‘Trans Voices – Becoming Who You Are’ by Declan Henry: Q&A – Declan Henry, author of Trans Voices with Fiona Audley Managing Editor at The Irish Post newspaper Bronze Winner for the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards in the category of Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Non-Fiction.
What is your connection to the trans community and why did you decide to write this book?
Up until a few years ago, I’d never met a transgender person – or certainly not knowingly so. I wanted to explore why somebody would be so unhappy about their gender that they would seek to change it. I wanted to speak with people who were transgender and hear their stories. I wanted to demystify the wrongful image that the media has portrayed of some people having ‘sex change’ operations on a whim. Writing this book took me on an extraordinary journey. I travelled all over the UK and Ireland to interview trans people and listened first-hand to their life experiences. In doing so I met some of the nicest, friendliest and honest people that I have ever met in my life.
What purpose do you hope the book will serve, and how does it compare to other literature on the subject?My book educates and informs people about transgender issues, ranging from trans people who haven’t come out yet to family and friends of trans people who want a greater understanding of the subject. Currently, the majority of people haven’t encountered a transgender person but this will change in the years to come because more and more people are coming out as trans than ever before – and some are coming out early in their teenage years.
How did you find the subjects of your study? Were they happy to talk to you? What were the main questions you wanted to ask them?
I contacted transgender support groups in the UK and Ireland outlining my book proposal. I explained that I wanted to write a book to raise greater understanding and awareness of what it meant to be trans in today’s world, and in the process, I would demystify some of the myths and misconceptions that people have about trans people. Here was their chance as ordinary people to get their stories across and have them heard. The response was incredible, and overall I interviewed more than 100 people for the book, ranging in age from 19 to somebody in their 80s. I asked questions about their childhood, transitioning process, reassignment surgery, social networks and lifestyle, emotional health, sexuality and discrimination.
Did you learn anything unexpected in your research for the book?
Trans people come from all types of backgrounds and walks of life. This is not something that discriminates amongst different cultures. Neither is being transgender a new concept. It has been around since biblical times and although it has only come to mainstream attention since the seventies, one cannot help wonder how many of our ancestors went to their graves unable to ‘come out’ or confide in anybody about how they felt and live true authentic lives.
What was the most memorable part of the process of compiling this book, and how long has it taken you complete – from idea to publication?
The honesty and sincerity of the people I interviewed. Trans people are no different to people who aren’t trans. They have the same likes and dislikes, needs and desires. The only thing that is different about them is that they feel their brain does not correspond with the physical body that they were assigned at birth. The whole process from interviewing trans people to publication took a little over two years in total.
How challenging is it to write a book about the experiences of the trans community when you are not a member of that particular community?
Not that challenging. I made it clear to my interviewees from the start that I was not out to sensationalise their stories, rather I wanted to give a clear and accurate picture of what it means to be trans. Once they realised that I was serious about the subject and wanted to correctly represent them, they trusted me and engaged wholeheartedly.
What has the reaction from the trans community to your book been like?
They like it and have shown great appreciation that somebody who is not trans has taken the time to write about such an important issue. They like that I have taken the subject seriously and have not attempted to sensationalise it like some parts of the media have often done. Most of all, they like the fact that the people I interviewed for the book are ordinary people who have been given a unique opportunity to speak out and get their views across.
Who is this book for?
This book is really for everybody, whether they are part of the LGBT+ community or they have somebody close to them who is trans. The book also serves as a guidebook for professionals working with the trans community. It’s written with the intention of imparting greater awareness and tolerance towards trans people who are becoming more prevalent and visible in society. Any person with an interest in trans people – either personal or professional – will be able to pick up this book and gain a deeper understanding of trans issues.
Can you tell us five misconceptions people have about the trans community?
*That it is a lifestyle choice.
*That trans people are really gay people dressed up as women/men.
*That they are confused and it’s a phase they are going through.
*That they are perverts – all they are interested in is sex.
*That they are mentally ill.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Trans women, trans men and non-binary people do not believe that the sex assigned to them at birth is the correct one. They seek to change it to either the opposite sex or to a more neutral androgynous state (in the case of non-binary people). Although cross-dressers form part of the trans community, they are not transgender. They are completely satisfied with their gender, and are mainly heterosexual men who enjoy dressing in female clothes for relaxation and enjoyment.
Can you tell us five realities about the trans community that people may not know or would be surprised to learn?
*There are more women now transitioning to men than in previous decades and there are younger people coming out as non-binary.
*Trans people make up less than 1 per cent of the population, meaning that 10 people out of every 1,000 feel that they were assigned the wrong sex at birth.
*There is no scientific explanation as to why somebody is trans.
*Being trans is still considered a mental disorder in psychiatric diagnostic manuals.
*There are long waiting lists in both Ireland and the UK for people to be seen by specialists for access to hormone treatment and surgery.