Today, 8 August 2021, is the culmination of the week of the first Neuro Pride Ireland, fittingly ending on 8/8, which with a little imagination can be read as ∞/∞, the infinity sign being a symbol of the neurodiversity movement. (Also 8/8 = 1, and we come together as one.) But as important as Neuro Pride is to me, this date holds special personal significance as the fifth anniversary of the start of my LGBTQIA+ Pride journey.
A few months earlier in 2016, suffering from what I now recognise as (probably) autistic burnout, I found peer support in an anonymous mental health forum, which I was able to join through my university. Togetherall, then called Big White Wall (BWW), gave me a sense of community among other people facing a variety of mental health problems. And there were mental health professionals on hand to support us too. If you’re struggling and want your voice to be heard and taken seriously, I’d definitely recommend it if you’re able to get access.
As I said, it was an anonymous forum, and that gave me the courage to mention some things that at the time I wouldn’t have dared mention publicly. I had one counselling session with my university’s student counselling service, which didn’t go all that well – basically the counsellor dismissed my difficulties, saying that everyone struggles with their PhD and I should just get on with it! No consideration of why I hadn’t been able to do any work for a whole month. On BWW, I asked whether it was worth me telling my counsellor about another issue that was percolating in my head once again: the thought that I might be transgender. That was the very first time I’d said that to anyone at all, albeit under a pseudonym. The response came as a surprise to me. Yes, of course I should: that sounds really important to talk about.
So my mind was made up. I was going to take a bold step into the unknown.
I enjoyed a family holiday in the US and Canada (with a stopover in Iceland). It would have been very pleasant regardless, with lots of new places to explore, and seeing friends we hadn’t seen for some time. But I had the added excitement of having something potentially amazing and life-changing to look forward to when I came back. I still had to wait eleven days after getting back to Scotland.
But 8 August 2016 came. Not only was that the date of my second counselling appointment. I also had an appointment with my GP before that to review the antidepressants that I’d recently been started on.
At the end of my 09:00 appointment with my GP, I told her that I had another thing to mention. She was the first person I told in real life (and not hiding behind a pseudonym) that I thought I was trans. She reacted brilliantly, and at the end of that appointment I’d quite unexpectedly been referred to the gender identity clinic at the Chalmers Centre here in Edinburgh (conveniently only about ten minutes’ walk from where I lived at the time).
The second person I came out to, just a couple of hours later, was my counsellor at the university. She too was wonderfully supportive, and seemed far happier to deal with that than with my failure to engage my brain on my PhD! I remember her asking if I felt a sense of shame about being trans, and I said – quite truthfully – that I didn’t. Not any more, anyway. I skipped out of the counselling service, having told two people and having received acceptance and affirmation from both of them. No, I wasn’t ashamed. I was unburdened. I was proud.
Now I’ve already told this story and a lot of the rest of my transition story in other blog posts, so I won’t bore you (or myself) by repeating it here. This unburdening and increasing feeling of freedom to be me led to me coming out to more people, having my GIC appointment just five months later, and transitioning socially, legally and medically in 2017, and surgically in March last year.
Coming out as trans opened the floodgates to the introspection I’d been afraid of before. I’d thought of myself as probably lesbian as far back as my teens or early twenties. But my sexual and romantic orientation has turned out to be a good bit more complicated than that – the subject of another post, I expect. And my realisation of my neurodivergence (as opposed to idiosyncratic brokenness) has led to an ongoing unmasking process and being able to take pride in being autistic and an ADHDer. And in all of this I’ve found community – I’ve found people who are in many ways like me. And no matter your gender identity, who you’re attracted to and how, whatever your neurotype, it’s important to find other people like you, even if it takes most of your life to do that.
Five years on, I’m proud to be trans, proud to be queer, proud to be neurodivergent.