, so it couldn’t have been better for me. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t struggling before that. But I do find the older generation tell me to calm down and that I need to take my time with my transition, but I I believe if I want things to happen right now, I deserve them to happen right now.
Sara: You deserve to go at whatever speed you want to go. I would say sometimes patience is good and sometimes that kind of demand is also good. I find it hugely inspirational so many young people coming out now, saying I want this and you should give this to me now. I’ve seen so many of my friends before me who were patient, who were so patient, they never got there. 2015 didn’t happen by older people, it happened by a mixture across the ages. If you look at Katherine Zappone’s civic forum in Leinster House in January, 2015, it was crowded with young people, 16, 17, 18 year-olds. For me, that just gives me the energy to keep going.
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