Transgender youth are in for a prolonged battle to win over public opinion. Every simple achievement implies a prominent advancement.
“I did not ever imagine I could stand here,” says 21-year-old Garbile Cole, looking at audiences crowed in the room, accepted the UKYouthAwards Young Person of the Year certificate, in December. “I suffered from anxiety and depression. I used to get called horrible names after I came out as trans.”
Garbile is now working as a volunteer for helping transgender young people in YMCA Swansea, an independently constituted charitable organisation. “The Prize is for Young person of the Year, to celebrate young people’s achievements,” he gives a cup of tea to me, “I was shocked and really scared, but very happy and giddy to receive it.”
The young man in simple plaid shirt and jeans sits with me is one of thousands of trans minors who are generally vulnerable and stigmatised lacking of social support and understanding from their families and peers. “Ask me anything you like,” he says confidently, “Do not worry,” he smiles at me and adds, as if finding out my nervous.
“I have pursued the voluntary work here for a year and a half,” he says and glances at posters hanging on the wall. He participates in trans sessions in this classroom on weekdays. There is a backboard, a stereo set, water machine, several chairs and desks. They are all put against the wall to left an opening space in the centre. “I love helping people out and it is so rewarding,” as his own struggle with being trans and regarding his sexuality. “I never had the support I needed, so I wanted to be there for people who are going through the same thing as me,” he smiles.
Supporting those who are undergoing panic and dispiritedness, he learned by himself. “I know how to handle it because I went through it,” Garbile explains how he helps others when confront such intractable situation, “I normally sit with them, encourage them to talk it out, then try to make them laugh or give them advice.”
When he was 13, he reckoned he is transgender. “I did not know I was trans, but I knew I was not a girl,” he recalls. “When I started puberty, I found it was very stressful and upsetting because I did not have what my brothers had.” he is silent for a while, lips tight shut and turning his gaze onto another direction.
“I faced a lot of challenges,” says Garbile, “The biggest one was being seen as a female and getting misgender.” At school, Garbile never came out as trans. He had to register as a ‘girl’ officially, “my teachers and most classmates just knew I was biologically female,” he takes a deep breath and says, “I never used unisex bathrooms, I had to use female bathroom and stuck on the female sport team,” he takes a sip of tea and tries to regain his composure.
During the beginning period of self-doubt, “I was confused and scared,” he says, as he had no knowledge about being trans. “I wouldn’t say I was different, I’m not just like everyone else really but mix up in the body department.” He found most of his information from a friend and Trans*Forum,“I know I needed help,” the first place he found was the YMCA’s LGBT youth group, “Luckily, I felt loved and supportive there,” his serious expression softens, “very thankful.”
After joined Trans community, he made friends with other trans and gained loads of support and help. Thanks to his pressure time with like-minded friends, he decided to speak out, “I was passionate about LGBT rights and I want to make sure my voice was heard.”
Garbile believes that those unhappy experiences reinforce his determination to enounce, “I remember all the times I got abused for being trans and I want to speak out against it.” He clenched fist so tightly that mails dug deep into his palms.
“I’d rather not speak about my family,” Garbile refused to talk about his parents’ attitude towards this issue. “Friends supported me through it all,” he says evasively. “My girlfriend was my number one supporter,” regarding to the relationship, how he meets his girlfriend and what romantic things he does, “I am sorry,” but “if it is okay, I would rather not to speak anything about it,” he blushes, “I am very private when it comes to that.”
Nothing really, a wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, there was no changes after speaking out. “I only felt more confident with myself”, not that he’s complaining, merely helpless. He remains the victim of transphobia, “a few times when I use the men’s bathroom in the public, I would get old guys wait outside my door or try to watch me,” he slows down, his voice trembles, on the verge go tears. He pauses and says, “Even after I came out a few years later, I still heard someone calling me ‘Shemale’ or ‘Chickwithdick’,” reminds Garbile, looking hurt.
Depression and anxiety are seemed like the torture he could not get rid of. “they are even getting worse as I am getting older from all the bullying I had,” his brows contracted, looks suffering.
At this point, I suggest that we might turn to his interest. “Sorry, it takes a while,” he regains smile, pretending to be essay, “I tend to forget these things, but it is pain in the ass,” he grins. “I enjoy playing video games and reading. Oh, I tell you,” an enigmatic smile on his face, “I try to be creative. Handling depression and anxiety though writing and drawing. It really helps.”
“On occasion I enjoy going to museums,” he cast me a look sheepishly, “Sounds boring,” and adds, “but I love to learn.” He tends to visit Swansea’s museums a lot and has been to Cardiff’s one, “Oooo! Museums are such a lovely place,” he laughs.
Speaking of the future, Garbile says he wants to be a Youth Support Worker, “help people like me and support them in any way I can.” Regarding to trans, “I can not say what the future holds but I hope it is good.” Mind you, says Garbile, “in spite of all my tribulations, I do try to keep cheerful,” he gives me a bright and determined smile, “I want to encourage people and help them fight for their rights.”
Some young persons go into the room one after another, Garbile greets them with a wave and sneaks a glance of his watch, “I am afraid I gonna go, the youth group is coming,” he stands and looks at me apologetically. This Game night begins with Brain Science training, Garbile sits among children, listens to the lecture with eager attention.
The ground is quickly carpeted with white and yellow posts, noting with ‘feeling scared”, “not being a real ‘man’” and “saying bad things on the Internet” etc. to encourage youth to write down annoyances, and wishes “a new book”, “hugs” and “being accepted”.
When I prepares to leave, Garbile was sitting on the ground, helping a child using sliver paper to make a mask. He turns towards me, smiles at me with polite nodding.