Transgender Day Of Visibility: Sarah O’Connell Talks Transitioning
"Respect our names, pronouns, and gender."
March 31st marks the Transgender Day Of Visibility - a day created to shine a spotlight on the Trans community, raise awareness for their issues and to forward the fight for equal rights (find out more about the day and why it's so important here). We spoke to broadcaster, film critic, actress and YouTuber Sarah O'Connell about exactly why it matters so much.
Hey Sarah! Can you tell us a bit about your experience when you were younger and when first you knew you were Trans?
I very clearly knew that I was female from the age of 3 and have always identified as such. I only adopted the label of Trans to convey that I was transitioning to everyone else, once I was ready to tell them who I've always been. Growing up pre-internet, I felt like I was the only person in this situation, as far as I knew.
I also didn't feel like the environment I grew up in, or indeed society at that time were conducive to being able to safely tell anyone else. All I could do as a kid was wish, pray and desperately hope that one day I'd be able to do something about it to stop being mislabelled, and simply be seen and treated as me.
Why is Transgender Day Of Visibility so important?
Transgender Day Of Visibility on 31st March celebrates our wonderful community and also highlights the discrimination still faced by Trans people around the world. I think that it's important to educate and raise awareness for Trans issues, to support our organisations and projects, fight for equal rights, tackle transphobic hate crimes (especially against people of colour), ensure work protections and opportunities, access to medical support if someone wants it, and to be allowed to live our lives peacefully.
There's a lot of hate-fuelled misinformation propagated by certain corners of the media too, that seeks to dehumanise us. Trans people aren't an opinion, a debate or something to sensationalise or be voyeuristic about. We are all human, with lives, families, jobs, hobbies, and a real contribution to make to society. So please take the time to educate yourself, respect our names and pronouns, listen to and celebrate Trans people, support our causes and arts, and please... don't ever ask about surgery or anything you wouldn't ask anyone else!
Do you have any advice for young people who are preparing to begin transitioning, or worried about speaking to their families/friends about it?
First of all, be proud of who you are, because you're amazing. Be calm and prepared, and first confide in someone you trust; perhaps a close friend, colleague or family member.
Start with the basics, allowing them to digest it and the chance to ask questions. Not everyone will have the same level of understanding, so while many will get it straight away, some may need further time and information. Encourage them to educate themselves more too - you aren't Google! Remember that you don't have to answer anything that is disrespectful or you're uncomfortable with.
I told 105 people individually, which was a bit like Groundhog Day! No matter how many people I told, I still never really knew for sure how the next would respond. I'd wanted to tell everyone for the longest time, and couldn't do it quick enough. It becomes a bit like a script after a while, and you'll become far more relaxed and confident.
Remember that the ball isn't entirely in their court either. If, through the course of conversation, you discover that they are transphobic (eww!), then there's of course an opportunity to educate, or to spend more time with those living in the 21st century.
If you want to medically transition, first make an appointment with your doctor. Be sure to go in armed with information, as they may not have helped a Trans person before, or have outdated knowledge on what to do. Ask to be referred to a Gender Identity Clinic, and look into approximate waiting times as they vary nationally.
Whenever you feel ready to transition; be confident, be you, and be happy! Because everyone deserves to be.
If you could give your 15-year-old self a piece of advice based on what you know now, what would it be?
It would simply be to reassure myself that everything was going to be ok. I think that would have made things a lot less stressful, as transitioning always felt like an distant impossibility back then. If I could give myself two more bits of advice; they'd be the winning lottery numbers (transitioning can be really expensive), and to avoid that ice cube in Egypt (don't ask).
How can people be good allies to the trans community?
Respect our names, pronouns, and gender. Help support our causes, condemn transphobia, stand up to discrimination, ensure that we are treated equally, and don't "out" anyone. Just because they've trusted you with this information, it doesn't make their entire lives public property and could put them at risk.
How are you celebrating Trans Day Of Visibility, and where can people follow your adventures online?
I host www.youtube.com/SarahOConnellShow, featuring celebrity interviews and entertainment. I recently launched a dedicated Trans series of videos, discussing topics such as coming out, what never to ask a Trans person, and a support, charities and events guide. For Trans Day Of Visibility, I've created a special new episode to celebrate the day.
I've also been working to raise awareness in the media, to help those transitioning and to better educate everyone else. In addition to being interviewed in Cosmopolitan Magazine (April 2017), I've just done another interview on BBC Radio Solent, in addition to a video and Q&A for Pride in London. Busy, busy, busy!