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Linda: Being transgender does not limit your dreams

Linda is a transgender woman in her 30's who is living with HIV. Here she relates why her sexuality and gender didn't stop her from dreaming of a better future. I came to the UK from

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Linda is a transgender woman in her 30’s who is living with HIV. Here she relates why her sexuality and gender didn’t stop her from dreaming of a better future.

I came to the UK from Zimbabwe in 2002 as it is against the law to be gay in Zimbabwe. It took me a while to realise that what I actually am is not a gay man, but a woman in a man’s body. For 10-15 years I lived as a woman in private at home and told no one about this. When I was with people and out in public I would outwardly act and dress as a man.

I was terrified of telling my family and I feared my parents’ reaction the most. I think that for young Black and Asian transgender and LGB people, it is telling your parents that’s the greatest worry. I also knew that my brother had a very homophobic attitude and did not expect him to support me.

Eventually I told my sister who said that she had ‘sort of known all along’. She was very supportive of who I am and I found that I could be open with her. She supported me along the way with my HIV care too.

Many years later when my father passed away, I opened up to my mother. My mum was initially upset when she found out that I had felt I couldn’t be open with her about something so personal that had affected my entire life. It has taken a very long time but I am now openly transgender with my family. I am even in touch with my brother as the woman that I am.

If I had to give some advice to transgender women it would be to look after yourself. Unfortunately, there are many places where you can face abuse.

It sounds contradictory but as much as it is important to be yourself, you have to remember that anyone, regardless of their gender, will attract attention if they dress in a way that makes them stand out. Keep yourself safe in places where you do not know how tolerant people are.

I found that I faced verbal abuse at a transgender support group and it has put me off turning to such groups for support. People who attended this group had a problem with the fact that I do not take hormones and I have not had any surgery. I have naturally very feminine features and they felt that I did not understand the issues that they faced and had no place within their group.

I am not trying to say that these support groups won’t be helpful to you but if you have a negative experience with any group of people, take yourself away from them and find your support elsewhere. Look after yourself.

After beating problems with alcohol, I am in the process of turning a new leaf and giving up my addiction to party drugs with the support of people in healthcare but also my personal support network of friends and family.

I would like to volunteer with transgender youth groups in the future. There is so much I want young transgender women to know. For example, you should not feel any pressure to take hormones or have surgery if this is not what you want to do.

A woman is more than her vagina; she is a woman because of who she is on the inside.

Many people confuse gender and sexuality. They may think that because you are a transgender woman you must be attracted to men, but gender and sexuality are two separate things. Personally, I am happy to be with anyone who wants to be with me, regardless of their gender.

Another way that people confuse gender and sexuality is that they think that for a transgender woman to be a woman she must make up for the fact she was labelled ‘male’ at birth by being an overly-sexualised woman. It is this attitude that can make young transgender women feel that their role models are limited to those in the sex industry and sometimes that the sex industry is the only path that is available to them.

If you are a transgender woman, pick a role model you would be happy to be like.

Choose a woman who you admire not just because of how they dress or how they look but for how they carry themselves, for their actions, their personality and how they treat others. If you want to be like Hilary Clinton or Beyonce, be like Hilary Clinton or Beyonce, there is nothing to stop you doing this. I have a friend who is a very well-educated transgender woman working as a lawyer. Just as for everyone else, your dreams should not be limited by your gender.

Illustration by Jessa Chiara

1000women@naz.org.uk

1000women is a platform for minority ethnic women to tell their own stories, on their terms. To find out more about joining the team or sharing your story, write to 1000women@naz.org.uk

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